You’re welcome in advance for my not just writing “What a load of horse-shit.” However, as you read keep in mind that’s pretty much what I’m thinking. I’ll try to write something a bit more PC, but I’m not sure how successful I will be.
I picked up a copy of this a little over four years ago and who knows why I did this. I’m sure part of it was just that The Communist Manifesto is one of those books/works that EVERYONE has heard of but that so few have actually read, especially outside of a history course. For me though this book didn’t feel like it was meant to be read, it felt like it should have been an incredibly long and boring speech given at some sort of rally. Basically you’d be incredibly energized at the very beginning, fall asleep in the middle and then energized again at the end.
Before I started the book I went and read the definitions of socialism and communism, mostly because I always conflated to and more or less they’re the same thing. One is, I guess, further down the road than the other, but it definitely explains why American’s hate the term socialist. For me fascism was probably even harder to differentiate (Diffen.com link) because so many communist countries today that claim to be communist really, to me, look fascist with the concentration of power in one person/party and everyone else living as a different class. A true communist state has never actualized where equality is everywhere without leadership other than that of the people.
There are many things I could focus on in this book, but the one that gets me and has always gotten me about Communism is the complete avoidance of how to get from our current structure to that of communism. In this book it does provide the groundwork for this within the labor movement and business/industry, but what it doesn’t do is explain how this can happen culturally. I remember attending an LGBT and Communism/Socialism panel during my master’s program and they had no logical response to my question about identity politics. How do you go from people identifying as LGBT to having no identity other than comrade? Without any sort of groundwork, any sort of plan you can’t just remove identities. Sure you can say that will happen, but how? What are the processes? UGH.
The other thing that got me while reading this book was how Marx and Engels referred to women, or chose not to. They did acknowledge woman, but again because of the removal of identity and the mass equality everyone would get it was a footnote, with the exception of prostitutes (which will become non-existent) and free love.
“The bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion than that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women.
He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production.
For the rest, nothing is more ridiculous than the virtuous indignation of our bourgeois at free love which, they pretend, is to be openly and officially established by the Communists. The Communists have no need to introduce free love; it has existed almost from time immemorial.
Our bourgeoisie, not content with having the wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take supreme delight in seducing each other’s wives.
Bourgeois marriage is in reality a system of wives in common and thus, at the most, what the Communist might be reproached with, is that they desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed, an openly legalized system of free love.” (89)
Isn’t this what the hippies wanted in the 70s? Were they communists? Socialists? Isn’t this also sort of the idea of Queer Theory and breaking down societal norms? Am I a communist because I have a degree in queer theory and wrote my dissertation on civil partnerships being an act of civil/cultural disobedience? WTF? Sure there are many things in capitalism that suck and should be sorted out, but frankly if I have to chose between the two I’m going to stick with what I know.
What’s funny about all of this is that Engels when he wrote the introductions to many different versions of this work throughout the 1880s and 1890s he mentions that the ONLY time that this has remotely come into existence was when the French working class took over a portion of Paris for a few weeks and created their own society (isn’t this part of what Les Miserables is about?). He then goes on to say that there is no way that capitalism can continue to work let alone thrive and that eventually all societies will by process of elimination convert to communism. It’s been almost 170 years and I just want to point to the countries of China, Cuba, Laos, North Korea, and Vietnam. Are any of them run by the people or are they run by a single person/party that does “what’s best” for the people?
Recommendation: Honestly, my opening sentence still stands: “What a load of horse-shit.” Unless you have a particular historical interest in Marx and Engels or communism I would say pass. It’s really a blip on the radar screen even though most countries now have some sort of communist/socialist party. Maybe listen to this as an audiobook, but honestly it would need to be pretty dramatized to make it less boring.
Opening Line: “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of communism.”
Closing Line: “WORKINGMEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)
Additional Quotes from The Communist Manifesto
“The less the skill and exertion of strength implied in manual labor, in other words, the more, modern industry becomes developed, the more is the labor of men superseded by that of women. Differences in age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are instruments of labor, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and sex.” (70)