If you took note of the books I’m currently reading (Listed in the GoodReads widget to the right, under the header), one of those books was the Communist Manifesto. This may cause some consternation among some of you. If you stick with me past this paragraph, you may be surprised. Here’s a bit that came out of my reading of the Communist Manifesto.
First and foremost, it’s large on generalities and short on complex details or thoughtful solutions to complex problems. It tries to build a case for one simple solution to an incredibly complex situation. That situation was the industrial revolution that began rocking the West in the mid 1800’s and into the 1900’s.
I think we all have some idea of how difficult those times were for large groups of people. Maybe we’ve read Dickens. We’ve heard of the slum life in New York city or London. This pamphlet by Marx and Engles does show their concern about the injustices and inequalities that abounded as the wealthy aristocracy, merchant and industrial baron classes raked in fortunes on the backs of masses of working poor who could barely subsist. They were right to be alarmed by the industrial revolution and the way it tore up families and forced many from the apparently more dignified rural life into smoky slums of soul and body degradation. They were right to be outraged by workers being worked to death with little to show for, as wealth poured into the pampered, soft-skinned, un-calloused hands of the giants of the new industry.
But Marx and Engels description of these times is too simplistic and their solution to the problems is even more simplistic. Their essential solution? Just get rid of anything you think is “bourgeoisie” and somehow by magic the “proletariat” will have political/cultural power and then they’ll be free and human again… And they give almost no specific details or real-life scenarios to back up their grand plan. The solution is too ‘clean’. There’s no discussion about factors that might thwart such an uprising. There’s no acknowledgement that there might be places in the world where the population didn’t line up into their neat categories of bourgeoisie and proletariat. It’s just assumed that the world over is the way they describe it. Besides simplicity there’s a touch of hubris as well. “Our epoch”, our time is the time for “our” grand vision to come about! Here is their “epoch” in short:
Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, 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.
There’s some broad assumptions in that section. Were the lines really that clearly drawn in 1847? I doubt it. They certainly are not today. Maybe in Marx’s and Engel’s neighborhood? This portion comes early in the manifesto. From the get-go, descriptions and solutions are too simple to take seriously. Why would Marx and Engle want to do that?
Maybe intentionally or subconsciously they understood that if you make something simple, then it makes it easier to act out and implement the ‘simple’ solution. And what is the ‘simple’ solution all too often? Well, it is usually what springs most naturally from our selfish, fallen natures; especially if we’ve chosen to be far from a God-directed conscience/life.
It was out of my realization of the broad assumptions and simplistic solutions offered by Marx and Engles, that this thought came to me. A simple view of things seems to make it easier to take the “broad way [the easy, simple way ] to destruction” in addressing the issue. The better way with better long term results also is the hard, complex way. Which comes easier and which takes more work and personal sacrifice: rising up in wrath and killing your enemy before he gets you or trying to show love, grace and mercy to your enemy? I know which comes easier to me: malice, retaliation, and swift judgement. When I (we) don’t take the time to really understand and study all the factors involved, it’s that much easier to be impatient, hasty and unChrist-like in our actions. The following illustrates Marx and Engles, ‘simple’ solution to their distorted evaluation of their circumstances:
[…] we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.
This fleshly and unstudied grasp of the situation permeates the Communist Manifesto from beginning to end. The incredibly complex issues of class, wealth, poverty, rights, traditions, religion, democracy, etc seem to be quite dumbed down and the solution is equally not explained or thought through. Marx and Engle seem convinced that the proletariat would naturally rise up and all at once do away with the bourgeoisie and everything would be fixed, just like that. They said, “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
No wonder then that so many thoughtlessly took up its ideas and gave into the easy reactions of envious, angry and violent elimination of anything with a hint of “bourgeoisie”. History has proven to be way more complex than that. There’s still industrial exploiters and wage-slave labor and everything in between or even outside of those categories. It was never that simple and it never will be that simple…