So I read part 1 of the Communist Manifesto

I am against capitalism and I name capitalism as a system of oppression; however, I don’t actually know whether I’m a Communist or an Anarchist, having never read either theory. It was time that I at least read the Communist Manifesto so that I know what it says, so this weekend I read the first section. I found it rather difficult in some areas and I had to read it twice, slowly both times. Here are my thoughts.

The CM starts off by explaining that in all of history there has been class struggle and names several class systems from different eras. These I’m not familiar with—I’ve never had an interest in history and when I hear words like “feudal lords” and “serfs” I don’t know what these are without looking them up. But I can see that studying ancient societies is a necessary way to understand the society we have now. One of my favorite leftists, Chris Hedges, writes about previous societies and compares them to this one, predicting what will happen next for us based on what happened before. (Of course, Hedges is drawing upon Marx’s work.)

Apparently, our class system contains two major groups. To quote:

“Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.”

This is an interesting paragraph to ponder because I do wonder sometimes how many distinct classes there are today, and whether it is useful to divide us into only two classes or to divide us further into sub-classifications. If you consider only a bourgeoisie (capitalists) and a proletariat (workers) in today’s society, then the proletariat consists of everyone from the poorest workers who earn pennies a day to the well-paid professionals who enjoy a comfortable quality of life. In rich countries, the middle class benefit from good wages and a high standard of living, although they are still members of the proletariat because they must work for wages—despite getting paid good money they don’t actually have a means of production of their own, nor do they have control over their country’s economy. Is it useful to lump all workers into one category, regardless of the large discrepancies in their income levels? I think in some cases it is useful, and in other cases it is not. For example, if the middle class would become conscious of the fact that they, too, are members of the proletariat and subject to the whims of the capitalists, and if they chose to act out of solidarity with the proletariat as a whole, then we’d have a stronger labor movement and would advance toward communist revolution. But at the same time, we have to recognize that members of the middle class can also be oppressors of the most poorly paid workers. The material things purchased and then thrown away by the middle classes of rich countries are manufactured by those less advantaged.

There is some description of the developments that led to the bourgeoisie gaining more power, until:

“The bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

This is very familiar to me. It is so clear that government has been taken over by capitalists. Not only do the capitalists buy politicians with their political donations, but the ideology of the capitalists is the only one we learn, and so everyone in government, as well as most of the voters, act in a way that furthers the interests of the ruling class. We are ruled, not by government, but by capitalism and those who control it. It almost doesn’t matter whether a Democrat or a Republican is in charge—they both further the interests of big business.

The manifesto then states that capitalism reduces every human relation into monetary transactions and turns respected professions into wage labor. It’s true—capitalism turns legitimate human experiences into mere financial transactions, which removes the joy from the activity and cheapens its real significance. Whereas the worth of an activity should be measured by its life-giving qualities, it is instead measured in dollars by the capitalist system, turning meaningful things meaningless and making fake “worth” out of things that are not truly meaningful. And the professions—yes! Whereas doctors should be people who heal, they are instead nothing but drug peddlers who work in the interests of the pharmaceutical industry. Capitalism leaves nothing untouched, and it ruins all it touches.

“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.”

Capitalism spreads over the globe and brings every country into its grasp. It forces poor countries to work for rich countries as it forces the peasants to work for the bourgeoisie. Much of the world’s property becomes centralized into a few hands.

Capitalists will continue exploiting and producing until there is too much production and too much civilization, and then it will seek new markets to exploit and will exploit more thoroughly its current markets. There is no mention of the environment here, but we know what will happen when capitalism has exploited everything there is to exploit—it will have to end. There are finite resources on this planet. The Communist Manifesto doesn’t name environmental collapse as the end of capitalism, it names the revolt of the proletariat as the end. I don’t know if I believe in that—there is so little class consciousness right now among the proletariat that I can’t see us actually making it happen. I believe that capitalism will continue until it burns through everything we have and then it will die off, taking us with it. I think the end of capitalism will be brutal and terrible.

“In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed — a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.”

