Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels's The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings

Barnes & Noble Classics of New York and George Stade, Consulting Editorial Director, make room for Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings to their collection of literary classics in 2005. This edition contains an introduction and notes by Martin Puchner. Puchner helps the reader to sift through the deceptively short passages. He performs his research admirably and provides sufficient information to verify claims and positions implied in these pages. As the title indicates, other essays accompany the political platform postulated by the Communist organization of the nineteenth century. They include diverse prefaces to particular countries and languages, a political science paper evaluating the coup d’état of 2 December 1851 in France, another set of prefaces, and arguments criticizing Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach’s philosophy. The sections come in this order: (1) “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, translated by Samuel Moore, and revised and edited by Friedrich Engels; (2) “Prefaces to the Manifesto of the Communist Party,” written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels; (3) “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” written by Karl Marx; (4) “Prefaces to the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels; and (5) “Theses on Feuerbach,” written by Karl Marx, revised slightly by Friedrich Engels, and translated by Martin Puchner.

Admittedly, I felt some trepidation when I planned to purchase and read this book. I had grown up during the latter part of the Cold War, and I had this foreboding feeling that we could be invaded by the U.S.S.R. at any moment. Nuclear missiles could launch from anywhere, causing a devastating war and blighting the world with a radioactive winter. School teachers taught about the Berlin Wall, a barrier trapping people inside their own country and lined with guards that shot escapees on sight if they tried to cross the boundary. Hollywood did not assuage the anxiety either. Films like Red Dawn, Night Crossing, and WarGames reinforced the idea that Communism attempted to spread its tentacles through force or subterfuge. Mix in some anti-communist rants from neighbors and conservatives and I imagined this behemoth lurking over the entire world. I felt like I was about to commit treason by merely looking at the cover.

Fortunately, the feeling subsided promptly. Understanding a system lessens the fear of the same. In reality, I wanted or needed to read the Manifesto so I could understand the origins of Marxist interpretations of literary theory. I also learned from this book what Marxist Communism was really trying to accomplish. Marx and Engels do harangue the bourgeoisie and prod the proletarians to rise up against them, but their jingoism and rhetoric have little to do with twentieth century Cold War scare tactics. The Manifesto is simply a party platform statement expressing the tension between the rich and the poor, and how the poor should not tolerate abuses committed by the rich. The philosophy is not perfect, but it helps to understand other economic systems by occupying an extreme end of the political scale.

I find Marx and Engels to be articulate and intelligent historians, although biased. I disagree with their militaristic proposals for political reform. They attempt to confront enterprises deleterious to the poor. It is certainly admirable to take upon themselves the cause of the disenfranchised indigents. They do not hide in the shadows like other disgruntled militants of recent events. However, they do not properly explain how the distribution of wealth should be carried out effectively. What constitutes public and private property? Who is authorized to distribute acquired property after a revolution? Can proletarians accumulate too much thereby disqualifying them from receiving their fair share of acquired property? Does privacy disappear? If the bourgeoisie was necessary to overcome the feudalistic system, and the proletariat is necessary to overcome the system of the bourgeoisie, then can there be yet another group that will rise up against the proletariat? Answers are lacking.

The philosophy of Marx and Engels also has its incongruities. The only incongruity that I will mention here involves the family unit. “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation” (10). On the surface, this seems to be true. Capitalistic enterprises do not care about the welfare of families; rather they contrive to siphon hard-earned money from their pockets. Even the United States Government sees its citizens as sources of tax money and molds hot-button domestic policies to assure the flow of capital. The philosophy goes on to claim that as industry develops, “the more is the labor of men superseded by that of women [who] no longer have any distinctive social validity” (14). There are no genders, only automatons. Corporations do pigeonhole working mothers and fathers, thus straining the time and resources needed to properly raise a family. This supposes Communists are looking out for families. But then this sentence comes up: “Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists” (24). Dissolve the family structure? Even parents can exert power over the children to work as wage laborers, Communists assert. This is one tenet that I cannot accept. Abolishing the family structure is an egregious proposition, because the family is a social foundation upon which any society exists. If anything, Communism should be encouraging the family relationship as a suitable venue for communal indoctrination. For a modern state to have absolute power over every single family or individual within its reach makes the ideal of communal support look absurd. A dysfunctional family functions much better than a totalitarian one.

