The Communist Manifesto – A Completely Subjective Response

marx-bioIf I disagree with someone, I don’t like to do it out of hand. I like to hear their argument first. Sometimes I only need to hear a few words of it to decide that this person is too stupid to formulate an opinion, or has formed an opinion without adequate information, or is plainly and simply divorced from any concept of reality. There’s no arguing with such people, there’s only coping. It’s impossible to change their opinions. Opinions can only be altered if they’re based on reason and adequate information.

Most opinions are not based on reason and adequate information. In America, most opinions are based on what our parents taught us and on what we heard on television. Because God knows the guy who hosts the evening talk show is a much better public policy analysts than a philosopher, a political scientist or any of America’s Founding Fathers.

I don’t want my opinions to be those kinds of opinions, so I tend to constantly challenge them by seeking additional information and by reading (yes, reading) the arguments of those with whom I disagree. I stress reading because, contrary to the current fashion in the business world, (“Email is the root of all evil. Email is confusing and imprecise. The only way to really communicate is to have a face to face conversation.”) I consider spoken communication to be by nature less organized and rational than written communication, and harder to absorb. Yes, you can listen to a very well-crafted speech or lecture, but do you take in all of it? Probably not. Attention span is short. Retention varies. With written works, it’s much easier to flag the especially interesting bits with a highlight (virtual or real), to make notes (ditto), and to go back and re-read a passage that confuses you. The majority of published written works are carefully thought-out and organized. The majority of published spoken works are highly emotional and disorganized. There are exceptions on both sides.

So I don’t like Communism. Indeed, I feel there’s almost no overlap between my worldview and that of a Communist. Whether or not you feel Communism has ever been actually tried on planet earth, I have pretty much always disagreed with its basic philosophy. I don’t believe that any society can thrive if it has common ownership of the means of production, and if it has no classes, no monetary system, and no government of some kind.

Yes, over the years I’ve held some beliefs that leaned in that direction, i.e. I once believed that everyone should have an education, and so it was necessarily the business of government to provide it. (I now only believe that everyone should have an education. But that’s only advice to my fellow man, not a marching order to anyone.) Similarly, I once thought it was terrible that people were hungry and homeless, and so I thought there should be a government-mandated safety net. I still believe it’s terrible that people are hungry and homeless, but I now think that government-mandated safety nets are mostly salves to the consciences of rich liberals. If you want to help the poor, you should help the poor. Giving money to a bureaucracy to mishandle does not help them.

But I often hear arguments in favor of Communism — Communists believe in equality, Communists fight prejudice and bigotry, etc — and I’m often told I don’t really understand what it is. Well, I don’t want to have an opinion about something I haven’t at least tried to understand. So I read The Communist Manifesto.

I now do not merely disagree with Communism… I now regard it as rooted in evil. The authors of The Communist Manifesto were, by my definition, evil men. Their system, not surprisingly, is now more offensive to me than ever. Where once I would have said, “Communists are mistaken,” now, having read Marx and Engels’ own plan of action for their philosophy, I have to say, “Communists are, at best, deluded and guided by the ideas of very evil people.”

Why have I moved to the Right on this issue? Why have I shifted from believe Marx was mistaken to believing he was evil? Well… what is evil?

Evil is the opposite of good. What is good? Well, how about this? A human being has a right to exist, to pursue happiness, to control his or her own destiny. That’s just a restatement of the basic American philosophy. “Good” is behavior that encourages and protects those three rights. And there’s a very old, very simply instruction on how to be good. It crosses faiths and languages. I learned it as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’ve heard it restated as “And ye harm none, do as ye will.” More prosaically, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

To me, they’re the same thing. And that’s a recipe for good behavior.

Evil then would be:

  • Doing unto others things you would NOT want done unto you
  • Letting others do things unto you that they would NOT want done unto them
  • Harming others
  • NOT doing as ye will, but doing instead what others will you to do
  • Swinging your fist until it hits my nose
  • Letting me swing my fist until it hits YOUR nose

The Communist Manifesto advocates all of these things. It calls for the theft of property. It calls for taking violent action against individuals. It actually condemns those who would use peaceful means to try and accomplish change. And…

It offers nothing in return for the destruction it advocates. It promises no happiness, no fulfillment, no personal accomplishment of any kind. It just says, “Let’s tear down what is, and then see what happens.”

