Karl Marx

Whereas the utopians believed that people must be persuaded one person at a time to join the socialist movement, Marx believed that people would tend to act in accordance with their own economic interests. So no persuasion needed. This belief is known as historical materialism, an argument which support that the world is changed not by good wishes and ideas but by actual physical-material activity and practice. Thus, appealing to the working class best material interest would be the best way to mobilize them to make a revolution and change society. Sounds like a very good plan. The best thing of the plan is that it was, according to Marx, inevitable; capitalism should fall by its own weight. Moreover, is not just any kind of capitalism; Marx states that perfect capitalism (modeled capitalism) falls, and consequently, all others.

This is said by a man that dedicated almost 20 years of his life going to a library to study all there was to be known about economics. If you are not impressed by that, knowing that four children of him died because the poverty he was living because of that hard study, should impress you. And if passion is not enough for you, the almost 2.500 pages of cold analyzing of capitalism in in four volumes of  Das Kapital should make you respect him, at least.

So what could be so power to dedicate your life to? I don’t know, but Marx gives you a hint: “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it”. But why to change society? Maybe Marx didn’t even question that; there were a lot people unhappy with social arrangement in those times (See more in Owen). John Stuart Mill (See more in Mill) characterized the French government as “wholly without the spirit of improvement and… wrought almost exclusively through the meaner and more selfish impulses of mankind“. Nicholas I (despite the Tsar’s one-time visit to Robert Owen’s New Lanark) was characterized by the historian Tocqueville as “the cornerstone of despotism in Europe“. Industrial workers realized that for all their work, they weren’t receiving enough compensation. First, they were frustrated, then they become angry. Revolution was in the air. Changing wasn’t longer an option; it was the only way. 1848 was the terror year for the old order in Europe.

Had the despair been channeled and directed, it might have changed into a truly revolutionary one. But it was spontaneous, undisciplined and aimless; they won initial victories, and then, while they were wondering what next to do, the old order slapped them back into place. The revolutionary fervor was abated and crushed. In Paris, 10.000 people died in the mobs by the National Guard. In Belgium, the country decided that it is better to keep the king, and the king acknowledged it by abolishing the right of assembly.

The revolution was over, but not for a few: The Communist League, a group of communists which counted with the presence of Karl Marx and Friederich Engels. For them, 1848 was only the beginning for a massive change scheduled for the future with a undoubtedly success. The Communist League commissioned their ideas to Engels and Marx to produce The Communist Manifesto (See more here).
Deeper into the Manifesto you find a philosophy. It even has a name: dialectical materialism.

  • Dialectical because it incorporates Hegel ideas of inherent change. Change, according to Hegel, was the rule of life. Every idea, every force, irrepressible bred its opposite, and the two merged into “unity” that in turn produced its own contradiction. So there is nothing wrong or right, but always struggle.
  • Materialism because it grounds itself to the real world, not ideas. As Engels put it in his work “Anti-Duhring” “..starts from the principle that production, and with production the exchange of its products, is the basis of every social order; that in every society that has appeared in history the distribution of the products, and with it the division of society into classes or estates, is determined by what is produced and how it is produced, and how the product is exchanged. According to his conception, the ultimate causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in the minds of men, in their increasing insight into eternal truth and justice, but changes in the mode of production and exchange; they are to be sough not in the philosophy but in economics of the epoch concerned“.

So, whatever the solution to the the basic economic problem, society require a “superstructure” of noneconomic activity of thought. This is not an independent superstructure but deeply in connection with real economic activity. Moreover, this relation means that thought and ideas are product of environment, even when they aim to change the environment. Here is the constant struggle, the dialectical part: material life shape ideas, and ideas shapes material life in the next period. As Marx put it:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given, and transmitted from the past“.

The Manifesto wasn’t just a cry for revolution, but a philosophy of history in which a communist revolution was not only desirable but inevitable. Unlike the utopians, who wanted to reorganize society closer to their desires, communist did not appeal to men sympathies and desires. Marx criticized utopian socialists, arguing that their favored small-scale socialistic communities would be bound to marginalization and poverty, and that only a large-scale change in the economic system can bring about real change.
Communists, on the other side, appeal to a cold analysis of what social system inevitable will be; a social system ruled by proletariat. They have only to wait, they could not lose. They did wait; seventy years.

Marx contemplated the possibility of Russia’s bypassing the capitalist stage of development and building communism on the basis of the common ownership of land characteristic of the village mir. Was Russia what Marx had in mind?. Was U.R.S.S a government ruled by proletariat? Was it even a left government? (understanding left wing parties those who opposition social hierarchy). Maybe is not a good idea to bypass development.

The most important impact of Marx and Engels were not their revolutionary activities; none brought too much fruit during their own lifetimes. The most important impact of Marx and Engels were their vision and philosophy. For Engels, it was clear that private property was not a mean for organizing society, but for Marx it was even more: capitalism must finally collapse. As he saw it, pure capitalism must collapse, not by boycott but just itself. Marx didn’t just believe it, he modeled and he prove it (at least, his model of capitalism).

Marx did a complete study of the monster of capitalism and he foresaw his dead. The good thing was that the giant monster won’t need to be killed by armored knight, but just by himself: a monster will eventually fall by his own weight. The thing is that history tell us something different: that the monster did not fall but became stronger; capitalism evolve to neoliberalism. Improves made by Milton Friedman gave our most precious aspects of life to feed the monster: health, education and pensions.