I wholeheartedly disagree about the abolition of the family, but Marx and Engels may be onto something in the literary field. The affects of globalization are more evident today than in Marx’s day. “In a place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature” (11). Certainly the entertainment industry would not want their creations to become public property, but they have a difficult time protecting them. The exchange of cultural and artistic creation jumps borders faster than a blink of an eye thanks to the Internet and YouTube. In a sense, the world population has already made art into public property. We see spoofs, parodies, clips, and imitations of popular culture on YouTube to the chagrin of entertainment executives. Karl Marx would have been impressed with today’s instant communication mediums, maybe even calling it “revolutionary.”

Reading this book may not be your cup of tea, but doing so may be a necessary evil. Students, especially those going to college, need to familiarize themselves with this philosophy so as to respond adequately to its arguments and beliefs. Reading this book has solidified my opinions regarding it, because it confronted my paradigms and challenged them to have firmer convictions. This has been one of the most difficult book reviews that I have had to write.

Now that I have finished my book review, I like to share a story that my father has told me. While I was contemplating the significance of Marx and Engels’s Manifesto and Communism, I wanted to get my father’s input. He is a tough old bird, strong and willful, and not afraid to enumerate the evils of Communism. One day, he told a story about how he wanted to shout “WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!” as found in page 41 of the Manifesto. He needed to clarify this obvious aberration of his political makeup. So I sat him down and asked him to relate the story again which you can read below.

Sometime in early 1966, I got a job at Zeno Hydraulic Corporation. Zeno Hydraulic Corporation was on the west side of the railroad tracks at about 1300 South in Salt Lake City. I may be wrong on the south. I worked with Colin H.; he was an immigrant from Great Britain. Colin H. was the person who ordered all the materials and all the parts and all the equipment and I was to work as his assistant as shipping and receiving clerk. Zeno Hydraulic Corporation would take castings for hydraulic pumps, hydraulic valves, and hydraulic cylinders and do the fine machine work on them so they went from castings to finished parts and then would put them together as hydraulic pumps, hydraulic valves and hydraulic cylinders. Those items would be sold to Fugue Machine Corporation, FMC (not “Ford Motor Company”), to the United States Government mainly at Anniston, Alabama, and to other large corporations that made heavy equipment in one form or another.

To begin with, I did not do much in the way of shipping and receiving. They had me clean up the work that they had done after they had done the fine machine work on it. It was up to me to take an air-powered grinder and grind off all the burrs and the sharp ridges that their machine work had left on the pump bodies and on the cylinders and all the rest of it. Very dirty work; greasy and oily and I didn’t take enough care in the interests of speed and efficiency. A couple of times, I got steel splinters in my eye, which was not a good thing. Obviously, I should have been wearing safety glasses of some form or another, but I did not, and that caused me some difficulties there. But the time came when Zeno was doing enough work that Colin H. needed more help, and I kind of graduated from grinding off the burrs and the sharp edges to replacing parts in the parts warehouse. The parts would come in and they had to have numbers assigned to them based on the plans for the equipment they were going to go into. My first job was to make little cardboard parts boxes. They would be about a foot long and about six inches squared, and you had to make the boxes and then you had to cut off the front top half, so that it was a little container that you could slide in and out on the parts rack. Then I had to take a magic marker and write the part number on the box, and then put it on the rack and see to it that those parts boxes were always full of parts. Then when the assembly people needed parts, they would come in and, using the parts numbers, they could go through the parts warehouse part of it and pull the parts they needed. If they had plenty of work to do, rather than do that, they would give me the job of pulling the parts out. I would have to go and pull the parts for ten hydraulic valves and five hydraulic pumps, or something like that, and arrange them and take them to the assemblers so they could put them together.

