There's been a lot of anti-communist talk since Obama was elected. But how many people have actually read what Karl Marx proposed? How many actually know what Communism is? I decided to find out.
The Communist Manifesto
by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Does he say people should be stripped of all freedom and live in a police state to keep the peace? No. Does he say everyone should work as hard as he can but only be paid according to what he needs? No. Does he want religion to be abolished? No.
Does he advocate abolition of private property? Yes. Does he advocate government takeover of private industry? Yes. Does he preach equality among labor? Yes. Does he want free education for all children by the state? Yes.
So many people react to these ideas and communism in general out of hand, but they don't take the time to listen to where he's coming from. Part one of this manifesto is the reason he advocates these things.
Karl Marx lived during the rise of industrialization. He saw the early titans of capitalism, and what they were doing to entire nations, and he observed it was the same thing the nobles of old did to the serfs they owned. Exploitation of human beings for person gain.
That's what Karl Marx was against. He didn't want to take away the wealthy man's money and give it to people who didn't deserve it. He wanted to end the centuries-old practice of one human being using another human being for personal gain. He saw capitalism as just the newest incarnation of the cycle of human civilization. One group of people rises to the top to become the nobility, keeps the commoners in slavery and exploits their labor to make themselves rich. Marx observes that's the only reason anyone gets rich, by taking what someone else has and keeping them poor.
Part one outlines his grievances with industrialization and capitalism: how it moves in by force, selling its goods to people and forcing them to become part of their production. In doing so, capitalism strips people of identity, heritage and culture, remolding these civilizations into its own image, all for the purpose of using the people to produce cheap goods for resale. The competition among the upper classes drives them to push the workers further and further into poverty, and the longer this goes on, the more inevitable revolution becomes.
He mentions the economic cycle capitalism has created: it is dependent on perpetual growth. Always growing, always finding new markets, always expanding, always increasing capital. This is done because of competition between businesses, putting one another under pressure to reduce prices. The best way to reduce prices is to increase production, and this forces industry to do things like increase worker hours, decrease benefits, reduce pay, etc. But overproduction always leads to a surplus of goods, which leads to a recession. Poverty hits because production must scale back. People are kept in bondage to this, and he argues it has raised nobody's standard of living, only lined the pockets of the factory-owners.
He even outlines exactly how the (then) current elite class rose to power, and has used its influence to get the government to look out for them, and not for the people its supposed to represent.
In Marx's view, the pursuit for personal property is the very heart of all class struggles in every civilization throughout history. In a utopian society, one man does not enslave another. Remove the need to acquire personal property, and society will be free of class strife. Communism is not an attempt to force everybody to be equally poor. It's an attempt to end this exploitation of human beings.
He then addresses various criticisms of communism in part two. Here's one:
The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois [the nobility's] property. But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few.
We Communists have been reproached with the desire of abolishing the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man's own labour, which property is alleged to be the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity and independence. Hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned property! Do you mean the property of the petty artisan and of the small peasant, a form of property that preceded the bourgeois form? There is no need to abolish that; the development of industry has to a great extent already destroyed it, and is still destroying it daily. Or do you mean modern bourgeois private property?
The average price of wage-labour is the minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence, which is absolutely requisite in bare existence as a labourer. What, therefore, the wage-labourer appropriates by means of his labour, merely suffices to prolong and reproduce a bare existence. We by no means intend to abolish this personal appropriation of the products of labour, an appropriation that is made for the maintenance and reproduction of human life, and that leaves no surplus wherewith to command the labour of others. All that we want to do away with, is the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the labourer lives merely to increase capital, and is allowed to live only in so far as the interest of the ruling class requires it.
In bourgeois society, living labour is but a means to increase accumulated labour. In Communist society, accumulated labour is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of the labourer.
The irony is that Marx himself is all for the working man working for himself! He says so right here! He wants to end the practice of men using other men's labor for their personal gain, and return to working for himself. That was the original goal of communism, and that surprises me! The idea arose as a direct reaction to the industrial revolution and unrestricted capitalism.
You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society. In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.
Marx is speaking to the ruling class. The well-off decry the end of personal property, but the only reason they have property is because the rich man has taken everything from the poor, so to be against anyone calling for the end of personal property is hypocrisy.
He's calling the rich parasites on the poor, which is what makes them poor to begin with. It's the counterargument that was so blatantly missing from Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand called the poor parasites who feed on the rich man's hard work. Marx describes the true nature of a parasite: it drains the host of all nutrition, leaving the host emaciated, weak and defeated; while the parasite itself grows fat and happy. He makes the exact same point as Rand, but directing the blame on the rich.
