After getting barely a bit into the Communist Manifesto, you start to realize that it hasn’t aged well at 160.
I just finished the epoch by Marx and Engels, although that word is deceiving because all-in-all it comes in at a mere 42 pages. My opinion: things have changed a lot since they wrote this manifesto.
The first major problem I encountered was that they assume this diametrically opposed class war. It’s the “us versus them” mentality that has led to many conflicts throughout time. The communists (I’ll use this word to denote the position taken by the manifesto) argue that the only way for the working class to ever gain anything is to destroy the current system. It’s a hugely false dichotomy now, however, may have rung truer in another time.
Today (in Western culture), there is no proletariat-bourgeoisie class rivalry. There is essentially a spectrum of wealth from the homeless to the worlds richest – and most are above the poverty line today.
To give a clear example of how things have changed consider property ownership. One key argument the communists bring up is that the majority (they claim 90%) do no own property, and because of low wages they never will. However, today in Canada about 70% of people own their own home (many own condos). Yet even if today a minority were still property owners, that would be a good argument for increased wages, not outright class warfare.
This brings me to another issue. The manifesto isn’t entirely clear on the action they are recommending. Some parts read as a call to violent revolution, while others suggest a democratic upheaval first. They talk in one section about coordinating to win elections, but then hint that something more may be necessary to take property away from the rich. However the manifesto ends with a line like:
“[Communists] openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
WORKINGMEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!
I should also point out that the use of the all-caps and exclamation marks typically decreases your integrity and ability to claim rational arguments.
One thought that ran through my head as I read the manifesto was that nothing could have pushed me further from the label of communist than the actual manifesto itself.
I do have to credit it with a few things: it advocates briefly for universal education and an end to child labour, also for minimum wages and working conditions, the nationalization of roads and communications, and it gives decent arguments about how communism doesn’t destroy individuality – unless individuality is solely determined by what you can buy and sell. They also point out that the system of the time clearly provided little incentive for the poor, since they could never make enough to own property, yet they kept on working, however he neglects the fact that needing to put food on the table is a damn good reason to work. However, the communists also calls for an even distribution of people across the countryside as opposed to grouping in towns and cities, which makes no sense in today’s society, and likely little at the time in industrializing nations.
All in all I have to say I was somewhat disappointed by the Communist Manifesto. I was hoping that Lenin truly bastardized it and Stalin furthered the destruction of the ideas, however it’s all pretty much in there. And with a modern middle class and social welfare net, I think we can safely declare that communism is dead.
[tags]communism, marx, engels, Communist Manifesto, books, economics[/tags]