“The Communist Manifesto” is Garbage
Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto is, quite literally, pathological. The 1848 political pamphlet frames history through a lens of perpetual class struggle and attempts to use that frame to describe and predict social movements. It is regarded among the most important and influential sociological texts ever written. Unfortunately, in addition to containing direct calls to violence as a necessary element to social change (which already makes him a non-starter), Marx’s treatise accepts as its foundational premise a number of things that the author should have been trying to prove. Let’s question some of these presuppositions, and see if we can get to the reality of the matter.
MARX’S FLAWED PRESUPPOSITIONS
The assumption: Human societies throughout history can be divided into two main groups: Oppressor and oppressed; bourgeoisie and proletariat. All social good comes from the oppressed. All social ill comes from the oppressors.
The reality: Life is far more complicated than that.
In addition to the fact that Marx never specifies precisely who gets to be a proletariat, in real life these distinctions are not so cut and dry. In the Soviet Union, for example, it was swiftly discovered that even the most oppressed person from among the proletariat is, by some measure, also bourgeois. This is because oppression is a fundamental element of life. Everyone is an oppressor somehow, and everyone is oppressed.
This is because there is no limit to the number of group identities that can be pinned onto a single person. We can each be characterized by an infinite number of group identities. Because of this, we eventually realize that the ultimate “oppressed minority” is the individual, and that’s where the Western concept of individual sovereignty comes in. Everyone is oppressed by life itself in any number of different ways.
The dictatorship of the proletariat that Marx wanted was predicated on the assumption that proletariat would always be and remain “the good guy,” even when they suddenly gained immense power. This is simply not how human beings work. In every attempt at implementing Communism so far, the oppressed, when given power, immediately become the corrupt and oppressive over-class.
In our own time, we have all seen this happen in microcosm. The first thing that happened when police in Seattle abandoned the CHOP was that violent thugs with guns became “the police,” and started harassing locals and committing acts of violence.
If you saw Daenerys Targaryen as a vicarious character, and were angered by her last season heel-turn in Game of Thrones, it may be because you think you’d be the world’s first uncorruptable dictator. Power always corrupts.
The assumption: Under capitalism, the rich get richer while the poor get poorer
The reality: Under capitalism, the rich get richer, and so do the poor.
The poorest people in western societies are doing better than any previous time in human history, and this is due in large part to the rise of capitalism, even in places like Cuba and China. The UN estimates that, according to their definition of Absolute Poverty, we will probably be able to lift a majority of the world above that line by 2030.
Nothing in human history has ever killed poverty as efficiently as free market economies. On the other hand, nothing mass-produces inequality and poverty quite like Marx-descended economic systems. If you want to help the poor in a way that the data shows to be effective in the real world, you’ll want to first implement something akin to a free market economy. Second, you’ll want to empower women.
The assumption: Class hierarchy is a social construct of capitalism
The reality: Hierarchy predates both capitalism and humanity
Hierarchy exists in the social structures of animals, it is an innate biological reality, not socially constructed. It has nothing to do with capitalism; it long predates both economics and humanity. Human beings struggle, not due to class differences, but due to the nature of life itself.
The assumption: Social hierarchies are only ever enforced through power.
The reality: Social hierarchies exist naturally due to differences in ability and competence, and that’s how human societies advance.
Hierarchies are necessary. We have to organize ourselves somehow. Hierarchies happen to be a very efficient way of distributing resources among large groups of people. Hierarchy does sometimes dispossess people, though, and that’s the “Problem of Inequality.”
Hierarchy is not built primarily on power. If a hierarchial structure is truly build on exploitation, it is not a valid hierarchy, which means it is inherently unstable, and cannot last for very long. Biology and anthropology both demonstrate that quite clearly. Hierarchies based on power never last long, and they often end in mutiny. This is why a well-functioning society needs some liberals; They are on the lookout for corruption in the hierarchical structures around them. Conservatives in a society, on the other hand, make sure society keeps the properly functioning structures in place. That’s the balance of a republic.
Valid hierarchies, ones which are capable of lasting stability, are based on competency and ability. This is not something that needs to be enforced or done consciously. It is natural, and it predates humanity. The challenge is to work together to keep the hierarchies in our societies valid and functioning. The wielding of power never enters into the equation, nor should it.
The assumption: The low-level laborer creates the real value while the boss simply extracts value from the labor of others
The reality: Running a business is really hard.
