Thoughts on the Communist Manifesto

14 Mar

So back I returned home, on a beautiful sunny day, and began reading the book in my second-hand rocking chair in the back garden. I had not “been on the internet” (that great distraction) for the past couple of days, and resolved to read the book – the bulk of it being just 40 pages – to its completion, again without going on the computer.

I have often thought that the internet, which is of course global, where each user is essentially equal, and where so much is free is quite analogous with communism. Nonetheless, it’s also very habit-forming, which is not good!

As the sun was slowly sinking behind a tree, having read the first 10 pages or so – yes, there are only 40 pages, but it’s quite a strong concentration of text! – I came in, turned on the telly, and found a 70s sitcom called George & Mildred. References to the working class and an opposing middle class perpetuated the programme (perhaps one irony being that the lead roles playing the working class George and Mildred probably earned a substantially higher wage than the 2 people cast as their middle class neighbours). It occurred to me that specific references to people of a certain class are not made all that often these days. The classic sketch with John Cleese and Ronnie Corbett featuring the upper class looking down on the working class and vice versa would be out of place on 21st century TV I think.

That doesn’t of course mean that there are not still class divisions and tensions, but perhaps they’re just not spoken about as much. But it’s not exactly the first thing you’d think of to put on your facebook profile (your class), and it is not an option on any of the networking sites (like political views, religion, etc.), but maybe that’s because the sites are all too “bourgeois”.

Perhaps the IT-type jobs, or call centre work, where graduates and school leavers work alongside each other that a lot of people now put up with, give so many the impression that everyone is about middling, when the reality is that any wage below £20,000 will mean you will struggle even to pay rent or a mortgage. Of course it’s true that still a very small section of society have a massive sum of wealth, and own vast amounts of property. The Queen after all owns 6,600 million acres of land, or one sixth of the World’s land mass.

But are people really that bothered? Mobile phones – once only owned by yuppies are now affordable for all – and for many it seems, as long as they’ve got 1500 minutes, unlimited texts and enough money for beer at the end of the week, they’re happy.

At the same time of course, a lot of people aren’t happy – just like Marx in his time. The Communist Manifesto was published during a hotbed of political activity in the middle 19th century, and so was very much “of its time.” But there is still a lot to make it relevant today. Marx does strike me as being very much an angry young man, perhaps like those protestors in London smashing up banks, etc. The guiding principle of the CM, as Marx states is “Abolition of private property.” To me though, attacking a few banks one night in London achieves nothing but give the papers some nice pictures and put insurance premiums up.

The abolition of private property can only really happen if the Government is overthrown, but I wonder if this is really achievable in this day and age, or even desired? And how to achieve this on a worldwide stage – essential in Marx’s view? Could it really be possible for every government in every nation to be overthrown? And presumably this would have to be more-or-less simultaneously.

The main problem I have with Marx is his apparent denial of the individual, which he says cannot exist under capitalism. I would question this. For a start, if another person, however likeminded, had set out to write Marx’s work, it of course would have differed! This is just one very basic example. What about individual feelings, etc. Perhaps a person might like being a “mere proletariat”! There is so much more to a person surely than the class to which he or she is supposed to belong. Just take music taste for one. And even there, a person’s class will not dictate his taste.

Marx talks of the need to organise a class of people against the Government. The Labour Party and the Trade Unions can get a good number of people out to support them, but if there’s ever a communist party member on a ballot paper, they usually pool around 97 votes. OK, this might not be truly representative – there are probably many communists who actually vote Labour – but it’s the hardliners that Marx wants or needs. He speaks dismissively of wishy-washy socialists or “Utopian Communists” (who apparently have sympathy for the working class, but are not prepared to go the whole hog and give them power, which is the goal). When I read this section, it did bring to mind the People’s Front of Judea pouring scorn on the Judean People’s Front in Life of Brian, but you can recognise Marx’s need for a hardline forming a united front. But who these days would really stand up for these principles? I expect many of the people on the frontline in London were not even working but unemployed – a class barely recognised in Marx’s day. I wonder if people on a low income, but at least in work, would really be willing to sacrifice this existence for Marx’s fanciful dream?

And then there are the really questionable beliefs! Marx would abolish the family, allowing for a “community of women” which sounds pretty questionable. I got the impression Marx is not talking about feminism and the empowerment of women here. Instead, I envisaged a young Marx watching jealously as aristocratic Victorian gentlemen ran around with prostitutes, wishing instead they were all free! Maybe I’m a bit wide of the mark here, but he seems to be implying something along those lines. And abolishing the family? OK, there is the idea of property within the family, and some form of “exploitation” of children – obviously, far worse in Victorian times – but if parents did not bring up their offspring, who would, the state? Could the local community really be relied upon? And I think there would be a fair number of bloody struggles when trying to split up many families. In attempting to see everything from one perspective, I think Marx misses several factors about human beings – we have the ability to love; regardless of living conditions, we have freedom of thought and a sense of morality; and also, like many animals, we are perhaps suited to staying in couples.

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