SUMMARY OF SOME KEY WORKS
BY KARL MARX AND
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THE MANIFESTO OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY
First written in late 1847 and published on February 21st 1848, the “Manifesto of the Communist Party” is often referred to as `The Communist Manifesto’. The work is usually credited to both Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, although the former wrote that it was “essentially Marx’s work”. Its introduction uses a well-known analogy that Communism is a “spectre haunting Europe”; this ghostly apparition of red revolution had been looming for some time and so immensely frightened the ruling circles that Communists relished now setting down their ideas for the record properly for the first time.
The mid-nineteenth century was a time ripe for a theory of social change. Marx and Engels had worked out their ideas on the basis of their participation in revolutionary activity in Germany, France and Belgium, which had shown them how the capitalist class (or bourgeoisie as they termed it) was no longer a consistently revolutionary class. This class had been the main winners of the struggle to end monarchical absolutism but, having once been enthusiastic revolutionaries, they now promoted conserving things as they were.
The studies the two men undertook of capitalist society – Engels as a cotton manufacturer in Manchester, Marx as a student of the classical English political economists, saw them bring the best of French revolutionary and socialist thought, German philosophy, and English economics into one coherent ideology, that we now call Communism and which is best and first outlined in this pamphlet.
The first section
The first section of the main body of the Manifesto briefly explains the conception of `historical materialism’, a theoretical model that sees events as unfolding from the circumstances that form the main factors in those events, as distinct from some outside agency. Famously, Marx proclaims that: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” The world in his day had now produced the clearest form of this with workers (proletarians) and capitalists (bourgeoisie) “stood in constant opposition to one another”.
It had not always been so clear; for example the English Civil War (Marxists prefer to call it the English Revolution) of 1640, had seen the re-distribution of landed property cause the growth of a new class, which then demanded political power. The book “The Commonwealth of Oceana”, published 1656 by James Harrington was at first censored by Oliver Cromwell. Harrington, in setting out a view of an ideal constitution, was seen as providing a metaphor for contemporary England. But Harrington’s ideal government was by no means carried out.
His main argument was that the determining element of power in a state is property, particularly property in land, and that governmental power ought to not be given for any length of time with a particular class of men (the notion that women might have an equal voice was almost as strange an idea then to most as that a man with no property should have the right to vote). Harrington even proposed limiting land to the amount yielding revenue of £3,000 and redistributing landed property. He also suggested that a third of parliament be voted out by ballot every year, and may not be elected again for three years. Needless to say, it was only political struggle by mainly working class people over the course of the next centuries that saw elements of the democratic principles first outlined during the English Revolution gradually accepted by the ruling elite.
Whilst revolting against the feudal order, the capitalist class had reorganised the “real conditions of life”, in effect they had interpreted social and political changes from materialist standpoint. Such changes had their origin in changes in economic structure and, as a result of these economic changes a new class, the bourgeoisie, had claimed political power. In order to obtain this power, this class had had to organise revolution against the old order and the ruling class, the feudal aristocracy.
In France, Antoine Barnarve, one of the most influential orators of the 1789 Revolution, saw political struggle arising from class antagonisms based on antagonisms rooted in economic and social relations. By 1820, a French bourgeois politician and historian, Francois Guizot was able to write about the English Revolution as the equivalent revolutionary overthrow of the feudal ruling class.
Once established in power, the bourgeoisie abandoned any idea of the necessity of revolution, since they were now afraid of proletarian revolution. Therefore, their theory of social change becomes `idealist’, a philosophy that maintains that reality is based on an ideal, or upon ideas. [Note that modern parlance has changed and disparaged the meaning of these terms so that an `idealist’ is someone who believes strongly in some idea and a `materialst’ is someone who only grasps after goods and wealth! This is a clever way to diminish true materialist thinking which sees reality as based on just that real things.] Idealism as a philosophy sees social change arising from changing mental attitudes, or maybe from a series of minor compromises.
