The Communist Manifesto - 150 years on
Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels
Still Aiming at the Heart of Capitalism
by Steve Lawton
PLUMMETING financial markets flashing across Asia and the British government's slavish "ethics" of colluding in US scorched-earth preparations to wipe out Iraq, are the ugly twin heads of the worldwide capitalist battle to maintain market share and accumulate still greater super-profits.
This central drive of capitalism, which divides societies against themselves and nations against each other, rests on getting as much surplus value out of a workers' labour in return For as little as possible in wages. A fact devastatingly driven home in countries subject to World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) "remedies", but now turning in on the heartlands of capitalism and imperialism.
The whole edifice of the capitalist order and its mode of production, characterised by exploitation, which leads to plundering developing nations, carving up territories, reconquering and recolonising, is exposed in this most important analysis revealed 150 years ago this month by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto.
No Chancellor of the Exchequer, no "think tank" experts, no wizards from London's towering financial consultancies who wallow in the fine details of share price highs and lows; no bank, building society, company, factory or plant boss; no parliamentary representative and no international body -- World Bank, IMF, United Nations (UN), and so on -- is going to tell the people, here or in the developing world, that this is the source of all private profit and warmongering.
Competition for control of markets, amid dwindling resources and sources to plunder all over the world, ends in workers' pay, benefits and rights. being stripped; ends in the creation of vast pools of unemployment; and under-employment; ends, finally, in war to maintain the "competitive edge" of capitalism.
And that edge, that drive creates an overload into over-production, graphically demonstrating it's destructive force as we see with hundreds of billions in Asian currencies being wiped out virtually overnight.
Very quickly, the impact of the huge losses swung silently around to the West. ;
The Communist Manifesto's long-range warning
The prospect of a backlash entering a spiral of more frequent and bigger crashes and, more importantly, driving millions of people -- already at the very precipice of subsistence -- into greater destitution, is now upon us. Not just in the developing countries, but in the heartlands of imperialism too.
After the IMF and World Bank had "assisted" (ie, softened up) many Asian nations by urging austerity and privatisation budgets, talk is of the Asian disaster providing a breach for US conquerors -- those made greedier for their giant-sized conglomeration building -- to march in and clean up in the near future.
Developing and industrialising countries are thus providing "opportunities" now for the West, just when their economic opportunities are in danger of being snuffed out. IMF - World Bank have a remedy: More of the same, except that it should be "better managed."
Vice-president of the World Bank Joseph Stiglitz, telling Asia what it should now do, said in the Wall Street Journal (3.2.98) that the "problems" are "rooted in private-sector financial decisions" -- as near an admission of the failure of privatisation yet -- and because, in the course of liberalisation, governments "did too little".
Governments had "deviated from policies that had proved so successful over preceding decades."
But growth can be achieved again, he said, by "improving the micro-economic and institutional fundamentals. This includes establishing an efficient regulatory system, improving corporate governance, and enhancing transparency more broadly."
So, more of the same, but in a weaker state there is a greater risk of increased poverty from new economic stringencies and more western capital incursions. So also, it seems, there may well be in more crashes than Government Budgets in the offing.
Similarly deceptive language is used by Chancellor Gordon Brown (or "the office of ...") in the January 1998 Labour 's Case newsletter sent to its members: "Government's proposals to tackle international debt involve: Encouragement of debtor countries to adopt and adhere to sound policies to facilitate sustainable economic development, including open, transparent economic policies."
The next day, the International Herald Tribune -(4.2.98) reported IMF's Asia-pacific director Hubert Neiss in Seoul explaining more candidly that "rationalisation and downsizing is desirable [in south Korea], as we have seen in the United States and Europe". South Korea has "to meet the needs of the marketplace if it is to survive" and the trade unions, he said, will have to "accept some measures of labour-market flexibility". To do this he said they must cut public expenditure and allow for a "modest deficit."
This is a direct result of what Marx described in the Communist Manifesto as though it were published yesterday, as the ruling class acting to "compel all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, ie, to become bourgeois themselves. In a word, it creates a world after its own image."
And in fact, it means the extermination of societies and social life, as Marx explained, there is: "Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation". He said: "The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie all over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere."
Conspiracy theorists would be forgiven for thinking the current international crisis is a "set up", since these events, by virtue of how the ruling class rules, does not require a conspiracy: the survival of capitalism, defended and extended by imperialism, is the universal credo of the ruling class exercising state power -- nationally, and through international executive agencies of imperialism.
The Labour government is making no bones about what it represents, as we can see from the recent attacks on benefits, attempts at public sector pay rise restrictions and "ethically" kow-towing to US dictates in the Middle East.