Considering the time period in which he lived, this observation makes sense. Capitalism was unregulated back then, and business-owners really did work people to death just to make more money. Workers suffered while the factory-owners thrived, and there was no hope of getting a job somewhere else where things were better because there was no better place to work. People with jobs made so little money they went hungry. They couldn't afford housing in the cities, and there was no transportation back then, so they were crammed into tenements, living in filth, and these were people who had jobs!
This was what capitalism looked like until laws were passed that limited what employers could do to people. Marx was appalled by the systematic destruction of entire nations in this way.
I'm still not sure how he expected people to work for themselves and enjoy the fruits of their labor without having personal property. I don't know how that would work... Marx is very vague on the details here. I would read Das Kapital to see if there is more information but HOLY SHIT that is not a book one should read just for the hell of it! It doesn't look like he addresses that topic at all, merely devoting his time to analyzing and deconstructing capitalism.
Part three mentions various misinterpretations of his idea and explains how they got it wrong, such as limited socialism that tries to make working conditions a little better for the workers but still allow the ruling class to remain in power; activists trying to please both sides; and deceitful variations that put on a front of being out for the people but are in fact little more than a public relations arm for the ruling class. Socialism, according to Marx, is a watered-down form of his idea and doesn't go far enough to kill the root of the recurring problem in human society: a class of Haves rises up and keeps the Have-nots down.
Alas he did not live to see the greatest misinterpretation of them all: Russia. From what Marx describes here, Russia was not communism. The point of communism is to get rid of the ruling class that oppresses the people and keeps them poor. The paradox is that Marx himself says various things must be turned over to State control to prevent those things from becoming oppressive (such as factories), which entails there being an administrative body above the people, which is--dun dun DUNNNNN!--an elite class.
Marx certainly had a noble cause, but his outline for how to implement it is open to interpretation, and that left room for various dictators to seize and use it to justify horrors such as forced state labor and the abolition of religion. Nope, Marx never says religion should be abolished. His intent was to get rid of the exploitation.
Marx first wrote this in the 1840's! Coming up on 200 years later, much of it still rings true today, and that's eerie! The recession of '08 brought a lot of things to light, such as the double standard of law. Businesses get bailed out for their actions, but the people are foreclosed. Businesses cut jobs, and then business-owners and the politicians they buy blame the people for being out of work. Laws are biased for the benefit of the businesses, not the workers. It happened in the 1800's, and it's still happening today, although in a much nicer form thanks to the laws that keep employers from outright enslaving us.
All Marx wanted to do was end the cycle of human civilization. I don't think even he knew exactly how to implement his idea, although he seems to favor man returning to work for himself, instead of being forced into a system where he must work for someone else. A system that rewarded the abuse of human beings. To people of the late 1800's who were victims of the nobility and the industrialist getting rich off their hard work, this must have seemed a perfect answer to all their problems.
As Orwell so eloquently showed in Animal Farm, the implementation of these ideals has not been so successful. It doesn't seem possible to create a classless society without creating an upper class to keep people from rising up too high.
It's plain to see where a lot of his ideas came from though, and where these ideas went wrong in the execution. Marx's concept that everyone should be allowed to have a job comes from capitalism's tendency to hire and fire people at will, thus controlling their means of survival. Marx wanted everyone to have a good job instead of being at the mercy of profit-hungry factory-owners and economic cycles, but when people tried to make communism happen, the State ended up forcing people to work against their will.
The concept that no man should be allowed to rise up and command the labor of others implies that everyone should be paid equally no matter what job they do. And since it's impossible to pay everybody high wages for even menial work, everyone gets paid a low wage, which has the effect of no incentive to do more work. This isn't in Marx's proposal, but it seems to be what happened when it was put into action.
Marx says there should be no private property, but he doesn't explicitly outline who property belongs to. It seems obvious it belongs to the State, but what exactly does that mean? If one can't have personal property, why have money? Why have factories? Why have work at all? It does seem to have the effect of forcing people to stay down, be meager subsistence farmers.
After all, if personal property is not allowed, how do you divide up the State-owned property equally among everyone? That would be too difficult, so it's easier for everyone to have nothing. This idea that no man should be allowed to become a rich nobleman implies everyone should be kept poor so nobody will ever be able to rise up and enslave the people.
None of this is what Marx really intended. Soviet communism was not Marxism. Chinese communism was not Marxism. Marx apparently counted on the people willingly going along with this, without a need to be forced into it. It's not supposed to be oppressive, but a mutual desire among the working people to end the practice of men using other men to make themselves rich. The idea behind it was to get rid of the nobility that keeps people down, and willfully live in a way that won't form such a ruling class again. But the pigs always end up becoming human.
My view of Marx is the same as my view on Bob Black's The Abolition of Work. Noble and dead on accurate in its analysis for what capitalism does to people, but impractical, idealistic bullshit without a solid proposal for an alternative system.