Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. Atty. MICHAEL JHON M. TAMAYAO manages this blog. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Socialism is a belief which states that the means of production of a society must be publicly owned and managed. Historically speaking, socialism is a modern conception; not only was the socialist means of production impossible during the ancient and medieval times, it was even unconceivable. Production back then took place only in scattered workshops, stores and agricultural strips, each known for their valued trademarks. The idea of amassing all resources and placing them under the sole management of the government goes beyond, theoretically and realistically, the system of ancient and medieval commerce. It was only at the very threshold of the modern period that the first authentic socialist position was formulated. In his Utopia, Thomas Moore spoke of a society free of money, wherein people share meals, houses, and other goods in common. The problem, however, is that Utopia was the work of an individual genius and not the reflection of a social movement. It was only in mid 17th century, during the English Civil Wars, that socialism took the shape of a social movement and had its first practical expression. During this period, Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1660), who led the Digger movement, fought for an “agrarian communism,” believing that the earth is a common treasury. This movement, however, was short lived, as it was century and a half later in the movement led by Babeuf during the French Revolution. But in the 19th century, as a child of the Industrial Revolution, socialism emerged as a significant issue immensely affecting the political and economic life of the advanced western countries. It presented itself as a socio-economic structure which could (or for the socialists, should) alter the 18th and early 19th century capitalist Europe. Socialism, although full of brilliant insights, was still not systematized. It was just that – a collection of passionate beliefs and hopes. Then just at the right time, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels entered the picture; it became their historical mission to integrate and systematize the variegated socialist beliefs. Thus, the Manifesto was born, the profound synthesis of socialism. It was the embodiment of socialist thoughts and the crystallization of the socialist vision. It raised socialism as world force and changed the direction of history. As such, not only was the Manifesto one of the most important documents in the history of socialism, but it was too in the entire history of the human race. What was the message of socialist Marx and Engels in the Manifesto? What made it so profound and life-changing? With such a compact message, it is hard to divide the Manifesto into chewable parts. But for discussion purposes, and with the hope of penetrating the communist thought, we divide the document into five central concepts: (1) historical materialism, (2) class struggle, (3) the nature of capitalism, (4) the inevitability of socialism, and (5) exploitation and alienation. Historical Materialism. History is a dialectical process; it is not a collection of unrelated facts, but a universal process in which everything is related. Borrowing the idea of G.W.F. Hegel, Marx and Engels believed that history follows the dialectical pattern of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Social structures, as theses, are countered by opposite social structures, the antitheses; and from their interaction is the birth of a new social structure, which is a synthesis or advancement beyond the previous social structures. However, unlike Hegel, they thought that what governed the pattern was “matter,” and not the Geist (Spirit); that the controlling forces of history are the material forces and especially those of economic production. Thus, their historical dialectic is called historical materialism, in contrast to Hegel’s historical idealism. Marx and Engels believed that through this philosophy they could see, even predict, the destiny of humankind. History’s movement has been decoded, its logical pattern has been revealed. The central project of human history is nothing less than the production and reproduction of material life. Part I of the Manifesto brilliantly speaks of this pattern as it maps out the rise and development of capitalism from its primitive beginnings in the medieval period to its full-blown form in the 19th century. Class Struggle. History is essentially social, and not one directed by individuals. The Manifesto speaks of this social history as a “history of class struggles” between “the freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf… oppressor and oppressed.” Ancient Rome was divided into patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; Middle Ages into feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, serfs, and other subordinate gradations. Capitalism emerged from feudalism, until what remained now is the basic division of bourgeoisie and proletariat. The bourgeoisie class owned the means of production and employed labor, while the proletariat class sells its labor power to live. The former is the class of capitalists, while the latter is the “class of laborers, who live only so long as their labor increases capital.” Engels explained that all existing societies before this were also based on basically the same economic system – some people did the work and other appropriated the social surplus. In securing their livelihood, some work; some own. The materialistic, social history created groups of fundamentally antagonistic