Such an idealist thinker was Edmund Burke, claimed as the theorist of modern Conservatism. An enthusiastic debunker of atheistic rationalism, Burke urged humnaity to “look up with awe to kings; with affection to parliaments; with duty to magistrates; with reverence to priests; and with respect to nobility” because he saw such an outlook as “natural to be so affected”. Idealist thinkers also looked to such works as the writing of a book extolling the virtues of the 19th Century English Constitution; or to the unfolding of a divine concept, which is shown in, for example, the later work of Hegel and his outlook on the Prussian State.
In complete contrast, the Manifesto of the Communist Party 1848 viewed reality through the eyes of those who knew not only the history of the previous epoch but the politics of their day. It is no document produced in a vacuum; everyone then faced problems of rapid social and economic changes around them – economic and political changes which had long been maturing over the previous hundred years, and had massively transformed European society.
There had been the destruction of centuries-old agricultural village communities, especially in England and France through the rise of capitalist farmers. There had been a phenomenal growth of towns and industrial transformations resulting from capitalist control of industry. This had smashed of ancient feudal guild controls, which laid the division of labour on basis of handicrafts. This was swiftly followed by application of, first water, then steam power to production, especially in the English textile industries. The creation of national and then world markets through improved communications infrastructure, such as canals, metalled roads, and then railways, had globalised industry.
This was also an age of political revolution; the American Revolution threw off of yoke of British colonial exploitation; the French Revolution saw the capitalist class, or bourgeoisie, using the peasantry in alliance, smash feudal autocracy in the most advanced country on the Continent. Old regimes all over Europe were thrown into the melting pot during the Napoleonic wars. After the defeat of Napoleon, movements for bourgeois-democratic regimes forged ahead in spite of the post-1815 reactionary trend led in Europe by Russia and Austria-Hungary. Such reforming and often insurrectionary developments occurred to a greater or lesser extent in a wave touching Spain, France, Belgium, Germany and Italy in 1830, and England in 1832.
Although capitalists had once played a progressive role in ending feudalism, they had laid the seeds of their own destruction by leaving in society “no other nexus … than callous `cash payment’”; whilst “everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones … All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” Marx sees the contradiction between the de-socialisation of the forces of production and the increasing socialised relations of production as a kind of motor for change.
The second section
The Manifesto proposes in the second section that the relationship of Communists to the rest of the working class is entirely new. In looking at the different struggles of workers in various countries, Communists “bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat” and in so doing “always represent the interests of the movement as a whole”. In contrast to these high ideals, opponents of Communists misrepresented them as only interested in `free love’, a term associated with promiscuity in the popular imagination.
It is difficult in an age that does not see marriage as central to sexual relations, just how damning this accusation then was. But many left-wing thinkers in the 19th century associated marriage as a form of social bondage, especially for women; whilst many also wanted freedom from state and church interference in personal relationships. In the Victorian era, such ideas were very radical, and Communists joined with others in adopting them; it is interesting to note just how much wider society has now assimilated many of the free thinking notions then so sharply condemned.
Communist ideas were also widely rubbished with the claim that people would never work without incentives. Whilst the aim of Communist is indeed a class-less, state-less society, getting away from what might be classed as airy-fairy ideas, Marx sets out some short-term demands that would lead on to greater things:
- Abolition of private land ownership and inheritance rules
- Income tax that progresses upwards with increasing wealth
- Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
- Centralisation of credit by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
- Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State, with increasing public ownership
- Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
- Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of `industrial armies’, or work brigades, especially for agriculture.
- 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.
- Education for all; free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.
Exactly what the relationship was between these immediate demands and the longer term aims did not get spelled out in the Manifesto. Later elaboration by Marx and, especially, Engels, as well as those who followed in their footsteps would separate out the two stages as socialist society and full communist society, whereby the state would begin to “wither away” and the “administration of things” would come into place instead of the “administration of people”. Public power will loose its `political’ character.
