Some Brief Remarks on the Manifesto (fwd)

Wed, 4 Mar 1998 10:17:25 -0700 (MST)
Martha Gimenez (

I am forwarding this on behalf of Kevin Anderson.

Some Brief Remarks on the *Communist Manifesto*, 150 Years Later

by Kevin Anderson, Northern Illinois University

Instead of a complete paper, what follows are some briefer reflections,
more in the form of theses than a unified whole. I hope they can add
something to the discussion.

1. As the great and decidedly non-Marxist economist Joseph Schumpeter
remarked long ago, the *Manifesto* contains some great praise of capitalist
achievements in its opening pages. Two issues would seem to flow from
this. One, this is I think part of the dialectical structure of the whole
work. In those early pages, Marx (I will refer to Marx as the author,
since, as Engels himself noted, Marx wrote by far the bulk of the text,
using Engels draft only very sparingly) sketches what capitalism has
achieved over the pre-capitalist order with its "military brutality,"
sloth, and narrow particularism. However, being the magnificent
dialectician that he was, Marx follows this by a discussion of the
contradictions of capitalism, which, as we know, are basically two:
(a)economic crises and depressions, and (b)the revolt of labor at the point
of production. The system's very achievements are what cause each of these
problems to emerge. In this sense, the structure of the basic argument is
not too different from that in Hegel's work, where in the *Phenomenology*
for example, Hegel describes a new stage of consciousness as superior to a
previous one, but then moves quickly to show the contradictions within the
new one, which lead to its collapse, and then the emergence of a still
newer stage of consciousness. This is of course related to the notion of a
first and a second negation, with the first negation tearing down the old,
and the second creating something new.

A second issue with regard to Marx's praise of capitalism here in 1848 is
that one cannot find any similar praise of capitalism in Marx's *Capital*.
This is a complicated issue. To be sure, Marx never denied that capitalism
had brought about at least some progressive changes in it wake as it
overthrew the old order, however, by the 1860s his emphasis had changed,
and the view he presented of capitalism became starker and more critical.

2. I do have a big problem, as do most readers today, with Marx's
discussion of Asia in these opening pages. In this regard, Marx continues
to praise capitalism, up to and including its highly destructive and
exploitative intrusions into India and China. Capitalism, he writes,
"batters down all Chinese walls," and "has made barbarian and
semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones," etc. With
regard to India, Marx evidently sees British capitalism as undermining
caste, sati, and other extremely oppressive features of traditional Indian
society, just as, in Western Europe, capitalism had swept aside the feudal
order. But here, his argument lacks the dialectical element of a second
negation which would overcome this supposed first negation of
traditionalism on the part of British imperialism. Where in his discussion
of Western European development the proletariat appears as an internally
developed negation of capitalism, he points to no similarly progressive and
internally generated negation of British imperialism in India. In this
sense, Marx's discussion in the *Manifesto* exhibits Eurocentrism.

However, as early as 1853 (and by 1850 with regard to China), Marx begins
to nuance this argument. In his 1853 articles for the *New York Tribune*,
he does point to the possibility of Indians throwing off British rule
altogether, but the main thrust is once again praise of the "progress"
brought about by Britain. By 1856-57, however, he and Engels come to
violently oppose British imperialism. They attack its 1856 Second Opium War
against China and support the 1857 the spring 1857 Sepoy rebellion in India
as a national revolution. Curiously, however, those 1853 articles are
heavily anthologized but not the 1857 ones. Still later, in the 1870s and
1880s, Marx undergoes yet more changes of outlook. I cannot mention these
here in detail, but especially in his 1880s *Ethnological Notebooks* (a new
all-English edition of which is being edited by David Smith) and in his
writings on the village commune in Russia, he suggests that it may be
possible for non-industrialized societies to bypass capitalism altogether,
if they link up with the workers of the industrialized lands.

3. It is often said that the *Manifesto* repudiates all forms of
nationalism, as exemplified by the famous phrase "the workers have no
country," but this has to be read very carefully. As Bertell Ollman
suggests in his *Dialectical Investigations*, in reading Marx it is
important to note which level of abstraction he is using. Here, I believe,
he is writing at a fairly high level of abstraction, referring more to a
trend of the future than to present day empirical reality. A bit later,
however, in the closing paragraphs of the *Manifesto*, is discussing the
concrete program of the communist movement. At this point, he explicitly
comes out for the "national emancipation" of Poland, with the qualification
that he supports the left-wing nationalists who stand for an "agrarian
revolution," the ones who led the Cracow insurrection two years earlier.
Thus, like Lenin later, and unlike Luxemburg and many others today who
abstractly reject all forms of nationalism as reactionary, Marx here
clearly comes out in support of revolutionary forms of nationalism. In
this case he is supporting the left-wing nationalism of revolutionary
Poland, supported in those days by almost all of the European left (except,
interestingly, the Proudhonists). The Poles were up against three of
Europe's most reactionary powers, Russia, Austria, and Prussia. This has a
broader importance for us today. Can we as Marxists refer to the
particular without forcing it too quickly into what Hegel would have called
an "abstract universal"? I think we can and must be able to do so if we
are to come to terms with all of the multi-dimensional forces of revolt and
opposition today, whether based on class, or on nationality, race, gender,
or sexual orientation.

4. Finally, the structuralist Louis Althusser and others (he is the most
one-sided) point to a "break" in Marx's thought after 1844, when he
supposedly gave up the notions of freedom, self-development, and alienation
which permeated the *1844 Manuscripts*. But as Raya Dunayevskaya noted
some forty years ago in her *Marxism and Freedom*, however, Marx continues
to speak of these issues in the *Manifesto* and after. In his description
of the downfall of capitalism in section I, the same one in which he also
praises capitalism, Marx writes that because of "the extensive use of
machinery," factory work "has lost all individual character, and
consequently, all interest for the workman," who has become "an appendage
of the machine." This is an even deeper concept of alienation, it could be
argued, than that elaborated in 1844. Nor does he stop talking about
freedom. For example, at the end of section II, he describes the new
society as follows: "we shall have an association in which the free
development of each is the condition of the free development of all." I
know that Stalinist, Maoist and other authoritarian and ideological forms
of Marxism have been allergic to the word "freedom," but Marx certainly was
not. Nor should we be.

Kevin Anderson
Department of Sociology
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115
Tel. 815-753-0365
FAX 815-753-6302
Simplified email address:

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