The More things Change (Part II)

And so, we’ll continue my deconstructive/reconstructive view of the surprisingly accurate diagnostically and (not surprisingly) absurdly inaccurate prognostically Communist Manifesto, by our long dead buddies Fred and Karl. We’ll move onto the Second part entitled “Proletarians and Communists”.
Here, we get into more specific discussions of Marx’s/Engels’ grand plans with some specificity: not the abolition of all property, but the abolition of bourgeois property. The problem, of course, is what (the f***) in practice this actually meant. History only proved that one of the Marx/Engels’ prognosis proved deadly accurate:

Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.

“Despotic” and “economically insufficient and untenable” proved very accurate. As always, Marx and Engels were brilliant diagnosticians. The problem they failed to overlook was the intrinsic seductiveness of the bourgeoisie: the abililty of the ruling class to convince the workers that they can join the ruling class (or, in America, for example, why 19% of the nation THINKS its in the top 1% of income and another 20% thinks they WILL BE). At some point, the bourgeoisie, both by actually doing it as well as promising it, lets large numbers of proletarians into either the ruling class itself…
Well, I still think F.D.R. saved capitalism from itself by going to an intermediate stage of socialism, and a self-sustaining one at that– a stage that the current government wants to end, and thereby take us back to… the good old days! (The good old days which inspired Marx and Engels, that is.)
I especially enjoy posting this analysis this the same day the prior order stages a most unrepentant “Royal Second Wedding” (reminding me of a Russian spy character in Casino Royale, who, upon observing free-roaming lions on the country estate of James Bond announces “I did not come here to be devoured by symbols of monarchy!”), and hence, without further adieu, we give you excerpts from Part Deux of Le Manifeste Communiste (en anglait):

The distinguishing feature of communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few.
In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.
Hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned property! Do you mean the property of petty artisan and of the small peasant, a form of property that preceded the bourgeois form? There is no need to abolish that; the development of industry has to a great extent already destroyed it, and is still destroying it daily.
Or do you mean the modern bourgeois private property?
But does wage labor create any property for the laborer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage labor, and which cannot increase except upon conditions of begetting a new supply of wage labor for fresh exploitation. Property, in its present form, is based on the antagonism of capital and wage labor. Let us examine both sides of this antagonism.
To be a capitalist, is to have not only a purely personal, but a social STATUS in production. Capital is a collective product, and only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion.
Capital is therefore not only personal; it is a social power.
Let us now take wage labor.
The average price of wage labor is the minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence which is absolutely requisite to keep the laborer in bare existence as a laborer. What, therefore, the wage laborer appropriates by means of his labor merely suffices to prolong and reproduce a bare existence. We by no means intend to abolish this personal appropriation of the products of labor, an appropriation that is made for the maintenance and reproduction of human life, and that leaves no surplus wherewith to command the labor of others. All that we want to do away with is the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the laborer lives merely to increase capital, and is allowed to live only in so far as the interest of the ruling class requires it.
In bourgeois society, living labor is but a means to increase accumulated labor. In communist society, accumulated labor is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of the laborer.
In bourgeois society, therefore, the past dominates the present; in communist society, the present dominates the past. In bourgeois society, capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.
And the abolition of this state of things is called by the bourgeois, abolition of individuality and freedom! And rightly so. The abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom is undoubtedly aimed at.
By freedom is meant, under the present bourgeois conditions of production, free trade, free selling and buying.
You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.
In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend.
From the moment when labor can no longer be converted into capital, money, or rent, into a social power capable of being monopolized, i.e., from the moment when individual property can no longer be transformed into bourgeois property, into capital, from that moment, you say, individuality vanishes.
You must, therefore, confess that by “individual” you mean no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property. This person must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible.
According to this, bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those who acquire anything, do not work. The whole of this objection is but another expression of the tautology: There can no longer be any wage labor when there is no longer any capital.
But don’t wrangle with us so long as you apply, to our intended abolition of bourgeois property, the standard of your bourgeois notions of freedom, culture, law, etc. Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of existence of your class.
The selfish misconception that induces you to transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason the social forms stringing from your present mode of production and form of property — historical relations that rise and disappear in the progress of production — this misconception you share with every ruling class that has preceded you. What you see clearly in the case of ancient property, what you admit in the case of feudal property, you are of course forbidden to admit in the case of your own bourgeois form of property.
Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists.
On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among proletarians, and in public prostitution.
The bourgeois claptrap about the family and education, about the hallowed correlation of parents and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all the family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor.
National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.
The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster. United action of the leading civilized countries at least is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.
In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another will also be put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.
When the ancient world was in its last throes, the ancient religions were overcome by Christianity. When Christian ideas succumbed in the eighteenth century to rationalist ideas, feudal society fought its death battle with the then revolutionary bourgeoisie. The ideas of religious liberty and freedom of conscience merely gave expression to the sway of free competition within the domain of knowledge.
“Undoubtedly,” it will be said, “religious, moral, philosophical, and juridicial ideas have been modified in the course of historical development. But religion, morality, philosophy, political science, and law, constantly survived this change.”
What does this accusation reduce itself to? The history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonisms, antagonisms that assumed different forms at different epochs.
But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms.
We have seen above that the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy.
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.
Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.
These measures will, of course, be different in different countries.
Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable.
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralization of credit in the banks 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 obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its pre
sent form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it 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.