The third section
The third section, distinguishes Communism from other socialist models that were around at the time the Manifesto was written. While the harshness of Marx’s and Engels’ attacks varies, and their debt to “utopian socialists” such as Fourier, Proudhon, and Owen is acknowledged, all rival views are ultimately seen as being simply an avocation of reformism, which all failed to recognise the key role of the working class.
The concluding section of the Manifesto discusses the Communist position on struggles in France, Switzerland, Poland and Germany. The general policy and tactics to be expected in revolution is touched on urging “Support for every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things”. The importance of ownership as the “leading question” is stressed. There is a need for participation in the “union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries”. Whatever tactical approaches may be needed, a clear awareness is needed of the “hostile opposition between bourgeoisie and proletariat”. This is so that Communists can urge the taking up of the struggle against the bourgeoisie after the overthrow of the reactionary nobility class, where this applies.
The Manifesto then ends with its stirring call to action:
“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow PROLETARIANS OF of all existing social conditions. “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.ALL COUNTRIES – UNITE!”
For its day, the Manifesto was pretty well circulated and translated into half a dozen languages. It formed the basis for the reorganisation of the international body, the League of Communists between 1849 and 1852. During the course of the 19th century, it was more widely translated. By 1890 Engels was able to describe it as the “most widely distributed, the most international product of the entire socialist literature”. Today, it has been published countless times in more or less most languages of the world and remains s significant place to start in understanding Communism.
KARL MARX’S `CAPITAL’ – WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
“Capital – a critical analysis of capitalist production” by Karl Marx was the product of half a lifetime’s ongoing research on the nature of 19th century European economies. It is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a programme for socialist advance. Neither is it by any means the sole product of Marx’s intellectual life. He and his collaborator, Frederick Engels, produced a vast body of writings, many only published after their deaths. Whilst `Capital’ is the most significant and well known of these works, it is by no means an easy read. Famously, the 20th century Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, complained that he, a clever economics graduate, could not get past the first page!
Much of the early pages are about understanding value. Obviously most things can be said to have `use value’. When things are swapped, we can be said to have created `exchange value’. The swaps probably have only one thing in common, that they are products of someone’s work. That might have been long in the past and some work may be particularly special. But all things store up labour value and express this in terms of exchange value.
Really, the only consistent way to measure value is in the time taken to make things. But what time? It’s not a question of how much better one way of making things is compared to another. The average “socially necessary labour time” that adds value to something is the key. Things that we buy and sell have use value but only when they pass by way of exchange, after having labour expended upon them do they become commodities.
A commodity is pretty odd, because it captures human labour within itself. The relationships between people get caught up in the relationship between things. Humans begin to see society in terms of these relationships, they `fetishise’ commodities and thus the true nature of human relationships (e.g. between worker and boss) is disguised.
Money is another strange thing. It’s both a measure of value (labour time) and the price of something (exchange value). These should be the same, broadly but they vary, since prices are largely imaginary anyway. `What?’, I hear you cry! Just like that bloke in the pub who asked me about this. Listen…
In selling something, we exchange a commodity (C) for money (M) and can buy something else (C) with that.
So: let’s call this C>M>C
Right. Is this algebra?
No! It’s just a way of thinking about it.
I see. You’ve got something I want, say a pile of coconuts and I pay you for them and you buy … champagne – something like that?
No, forget that for now. Really this transaction is just: C>C. It just looks like the money is doing something but really it might as well not be there. We could use empty mussel shells as money for all the difference it makes.
OK… so, why doesn’t money, sorry shells, make profit?
Well, the second C is rarely that much bigger than the first and if it is I haven’t created anything new, it’s an illusion that ends up being sorted out across all transactions. Really, this is just you and me buying and selling to each other. We swap coconuts for champagne.
OK…what about you; suppose you sell on to someone else for more mon…mussels shells?