This was my favourite quote from the piece. The working class are made dependent upon capitalism to provide us with wage work, since we cannot usually own our own land to produce our own resources. Once we are dependent on wage work, we must take whatever the capitalists give us. We are subject to their needs and we will only be useful to them as long as we are benefiting them in their acquisition of capital. We are commodities, things and objects, ruled by those who have true agency because they have material power. The radical feminists who are against dominance and submission between men and women but don’t do an anti-capitalist analysis miss out on realizing that one of the dominance/submission relationships we are in is with the capitalist system. You can’t overthrow oppression without overthrowing capitalism.

The manifesto talks about the boredom and despair in the life of a worker who is a slave to uninteresting work and is controlled by the hour by bosses. Then the money he earns is taken by other capitalists.

“No sooner is the exploitation of the labourer by the manufacturer, so far, at an end, that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.”

And doesn’t that sound familiar! I earn what should be a decent amount of money at work but everything is so expensive, after rent, food, transportation, and payments to my student loans, there’s not much left. I am a university graduate but still living paycheque to paycheque. (Honestly, my student loans might be the main source of oppression in my life! Forcing workers to take out loans and then pay interest to banks in order to pursue higher education is a method of the ruling class to extract resources from us.)

The proletariat resists our conditions first by forming trade unions and asserting our rights against our employers, and then by joining all the trade unions together to create a Communist party for all workers. There is a reason why the ruling class has been taking power away from unions for years now, and selling anti-union ideology to the workers. They know the power of unions. We are taught to believe that when a company decides to move to another country to exploit workers in places with even more lax labor laws, this is the fault of unions. It is not the fault of unions, it is the fault of capitalist greed. The answer to this is to unionize everybody, so that there are no workers anywhere else to exploit for lower wages.

“This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and, consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier. It compels legislative recognition of particular interests of the workers, by taking advantage of the divisions among the bourgeoisie itself.”

I have mentioned that radical feminists need to do an anti-capitalist analysis; it is also true that Communists need to do a feminist analysis. The following sentence stands out to me because it assumes that the members of the proletariat are all male:

“The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations…”

The final sentence of the Manifesto, “Working Men of All Countries, Unite!” displays the same bias. What about the working women? Half the members of the proletariat are women, and we need to assert our rights as a class against the rule of men just as we need to assert our rights as a class against the capitalists.

“In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.”

I don’t know what Communist Revolution would look like exactly, but it does sound like it would be a war. I do have an idea about how the proletariat could go about taking resources from the capitalists and it would turn into war eventually even if it started out as non-violent direct action. I hate the cultural construction of private property where someone from a foreign country can “own” our own resources just because a piece of paper says so. I don’t think that public resources can be morally “owned” by a particular person, but if we are to think of them as “owned” by someone they should be owned collectively by the local people who use them. Therefore, part of the revolt of the proletariat is to cease to recognize ownership of resources by private companies and simply take them for ourselves. For example, we could decide as a city or town to remove the corporate logos from buildings and repurpose them for our own collectives. We would simply not recognize them as “owned” by the company anymore and use them in a cooperative way that benefits us locally. This would require an enormous amount of solidarity among workers and also courage. The corporations would then use the state to try to evict and arrest the local workers from the property and reclaim it as their own. (Because, of course, the state and law enforcement are controlled by the capitalists and serve their interests.) At that point, the workers would have to fight back, probably with deadly violence. I’m not sure if this sort of thing makes me a Communist or an Anarchist.

“The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

I agree with most of this analysis. But the proletariat needs class consciousness in order to revolt, and class consciousness has been taken away from us. We have been sold the values of neo-liberalism and we are all seeing ourselves as individual agents working for our own self-interest and not seeing ourselves as members of a class with class interests. This is what has happened to feminism, too. Although I think the proletariat can certainly overpower the capitalists if we work together, sadly, I don’t see this happening any time soon.

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28 thoughts on “So I read part 1 of the Communist Manifesto

  1. Nor I. And as I commented elsewhere, I *have* studied history and have been known to make arguments about the ways bastard feudalism persists within capitalist structures.