But, as was shown 150 years ago, this state of affairs can be changed.
A commitment to revolutionary change
If Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were active today, they would have had little difficulty in reshaping elements of their most popular, ground breaking and crystal clear analysis of capitalism and its alternative that had ever been published. The Communist Mannifesto was ahead of its time and gained in influence as a consequence.
And if they had the benefit of 150 years hindsight, to return when the Manifesto was launched in 1848, they surely would not have changed a single fundamental principle of this work -- despite the development of capitalism and imperialism and the demise of the world's first socialist state today.
It fulfils, incidentally, better than any other manifesto, what the "definitive" Oxford English Dictionary (OED)describes as: "A public declaration or proclamation, usually issued by or with the sanction of a sovereign prince or state, or by an individual or body of individuals whose proceedings are of public importance, for the purpose of making known past actions, and explaining the reasons or motives for actions announced as forthcoming."
It may not be surprising that the OED prefers to provide a historical sketch of manifestos by emporers, generals, cardinals and parliamentarians, while failing to mention The Communist Manifesto -- ie, The Manifesto of the Communist Party; but that's probahly because this is the living manifesto which forms the bedrock of all Marxist-Leninist parties, of former and current socialist states, ever since Marx was charged by the Communist League with the task of preparing it in 1847.
And, of course, that's the vital difference. Any mention of "manifestos", or worse, "manifesto commitments" at general election time today invariably leads to a response reducing the credibility of its protagonists to virtually zero. Such manifestos in Britain had their origins specifically in the election addresses of party leaders wichin their own Parliamentary constituencies, but today appear more as a transient collection of bland, spin doctor platitudes.
At the beginning of 1848 Marx penned something that has forever outdone and outshone any "public declaration" made by parties of the capitalist state. In fact, all other socialist-oriented manifestos of Marx's time evaporated as this one was being translated all over the world and is widely in print. Timed to order, The Communist Manifesto's programme rose on the crest of rising militancy which burst into revolutionary upheavals throughout Europe in 1848.
Interestingly, Marx was hurried along for apparantly taking too long over it as the pressure of events were beginning to unfold, something that Lenin would have fully appreciated when he began writing abut the major development of Marx's position -- The State And Revoution.
As the revolution erupted in Russia in 1917, he had to halt before the final chapter to "experience" the revolution itself, in order to complete a critical addition to our understanding of state power and how the working class can take it.
Why then, why now?
The Manifesto, in fact, was the first complete statement of the aims of the working class movement and, more to the point, of its historic mission -- to be the "grave diggers of capitalism", to take state power, and itself become the ruling class. And, as the Manifesto says, from that moment to create a new society "in which Ihe free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."
Marx and Engels drew together a revolutionary analysis of society based on their findings from disparate, often desperate, daring deeds and ideas of various socialist persuasions and movements in the 1830s-40s. The strands, theories and views were hung together between 1843 and 1845, and in the years up to 1848 tested in political struggle which saw, for the first time, the development of a communist movement in the modern sense.
This is the immediate background, which extends further back over 50 years of turmoil, particularly to the French Revolution. By 1848 Marx and Engels had all the evidence, as it were, to produce the Manifesto. For instance, Engels had by then thoroughly examined the economic condition of Britain, Manchester and industrial capitalisn with its grinding poverty especially.
While Marx, among other things, had arrived at the crucial two-liner that remains one of Ihe basic tenets of dialectical materialism today: "The philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it."
A few years later, Marx explained what the three principles of the Manifesto were about, in a letter of 5 March 1852. He said, firstly, that the existence of classes is bound to definate historical phases of the development of production; secondly, the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat (which, like the term capitalism, isn't specifically mentioned); and thirdly, that this dictatorship is itself only a transition to the abolition of all classes and leads to a classless society.
That is exactly why the Manifesto, was published then and why it retains its fresh appeal for reveolutionary change today. And as Lenin pointed out, the key matter in the Manifesto is that Marx had identified not the existence of class struggle itself as Marx acknowledged was even acceptable to the ruling class -- but that it must be extended to the dictatorship of the proletariat. That wasn't acceptable.
The organisation that placed the responsibility for the Manifesto with Marx was set up from a number of overseas bodies, mainly European, which eventually met in London on 2-7 June 1847 and then at a decisive conference in November-December 1847. It changed its name from League of the Just to League of the Communists -- Communist League as we refer to it.
And it was here that the new slogan "Proletarians of all countries, unite!", a rallying principle today, was born and concludes the Manifesto. (And it remains "countries", not "world" as the globalisation revisionists would have us believe in order to divert the focus away from an attack on capitalist state power).