Ah, in profitable buying, my money (M) has grown and I can think of it as my capital. Thus: M>C>M2
M2? What’s that? It’s not something to do with the square of the hypotens… hyp… Look, what is it?
Well, the aim of C>M>C is to `consume’ something.
What, like a hotdog?
OK, if you like. Or coconuts.
Couldn’t eat more than one of them. Anyway, all this talk about food is making me a bit peckish.
Back to our game.
Do we have to?
But, unlike C>M>C, when I buy something from you, I have the money, you have the thing and we swap. That’s: M>C>M. That’s exchange value.
But what’s with this M2 thingy?
Well, the difference between M and M2 is extra value and that’s made by labour being applied to the commodity. It’s real value though, not made up.
Oh! You got some chaps to grow and pick up a lot of coconuts and that way they made them worth something. Is that it?
Bloody hell. You’ve got it! Well, the first few chapters anyway…
Er… can’t stop. I’m going to the chip shop.
Wait! There’s accumulated capital to worry about yet…
Something like that anyway. Perhaps if Marx had been able to have a chat with Wilson over a pint, he might even have got him to go past page 32! If dear old Harold had persevered he might have found out that the capitalist, unlike the slave owner or feudal lord, buys labour power, not the labour itself which remains free and that is all the worker really has to sell. We’re no longer owned directly as slaves but, because we have no choice in the matter, wages actually enslave us. As William Shakespeare pithily put it: “You take my life, when you take the means whereby I live.” It is perhaps a dangerous thing to try but the core of what Marx has to say can be summarised thus:
The exchange value of labour power is fixed by the time necessary for its production (or reproduction!), even if a historical and moral element also touches this. Unlike all other commodities, labour power’s use value is that it creates value. Suppose a worker takes 4 hours to produce commodities `worth’ this on that invisible market we hear about so much. This is actually the time needed to keep the worker and his family alive, more or less. Well, the boss will require another 4 hours work, making 8 in all, to cream off his `share’. (This ratio can actually be demonstrated today much as Marx did.) Marx called this lost extra element `surplus value’. After the boss has paid all other expenses what remains is usually called `profit’ in our society but this is not seen by Marxists as quite the same thing as surplus value. The boss redeems this value in money form by selling the combined use value and exchange value of the commodity, having only paid for the exchange value of the labour power.
It is not generally realised that this massive work actually runs to three volumes and it may be said that each is successively less well read! `Capital’ is a gigantic exercise in economic analysis, thankfully, interspersed throughout with the most sardonic historical commentary you will ever come across. If you can penetrate past the first few chapters you will be rewarded with enormous chunks of this stuff.
By the end of the third volume, Marx is preoccupied with his realisation that there is a seemingly permanent economic law of capitalism – the historical rate of profit tends to decline, not the level but the percentage. The amount of capital is broadly fixed at the outset, as is the rate of surplus value. But the level of exploitation can be varied by repressive methods, such as banning or weakening unions, or investors can seek a higher rate in a different country where this is already the case, or capitalists can initiating new technology. If all or some of these routes are closed, due to the strength of the international workers’ movement, then problems ensue.
The very mechanism of a system relying on the application of capital (which is incidentally actually `dead’ labour) to production turns in on itself. Capitalists can find ways to protect their capital but it’s a constant fight. As surplus value constantly expands capital, the rate of profit diminishes relatively and undermines the base of individual capital. So powerful is the effect that, unless all these routes to boosting the rate are constantly employed, over a long and sustained period, the rate will fall. If this is not `corrected’, the relative power of the individual capitalist and their whole class will be undermined, especially as the population expands. Their ability to operate the system is compromised and this is not merely a matter of wealth for them but power – politics if you like. If unchallenged, owners of capital will act so that the trend is always for the relative balance of wealth to swing away from working people. This isn’t because they are personally nasty and greedy, the system and their interests force them to act like that.