    I’m most sympathetic to the anarchists, as I fear centralized control will simply perpetuate existing systems of oppression. (Ask minority communities in the former USSR for example.) Yes, cream floats, but so does scum. I’ve been contemplating how best to find likeminded women who are also in similar situations of not earning much to live collectively. I think as a group we could have a better chance of owning a place to live and would also be splitting non-monetized jobs such as preparing food, etc.

    The work that I do in all of my jobs increases quality of life and has a high value in increasing the quality of local life but is little valued under capitalism. I would rather put my labor to work demonstrating the advantages of cooperative living.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I have that concern about centralized control, too. I’ve read Animal Farm—when a group of revolutionaries take over a corrupt government, they can become corrupt too. But I do believe in some sort of social organization. The best thing I can come up with at the moment is that local municipalities should democratically elect council members, and that their terms should not be long and the personnel should switch regularly, so that everyone gets a turn to govern occasionally and no ones governs over very many people at a time. The council would simply work on organizing the local people into a cohesive community.

      I definitely wish that we could choose to do work that is meaningful to us, instead of having to do work that the capitalists require. Our lives would be infinitely better.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The thing is that I have chosen meaningful labor over value under capitalism – as someone with a mental illness, I absolutely regard this as fundamental self care. However, it will not aid my mental health to go hungry or sleep rough, either. I’m hoping that reformists manage to convince the assholes in charge that a living wage is necessary to maintaining the system.

        If I can’t find a good co-op living situation, my other fantasy is to build my own tiny home on wheels and convince someone local to rent out part of their back yard to me.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I must get on with this too (the reading, I mean, I’ll be bit too busy for the armed struggle until Tuesday when the child goes back to school). A RL friend of mine always says that the Revolution will kick off between 9am and 3pm when all the angry stay-at-home mothers have actually got some spare time and headspace 😉

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  3. Loved this blog. I have been looking for a Radfem perspective on the class struggle for some time. So-called Marxist feminists write and theorize well enough but there always seems to be more or less bias towards class rather than gender. Radfems, on the other hand, always seem to have a bias towards gender when in fact class and gender (and race) intersect to alarming degree.

    Marxist theory is so powerful because it allows for a structured analysis of social and economic power. Marxist feminists, as far as I know, have not been able to link gender analysis with class analysis. This may change, hopefully soon, because Heather Down, in ‘Marx on Gender and the Family’, looks at unpublished notes to discover a wealth of ideas Marx was working on but which (mostly male) Marxists have ignored or not known about. We urgently need to overcome the neoliberal fixation on identity ‘politics’ which is an individual obsession rather than politics proper. We need to fill the space vacated by socialist feminism; a proper look at who gets to decide what on what basis, where when and why.

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    • I would begin with Engels in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. This is effectively a collaboration between Marx and Engels, although Engels polished it up and published it after Marx’s death. It gives a materialist account of the developments in production and social organisation leading to male supremacy over females.

      It’s been an influential work and Marxists have played a strong role in linking gender and class, although men’s ability to dominate radical politics has also enabled them to influence marxism to too great a degree (very much owing to their ability to establish themselves in it from the beginning).

      Even so, there have been marxist women especially who have combatted this problem and made important contributions, including Lise Vogel (eg see here) and Martha Gimenez – names you’ll recognise now I’ve mentioned them 🙂

      I try periodically posting from the works of known marxist feminists, as well as new contributions, at https://www.facebook.com/MarxistFeminists

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      • I actually follow Marxist Feminists on Facebook already. 🙂 Thanks for the book recommendation, although it will be a while before I can read it. After I’ve finished Anticlimax, the next book on my list will be Deep Green Resistance. I already have my copy and it’s a rather large book. I will have to come back to this later.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting discussion, comrade! I think it’s time I got back to reading the CM (I’ve read excepts in the past but my thoughts have changed a lot since then).

    From your post: “Is it useful to lump all workers into one category, regardless of the large discrepancies in their income levels?”

