The Communist Manifesto and the French Revolution: What was the importance of the French Revolution, according to Marx and Engels? Do you think the authors of the Declaration of the Rights of Man would agree with Marx and Engels?
One of the world’s most renowned and influential political manuscripts, The Communist Manifesto, appeared at the moment when revolutionary forces were ready to break out in a series of major rebellions that forever changed the European political image. One of the crucial background factors for the emergence of The Communist Manifesto was that, by that time, the revolution was an actual normal experience in contemporary Europe.
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This irreversible transformation of the whole continent was triggered by the 1789 events of the French Revolution, which is seen by Marx and Engels not as a separate occurrence but as a key step in the overall revolutionary process. From the bourgeois revolution, they draw the fundamental lesson of the necessity for destroying the existing class system since the ruling class that gained power after the French Revolution eventually moved away from the impoverished masses.
The French Revolution had not destroyed the higher ruling class as such, simply creating a new one, the bourgeoisie that went on to oppress the lower class — and that was a major mistake: “The French Revolution […] abolished feudal property in favor of bourgeois property” (Marx, and Engels 20). As a result, the capitalistic exploitation continued and demanded immediate action, which Europe was to undertake half a century after the French overturn.
Since the political views of the leaders were shaped in a different social environment and by the time Marx and Engels were coining The Communist Manifesto, European economy and society had undergone considerable development, there exist more controversies than parallels between the communists’ text and that of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. On the one hand, the authors of the Declaration proclaimed equality and freedom among men, and the prevalence of the general good above individual interests, and idea that sounds consonant with the overall communistic creed.
On the other hand, the discrepancies between the two manuscripts start already with the notion of equality. Marx and Engels continuously emphasize class struggle as the essence of the ever-existing society, thus refuting any initial equality (Marx and Engels 5).
Moreover, the Declaration still allows for drawing social distinctions based on common utility — a statement that actually sanctions slavery and class oppression and runs counter to the communists’ idea of the necessity for the termination of classes as such. Another point of opposition lies in the attitude to women: while the authors of the Declaration do not even mention the fair sex in their text, Marx and Engels specifically focus on the importance of restoration of women’s rights since in bourgeois society, women are seen as “mere instruments of production” (Marx, and Engels 24).
The social context of the Communist Manifesto: According to your reading, what do you think motivated Marx and Engels to launch their critique of capitalism?
Nowadays, when the memories of the past century’s gory wars for political causes are still fresh in the readers’ minds, Marx and Engel’s insistence on violent class war may seem at least unattractive. However, their case for revolution roots deeply in the intellectual and socio-economic environment of the time. On the one hand, by the 1840s, revolution had become a widespread way of introducing change into the moldy crust of the conventional politics.
On the other hand, witnessing and analyzing the existing economic situation in Germany, France, and Great Britain — the countries Marx and Engels were best acquainted with, and the ones they reposed the biggest hopes in — the heralds of communism envisaged a whole range of social and economic inequities that were to be terminated.
Marx and Engels violently opposed capitalism because the contemporary society had matured to take the challenge of a revolution. In the formerly prosperous Germany, 1840s were the years of economic stagnation, and people were losing their Christian patience in face of the poverty and misery they had to put up with. As a result of increased use of machinery in production, the working masses were homogenized and deskilled, and the value of individual craftsmen came to naught (Marx, and Engels 12). Political institutions were solely in hands of the ruling class, and workers had no right to vote, and even labor unions were either strictly limited or totally illegal — however, those combinations (or “Trades Unions”) were the sign of the ever increasing collisions between the two classes (Marx, and Engels 14).
Poverty was a standard among the working families, and food riots were not an infrequent occurrence either. Though those mutinies neither bore a mass character, nor aimed at major overturns, the general perception of crime at the time was inseparable from the idea of social and political movements. The anxiety of the ruling circles was not about what those movements actually were or what they really did, but what they might become and might do: the fear of mass violence started to spread.
For Marx and Engels the ideal time for a revolution had come since they saw that for one thing, the working class was exploited and oppressed more than ever; and for another thing, it became easier to organize the anticapitalist struggle because due to the requirements of the industrialization the workers, who formed the majority and performed a key role in the production process, were grouped into factories and thus in large cities.