These cycles of competition between capital and labour appear to us as individual periods of greater or lesser class warfare. In Britain today, most people do not command the value they create by work. Few can live without working for money and at least as much value is spirited away as is given back to them. Those who own capital (technology, stock, shares and money) will fight hard to keep it like that. The challenge for working people and their families is to revolutionise this situation by acting politically and through trade unions to control the full value of all that they create, whether their job is in the service or manufacturing sectors, whether they are `manual’ or `white-collar’ workers. Ultimately, ending the wages system should actually be the aim of working people and the understanding that this is so is at the heart of what makes Communists a very distinctive and dangerous kind of socialist.
MARX AND ENGELS ON TRADE UNIONS
Marx and Engels, in between waging revolutionary war against capitalism and reaction – oh, and the odd spot of pub crawling in Soho – spent a great deal of time writing and analysing things. Yet there’s no one single piece about trade unions to look up. Even so, the issue litters all their vast writings, many of which were posthumously collected and published over the years in a range of compendiums in Moscow and Beijing. Sometimes these writings were originally in the form of books but also variously in private letters, journalism, speeches and resolutions. So finding these texts would be more like a lifetime’s endeavour than `a book at bedtime’!
Since he lived much longer than Marx, Engels was able to see for himself the development of mass trades unionism in Britain late in the 19th century and learn important lessons from this. Only a short while before he died, Engels wrote of the British unions that they were a “sleeping giant”, slow to rouse but powerfully ferocious when on the rampage. He had seen an early form of this in half a century before in Manchester. The effect of union activity was certainly powerful and the workers could not attack the existing order of society at “any sorer point than this”. But even in 1844, he thought that: “Something more is needed,” than unions and strikes to break the power of the ruling class.”
No-one admired the British trade union movement more than Engels. “As schools of war they are unexcelled”. The French, with their revolutionary tradition had it easy, for “what is death … in comparison with gradual starvation, with the daily sight of the starving family” in the massive and solid strikes of the British working class. Surely, he thought, a people that can endure so much “to bend one single bourgeoise (capitalist) will be able to break the power of the whole bourgeoisie”.
Marx posed the historical significance of trade union struggle sharply in his `The Poverty of Philosophy’. (The title of this work was a pun on a dreadful anarchistic thing called the `Philosophy of Poverty’!) Here the argument was that a rise in wages merely put up prices and strikes were a blind alley. But for Marx, trades unionism could take on a political character in the “veritable civil war” for higher wages. The notion that unions could just be hitched up to the revolutionary wagon was dismissed by Marx as naïve ultra-leftism.
On the other side of the spectrum, right-leaning theorists in Germany twisted Marx’s economic thinking and put forward the notion of the `iron law of wages’. In essence this suggested that workers could never improve their lot no matter what they did; only winning elections could help. (Sounds familiar!) Marx countered that capitalism did operate a physical minimum, which kept workers alive, but that a social element also existed that reflected the balance of power between capital and labour – strikes could make a difference for a while at least. To make the most of this, we needed unions that were mass in character, not semi-political revolutionary organisations.
But, in `Value, Price and Profit’ Marx wrote that even if unions “work well as centres of resistance” they “fail generally by limiting themselves to a guerrilla war against the effects of the existing system”. In addition to their original tasks, trade unions needed to become “focal points for the organisation of the working class”, to rally around them even workers still outside of their ranks. Yet, collective agreements won by unions from employers could “only be considered a truce”. Unions did need to act politically, but Marx fought against piling unions and workers’ political parties into one heap. The aims might be the same but specific methods of working towards this needed to be recognised.
Marx generally wrote at length about concrete examples of trade union struggle and the effect on working hours and wages and how this fed into labour legislation. He reported in 1853-4 for the New York Daily Tribune on the strike wave that swept Britain, culminating in the great Preston Lockout. Whilst his account of the London building trades lockout was sufficiently influential to help him found the International Workingmen’s Association, the first ever workers’ international body. (Unfortunately, it was the practice of the time to use the male gender to encompass all.)
