AUGUST 01, 1984 by WILLIAM H. PETERSON
Dr. Paterson Is the director of the Center for Economic Education and the Scott L. Probasco Jr. Professor of Free Enterprise at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism.
The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!
So read the opening and closing lines of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels—prophetic lines in view of half of Europe being today under direct Communist rule as is much of the globe from Havana to Hanoi.
The triumph of Marx, however, transcends lands and peoples living under Marxist rulers. For the fact is that many Marxist dictums and ideas have insinuated their way into Western thought and institutions. Marxspeak-Marxthink is, I submit, claptrap; but as Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda chief, reminded us, a lie told often enough sooner or later begins to sink in. History shows Marxspeak-Marxthink is seductive. Modern collective bargaining, for example, frequently betrays an adversarial relationship of “us” vs. “they,” of “labor” vs. “management” or even “labor” vs. “capital.” Or as Marx and Engels portrayed the antagonists:
Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses . . . this distinctive feature: it has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.
Yet Marx’s dialectic, while strong politically, is weak logically, with the weakness stemming from Marx and Engels themselves, from their admissions and inner contradictions, especially in the light of the historical record, open to all, of Capitalism vs. Communism and Socialism.
Cutting the Class System
Take, for example, their admission on the cutting-down of the class system from the Manifesto (1848, quotations from the authorized 1888 English edition):
Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.
Or this related admission on class-dissolving capitalism, same source:
The bourgeoisie [read capitalism], by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, na tions into civilization. The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
And another admission—this one on Capitalism’s enormous productivity and wage-raising ability—from the Manifesto:
[Capitalism] has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades . . . [Capitalism], during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam- navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground—what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?
But with these admissions come many an inner contradiction. Note, for example, how naive Marx and Engels were about division of labor in their German Ideology, first published in part in 1847. Here they saw specialization, i.e., division of labor, which Adam Smith thought was at the heart of productivity, as a bourgeois trap. They wrote:
For as soon as labor is distributed, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing to-day and another to-morrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.
Capital: Friend or Foe?
Or consider this excerpt from Marx’s Capital (in which capital—i.e., tools—is likened to the worker’s foe while it is in fact the worker’s friend, boosting productivity and hence wages and living standards, including shorter work-days and work-weeks):
If machinery be the most powerful means for increasing the productiveness of labor—i.e., for shortening the working time required in the production of a commodity, it becomes in the hands of capital the most powerful means, in those industries first invaded by it, for lengthening the working day beyond all bounds set by human nature.
Or observe the following quotation on how labor and capital—Marx and Engels loved to deal in monoliths, never in individual human action—necessarily split apart, supposedly. No proof is given, only bald assertion:
Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolize all advantages . . . grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralization of the means of production and socialization of labor at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.
The Record vs. the Prediction
Yet the record of Capitalism, more than a century after publication of Volume I of Capital (1867), shows no innate tendency toward misery, monopoly, private centralization, labor socialization and bursting asunder. Nor do the workers appear to come under, according to the Manifesto, “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.” Nor are they “slaves” and “oppressed” by the capitalists.
Indeed, capitalist wages hardly conform to the formula described in the Manifesto:
The average price of wage labor is the minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence which is absolutely requisite to keep the laborer in bare existence as a laborer. What, therefore, the wage-laborer appropriates by means of his labor, merely suffices to prolong and reproduce a bare existence.
Abolition o! Private Property
Nor does the idea of doing away with private property seem to appeal to workers, for the Manifesto baldly proclaimed that “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” Continued Marx and Engels:
You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property the necessary condition for whose existence is the nonexistence of any property for the immense majority of society.
Abolition of private property has implications for marriage, home and children. To wit:
The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor . . . Our bourgeois, not content with having the wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives. Bourgeois marriage is in reality a system of wives in common and thus, at the most, what the Communists might possibly be re proached with, is that they desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed, an openly legalized community of women. For the rest, it is self-evident that the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from that system, i.e., of prostitution both public and private.
Peace, Prosperity, Freedom
Well, with the abolition of private property and the wage system, what takes its place? Why nothing but peace, individual prosperity and universal freedom. On peace, the Manifesto proclaimed:
In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.
On individual prosperity, Marx and Engels held:
In bourgeois society, living labor is but a means to increase accumulated labor [i.e. capital]. In Communist society, accumulated labor is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of the laborer . . . Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labor of others by means of such appropriation.
And on freedom, Engels wrote in Anti-Duhring (1877):
As soon as there is no longer any class of society to be held in subjection, there is nothing more to be repressed which would make a State necessary. The State is not abolished, it withers away. The government of persons is replaced by an administration of things.
Each for All
This pleasant thought, this innocuous “classless society,” this mild “administration of things,” appeared earlier in the Manifesto as a thought when Marx and Engels said that “public power will lose its political character.” They added:
In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
But equal pay in the Communist paradise cannot be immediately instituted. Why? Admitted Marx and Engels:
. . . One man is superior to another physically or mentally and so supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor . . . These defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society . . .
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of individuals under division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor, from a mere means of life, has itself become the prime necessity of life; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be fully left behind and society inscribe on its banners: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.
Marx and Engels made an even stronger admission about the Worker’s Paradise. A one-party dictatorship was a necessary if temporary junction between Capitalism and Communism. They wrote:
Between capitalist and communist society lies a period of revolutionary transformation from one to the other. There corresponds also to this a political transition period during which the State can be nothing else than a revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.
These two almost offhand sentences became end-justifies-the-means commandments for the Bolsheviks, for Nikolai Lenin and Joseph Stalin and their successors. Heinous crimes become affairs of state. Western Civilization is threatened as never before.
Yet, apart from all this grotesque logic and doublespeak, what is really scary about Marxism is the degree to which capitalist nations seem oblivious to the Manifesto’s call not only for “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions” but for first winning “the battle of democracy.”
Beware the Contradictions Between the Means and the Ends
All the more reason, then, to be wary of Marxspeak-Marxthink. Said Marx and Engels:
Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures,, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production.
These measures will of course be different in different countries. Nevertheless, in the most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable:
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. 3. Abolition of all right of inheritance. 4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of wastelands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc., etc.
The Bitter Consequences
Marx’s last years were pathetic. Sickly, poor, ignored, hated (especially by those on the Left), alone, cynical, restless, sleepless, torn by doubt, friendless (save for Engels), he died at the age of 65 in London on March 14, 1883. Three days later he was buried alongside the grave of his wife in Highgate Cemetery. Eight people gathered at the grave-site for the brief service. Engels spoke, pompously but prophetically:
The greatest living thinker will think no more. Soon the world will feel the void left by the passing of this Titan . . . His name and his work will live for centuries to come.