The idea that organizing and managing groups of people toward a common goal is of no value comes from not knowing how a business is run. It is, as it turns out, incredibly difficult to organize large groups of people towards a common goal, especially since humans are complicated and stubborn and prone to conflict.
Some people tend toward leadership roles quite naturally, though, and some may get pretty good at it. So, a society based on hierarchy (which is all societies everywhere forever) would do well to put such people in a position where they could be of maximum usefulness and benefit to everyone, that is, in a leadership position at the top of a functioning hierarchy so that they can get things done. And again, the members of any society must remain vigilant in maintaining valid hierarchies instead of just playing corrupt power games.
The assumption: Profit is immoral
The reality: Profit keeps businesses from being too dishonest
Profit is an incentive that makes sure everything keeps running as smoothly as possible. It keeps business owners from abusing their clients. It keeps businesses from destroying communities and the environment, because then their enterprise would fail. If profit exists as an incentive, there are certain stupid things that business owners cannot engage in if they want to continue to have a business. For more information on this, see modern-day China, where there is no profit, their air is pea-soup-thick with smog, and everyone is equally starving to death.
The assumption: The dictatorship of the proletariat will not have any problems with scarcity, and will be magically ultra-productive due to the innate nature of the proletariat.
The reality: So far, only capitalist systems are capable of the level of productivity necessary to alleviate poverty.
Marx assumes, because the proletariat is automatically good and the bourgeoisie are automatically bad, that the dictatorship of the proletariat would somehow be more productive than a capitalist society is capable of, and that everyone would be free to practice spontaneously creative labor. Marx bases this assumption on nothing.
Even if we put aside that this is impossible, in such a hypothetical utopia it would still be true that some people would rather not busy themselves with spontaneously creative labor. Some would. Others want to compete with others in some way because they find competition and self-improvement to be fulfilling. Others might be primarily concerned with social pursuits, family, or community, or the betterment of the less fortunate.
Spontaneous creativity would not provide for all of the needs of a society. Some people need to be brick-layers, or garbage collectors, or to work in unpleasant conditions for whatever reason. Marx didn’t have a solution for this so the Soviets had to figure out how to solve this problem when putting his ideas into practice. They chose to fill the gap with random enslavement of a massive portion of their population in Gulags because, as I said, everyone is bourgeois by some measurement.
There would be no magical over-abundance in Marx’s ideal society. Marx himself even admits that there has never been an economic system that can produce the plentiful resources that are present in capitalism. This sort of hyper-productivity is impossible without something resembling a free market.
The assumption: After the proletariat violently and bloodily destroys the existing system (which Marx did advocate for), they will become suddenly unresentful and peaceful.
The reality: If you’re willing to be violent to overthrow the state, you will continue to be violent while you control the state.
If humanity ever found utopia, Fyodor Dostoevsky theorized, we would not engage in spontaneously creative labor as Marx assumed; We would, instead, quickly grow bored of it and tear the utopia down on purpose.
Karl Marx, in his narcissism, never allowed for the possibility that he could be wrong about some part of his theory, and never planned for that eventuality. So when he did turn out to be so massively wrong in so many of his foundational presuppositions, holocausts, plural, happened. This is not hyperbole. Whatever you’re imagining, it was worse.
I don’t know how Marx could think that putting into power the very people who are the most willing to use violence to achieve their political ends would be anything less than genocidal on a massive scale, which it was, and continues to be. Marx-descended ideologies in the 20th century surpassed the death count of the Nazis, and indeed, nearly multiplied it by a factor of ten. Yet, in polite society, nobody would ever dare claim to be a Nazi, while practically anyone under the age of 25, certainly a majority of University students, would proudly claim some shade of Marxism, including myself at a younger age.
The fact is, humanity does not know how to set up a system that doesn’t produce at least some inequality. Communism, Socialism, and Marx-descended ideology fail at this goal, and their outcomes in practice show the precise opposite. Capitalism produces inequality, yes, and it also produces wealth. Other systems produce only inequality, and more of it.
Karl Marx’s ideas, his passionate encouragement to violence and destruction as a necessary and desirable part of transitioning into his hypothetical utopia, are not only impossible in practice, they are horrifically genocidal when attempted, and most imporatly, they end up causing precisely the opposite of the intended effect. Ultimately, if the utopian endgame of Marxism could be achieved, it would not be desirable, even for the proletariat. Marx-descended ideologies are quite literally a pathological way of thinking about politics, economics, society, and humanity.