Marx and Engels attached great importance to solidarity work in times of strikes. Indeed one attraction for British unions about the International was the possibility of stopping the importation of scab labour from the continent and they joined it in large numbers. Marx spent a great deal of effort nurturing the forces that he had temporarily welded together, at a time when the TUC was just a gleam in the eye of a few people.
Yet, whilst Marx always saw the need to keep up with the actual demands of the day he also understood that the difficulty was that, fundamentally, the British trade unions still “concerned themselves exclusively with wage questions”. Engels also noted that the “workers also get their morale thanks to the British monopoly of the world and colonial markets”. Only when this faded would we see the beginnings of change. In the 20th century, Lenin extended the work of both Marx and Engels in looking at the relationship between the revolutionary movement and the trade unions – but that is another story!
`ORIGINS OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE STATE’ by FREDERICK ENGELS
In the `Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State’, Engels looks at how these three institutions emerged from about six thousand years ago, in stages across the world, as a way to establish the rule of the many over the few. Essentially, they protect the propertied classes and enable them to pass on wealth to heirs. Militarism and the oppression of women as sex objects are just two injustices that came in their wake. It wasn’t always this way. Private property of land resulted in an overthrow of the mother-centred families and the emergence of special bodies of armed men.
Engels’ 1884 work is based on knowledge available in his day from societies around the globe. Whilst new scientific discoveries have made some of his comments outdated, they have confirmed his conclusions in a remarkable way. An associated short article by Engels, “The part played by labour in the transition from ape to man” could be part of today’s debates on human origin with almost no hint of its age.
`Origins’ can sometimes be a difficult book to wade through due to the detail, especially different family arrangements that make the average legal document seem like a playschool text! As with the Native American system, whereby: “the children of my mother’s sisters are still her children and they are all my brothers and sisters. But the children of my mother’s brothers are now her nephews and nieces, the children of my father’s sisters are his nephews and nieces, and they are all my male and female cousins”!!! But it is worth trying to get the gist at least. Engels looks at length at different forms of the family, which in the past were far more complex than the modern mum, dad and the kids and changed as the economic basis to society became more complex.
Nomadic, or wandering peoples, ran everything based on “gens” (a Latin term for kinship organisations), or `clans’, instead of territory. Ownership of any wealth was based on clan property, entirely communally, a form of communism, albeit primitive. The early form of the family saw unrestricted sexual freedom, every woman `belonging’ equally to every man and every man to every woman. Family lineage was traced through the mother and women had high status in society. Group marriage developed, whereby a group of women had a group of husbands in common – with descent still reckoned on the female side.
Engels looks at evidence concerning the Dravidian, Deccan, Gaura and Tamil tribes in the Indian sub-continent, and also the Hawaiian islands. He believes, rightly, that “(w)hen a system is general throughout America and also exists in Asia … when numerous instances of it are found with greater or less variation in every part of Africa and Australia, then that system has to be historically explained, not talked out of existence”.
looks in some detail at the Iroquois Native Americans, who lived in what is now New York State. Marriage between members of a gens was prohibited, parenthood traced via the mothers and property remained within the `clan’. Neither men nor women were in control but a woman’s brother had more standing than her husband. Each gens elected a peace chief (more like a chair than a leader), who could be a woman, and, when needs be, a war chief, who was usually a man.
There were five tribes or nations and each had a council. The members of this acted as `voices’ to and from the council and the clan. The five nations formed the Iroquois Confederacy, with a common central council, which related to and from the tribal councils. Historians now widely believe that the modern American constitution was in part inspired by the democracy of the Iroquois Confederacy, which was remarkably stable.
Communistic housekeeping meant the supremacy of women; amongst the Iroquois, “the female … ruled the house…. The stores were in common; but woe to the luckless husband or lover who was too shiftless to do his share of the providing. … he might at any time be ordered to pick up his blanket and budge … retreat to his own clan; or … go and start a new matrimonial alliance… The women were the great power among the clans … They did not hesitate … “to knock off the horns” … from the head of a chief, and send him back to the ranks of the warriors.”