In what I’ll admit is probably just a disconnect in the way people see the world, I believe that the individual matters, and a lot of other people believe that the collective matters more. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” and all that. Harve Bennett and Nick Meyer popularized those words in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Bennett later overrode them in a sequel film, saying that there are times when the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. He was right. The One matters. He cannot be sacrificed to the whims of the many. And who decides if he should be sacrificed to the needs of the many? For Bennett and Meyer, the One does. In the case of “Wrath of Khan,” Spock decided that he should sacrifice, though Ayn Rand would point out that he spent his life for something more important to him — the lives of his friends and students. That’s not a sacrifice. I don’t accept “The Needs of the Many” as an absolute value.

But Marx does. Hear his words: “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles.” So the individuals, their hopes, dreams, accomplishments, failings, those don’t matter. Only the class to which they belong and the friction between classes. That, for Marx, is all of history. This line appears four pages in on my (large print) eBook. He goes on to label the classes and talk about the battle between the labeled classes, because, apparently, labels are all that matter. Labeling people is a precursor to bigotry. No one should tolerate it. See the opening credits to Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, if you’d like to hear my take on labeling. Number Six speaks it brilliantly:

“I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.”

As Marx threw out his labels, I realized that he was identifying, for me, a game which is played in civil society. I call it the Dependency Game. If you’re good at it, you become wealthy and powerful. If you’re bad at it, you’re poor and you go hungry. Marx makes no effort to end the dependency game, rather, he proposes that we all just give in, admit we can’t live without each other, and hand the power over to those least able to play the game.

What struck me most powerfully, though, was the realization, as I read, that Marx was not a progressive. He was not trying to advance a new system, he was trying to bring back an old one. He wanted to bring back feudalism, but give the serfs more say. Indeed, he speaks nostalgically, almost poetically, of the feudal system:

The bourgeoisie, 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 fervour, 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 and indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

Heavenly ecstasies? Pitilessly torn asunder feudal ties? I can’t make from those phrases anything but the supposition that Marx missed feudalism. He was a reactionary. Pretty surprising to me. Of course, I knew already that Communism was just a retread of noblesse oblige, I just never expected the father of Communism to state it so baldly.

Serfdom is little more than slavery. And I can think of few things more evil than slavery.

But I think the passage that caused me to make a note in the margin that the mean was evil was his criticism of one of the flavors of socialist that existed in his time, “The Conservative or Bourgeois Socialist.” Of these he says:

…this Socialism sought to depreciate every revolutionary movement in the eyes of the working class, by showing that no mere political reform, but only a change in the material conditions of existence, in economic relations, could be of any advantage to them. By changes in the material conditions of existence, this form of Socialism, however, by no means understands abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be effected only by a revolution…

So here he’s saying that it’s not enough to try and help the working class better their situation, the only thing you can do is overthrow the people that control production, and only violence will accomplish that. I suppose some might argue that he meant some sort of “gentle revolution,” a revolution of morality, not violence. His tone decries that interpretation for me. He wanted nothing more than, in the words of Enjolras from Les Miserable, to “cut the fat ones down to size.” I think we all saw what Enjolras accomplished. He got a lot of children killed, and the fat ones lived on just fine.

The ironic thing is that this philosophy was respected by, wait for it, the wealthy in America of the early part of the 20th Century. The ones who were living high because they and their families had a stake in the means of production. Talk about liberal guilt.

These are just a few examples. The whole “book,” if such a short work can be called a book, is full of this kind of extremist thinking, and also of sudden jumps to unproven conclusions, and references to concepts that are not explained.

Did I read the document that defines and explains Communism? No. This is a call to action, a recipe for unspecified change which, perhaps, was specified elsewhere.

It’s actually a very short, very confusing document. It’s hard to read, full of overwritten sentences. It requires a knowledge of European history and politics that most modern readers don’t have. It explains very little, instead making vague assertions.

But what it does say, it says strongly and clearly. It says to hurt people, or at least recklessly encourage action that can have no other outcome but to hurt people.

And that’s evil.

 

 

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