interests. These conflicting groups, and not individuals, underlie the socio-historical movements. Nature of Capitalism. Although the word “capitalism” does not occur in the Manifesto, it was nonetheless profoundly discussed. Capitalism, the bourgeois society, is Marx’s main subject of interest. He describes it as a form of economy which “has left no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest, than ‘callous cash payment.’” It is an economy which converted everyone, from physicians and lawyers, and priests and the scientists, into paid wage-laborers, and has reduced family relation into mere money relation. Furthermore, capitalism, after having destroyed all hitherto industries, constantly revolutionizes its means of production, constantly expands itself throughout the whole surface of the world. Clothed with its identity as “civilization,” capitalism draws nations together but concentrates property in the hands of few. Through this form of economy, the bourgeoisie “created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.” But this immense productivity will ironically turnout to be capitalism’s own downfall. It has conjured up such gigantic means of production that, like a sorcerer, it can no longer control the powers which its spells summoned. Not only has it forged the weapons that bring death to itself, it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons, the proletariat. The Inevitability of Socialism. Marx and Engels categorically state, in the last sentence of Part I of the Manifesto, that the fall of capitalism and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable. Aside from the mere fact that capitalism is the cause of its own doom, it also creates and trains, by virtue of its nature, the proletariat which at certain stage of development must overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism. Victory of the proletariat entails the emergence of a classless society wherein the proletariat and bourgeoisie disappear, and everyone is equal and entitled to the effects of his own work. Since it is private property or ownership of such property that constitutes the division between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, “abolition of private property” and its attendant form of consciousness that manifest this proletarian victory. This is at the heart of Communism. Exploitation and Alienation. In In Tucker, Marx said, man, even though bestowed with natural capacities, is a “suffering, conditioned, and limited creature,” dependent on nature for his sustenance. Man must therefore interact with nature, i.e. through labor, in order to satisfy his needs. Thus, labor is essential to human existence, for what man is, is how he produces – people are defined by the work they do. The first historical act of man was his attempt to control the world in a way that serves his interests. He developed tools, technology in the broad sense, that eventually led to the creation of more needs. During the industrial revolution, technology and human needs and wants simultaneously developed and escalated in unimaginable proportions. Under capitalism, owners are in the position of dominance to increase their own gain; that in the struggle between the capitalist and the workers, the owners of capital have a distinct advantage. While capitalists are driven by their interest in personal profit, workers become impoverished as they are provided with only those wages necessary to continue production. In addition, bureaucratic capitalism depersonalizes production. It removes the unique stamp of the individual on his work. Everything becomes a routine, workers become automatons. The quality of work is no longer important, only the quantity matters. Labor is no longer seen as an expression of creativity, but an object apart from man. In capitalism, man becomes alienated from his own work. As Marx said, the worker “is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home.” If we are defined by our work, yet that work is taken away from us and made into an object, then we are separated from our own sense of self. We forget that our basic character as human beings is to creatively produce – work is our end in life. What happens in capitalism is that we see work as something reprehensible, as something to be avoided. We work only because we have to, because we need the money or because we are forced to work. Not only are we alienated from ourselves, we are also alienated from one another. We see others as mere components in our instrumental world. The distance between ourselves and others become more and more unbridgeable, and the conditions, which this bureaucratic capitalism create, give rise to a society devoid of human qualities, best described as a society of machines. What is worse is that we submit to this dominance and exploitation, believing that things are supposed to be this way. More than the system itself, what enslaves us is our false consciousness. We are afraid to question the circumstances under which we live, and we fail to uncover the underlying reason of our suffering. Marx and Engels are firmly convinced that capitalism “has resolved personal worth… for naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.” Thus, communism, as an ideology and social theory, intends to clear the clouded conceptions of men by illustrating the conditions of domination that chain us. It challenges us to bravely saunter the path towards freedom. The reality of our condition compels us to act. “From each according to his ability,” said Marx and Engels, “to each according to his needs!” The Manifesto ends with a serious caveat and a vigorous exhortation, “Working men of all countries, unite!”