But the practice of living together in a primitive communistic household set a limit to the maximum size of the family community. In Hawaii, one or more lines of sisters would form the nucleus of the one household and their own brothers the nucleus of the other (the `punaluan’ family, Hawaiian for `intimate companion’). Later a number of variations, towards the common possession of husbands and wives within a definite family circle, developed.
In early single pair marriages, one man is linked to one woman but this can easily be dissolved by either partner. Before and after separation, the children belong to the mother alone. This led on to the capture and purchase of women – a symptom of a much deeper change. Finally, there remains only the “single, still loosely linked pair, the molecule with whose dissolution marriage itself ceases”. This in itself shows what a “small part individual sex-love … played in the rise of monogamy”. Love relationships in the modern sense only occur in antiquity outside official society. But the new practice, which brought unrelated persons into the marriage relation, also created a more vigorous stock physically and mentally, aiding supremacy over other tribes.
The early systems of wide blood relationship (consanguinity) only changed when the economy of society radically changed; moreover, “the same is true of the political, juridical, religious, and philosophical systems in general”. The trend of these changes was to narrow the circle of people comprised within the common bond of marriage, which was originally very wide.
For, as societies settled in one place when agricultural production began, the development of private property in land, cattle and slaves led to the patriarchal or male power, form of society with descent traced through the male line. Wealth accumulated outside the home – which was women’s domain – and so shifted the power base to men. Men decided they wanted to ensure “their” wealth passed to “their” children. Men, therefore, needed exclusive sexual possession of women. The state developed with commerce, because it became necessary to regulate everyone within a given territory, irrespective of family.
Unlike pre-Columbus America, in Europe, the early wider communal system of government was replaced by the Greek and RomanStates, in a rapid move associated with the shift to slave owning forms of production. The original meaning of the word “family” among the Romans did not at first even refer to the married pair and their children, but only to the slaves! A `famulus’ meant a domestic slave, and a `familia’ was the total number of slaves belonging to one man.
During the Middle Ages, the development of serfdom, the separation of town and country and emergence of a merchant class necessitated a stronger central state. Both involved the development of “citizenship” in one’s own right and not by virtue of family membership. `Free’ but waged-slaved forms of labour only came with the modern “bourgeois”, or capitalist state. Thus, as society passed through successive modes of production it saw corresponding changes in institutions.
Engels makes a theoretical link between the earlier suppression of women and the need for emancipation in the modern era, which will “only be possible when women can take part in production on a large, social scale, and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time”. Clearly, the development of modern production process heralds this possibility. But only communism will make it fully possible, in this sense Communism is the ultimate in feminism!
Perhaps some readers will also be surprised to learn that Communists aim in the long run for a stateless and moneyless society. Engels’ work was an elaboration of how this may be viewed as the logical outcome of this long historical process he laid out. Co-operative labour will see the withering away of the state, which can have no function when there is no ruling class or exploited class. With the transfer of the means of production into common ownership, the single family will cease to be the economic unit of society; private housekeeping and the care and education of children becoming a public affair.
Engels’ book, `Origins’ is therefore a truly landmark text, not always easy to read but always thoroughly novel, even today. In a very practical way, he sets out the case for what Marxists call the `historical materialist conception’ of events; life being moulded by reality of how societies replicate themselves through a new generation. Private ownership changed the nature of the family and this in turn forced new forms of social control. Collectivity gave way historically to personal power and this in turn will once again fade in favour, not of primitive Communism, but a technologically sophisticated but humane Communist society of the future. Powerful stuff, just from looking at cousins!!!!
MARXISM AND TERRORISM
Contrary to the popular image of Communists as bloodthirsty types, itching to be gets the bombs and machine guns out, we have always seen the kind of actions that, according to George Bush anyway, now seemingly get a special war thrown at them. Terrorism and Communism, despite the title of book of exactly that text by a famous renegade from Marxism, Karl Kautsky, did most certainly not go hand in hand.