    These questions have been a huge point of discussion and contention for socialists for years, going back to Lenin (and probably earlier).

    From wikipedia:
    “According to Lenin, companies in the developed world exploit workers in the developing world where wages are much lower. The increased profits enable these companies to pay higher wages to their employees “at home” (that is, in the developed world), thus creating a working class satisfied with their standard of living and not inclined to proletarian revolution. It is thus a form of exporting poverty, creating an “exclave” of lower social class. Lenin contended that imperialism had prevented increasing class polarization in the developed world, and argued that a workers’ revolution could only begin in one of the developing countries, such as Imperial Russia”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_aristocracy

    Thanks for spurring me to think more about this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, yes, yes! Those of us who are workers earning a decent wage in developed countries can’t see ourselves as being in the same group as the exploited workers in other countries, because we’re being given just enough that we don’t think there’s a problem. All social movements needs to focus on the needs of the most marginalized and go from there.

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  5. Some oversimplified terms: in the European feudal system you were either an armed and relatively important man (knights up to kings) who owed loyalty to their immediate higher-up, or you were pretty much property.

    With the rise of trades, guilds, and shopkeepers in the later Middle Ages, you got people who were neither of those. They weren’t sworn to anyone or owned by anyone. (Although they did their best to effectively own their apprentices and servants.) They were just citizens (denizens of the cities…), for which the French term is bourgeois. The aristocrats were very down on these rule-following people with new money (when they had it), so the term became a putdown.

    Bourgeois does not actually mean capitalist. The bourgeoisie generally had to work for a living, although not as grotesquely hard as the serfs and indentured servants, whereas a capitalist lived off the rents from lending out his (almost always “his”) capital.

    Proletariat is a fairly new term pretty much synonymous with “oppressed working classes.” If you weren’t oppressed enough, you weren’t considered a proletarian. See, e.g., the treatment of academics or office workers in the early Soviet Union or during China’s Cultural Revolution.

    And that goes to your question about where reasonably paid and treated workers fit. The closest historical analogy would be to the bourgeois. But as the Uber-ification and offshoring of everything proceeds, we’re all sliding closer to the old indentured group again.

    As for how well these things work, the maxim of communism is “from each according to their means, to each according to their needs.” That would work very well if people were altruistic enough to share what they didn’t need. They’re not. So it doesn’t work at all, except in a few voluntary monastic communities which are too selective to work as general societies. It didn’t work in the early Soviet Union, or in China, or even in small communes. The Israeli kibbutzim came closest, but even there it didn’t last.

    Anarchism assumes that only authorities abuse power. Get rid of authorities and people will be equal and thus treat each other fairly and with respect. (This goes back to Rousseau’s concept that human nature is fundamentally good, that “savages” are noble, and civilization is corrupting.) The Occupy movement had that hope, so they ran themselves with huge meetings where everyone could speak and reach consensus. In no time at all, it was mainly a bunch of white guys speaking and finding the “consensus.” Anarchism doesn’t even work in tiny groups because plenty of people don’t have to be an “authority” to abuse any shred of power or privilege they have.

    None of that means that capitalism is somehow the last idea standing. By capitalism people usually mean market economics and the whole nine yards, and that is based on the assumption that people are rational actors, take the time to get all the relevant information before making decisions, and that nobody tries to unlevel the playing field to their own advantage. Once we’re done hysterically laughing, it’s pretty obvious why that doesn’t work either.

    We need a whole new paradigm. Or a return to the one we’ve been trying to reach forever. It doesn’t seem that hard to summarize: the greatest level of freedom compatible with the same rights for everyone else, taking into account people’s limited time and attention span. I have a pile of ideas on the topic in Re-imagining Democracy. Apologies for linking to myself.

