This section of Discover The Networks contains links to the original text of some of communism’s seminal publications, wherein leading communist/socialist theorists and political leaders lay out their vision of human progress and utopia. The most vital of all these texts is the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The tenets of this book laid the foundation for all subsequent communist movements around the world, including, most notably, the Russian Revolution of 1917 which brought Vladimir Lenin to power. That revolution set the stage for a century of totalitarian oppression — led by such murderous luminaries as Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Pol Pot — that would result in the slaughter of at least 100 million souls.
The Communist Manifesto was an incitement to totalitarian ambitions whose results were far bloodier than those inspired by Mein Kampf. In the Manifesto, Marx announced the doom of free market societies, declared the liberal bourgeoisie to be a “ruling class” and the democratic state its puppet, summoned proletarians and their intellectual vanguard to begin civil wars in their own countries, and thereby launched the most destructive movement in human history.
The Manifesto‘s principal thesis claiming to analyze complex societies on the basis of a single structure — economic class — is announced in its very first line: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.”
The Manifesto‘s message is: Civil War. The book is not a call to thought, but a call to arms. The striking thesis of the Manifesto is that democratic societies are not really different in kind from the aristocratic and slave societies that required revolutions to overthrow. Democratic capitalism is “unmasked” by Marx as an “oppressive” and tyrannical system like all the rest, and therefore requires extra-legal and violent means to liberate its victims from its yoke. That is why those who have been inspired by the Manifesto have declared war on the liberal societies of the West.
The meaning of the first sentence of the Manifesto, then, is this: All (non-socialist) societies are divided into classes that are “oppressed” and those who oppress them. Capitalism is no different, even though its revolutions may have instituted democratic political structures designed to enfranchise the “oppressed.” The very idea of democracy in a society where private property exists, according to the Manifesto, is an illusion: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” In other words, democratic elections are a sham. Civil war is the political answer to humanity’s problems: “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.” The solution to all fundamental social problems — to war, to poverty, to economic inequality — lies in a conflict that will rip society apart and create a new revolutionary world from its ruins. This is the enduring message of the Manifesto, and why its believers have left such a trail of human slaughter in their path as they set about to create a progressive future.
Almost every important analytic thesis of the Manifesto — including its opening statement — is patently false. History is not the history of class struggle, as defined by Marx — i.e., a struggle between economic oppressors and the oppressed. Not even the historical event which provided the basis for Marx’s theoretical model, the French Revolution, is explicable in these terms. Historians like Simon Schama and Francis Furet have established, beyond any reasonable doubt, that capitalism was already thriving under the monarchy, and it was the nobility, not the bourgeoisie, that upended the ancien régime. When we look at the twentieth century, whose course has largely been determined by forces of nationalism and racism, which Marx utterly discounted, the hopeless inadequacy of his theories becomes fully apparent.
According to Marx, the bourgeois epoch possesses a distinctive feature: “It has simplified the class antagonisms: Society 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.” But this is untrue. Much of the Marxist critique of capitalism reflects nothing so much as a romantic longing for a feudal past in which social status was pre-ordained and irrevocable, and stamped every individual with a destiny and a grace: “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.”
This is inaccurate as well. In reality, capitalism has turned physician, lawyer, scientist, and poet into entrepreneurs themselves. In the open societies created by capitalist revolutionaries, such people can set up as independent contractors; they can incorporate themselves; and they can move up the social and economic scale to heights undreamed of when their status may have been “reverential” but where it was also fixed by the immutable relations of an authentic “class society,” which bourgeois society is not. The complexity and fluidity of class structure in developed capitalist societies has made a mockery of the core principles of Marxist belief.
Marx’s descriptions of the progressive economic expansion of market societies under the leadership of the “bourgeoisie” provide most of the basis for claims that the Manifesto is an accurate and “prescient” work. Marx famously extolled the capitalist class for constantly “revolutionizing the forces of production,” concluding: “The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.”
This sentence encapsulates both the seductive power of Marx’s writing and the sinister import of his theory. The description would seem to be an endorsement of capitalism, indicating the immense value to all members of society in the encouragement it has provided to an entrepreneurial class to create more social wealth than the world has ever known. It would hardly seem to provide an argument for the permanent war that Marx goes on to advocate against the bourgeoisie in the name of human progress. But even in the sentence quoted, one sees how the theory is designed to cancel the praise. Marx identifies the creative entrepreneurs as “rulers” in a sense designed to parallel that of absolutist monarchs and slave-owners, and thus to detach them from the reality of their achievement and from the fact that they earn the power they accumulate, and thus to incite social resentment and hatred against them. The theory further postulates that the productive forces these entrepreneurs have created have “outgrown” them, and make it necessary to destroy their “rule.”
According to Marx: “Modern bourgeois society … is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.” Marx is referring here to the business cycle and its economic crises.
Marx contends that the bourgeoisie is at war with the very forces of production that it has called into being (“The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself.”) Adds Marx, the forces of production called into being by the bourgeoisie have also created a class, the proletariat, which is both the bourgeoisie’s victim and its antagonist. The proletariat has no property itself, and therefore is in a position to abolish private property which is the “condition” of bourgeois production and bourgeois oppression; to remove the bourgeois “rulers” from their corporate thrones; and to create a cooperative society in which the economy can be organized according to a “social plan.” This development emanating from the logic of History that Marx has discovered, has all the inevitability of a natural force:
“The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
Under the spell of prose like this, whole generations of “progressives” have been blinded to the obvious bounties of democratic capitalist societies and encouraged to make war on them; and with a nihilistic fury, they have been inspired by illusions of “social justice” producing human tragedy beyond measure. Even in the wake of the Communist catastrophe, Marx’s heirs are willing to acknowledge only that Marx’s economic categories are too narrow and that the proletariat has failed to make the revolution. But the core Marxist model — the model which proposes that democratic societies are oppressive and tyrannical, that they deserve not fundamental allegiance and constructive attention but venomous scorn and nihilistic rejection, that democratic processes and institutions are a sham, that the just solution to social problems lies along the path of civil confrontation and political warfare — this model is alive and well among radical feminists, racial separatists, queer nationalists, post-modernists, critical theorists, and kitsch Marxists that inhabit America’s universities and editorial rooms.
What needs to be emphasized is that Marx, in his Manifesto, was entirely wrong about the oppressive nature of the bourgeoisie and the outmoded nature of capitalist production; wrong about the increasing misery of the working class; wrong about the increasing concentration of wealth and the increasing polarization of class under capitalism; wrong about the labor theory of value and the falling rate of profit; and wrong about the possibility of creating an advanced and democratic industrial society by abolishing private property and the market in order to adopt a “social plan.”
Here is how Marx’s Manifesto depicted what it foresaw as the political future:
“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.”
But in reality, political power is not “merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another.” In democratic market societies — where social mobility is fluid, the people are sovereign, and the rule of law prevails — classes do not “oppress” one another, and those who inflame the passions of revolution are inciting their followers to criminal acts.
Private property may be the basis of class divisions, as Marxists claim, but private property has been proven by all history to be the indispensable bulwark of human liberty, the only basis for producing general economic prosperity and social wealth that human beings have yet discovered. There are no democratic societies, or industrial societies or post-industrial societies that are not based on private property and economic markets. Those who, in the tradition of Marx and his Manifesto, make war on private property, make war on human liberty and human well-being.
* Adapted from: “Marx’s Manifesto: 150 Years of Evil,” by David Horowitz (May 27, 1998).
The Communist Manifesto
By Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
The Principles of Communism
By Frederick Engels
The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
By Frederick Engels