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On the 175th anniversary of Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto (1848) (Part One)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted May 15, 2023

In February 1848, in the year in which Karl Marx turned thirty, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was published in German. This was one of the launching points of Marxist thought. It was also the year of huge revolutionary upheavals in Europe. For many succeeding decades, the document languished in obscurity. It only really gained traction in the late nineteenth century. It became a ubiquitous document after the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. It can certainly be debated, however, to what extent Leninism and Stalinism reflected Marx's ideas.

The document was a succinct statement of Marx and Engels' thought. It coined the term "capitalism" to describe the bourgeois system. The central idea was that a revolution was needed to displace the oppressive bourgeoisie – that would usher in a phase of history called socialism. After the struggles of socialism ended, a new golden age of a classless society called Communism, would be ushered in.

Marx's thought certainly called for violence in the initial phase of the struggle against capitalism. Indeed, much later, he criticized the Gotha program of the reformist socialists – which he termed as "revisionism".

If one reads the Manifesto literally, the predicted total socialist revolution against capitalism has never taken place in Western capitalist societies. So that would be for Marx a hope for the future. However, the current-day situation clearly cannot be sociologically related to the situation of the mid-nineteenth century.

Arguably, the most enduring insight of Marx and Engels is to point to the revolutionary nature of capitalism:

"The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part...The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors", and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self‑interest, than callous "cash‑payment". It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value...The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe...The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation...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... All fixed, fast‑frozen relations, with their train of venerable prejudices and opinions are swept away... All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned."

(Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto. Penguin Books, 1967, pp. 82-83.)

So, they had, to some extent, anticipated what is called today by its critics, "woke capitalism".

Indeed, Karl Marx (and his intellectual collaborator and patron Friedrich Engels) have established a heritage of thought which is sometimes said today to be nearly-universally discredited, yet which has both today and historically also attracted a surprising variety of supporters and defenders, across virtually the entire, conventional spectrum of left, right, and center.

It could be argued that the Marxian tradition is more multivalent than its identification with the former East Bloc system, nominally called "Communist" -- suggests. One should avoid either the simplistic condemnation of Marx common among some anti-Communists, as well as the panegyrics which had been de rigueur in the former Eastern Bloc -- which, along with the various depredations of the system -- have today reduced Marx's intellectual cachet far more in East-Central Europe and Russia than in the United States, Canada, and Western European societies that never experienced that "worker's paradise."

It is argued that Marx might indeed have some serious disagreements with the current-day Left – and most certainly with the current-day left-liberal establishment.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.


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