In addition, it got to be the point where I knew what I was doing and Colin had more than enough work to do on his own, so he started to leave the shipping to me. My work schedule was after college, so I would get to work about anywhere from 2:30 to 3:00 o’clock and put in an eight hour shift, working late into the night. It would be my job to take the equipment that had been assembled, box it up, pack it appropriately so it would not be hurt, and then call the shipping companies and have them pick it up and ship it off to whomever the customer happened to be. It was hard work. A small hydraulic pump would weigh seventy to ninety pounds and some of the big stuff was really hard and I would have to use a forklift to move it. There were some small hydraulic valves that would weigh something like fifteen or twenty pounds and they were easy to work with. But I would do that and I would be pretty much alone back in the shipping and receiving area packing up all the stuff that had been manufactured or assembled during the day. They would never let you do this now, but I had to clean all the grease off of it, and the way I did that, I would set it on pallets, move the pallet with a forklift back to the area where I cleaned the grease off, and then spray carbon tetrachloride on it to cut all the grease. That is a definite carcinogen and a poison, and they would never let us do that now, I am sure. But that was just normal at that time. So they would finish it and I would have to clean them all up, and I would have to pack them and ship them. It was hard work, but it was satisfying and it certainly helped pay for my college education, particularly helped pay for the Mustang that I bought when I just got back from my mission and had to pay $200.00 a month on, in monthly payments. So, I had motivation and I had to work.

But it was tiring work. By the end of the shift, I would be just about worn out from lifting and moving all those heavy steel items. And I remember one, probably would have been the Christmas-New Year’s holiday of 1966. It was during the holiday season and I was there, almost alone, doing my work, grungy and oily and dirty and gritty with all the machine stuff on me. And in came the plant manager. I can’t remember what his last name was. It was Bill Somebody, and he was a high mucky-muck from the East Coast. He had been sent out to manage the plant. I did not see him very often. He was usually up at the front desk. The factory supervisor, the worker or foreman, I guess you would call it, was Herbert S., I guess his name was, and he was a German with such a thick accent that it was hard to understand him, but we got along really well after he learned that I could do the work. (He never could call me by my first name. He called me “Bill,” because as a German, he could not say the W and he refused to say “Vill,” so he said, “Bill!” I was always “Bill.”) But he came in that night and he brought the plant manager with him. The plant manager was dressed in a tuxedo and a fine shawl around his neck, and a fancy black overcoat and a bow tie and patent leather shoes and the whole nine yards. And he had with him, I guess it was some business associates, but along with the business associates were some young men of about my own age also dressed for partying, who, obviously, were not workers. They were the children of these high mucky-mucks. And I had to admit, as I sat there in my dirty, oily, black, grungy, gritty work clothes, working late at night, I wanted to shout, “WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!” and throw out the bourgeois, capitalistic plutocrats. I did not think it just that I had to work during the holiday season while these three or four young men, who obviously had never done a day of work in their lives, were living off the bounties of their parents, and enjoying their so-called high life. I thought, “Maybe Karl Marx had something,” but after a few minutes, I realized it was just jealousy on my part. I went back to work and everything was okay.

I was then curious about how he learned about Communism. In his answer he gave a reference to an abridged novel that came out in the 1950s, which might interest you if you like reading about the Cold War.

I do not recall exactly when I first learned about Communists and about Communism. My parents subscribed to the Reader’s Digest, however. I read omnivorously everything that I could get my hands on, and they also participated in the Reader’s Digest Condensed Book Club or whatever it used to be. Anyway, we had a number of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books in our house. There was a book back about 1953 or 1954 called Tomorrow!, by Philip Wylie. The book had to do with a sneak attack by Russian bombers against the United States in a nuclear war and how we handled that and how we overcame the Soviets and how we recovered eventually from the nuclear damage that we suffered. That got me thinking that I obviously knew that the Russians were Communists, by then. […] Bear in mind that this was before we had intercontinental ballistic missiles. All we had were big bombers, B-47s, B-52s, and the Russian “Bears” and their “Tupolevs” and the other things that they had.

We were worried about a Russian sneak attack, and I do not know how many books I read about bomb shelters and fallout and resisting the Russian attack on our country and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. I eventually reached the point of view in my own mind that, in light of what I knew from the scriptures, that eventually the gospel would have to be preached to all nations. The only way we were ever going to be able to preach the gospel to Russia was to wipe out the Communist government. Up until I guess I was about seventeen, eighteen, maybe even nineteen during and after my mission, if you had given me the button to push to send the bombers and the ICBMs later on over Russia to kill millions of Russians to do that, I would have done it. I am glad they never gave me the button.

I am glad they never gave him the button, too.

Andrew

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