The development of capitalism was barely underway as the Manifesto was published in London in mid-February 1848. And yet, despite all that has occurred over the 150 years since, what at root has actually changed?
The product of capitalist anarchy and instability, as in Marx' and Engels' time remains, with sweatshops, child labour, illiteracy, chronic poverty, unemployment and social ghettoes. The Manifesto explains plainly that the cycle of crises, now more intense than ever, cannot be reigned in -- a case of never sharing the fortunes of the rich, but always sharing in their misfortune.
The capitalists' political football of social concessions -- hard-won over decades of working class agitation -- were non-existent then and have since become expendable. Trade unionism would only come out of the Chartist movement much later. Strikes could sometimes be won, but were more often put down with brute military force.
But there again the parallels exist. As the crackdown on labour organisation began particularly 20 years ago and social provision is now being pulled back, penalisation, confrontation, punishmcnt and the rule of the law and force begin to creep forward as the up front arbiters of civil and economic life.
Reactionaries and renegades confounded
The cyphers propagandising capitalisms' new golden age, consigning socialism to the scrap-heap of history once the former Soviet Union had succumbed to imperialism and counter-revolution, did so because they were sure there was a new gateway to more global conquests opening up.
That also meant, in the process, heading off a growing militant response to inevitable crisis. But, fearing that it can galvanise opposition to challenge state power, the ruling class in Britain aims to cut off the labour movements levers of action at a cost we have yet to find out.
Every movement for change, in the aftermath of the Soviet demise, had to he "warned". In every other nation, capitalist bosses, up to their necks in war-profit hungry imperialism, all meant business -- as the people of Russia, the former republics and eastern Europe have found out to their cost.
But awareness is growing of the colossal social experience of the most comprehensive attempt at building socialism the world had ever seen.
Marx and Engels periodically accounted for new political developments in later editions of the Manifesto. In 1882 Marx noticed a possible shift from Europe to a Russian Revolution. After 1917 reaction began slowly to wake up to its implications. Thereafter, through external and internal means, the successful assault on the socialist state of the Soviet Union was carried out.
The ideological process in particular was a major feature of that demise, and it is no accident that the Communist Manifesto itself makes a point of setting out its distinctive position from its detractors and why it is all the more important to realise its value in today's circumstances.
We only have to note thnt Alexander Yakovlev, a key architect of Gorbachov's "restructuring" who was in charge of Ihe Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU)'s Central Committee propaganda department in the early 70s, crudely attacked the Communist Manifesto class analysis.
He said, clumsily, it was "inauthentic" Marx, the later Marx, not the "humanistic" earlier Marx-- bearing in mind, literally speaking, that Marx was only coming up to 30 when he wrote the Manifesto.
And the objection? It was the progression: Manifesto, dictatorship of the proletariat, Capital -- the unsurpassed analysis of exactly how the economic base of capitalism operated. Yakovlev's The Fate of Marxism in Russia gibberish also attacked the slogan of "proletarians of all countries, unite!" as irreconcilable with "free social choice" or Ihe "peaceful community of nations".
The crunch issue was class struggle. Where Marx said "opposing classes wage a struggle that always ends in a revolutionary reconstruction of the entire edifice of society or the universal death of the warring classes", Yakovlev said that Marx "failed...to recognise the harmony of contradictions.
Just as well that the labour movement sees beyond the "harmony of contradictions" of bosses who continue to drive down wages and expand low paid part-timing and casualisation; or as social provision and benefits across the board are slashed; or while pensions, health and education are privatised; and as investment and manufacturing narrows.
There isn't even class peace among formerly executive-managerial personnel who, in Marx's parlance, are being "proletarianised" -- as indicated in the Manifesto. It famously said: "Society as a whole is splitting up more and more into, two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat".
So in fact, as the objective conditions sharpen class struggle, the more the betrayers are seen as out of step, and outmoded next to Marx's analysis 150 years earlier.
This is because, as the: Manifesto for the first time explained, only the working class can solve the crisis of capitalism. And the evidence is all too apparent since endless schools of economists, bank directors and successive Chancellor's have failed to do so.
The Manifesto explains simply how, through unity and solidarity, it is possible -- actually necessary -- to halt the dangerous accelerating crush of intensified exploitation that capitalism imposes on working people.
Marx, Engels and their fellow Communist Leaguers and trade union militants, found that collective political party organisation was the answer; to direct all militant actions -- successful or not -- to achieving state power for workers, "forcibly", as the Manifesto put it, if necessary.
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