I’ve read The Communist Manifesto twice. The first time, I was about nineteen-years old. But even as a teenager, subject to utopian fancies and to the indoctrination of professors and philosophers with utopian fancies of their own, I wasn’t convinced. Over the last seventeen years, the specific details of the book had long since left my recollection, but I remembered the arguments that it helped me form against the ideology. For example, where is the incentive to go out and work hard when everybody is guaranteed equal results?
The second time I read it I discovered that, rather than wasting time expressing a counter-argument, it’s probably much easier to simply point out to people what the book actually says as a deterrent for any would-be adherents of Marx’s and Engels’s principles. When I read the book a second time, about three weeks ago, I actually hadn’t planned on even writing a review, but after subsequently reading The Gulag Archipelago, I feel like it’s too important not to shout down the bad ideas contained within it.
So here we go.
There are three major takeaways I had in my second reading. Below are all three takeaways, as laid out by Marx and Engels in their book. All three come straight out of the book; this isn’t spin. I’ll go one step further and give the page number (and exact quotes from the book at the end of this post).
1. The “minimum wage” offered by employers is just that, a bare minimum they can get away with paying their employees. This needs to be resolved. (This is a direct predecessor to the minimum wage issue in America today). (page 84, Signet Classics edition)
2. Do away with personal property. The state divvies it out. (Page 92, Signet Classics Edition)
3. Centralize capital. The state divvies it out.(Page 92, Signet Classics Edition)
The reason I’ve taken such great care to actually go find the page numbers and print the quotes is that often, Marx supporters (who are either intellectually dishonest or just haven’t read the book) will try to verbally re-write what was actually in the book. The argument they often make is something like this: “If things were done in the utopian design of Marx/Engels, then the Soviet Union would have never existed because they would never give that much power to the central government.”
Well, it’s either a lie or just ignorance, because that’s exactly what they were calling for in the book. The authors call for “despotic inroads on the rights of personal property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production.” So all they want to do is have the government take all your stuff and all of the stuff from your employer. What can go wrong there? Right? Well, somebody asked Aleksandr Solzhenitsn that same question, and he answered it in a few thousand pages with his crushing takedown of the Soviet Union in The Gulag Archipelago. His answer in a nutshell: Fifty-million dead bodies as a direct result of this philosophy being implemented as policy. That’s the worst thing that can happen.
Final word: As literature, I have to recommend reading it. I always like to read books from previous centuries. It’s a nice snapshot into another time. As a piece of nonfiction, I’m not a believer, as you may have noticed. But I still recommend it, whether or not you’re a supporter of the philosophy. It’s important to know exactly what you’re arguing for (or against). It’s obviously a special book just in the sense that it had such a great impact on the history of the twentieth century, and it’s still relevant today.
Engels, Friedrich & Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. 1848.
•Page 84 (Chapter II: Signet Classics Edition):
“The average price of wage labour 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… All we want to do is do away with the miserable character of this appropriation.”
•Page 92 (Chapter II: Signet Classics Edition):
“…this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production.”*
•Page 92 (Chapter II: Signet Classics Edition):
“5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state.”
- Centralisation of the means of communication and transportation in the hands of the state.”
*You like that line about despotic inroads on page 92? Yeah, that was one of my favorite parts, too. I made sure to mark it with my highlighter for later when I read it. I think maybe Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin did the same thing, but I don’t have access to their copies.
Thanks for reading! If you are so inclined, go pick up my book (available on Kindle or paperback) at Amazon. It’s called “Jamey Jones and the Sons of Noah.” It’s a fun science fiction book about a group of teenagers living on a planet called Kepler 438b. It’s seventy pages long, inexpensive, and it’s kinda good, even if I say so myself (although I admit it’s not nearly as good as Brave New World).