    And even bigger apologies for this preposterously long comment. /*big red face here*/

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t mind long comments at all! (Unless they’re wall-of-text comments by pedantic dudes who have a beef with feminism.)
      If bourgeois doesn’t mean capitalist then I’d say we definitely need to divide ourselves into more than two social classes. The middle classes are oppressed by capitalism but can also be the oppressors of the poverty class.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was briefly working with Occupy. I find meetings a dead bore and, er, gave them a miss, choosing instead to work in the kitchen (which I enjoy – personal philosophy: food may or may not be love, but it is a necessity of life. From ancient times, the hearth has been recognized as a sacred place where sacred things happen. I am a fairly boring Friend most of the time, but given a decent hearth, I make an excellent priestess of the mysteries of hospitality.) I basically did what I thought best, because as long as meals arrive on a regular basis, it’s my experience that the white guys who run the meetings don’t really care too much about the internal workings of a kitchen.

      Also, speaking of my contradictory nature as a Friend who dislikes having to sit in meetings: the Friends have been doing a more or less successful community of quiet anarchy for centuries. Just saying.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I too, was recently pondering whether I fit into the communist camp or the anarchist camp–luckily I came to the conclusion that I have, at some level, always been in my own camp. I certainly see the need for solidarity among people, especially the disenfranchised but I also see unnecessary factions develop when people get hung up on petty differences.

    Sometimes I think it more useful to identify what we’re all AGAINST and let that be what unites us. I am, first and foremost, anti-dominance and if that unites me with communists, anarchists, etc. then good–we need that solidarity, that strength.

    Guillermo del Toro made what I thought was a very astute observation about the ruling class wanting to emphasize petty differences in order to stratify and weaken the oppressed. My brother reminded me that it’s important to recognize our differences and respect them–I would add that along with respecting each other’s differences, we unite on issues that affect us all.

    Down with the patriarchy!!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You don’t have to choose between communism and anarchism. You can agree with both. 🙂

    Although neither of them are particularly women-friendly, so there are limits to how far you can go with either of them.

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  8. Excuse me for commenting in bits and pieces – more hopefully to follow, but just on this for now – you wrote:

    I have mentioned that radical feminists need to do an anti-capitalist analysis; it is also true that Communists need to do a feminist analysis. The following sentence stands out to me because it assumes that the members of the proletariat are all male:

    “The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations…”

    The final sentence of the Manifesto, “Working Men of All Countries, Unite!” displays the same bias. What about the working women? Half the members of the proletariat are women, and we need to assert our rights as a class against the rule of men just as we need to assert our rights as a class against the capitalists.

    Yes, as I mentioned upthread, because of the conditions in which marxism arose, it was dominated from its inception by male-centred attitudes. Although it did quickly demonstrate that it ‘spoke’ more to many working-class women than did bourgeois feminism, which was often overtly in favour of continuing the class system.

    Some of your points read a little as implying that the CM should be taken as the criterion for how much/little marxism has contributed to feminism? Given that it was just one work, and a very early one, I think that would be odd. (Anyway I commented upthread about where to find some coverage of marxist feminism.)

    By the way, the version of the Manifesto written by Marx and Engels had the last sentence as “Proletarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch!” Which is best translated as “proletarians of all countries, unite!” There have been a lot of subsequent translations  done.

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  9. Oh, how lovely! I read the CM in 7th grade, and it pretty much went right over my head. I’ve been thinking of reading it again, but I have so many things to read (like DGR books! I’m starting with Endgame!)

    Like you, I’m decidedly anti-capitalist, but I’m not sure what else I am. I’ve always held fast to anarchism…but I’m not on board with the “individualist” theory.

    It’s difficult for me to read non-feminist anti-capitalist works because yes, it’s all about the menz first and foremost, tacking women on as an extension of the male, and while “different” (other, lower), considered same enough not to require any special analysis on the part of the men.

    Anyhow, I think this is great. (maybe you could write a book one day)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think Marx’s ultimate goal *was* anarchism but I need to read the rest of the CM to be sure. At least that’s how I saw it summed up in a history textbook in my very Southern right-wing principal-is-a-Baptist-minister high school.

    However, I also think he’s far too enamored of industrialism and also civilization–you could get rid of capitalism tomorrow, and these would still lead to oppression.

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