Karl Marx developed theoretical concepts of society and its development explaining the workings of market economies and class relations. One of his main works, ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’, vividly describes the main concepts and strategic vision of Communism, socialism and class struggle. Karl Marx was concerned with how income was shared among the three great social classes: workers and capitalists.
A major concern of nineteenth-century social thinking was to identify the nature of industrialization and to trace its social and political effects. Social and economic environment led to development of ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’. The era of Marx and the following decades were the era of Liberalism. During the years 1830 to 1930 the world was fast becoming an industrial society, yet its laws were based on an ideal of an agrarian society. During the second half of nineteenth century the world changed economically and socially.
The book ‘Manifesto of the Communist Party’ consists of four sections: Bourgeois and Proletarians, Proletarians and Communists, Socialist and Communist Literature, the Opposition parties. Each section identifies and analyzes the main concepts of new industrial and social relations and gives historical examples of these events. In this book, Marx creates the economic, social and political theory and practice, develops capitalism theory explaining the role of a class in society. What is emphasized is the market as a system of exchanges rather than as an arena of competition; the persistent association of political particies and the pacification of economic relations relies on this emphasis.
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In the section ‘Bourgeois and Proletarians’, Marx introduces new materialist method in contrast to idealistic one. He examines the role of labor and labor relations, explains the struggle over the division of output and wage system. According to Marx capitalism is class struggle. Increasing polarization of the population divides it into two great classes, the bourgeoisie (capitalist) and the proletariat (workers). Marx states that “The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization” (Marx n.d.).
In this situation, classes not only are the links between levels rather tight; they are unidirectional, the causal flow going from economic structure through consciousness to action. Marx portrays that over time the two great classes directly facing each other defined by how they stand to the relations of production, gradually consolidate under capitalism, absorbing other classes within them, developing class consciousness and industrial and political organizations, and in due course fight out a revolutionary conflict (Marx, n.d.).
Marx explains the role of “the means of production” and “exchange” of goods in market economy. Marx states: “The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property” (Marx n.d.). The class struggle is explained as opposition between working class and the class of capitalists.
Also, it is struggle of lower socioeconomic classes with higher socioeconomic classes. Given the irreconcilable conflict of interests between capital and labor, the outstanding feature of capitalist society is struggle based on historical development and new production modes. Also, Marx describes the relations and interconnection between capital and labor wages, the nature of competition and a revolutionary class.
The second section of the book describes relationships between communists and the working class. Marx gives an overview of a communist society free from oppression, antagonism and exploitation. According to Marx, an ideal society should be classless. Marx states: “communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of the society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriations” (Marx n.d.).
He criticizes land ownership and supports the state ownership. The main points of his program for the classless society are: abolition of property in land; progressive or graduated income tax; confiscation of emigrants’ property, importance of the centralized state bank, centralization of communication and transport, all should be equally obliged to work, leveling the differences between the town and country, free education for children (Marx, n.d.).
Marx underlines that the differences between classes should be diminished in order to reach classless community. Moreover, and in consequence, there is no overall story of a development through time from class structure through class consciousness to class action, nor any underlying theory of 'class interests' that could explain such a development: the historical possibilities are far more open and indeterminate. “When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation” (Marx n.d.).
The focus at each class is also much broader: at the structural level, it encompasses not only productive relations but also the sphere of circulation and market positions; and at the levels of consciousness and action, and the spheres of consumption and distribution as well as work and politics. Marx states that ‘political power’ should be used as ‘the organized power’ which protects “one class for oppressing another” (Marx n.d.).
Also, Marx defines classes by their modes of collective action and shows how rights to productive resources, credentials, party membership, lineage, etc., can all be distinct bases for social closure in the struggle. Marx identifies the way of the transition from socialism to communism and advantages of the classless society.
In the third section, “Socialist and Communist Literature”, Marx describes the differences between socialist and communist literature. He criticizes socialist trends and approaches such as Feudal Socialism, Petty-Bourgeois Socialism, Critical-Utopian Socialism, etc. This section is based on historical examples and analysis of social development and driven forces of class development.
For instance, he explains the emergence of ‘petty bourgeoisie’ as a new class “fluctuating between proletariat and bourgeoisie” (Marx, n.d.). But their generally determinist attitude led them into a certain political passivity. Most of them anticipated socialist consciousness originating outside the working class.
Marx underlines that German socialism is based on the struggle “against feudal aristocracy” (Marx, n.d.). A major concern of this thinking is to identify the nature of these relations and to trace their social and political effects. Speaking about Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism Marx states: “The bourgeoisie naturally conceives the world in which it is supreme to be the best” (Marz, n.d.). They distinguish society by its characteristic modes of production and economic life.
However, what is thought to distinguish the society is not solely a new mode of production, but a new social imperative - the changing distribution of economic and social resources. Marx criticizes Critical-Utopian Socialism stating that such philosophers and economists as Fourier, Saint-Simon and Owen make a mistake taking into account only the ‘early undeveloped period’.
This historical and social vision limits their understanding of the historical process and forces them ”to consider themselves far superior to all class antagonisms” (Marx, n.d.). These theories can be thought of as ranged along a continuum whose poles can be neatly seen as occupied by the classical positions respectively. Not only are the links between levels rather tight; they are unidirectional, the causal flow going from economic structure through consciousness to action.
The fourth section gives overview of communist struggle and its impact on workers consciousness. Marx gives examples of four countries: France, Switzerland, Poland and Germany as the main countries where communism flourishes. The visible change in the attitudes to parties constitutes progress towards democracy and classless society. “In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things” (Marx, n.d.).
Accordingly, Communism presupposes the continued political significance of integrated patterns of thought whose outlines follow the historical doctrines of different parties. To understand Communism and its relations with working class it is necessary to take account of the institutions and parties involved, their ideologies and motives; it is necessary to consider not only the legal dimensions but also the behavioral dimensions of classes. Marx restates: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution” (Marx, n.d.).
In sum, the book documents in detail how the economic position of classes have been developed. Given the irreconcilable conflict of interests between capital and labor, Marx vividly portrays that the outstanding feature of capitalist society is class conflict. One of the sharpest contradictions of capitalism was precisely that between the social character of production and the individualist basis of ownership. Marx underlines that social conflict was a feature of the transition between older and newer social orders, world perception and values, and materialistic understanding of the world. Communism was professed by the major tendencies which emerged during the nineteenth century, and the most common classification schemes for ideologies build upon this historical material.
1. Manifesto of the Communist Party (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm [accessed 1 Dec 2006]
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