The Communist Manifesto: The Revolution Will Be Centralised – Part Three

In part two of this article we explored a series of drafts for what would eventually become the completed version of The Communist Manifesto. Part three will now look at detail from the manifesto itself to see how the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ developed.

Running at fifty pages long, The Communist Manifesto seeks to impress upon its readers how a communist society could be brought to fruition throughout the world. Indeed, Marx and Engels were clear that,

the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.

Once more this exemplified the authors perspective that a revolution against the bourgeoisie would be a gradual process, one that all members of the proletariat class had a duty to be part of.

In order for the proletariat to “become masters of the productive forces of society“, they had no other option than to, “abolish their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation.”

According to Marx and Engels, because the proletariat lived a life of servitude under the command of the bourgeoisie, and had nothing of their own “to secure and to fortify“, only one course of action was open to them:

Their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property.

Abolishing the right to private property was the ultimate goal of the authors. Their argument was that because the proletariat had no property of their own to speak of, its abolition from society would come at no cost to them. Acquiring individual property was an instance of bourgeoisie capitalism, and the method was to use the labour of the proletariat to generate capital for oneself, thus ensuring a high standard of living. All off the backs of the oppressed worker.

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.

As well as the abolition of private property, another essential part of installing a communist regime would be to eliminate competition, and for the wage labour of the proletariat to be centralised under State control. The theory was that this would mean fairness and equality for all. Under such conditions no one individual would be able to advance beyond his collective class.

And the only way in which this could be achieved was through force.

The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.

As we have previously explored, the communist vision of Marx and Engels could only become a reality through a revolution. It was no good attempting to overthrow a dominant class of people through reactionary measures. To make a success of it, the proletariat must not challenge the current mode of production but instead assume control of it.

In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.

Modern Industry had ensured that production now spanned the entire world. Reversing that tide would, in the eyes of the authors, be reactionary. Instead, what was required was a change in dynamic rather than process. The overthrow of the bourgeoisie in favour of communist rule, with the proletariat acting as the force for change.

Marx and Engels saw the proletarian as part of a collective entity. One of the chief aims of the communists was to, “bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.

Communism was designed from the outset to “represent the interests of the movement as a whole“. The enemy of communism was capitalism because capitalism represented the interests of the individual. The authors stated that,

To be a capitalist, is to have not only a purely personal, but a social status in production. Capital is a collective product, and only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion. Capital is therefore not only personal; it is a social power.

In order to fracture capitalism, it required “the abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom“. By definition, this would create, in its place, a proletarian collective built upon a collective form of independence and freedom managed by the State.

For Marx and Engels, individuality was a necessary sacrifice in the pursuit of freeing the proletariat from the oppressive bourgeoisie, simply because individualism led to people obtaining wealth that was exclusive to them and not for the benefit of society as a whole.

The authors observed that the present bourgeois family was based “on capital, on private gain.” It must, therefore, be rooted out and destroyed. This is confirmed by their own words:

By “individual” you mean no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property. This person must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible.

The authors collectivist mindset, exercised through the vehicle of communism, inevitably brings into question the relevance of nationality in a communist society. This is where the lines begin to blur somewhat between the two ideologies of capitalism and communism. Marx and Engels praised the fact that,

national differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.

Again, this plays to their insistence that any revolution cannot be reactionary by design. Communism would therefore not seek to limit the freedom of commerce, or diminish the world market. The proletariat charged with taking on and defeating the bourgeoisie would have to accomplish this through “united action“. This was “one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.”

By overcoming the bourgeoisie, the proletariat would reign supreme as the dominant force in society. No longer would capitalism exploit the wage labourer. In terms of fully eliminating exploitation, however, it would need to stretch beyond the individual proletarian and into nations collectively.

The exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.

As the power of the proletariat increased, so would their “political supremacy“, enabling them to once and for all wrest control from the bourgeoisie and strip them of their capital. This would then allow for the centralisation of all the instruments of production at the behest of the State, with the proletariat “organised as the ruling class“. Achieving these aims, at least at the beginning of the process to destroy the bourgeoisie, would only be possible “by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production.”

As the movement to displace the bourgeoisie gathered pace, it would “necessitate further inroads upon the old social order,” for which the consequences would prove “unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.”

Presented now are the final ten demands that made it into The Communist Manifesto:

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.

2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.

4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.

5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.

7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the

10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

The communist society that Marx and Engels envisaged can be summarised as one that is under total command of the State, with all rights to own private property abolished, with all lines of money and communication centralised and the personal destruction of any individual who attempts to resist the implementation and preservation of the new regime.

Another important aspect to consider is how the abolition of the bourgeoisie would affect class structure within society. The authors noted that,

when, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character.

Their argument was that if during the proletariat’s quest to oust the bourgeoisie as the dominant class they saw the need to “organise itself as a class“, then this would be justified. And if from this the proletariat, through the means of a revolution, made itself into “the ruling class”, it would then have garnered the power to “sweep away by force the old conditions of production“. However, in doing so the proletariat would also have “swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.

On defeat of the bourgeoisie, and under a new regime of State Communism, the authors were proposing that there would no longer be a system of class in society. Instead, the State would rule by “association“. Therefore, participation in a communist State would not be voluntary. It would be a mandatory requirement. Anything other than full cooperation would be construed as an act of rebellion.

And this brings us to the crux of Marx and Engels’ ambition. The proletariat would be made up of millions of individuals, but each person within the ranks of the proletariat would ultimately be working to a greater good, and not for their own personal gain or achievement. The collective would take precedent over the individual. The manifesto was explicit on this point:

We shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

In part four of this series, I will be reflecting on information gleaned from The Communist Manifesto, and begin by arguing the case that the world we inhabit today is driven more by the ideology of corporate socialism than that of capitalism.

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