So, the monster did not fall by his own weight, but it became stronger. What happened? Why he didn’t die and became stronger? How is that we are making him even stronger? What are we doing to kill him? Do we really want him to die?

Karl Marx wasn’t communism inventor, just like Adam Smith wasn’t capitalism’s, but they gave a deep and great structured description of the most well known kinds of economy and social order; market economy and planned economy. Is there something else?.

Dedicated to “Sepu, el Sepulveda”.

The Communist Manifesto

These are some notes that summarize the book, and a little bit more.

It starts defining the main actors of society: “Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each others: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat“.

For the Bourgeoisie,

  • It started to raise with America discovery, which boosted the economy with new markets. To keep up with the demand, Industrial Revolution was an effect of growing demand. It states “bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange“.
  • But the importance of this class is not just that, but political influences: “The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” A concept that is particularly strong today, with researchers of Princeton stating that: “Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism“} (Gilens and Page 2014).
  • The great power of that little class bourgeoisie, is not just a political problem, but the pain that comes with that: “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its hale every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.
  • If lack of honor doesn’t touch your heart, “the bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation“, should.
  • But if you’re not easily impressed by drama, the economic idea: “the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society“, should definitely take your attention.
  • Now, quite a certain prediction from 164 years ago: “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere…. in place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations“. Globalization doesn’t sound that new now.
  • If you are worried about exceptions, known as economical crises, well, “It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put on its trial, each time more threateningly, the existence of entire bourgeois society“. So maybe, economical crises are the rule rather than exceptions. History might by a help to that affirmation too.
  • And the problem get bigger and bigger: “It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production, it compel them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image“. And the problem is that “It has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralization“. So, every time you believe that politics and economics are way too different things, remember that the guy who studied around 20 years of economics said a totally different thing.
  • But crises ends, how?, the Manifesto states that: “…how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand informed destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones.“. But “that is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented“. So crises do not really ends, they just take breaks. Meanwhile bourgeoisie still exists, therefore to really end crises bourgeoisie should end too.
  • When you’re sick and tired of too much bourgeois, Marx makes you smile: “It (bourgeoisie) is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society“.
  • If you don’t trust in capitalism to commit suicide, we have one more thing to help: “the weapons which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself … not only the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons- the modern working class- the proletarians“.

For the Proletariat,

  • They are “labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find wok only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piece-meal, 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“. As a commodity “the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for his maintenance“.
  • You probably don’t identify yourself with the proletariat, but with the middle class (probably you believe you came from). But that’s just for now; “The lower strata of the middle class – the small tradespeople, shopkeepers, retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants- all these sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless by the new methods of production. Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population“. So proletariat seems only to grow in a capitalist society.
  • Proletariat not only grow, but concentrate: “..with the development of industry the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more”.
  • Proletariat also develop in a very curious way: admitting part of the bourgeoisie in itself; “The bourgeoisie finds itself involved in a constant battle. At first with the aristocracy; later on, with those portions of the bourgeoisie itself, whose interests have become antagonistic to the progress of industry; at all times, with the bourgeoisie of foreign countries. In all these battles it sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for its help, and thus, to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own instruments of political and general education, in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie… These also supply the proletariat with fresh elements of enlightenment and progress“.
  • Indisputably, proletariat is indispensable; “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is it special and essential product”.
  • But, why the lower classes could have an option to stand against the ruling classes? why now? The Manifesto speaks: “All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority“.

What is the relation between proletariat and bourgeoisie? Enemies; “The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry and that place the workers of different locates in contact with one another. It was just this contact that was needed to centralize the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes….thanks to railways, achieve in a few years“. Internet, this is your opportunity to be helpful.

What is the future of proletariat? “.. proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the total proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive force as rapidly as possible}. In other words, proletariat should get power; \emph{Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class oppressing another“.

So, how the proletariat get to actual power (to rule)? The Manifesto gives you the recipe:

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes. Not all property; “The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property“. It even add: “Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of the others by means of such appropriation”.
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
  3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
  5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
  6. Centralization 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 labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
  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.”

There you go with another Ten Commandments.

Is it all about power and who gets it? No, there is a light at the end: “..if, by means of revolution, it (proletariat) makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, 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.
In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. It is sad that Marx and Engels did not dedicate much effort in the Manifesto to explain more about this objective, why would we go to a place that poorly defined?.

For the Communists,

  • First, defining Communism should be helpful. The Manifesto summarize the theory of Communists in four words: “Abolition of private property”}. But “Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of the others by means of such appropriation“.
  • I prefer to define Communists by their objectives: “The immediate aim of the Communist is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat“.
  • Have you notice the particular power of women in communism? In Chile, post Allende, the main communism figures were (and are) women. The Manifesto could have warm word for them: “The bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion than the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women… The Communists have no need to introduce community of women; it has existed almost from time immemorial“.

My favorite part of the Manifesto is:
The essential condition 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 laborers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the laborer, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie, therefor, produces, above all, it own grave diggers. It fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable“. Lovely.

The communists disdain to reconcile their views and aims… They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social relations. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win“, are the last sentences in the Manifesto. The ruling classes did tremble, and they saw the threat of communism everywhere.

One of the things you realize in the Manifesto is that technology development works only for the bourgeoisie. That is what kills me; most of the scientists and engineers work goes in favor the bourgeoisie and not to make a better life for the majority of people. In Manifesto words: “The unceasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their (proletariat) livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes“.

This document is so powerful, even when it lacks of numbers, was the bible for social changes that affected the life of quite a quantity of societies.