Marx, Communism, and Global Crisis

The Revolutions of 1848 shook European industrialism to its core, catalyzed by a series of severe food shortages, widespread unemployment, overburdened systems of poor relief, and heightened class tensions due to rapid urbanization. It was in the midst of catastrophic violence and seething anger, that Karl Marx, Com2a journalist with a keen eye for revolution, wrote The Communist Manifesto, a pilgramic call to arms, a guideline towards reaching a more just society — a document about the emancipation of the working-class from oppression. Within this text, Marx concludes that “the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles,” that it is precisely this struggle that has served as the motor force of change around the world. In this sense, he implores his readers to understand the working-class struggle as unrestricted by national boundaries, instead by its very nature an international and intergenerational experience. By asserting that “working men have no country,” Marx highlights the absence of proletarian autonomy within the legislative and industrial sectors of Europe, and in doing so, paints the bourgeoisie national state as diametrically opposed to working-class interests. Further, in advocating for global revolution, his ideas became increasingly subversive to the infrastructure and national security of European regimes, aiming at the dilution of political and economic power from a few hands to the masses.

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Primarily, Marx brings into the limelight the severity in which working-class laborers were politically neglected in the goings on of the world around them, and points to global communist unification as the means to overcome national subjugation. European societies were, even post-revolution, one of exclusion rather than acceptance, and like the enclosure of agricultural lands in England, massive spheres of European politics were blocked off to those deemed undeserving. Only the bourgeoisie, with wealth, influence, and ownership of the means of production, had leverage within an exclusive political landscape closed off to the working-class. While legislation was instituted for charities, police forces, and prison reform on behalf of workers, “no one [had] yet tried to speak to the workers. Even further, the motivations behind these laws were often deceptive. Posing as philanthropic altruism, they simultaneously increased surveillance to keep “dangerous” laborers firmly subjugated by the state. As such, Marx argues that proletarians as a general rule have no country, and should not identify with one, precisely because it would entail first being recognized as citizens with legislative agency.

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While Marx jumps back and forth on the question of nationalism, it seems that he promotes its sentiments on the condition that they ultimately manifest in a pro-communist revolution. By and large, however, he argues that since they have been denied political representation within their respective nations, the working-class must circumvent national politics and instead support pan-European forces that aim to overthrow traditional modes of government. Political dominance on the international scale, according to him, is the ultimate road towards proletariat liberation, and was made easier already by the capitalist fueled globalization that gradually erased national boundaries and removed national isolation. If workers could unite internationally — that is, if they could put national antagonisms aside and view themselves as an all-inclusive working-class — then they could consolidate their forces, expand globally, and definitively control the political landscape of the human world.    

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That being said, workers were not solely stripped of their humanity and self-determinism in the political arena, but in fact, many of these abuses echoed within the workplace as well. In relation to their community, these laborers “[lived] only so long as they [found] work, and [found] work only so long as their labour [increased] capital.” They were commodities, instruments of power, and the value of their work rested solely with business owners who chased profit optimization. Like every other product, they layBiogasproduktion på Rockhammar och Frövi bruk
exposed to “all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market,”
like leaves blowing at the mercy of an all-consuming wind. Even the nature of their work lost its individual character, and they became merely “an appendage of the machine,” with only the most simple and repetitive tasks required of them. It is a gut-wrenching feeling of not belonging nor being wanted, of devoting one’s life to an unappreciative society, that Marx tries to manifest in his statement — to bring to the forefront of his readers’ minds that their local governments and businesses were nothing more than machineries for proletarian oppression. By claiming that the working-class has no nation, Marx echoes his colleague Frederick Engels’ belief that the middle classes intended in reality “nothing else but to enrich themselves by [working-class] labour while they [sold] its produce,” and to subsequently abandon proletarians to hunger as soon as they become unprofitable. A dehumanized instrument of industry, the proletariat was menially put into place for the production of capital and nothing more, and as such, it could not consider itself part of any nation that wanted neither its political participation nor endorsed its climb out of chronic poverty and insufficiency.

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In foreign policy, wealthy countries depended on the heterogeneous nature of wealth inequality to entangle developing nations under their firm grip. The discovery of the Americas for example, or growing access to the markets of China and East-India, upregulated world trade and facilitated the rise of the growing bourgeoisie. It was globalization that “agglomerated production, and…concentrated property in a few hands.” But interestingly, it was this same phenomenon that made communism so subversive to the bourgeoisie establishment. Specifically, communism aimed at the dilution and homogenization of centralized power across the world, in a time when the rich, powerful, and Western imperialist countries dictated the flow of resources andCom7.jpg exploited their developing counterparts. To this end, communism would suspend the profitability of colonialism, instituting a common state that could not conceivably exploit itself imperialistically. As Marx would argue, this goal displayed the progressive sophistication of the working-class movement — a sweeping effort to rise above the national bigotry and tribalism that was once used for political ends. But for the bourgeoisie, global communism meant the abolition and subsequent redistribution of private property, including communal ownership over the means of production. Theoretically, wealth from elite Frenchman could finance the needs of poor Russian workers thousands of miles away — no accountability and no questions asked. While such measures would theoretically improve the lives of the commoner, European regimes feared that they would strip them of private wealth, national identity, and social distinction.

But a more imminent threat to the regimes around Europe was to their national security. For one, there was growing concern that the West would be increasingly surrounded, atCom5 strategic military locations, by Communist countries whose aim was the “overthrow of bourgeoisie supremacy, [and] conquest of political power.” While one Communist nation posed a manageable challenge to European regimes, multiple countries with a single superordinate goal could easily divide and conquer them. Because communists supported all revolutionary movements against the extant state of things, this threat furthermore presupposed a risk of internal subversion — pro-communist agents that would detonate their nation from the inside, while simultaneously taking safe haven behind its legal institutions. Communism, for precisely this reason, was an enemy without borders, an extremely contagious ideological adversary that commanded global armies of working-class citizens. It attacked the foundations of modern society and industry, and if successful, would send entire civilizations crumbling downward.

Ultimately, while the goals of communism seemed noble, they were nonetheless predicated on the detachment of the proletarians from their nations. By claiming that working men had no nation, Marx points to the lack of proletarian self-determinism within government and the workplace, painting the bourgeoisie national state as an Com4oppressive institution that neither eased working-class grievances, nor facilitated upward social mobility. The advent of communism however, alarmed European regimes on a variety of fronts. Politically, global communism would threaten national security and destroy imperialism as a tool for occupation, exploitation, and conquest. Economically, it would abolish private property and curb the profitability of free enterprise. And socially, it would dismantle both intra-national and international power dynamics that depended on social distinctions and unequal distributions of wealth. Nonetheless, a potential reason for both Communism’s monumental appeal and ultimate decline was the radical sincerity in which it attempted to overthrow existing orders, instead of instituting incremental reform within the extant framework of society.

 

[1] Marx, Karl, et al. The Communist Manifesto: with Related Documents. Bedford/St. Martin’s, Macmillan Learning, 2018

[2] Tristan F. (1983) Flora Tristan: To Working Men and Working Women. In: Corcoran P.E. (eds) Before Marx: Socialism and Communism in France, 1830–48. Palgrave Macmillan, London

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