Just as in every generation, Communists have faced some nutter or other who thinks the short cut to solving problems is the proverbial black gunpowder ball with a fizzing fuse, the founding fathers of Marxism, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels had their very own case of it.
13th December 1867, a group of Irish revolutionaries attempted to free some of their leaders from Clerkenwell Prison with a bomb. The attempt was a fiasco and the bomb only destroyed a number of neighbouring houses, killing a few people and wounding hundreds. The British press used the occasion for a campaign of anti-Irish hysteria. As far as Marx and Engels were concerned, brave though the Irish Terrorists were, their actions had set back the cause of Ireland decades. Engels wrote to Marx that day from Manchester:
“The Clerkenwell folly was obviously the work of a few special fanatics; it is the misfortune of all conspiracies that they lead to such acts of folly because ‘we really must do something, we really must get up to something’. Especially in America there has been a lot of bluster amongst this explosive and incendiary fraternity, and then along come some individual jackasses and instigate this kind of nonsense.
Marx wrote back from London the next day:
The London masses, who have shown much sympathy for Ireland, will be enraged by it and driven into the arms of the government … One cannot expect the London proletarians to let themselves be blown up for the benefit of … secret, melodramatic conspiracies of this kind (which) are, in general, more or less doomed to failure.” [Marx-Engels Correspondence 1867; MECW Volume 42, p. 501]
Four decades later, in Russia, the a autocratic monarchy, resistant to any social change, Marxists once again pondered the phenomenon. Long before the conclusion of the Russian Revolution, Lenin had outlined his ideas of Terrorism, which he completely rejected as a means of achieving revolutionary transformation. In a 1902 article for the underground paper, Iskra, entitled “Revolutionary Adventurism” he wrote:
“Each time a hero engages in single combat, this arouses in us all a spirit of struggle and courage,” we are told. But we know from the past and see in the present that only new forms of the mass movement or the awakening of new sections of the masses to independent struggle really rouses a spirit of struggle and courage in all. Single combat however, inasmuch as it remains single combat …has the immediate effect of simply creating a short-lived sensation, while indirectly it even leads to apathy and passive waiting for the next bout. We are further assured that “every flash of terrorism lights up the mind,” which, unfortunately, we have not noticed to be the case with the terrorism-preaching party of the Socialist-Revolutionaries. [Collected Works Vol 6 pp 186-207]
In `What is to be Done’, Lenin mused over the extraordinary commonality of opinion of a supporter of trade union spontanaiety as a strategy for revolution and a supposedly Marxist inclined revolutionary who argued for terrorism as a way forward. (Lenin called those who had “subservience to spontaneity” `Economists’.) He thought Economists and Terrorists “showed themselves to be accidentally in agreement. Speaking generally, however, there is not an accidental, but a necessary, inherent connection between the two”.
Lenin realised his readers might think he had gone bonkers, so he rushed to explain. It was their impact on political struggle and activity that was in common. At first sight, his assertion seemed paradoxical, so great is the difference between those who stress the “drab everyday struggle” and those who call for the most self sacrificing struggle of individuals.
But there is no paradox. Economists and Terrorists merely bow to different poles of spontaneity; the Economists to the spontaneity of struggle and Terrorists bow to the “spontaneity of the passionate indignation” of individuals who lack the ability or opportunity to connect the revolutionary struggle and the working-class movement into an integral whole. It is difficult indeed for those who have lost their belief, or who have never believed, that such an integration is possible, to find some outlet for their indignation and revolutionary energy other than terror.
By 1906, Lenin hardly bothered to state his case, against terrorism and the rest, as they say, is history: “the acts of individuals isolated from the masses, which demoralise the workers, repel wide strata of the population, disorganise the movement and injure the revolution”. [`Collected Works, Vol 11 pp 213-223]