Once again, I am amazed at how accurate their critiques of capitalism were, and how unbelievably wrong they were about the effects of communism. The fact of the matter is, the advance of industrialism in Western Europe and Northn America and Japan made communism as such intrinsically untenable in those areas: management of the industrial state (and ultimately, the super-industrial state) became so complex that the bourgeois became so large that it needed to recruit sufficiently large numbers of people out of those who would otherwise be proletarian, that the proletariat could never be fully exploited to the ranks of the totally hopeless, subsistence state that Marx and Engels envisioned. With so many people required for the managerial class, the fearsome competition envisioned by Marx and Engels to be subsistence labor was not quite so fearsome, so wages could be above subsistence levels. This was not the case in industrially underdeveloped Russia and China, of course, where serfdom had not even ended at the time of their communist revolutions, and indeed, industrial workers in those areas, while better off than serfs, weren’t much better off than serfs.
Further, Western Europe (notably Germany, under Bismarck) had, whether inspired by Marx and Engels, or despite them, decided to head off possible revolution by preemptively introducing the modern social welfare state (decades ahead of FDR).
Where am I going? You got it: our nation’s current non-industrial policy (that is, I affirmatively submit that our nation’s policy is to effectively de-industrialize the nation) for the benefit of a few fabulously wealthy people, as manifested by such factors as a decline in the technical qualifications of our workers, “out-sourcing” of knowledged based jobs to Bangalore and Chenai and Kuala Lumpor and wherever else they are going, our regressive tax system perversely discouraging savings and encouraging consumption and debt, and other factors, are on their way to potentially replicating (in the United States) what Marx and Engels considered the preconditions for communist revolution.
Marx and Engels were outrageously inspecific about what eliminating bourgeois property meant in practice, of course, eliminating the bourgeoisie, who happened to be the people most capable of assembling and managing the industrial structures that led to the formation of the capital. One sees no reason why a future “revolution” wouldn’t make the same bloody and self-defeating assumption: resentment of others remains one of the fundamental human emotions (probably THE most fundamental).
One wonders why, quite frankly, simple impositions of conditions 2 (progressive income tax), 3 (progressive tax on inheritances) and 10 (ending child labor and imposing compulsory public education) wouldn’t solve ALL of the excesses of capitalism, all by themselves. Because, quite frankly, when employed in European socialist states, they did. Marx and Engels would have had to hang around at least another 50-100 years to have seen that, of course…
But my point remains: very simple and not particularly expensive tweaks (think “minimum wage” including mandated health insurance coverage, inheritance tax at same rate as income tax, progressive income tax, old age and disability pensions… can keep capitalism from spinning into the sort of insanely exploitive relationships that sow the seeds of possible revolutionary change. And our government, for the last 3/4 of a century, has been engaging in those tweaks, until the current government wants to bring them all down (even as dissenters within the Republican Party itself may slow this down… for a while…).
It’s all fascinating, no?