Society is flawed. There are critical imbalances in it that are causing much of humanity to suffer. In The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx is reacting to this fact by describing his vision of a perfectly balanced society, a communist society.
Simply put, a communist society is one where all property is held in common. No one person has more than the other, but rather everyone shares in the fruits of their labors. Marx is writing of this society because, he believes it to be the best form of society possible. He believes that communism creates the correct balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of society. He also believes that sometimes violence is necessary to reach the state of communism. This paper will reflect upon these two topics: the relationship of the individual and society, and the issue of violence, as each is portrayed in the manifesto.
But, before we embark upon these topics, I think it is necessary to cite a brief biography of Marx to establish a baseline from which to view his ideas. Also, it is important to realize that in everything, humans view things from their own cultural perspective, thereby possibly distorting or misinterpreting a work or idea. Marx speaks of this saying, "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"(27). With this in mind, some perspective on the society of Marx's time is vital.
Karl Heinrich Marx, a German economist, philosopher, and revolutionist, was born May 5, 1818 in Trier Germany, to Jewish parents. Faced with anti-Semitism, they converted to Christianity, partly to preserve Heinrich's, Karl's father, a Jewish lawyer, job in the Prussian state. Karl, himself, was baptized in the evangelical church
Georg Hegel (1770-1831) was the dominant intellectual influence throughout Germany and the university when young Marx entered the University of Berlin in 1835. His [Hegel] idea was that reality is not fixed and static, but changing and dynamic. Life is constantly passing from one stage of being to another; the world is a place of constant change. But Hegel did not believe the change itself is arbitrary. On the contrary, he thought it proceeds according to a well pattern or method, termed a dialectic, where reality unfolds, the contradictions are resolved and something new emerges; i.e. thesis-antithesis-synthesis.
Marx became strongly influenced by the philosophy of Hegel and by a radical group called the Young Hegelian, who, at that time was attempting to apply Hegelian ideas tot he movement against organized religion and the Prussian autocracy.
In 1841, Marx received his Ph.D. in philosophy and in 1842 became editor of the Rheinische Zeitung in Cologne, a liberal democratic newspaper, for which he wrote increasingly radical editorials on social and economic issues, and for which the paper was eventually banned in 1843. So, Marx, with his new bride, Jenny von Westphalan, moved to Paris.
Marx continued his criticism of society, at which time he was also being influenced by the philosophies of Ludwig Feuerbach, who argued that God had been invented by humans as a projection of their own ideals. Marx met Friedrich Engels, another Young Hegelian in 1844.
In 1845, Marx moved to Brussels and then to London in 1847, which during this time the industrial revolution is taking place, a massive movement away from small farms, businesses operated out of homes, small shops on the corner, and the like. Instead, machines are mass-producing products in giant factories, with underpaid workers. No longer do people need to have individual skills. Rather, it is only necessary that they can keep the machines going, and do small, repetitive work. The lower working class can no longer eke out a tolerable existence in their own pursuits, but are lowered to working inhumane hours in these factories. This widens the rift between the upper and lower class-called bourgeois and proletariat, until they are essentially two different worlds. The bourgeois, a tiny portion of the population, has the majority of the wealth while the proletariat, the huge majority, has nothing. It is with this background that Marx, with the collaboration of Engels, prepares a party platform at the request of The Communist League, an organization of workers, now called the Communist Manifesto.
First, the topic of the individual and society will discussed. This topic in itself can broken down even further. First, the flaws with the "current" system in respect to the bourgeois and proletariat will be shown, thereby revealing the problems in the relationship between individual and society. Secondly, the way that communism addresses these issues, and the rights of the individual, as seen through the manifesto.
Quite clearly, Marx is concerned with the organization of society. He sees that the majority of society, that is the proletariat, are existing in sub-human conditions. Marx also sees that the bourgeoisie has a disproportionate abundance of property and power, and that because of what they are, they abuse it. He writes of how the current situation with the bourgeoisie and proletariat developed. "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles" (9). There have always been struggles between two classes, an upper and lower class. However, Marx speaks of the current order saying, "It [bourgeois] has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones. Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. sociality as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat (10). The very nature of the bourgeoisie causes it to grow in size and power while the proletariat shrinks, therefore increasing the rift between the two. Marx goes on to describe how this situation came about, with the industrial revolution and other factors.
Modern industry has established the world-market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages. We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange (11).
With these thoughts in mind, a more defined view of the individual classes can be attained. First, the proletariat: in several places Marx speaks of how the proletariat is oppressed. He speaks of past societies and the current society when he says, "Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed..." (9). Bourgeoisie and proletariat could quite comfortably be added to this list of oppressor and oppressed. In every way the proletariat is oppressed, with no hope of improving the lot they have been given, or of raising themselves up. Rather, they are forced to march on hopelessly, knowing that they will not be released from their labors till death. Marx also writes of the relationship between the proletariat and the machines, which is a result of the split between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. "He [proletariat] becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simply, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him...Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overseer, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself (17). Marx draws a picture of how the majority of the population is in an oppressed situation of slavery. The lot of the proletariat is not to be envied.
From here, Marx moves on to describe the oppressor, the bourgeois. He is quite eloquent in his portrayal of this class.
The bourgeois, 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 fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom-Free Trade. (12)
Here Marx is speaking of ...
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