The Communist Manifesto

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Front page of the German 1st edition.

The Communist Manifesto, originally titled Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, is a political pamphlet by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, first published in Germany in February 1848. In the document, the authors express their view that the conflicts in societies throughout history are due to a struggle between classes, specifically the proletariat (working poor) and bourgeoisie (wealthy). They detail many of the problems with capitalism, explain how these problems would be solved with their version of communism, distinguish their political philosophy from somewhat similar socialist ideas, and ultimately call for the forceful replacement of governments with communism.

Personal

Having spent my childhood being told that communism is evil and against everything American, and then spending my adulthood discovering that American values are pretty abhorrent, I decided to read this manifesto to see what it's really about. I finished reading the Samuel Moore translation on 2020-03-12, but I wasn't very impressed with it.

Status

This document is in the public domain. I don't own a physical copy. I have read it.

Review

Good

  • Many of the goals set forth in the document are worthy causes like the elimination of child labor and the creation of public schools to provide education to all people rather than just the children of the wealthy.
  • The authors counter the argument "the elimination of private land ownership will also eliminate individual freedom," by pointing out that, if ownership of property is "freedom," and the majority of people in a nation can't own property because all of it is in the hands of a wealthy few, then almost nobody actually has "freedom." Furthermore, it is only by wresting private ownership from the wealthy few and making it available to everyone, that you can actually give people "freedom."

Bad

  • The book is by no means a primer on politics. The authors expect the reader to not only be familiar with various form of political systems, but also the political authors and leaders of the 1800s. This seems rather counter-intuitive since the target audience for the manifesto is the proletariat, which are generally uneducated on these topics. When I read it, I lacked a lot of that knowledge, so much of the work was lost on me.
  • Many of the objectives in the document have since been shown to be bad ideas. For example:
    • Giving the state a full monopoly over major aspects of society frequently backfires because people are generally misinformed and elect highly charismatic, but ultimately incompetent, people to rule over them.
    • When people don't view property as their "own," they tend to not take pride in it, and thus fail to care for it.
    • Forcing city dwellers to uproot and move into the country to create equal levels of population everywhere would create a massive problem with the distribution of goods.
    • The forced elimination of cultural identity, like in the form of religion, has disastrous results. While I agree that a world without religion could be better, the secular benefits of religion (like a sense of community) need to be maintained. Religions tend to die off on their own when people don't have a need for them.
  • The authors say society cannot be changed to communism through education or unions, but only through violent revolution since those who have authority always refuse to relinquish it. However, even in a communistic society, people can acquire power, which means the authors are essentially admitting that a communistic society will inevitably fail and forever require bloody revolutions to keep it in place. This doesn't sound like a tenable model for society. At least they explicitly own up to the fact that their model requires violence to institute.

Ugly

  • No scientific data is presented to back any of the claims made through the work, and a lot of the claims seem rather far-fetched. For example, the first section states that all social conflicts are the ultimately result of class struggle (however, if that were true, people in the same class should never fight over matters of religion, race, culture, sports teams, etc.). It also says there are ultimately only two types of people in a society, the working poor (proletariat) and wealthy (bourgeoisie). So much of the document has a, "just take our word for it," attitude which I find particularly dangerous in politics.
  • Most of the document is just a vilification of rich people and the praise of the working poor. A huge amount of blanket statements are made for both groups like that rich men don't respect their wives or families, but see them as employees to exploit. It's hard to see this as anything short of bigotry.

Links

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