25 November, 2003

Marx's Communist Manifesto: What Happened to the End of History?

The following is an assigned essay which was completed for a grade. Unfortunately, some formatting has been lost in the transition to LJ.

Eric J. Herboso
Fr. Williams
English 243
Tuesday, November 25, 2003.

Marx’s Communist Manifesto:
What Happened To The End Of History?

The world has progressed a long way since the first publication of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Many ideas that started with Marx have disseminated throughout the global society, and many minds have been influenced by his predictive rhetoric. But even after all of these years, no country has yet done what Marx called inevitable. Where is the classless society today? Where is the universal brotherhood that Marx promised?

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx put out a call to arms, using powerful emotive content to bring about a change to revolution. But as Marx makes very clear in his Das Kapital, the idea of universal brotherhood is not due merely to his imposition of will upon the public, but it is instead the necessary future society: “[T]he fall [of the bourgeoisie] and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable” (Marx §1). It, as Gus Tyler remarks in Marx’s Manifesto Revisited: 150 Years Later, is “not because Marx wanted it but because natural factors at work in the world preordained it” (Tyler 1). One must remember Marx’s criticism of Hegel: that yes, the history of society follows strict logical rules (“In his eyes, to credit [Marx] with fathering the numerous movements that have claimed his name would be equivalent to crediting Darwin with inventing the process whereby the ape became man, or crediting Copernicus with inducing the earth to revolve around the sun instead of vice versa” (Tyler 1) ), but that what exists today is definitely not the ‘end of history’. Marx very much disagreed with Hegel on the issue of the economic system in place in his day: capitalism. (Though to be fair, Hegel did not say anything specifically about economic systems; he was merely making a generalization about history having ‘run its course’.) But Marx did agree with Hegel on the idea of history being scientifically predictable, and it is in this vein that he shows clearly that capitalism will eventually be replaced with the ‘universal brotherhood’.

But the universal brotherhood as predicted by Marx has not yet come to pass, despite numerous attempts. The questions begs to be asked: Why not?

As Tyler states quite aptly, “during the past 150 years there has not been one country where the economy has been collectively owned and democratically controlled. In a number of Western industrial nations Socialists, Social Democrats or Laborites have been in power over extended periods of time, but they have never fully socialized the economy. In the USSR and Communist China there have been forms of collective ownership sans democracy. Why has the inevitable been so evitable” (Tyler 2)?

Jeremy Smith cuts right to the heart of the matter: “Before capitalism, incomes doubled every 630 years. From the advent of the first industrialized nation until today [1999], incomes have multiplied 10 times in Great Britain, 18 in the United States, and an astonishing 25 in Japan” (Smith 1). He goes on to mention the growth of life expectancies, communication, transportation, and agriculture. Of course, these items would not go away if a universal brotherhood ever did come to pass, but it is clear that once such a society comes into existence, capitalism will cease to be able to encourage growth in so many varied areas.
But this is merely an evasion of the question – just because capitalism encourages growth should not change the logic of Marx’s masterpiece, Das Kapital. Capitalism should grow and grow until “[s]ociety as a whole is more and more [split up] into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat” (Marx §1). Once this happens, the eventuality of a revolution seems quite inevitable, indeed – but then here is the answer to the aforementioned question: obviously society was never split up into those “two great hostile camps”. The following is from Aijaz Ahmad’s “Problem of Universality”: “It can be argued that in the actual history of the past one hundred and fifty years capitalism has not ‘simplified’ class antagonisms but created a very intricate system of differentiations based on scales of property, salaries, and wages, both nationally and transnationally, while this global class structure is further complicated by the feminization of certain labor regimes as well as racialisms and ethnicizations of various sorts” (Ahmad 5).

Marx foresaw “the entire middle class being wiped out, leaving only a small number of bourgeois exploiters on the one hand and, on the other hand, the rest of humanity, the proletariat, sinking ever deeper into a mire of misery” (Tyler 2). But in industrial societies, this never happened. Instead, we got the The New Deal, shortened the workweek, and “won job security, workmen’s compensation, unemployment insurance, occupational safety and health legislation, Social Security, better housing, and medical care” (Tyler 2). A delicate balance was contrived between outright laissez faire capitalism and radical socialism. As Smith puts it, “society [has] atomized into a hundred contending subcultures and occupations, each of its members identifying with a consumer niche instead of a ‘class’ (Smith 3).

But that is only the beginning. Of the ills plaguing the proletariat, the Manifesto proclaimed, none was more devastating than “the commercial crises that by their periodic returns put on trial, each time more threateningly, the existence of the entire bourgeois society. … In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that in all earlier epochs would have seemed an absurdity – the epidemic of overproduction” (Marx §1). Marx assumed “they would grow increasingly menacing as long as capitalism existed, because the state was nothing more than ‘the executive committee of the ruling class’ and would give the bourgeoisie a free hand to do whatever it pleased” (Tyler 4). But Marx was wrong. Instead, the “worldwide crisis of the 1930s…provoked a political response. … [Governments] developed what the Swedes called the ‘middle way’, what some called ‘social democracy’, or the ‘social market’, and what the United States called the ‘New Deal’ ” (Tyler 4).

But what of those countries who did turn toward the more progressive socialism hailed as inevitable by Marx? Why have they not flourished as Marx predicted?

Marx said that once the soviets came into power, oppression would end on a governmental scale. And yet: “under the thumb of Lenin and his successors the soviets became probably the most oppressive state in all previous history” (Tyler 6). The abolition of the state became the absolutism of the state. As Lord Acton put it, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Tyler goes further in depth: “As the Communist experiment evolved in the Soviet Union, it became evident that instead of shifting from a brief interim dictatorship to an ultimate democracy, it was going in quite the opposite direction” (Tyler 6). Everything was falling apart. Marx decried: “from each according to his ability; to each according to his need”; and yet although everything was taken according to ability, things were only given based on whether or not you were part of their communist party. Marx had: “a chiliastic view of life that is most commonly held by religious seers who prophesy a Judgment Day when the evil will be tossed into Hell and the virtuous will live happily ever after” (Tyler 3).

Thankfully, those Socialist governments that come into power today have learned from the lessons of history. They “do not rush to put an immediate end to capitalism by socializing the economy. They prefer a ‘synthesis’ in which the economic advantages of capitalist production are countered and balanced by the ethical imperatives of a socialistic distribution of income and wealth” (Tyler 6).

It is obvious that Marx was wrong when he called the revolution of the proletariat eminently inevitable. But his critique of capitalism is certainly right on the money. And because of his voice, the world is changed, whether he would want to credit himself for it or not.

Ahmad, Aijaz. “The ‘Communist Manifesto’ and the Problem of Universality”.
1998, Monthly Review June v50 n2 p12(12).

Marx, Karl & Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Trans. Samuel Moore.
1888, first English edition.

Smith, Jeremy. “Manifesto Destiny: The Enduring Sexiness of Karl Marx”.
1999, Dollars & Sense, March-April i222 p7(2).

Tyler, Gus. “Marx’ Manifesto Revisited: 150 Years Later”.
1998, The New Leader, Oct. 5 v81 n11 p11(4).

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