Key Definitions: How did Marx and Engels define “bourgeoisie,” “proletariat,” and “capital”? Characterize each of them with their most important features
Emphasizing the historically dominant two-fold composition of society from the ruling class and the oppressed class, Marx and Engels envisage the contemporary society as that consisting of “two hostile camps […] — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” (Marx, and Engels 5). By the bourgeoisie is understood a class of capitalists who are in full possession of means of social production and who employ the wage labor.
Its origin is seen by the fathers of communism already in the medieval times, when the first elements of bourgeoisie developed from burghers of the earliest times. Nurtured by the expansion of trade market and boosting navigation, commerce and industry, the bourgeoisie reached its prosperity when industrial production, equipped by recent developments, acquired an unprecedented scope and gave birth to industrial magnates.
Exclusively dominating the world market, the bourgeoisie also gained full power over the political aspects of life. Moreover, being a result of revolutions, the bourgeoisie itself revolutionized and practically annihilated the existing “feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations” (Marx, and Engels 7). If the feudal society used to disguise exploitation under various reasons of religious or political nature, the bourgeoisie refuted the old familial and religious principles and left exploitation itself to rule the world.
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Every relation became now a money relation, and in the strive to constantly expand the markets the bourgeoisie has involved every nation in the production and consumption process, forcing civilization everywhere and making the country depend on the towns, poorer nations dependent on the more prosperous ones, etc. (Marx, and Engels 9). Resulting from this market expansion was agglomeration of population, concentration of the means of productions and property in few hands, and centralization of political powers within the bourgeoisie.
As opposed to the bourgeoisie, the proletariat represents a class of wage laborers who do not possess any own means of production and are therefore forced to sell their labor power in order to earn their living. Without work they cannot live, and work is granted to them as long as their labor helps to increase the capital (Marx, and Engels 12). Due to machinery being a part and parcel of contemporary production process, the proletariat performs work devoid of any attractive individuality and thus is viewed as “an appendage of the machine” (Marx, and Engels 12).
Enslaved by the machine, the factory onlookers, and the individual bourgeois manufacturers, they lose any sex or age, being simple instruments of labor. However, in this oppressed state the proletariat at different stages of its development leads struggle with the bourgeoisie: at first demolishing the instruments of production, the laborers later join together in larger groups (Trades Unions) and stand up for their rights to wages.
Though those efforts may bring certain immediate results, Marx and Engels claim that success is possible only in the long-term perspective of united mass struggle; they adhere to an opinion that proletariat is the best suitable class for revolution since it has nothing of the bourgeois prejudice: family, religion, nation, morality or law mean nothing to the indigent working class whose aim is to destroy any traces of individual property (Marx, and Engels 15, 17).
Created by the wage labor, and only by it, is the capital, such a kind of property that exploits wage labor and can only increase on condition of new wage labor for exploitation.. It is the basis of any relations in the bourgeois society and is characterized by independence. Capital cannot be individual; it is created by collective effort and therefore constitutes a social power. The relations with the capital are the key factor that determines the course of the revolution. (Marx, and Engels 21, 27)
The Communist Revolution and Its Society: According to Marx and Engels, how is Communism different from Socialism? How will society look like after the “Communist Revolution” has taken place?
Reviewing the socialistic ideas of the time, Marx and Engels group them into three categories based on the dominant approach and claim that each of those ideological groups lacks certain key points that are vital to communism. Thus, the reactionary socialism blindly rejects the inevitable rise of the bourgeoisie and its even more inevitable subsequent defeat by the proletariat, and to return to the past, outdated feudal relations (Marx, and Engels 31).
Similarly near-sighted appear the conservative socialists: the imminence of class struggle and the victory of the proletariat escape their attention, since they wish for a bourgeoisie-only society (Marx, and Engels 37). As for the critical-utopian socialists, they are too submerged into words and dreams to understand that revolution and action is the only way to social change (Marx, and Engels 40).
Such active revolutionary position of communists aims first and foremost at depriving the bourgeoisie of the basis for subsistence, of the capital and the instruments of production, and at making those state property. By doing so, together with abolishing any inheritance and confiscating private property, the communistic society will centralize the land, transportation, industries and agriculture, and allow all the aforementioned for the general use and benefit. Society will be characterized by equality in the right to education and work, and a more even distribution of people over country and town will be furthered. (Marx, and Engels 28–29)
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Teddington, Middlesex: The Echo Library, 2009. Print.