Full Hiatus Communism: Part 1
I won't be so arrogant as to assume that I have any dedicated readers who may have missed my particular brand of acerbic logic. However, as some of you may have realised, I have not been posting for a few months. Without going into all the gory and cringeworthy details, I will simply say that I have had some personal issues with which to grapple. One must imagine Sysiphus happy, Albert Camus once said, and I have read more Camus in the past 3 months than in the preceding 24 years of my life. His niche, absurdist angle on reality and existence has struck a chord in me that won't stop vibrating anytime soon. My boulder has rolled back down the mountain and one must indeed imagine me happy to understand the desire to begin the long and futile trudge back up the slope. But, turning to that other philosophical giant of the 21st Century, Jerry Smith, I know that life is effort and I'll stop when I die.
Irrelevant personal issues aside, I now turn to the main topic of this article: communism. With the rise of both far-right and far-left political movements, I thought it would be instructive to take a look at what these political ideologies actually entail. I will begin with an analysis of far-left politics, specifically communism. I should start by saying that I don't think that the potent cocktail of class struggle and political violence recommended by Marx and Engels is particularly useful when taken as a whole. But as with any political ideology, communism has as many facets as it does adherents, and analysing their thoughts, philosophies, and ideas is both educational and practically useful. This is true, even if you rend your garments at the mere mention of the 2 best beards of the 19th Century. So allow us to turn to what most consider the foundational text of communism: The Communist Manifesto.
The Manifesto was originally published in 1848. Students of history will know that this was the same year that revolutions swept through Western and Central Europe. They were broadly unsuccessful in their goal of achieving radical political change, although the disconnected movements did bring about some changes, such as the abolition of serfdom in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (hard to imagine that such an adaptive empire as this would disappear in less than a century). This historical background is important because it was the context for the publication of an exceedingly radical document. A common misconception about communism is that it emanates from the Manifesto. In fact, socialist and communist ideas were being discussed and espoused for around 50 years leading up to its publication. In 1848, at the very nexus of dissemination, Marx found himself advocating for a gradual transition from a bourgeois democracy to a communist society, directly contradicting arguably the central message of the Manifesto: the victory of the proletariat will necessitate the violent overthrow of the existing political system. In the face of the inevitable victory of the forces of reaction represented by the then smothering influence of conservative governments and monarchies across Europe, Marx changed tack and began advocating for the development of an independent workers' party. But at this point, the change was too late to spark the revolutions for which Marx yearned.
All this historical context is vital if one is to fully appreciate the importance placed on the Manifesto at its time of publication. Many today believe that the Manifesto is an integral and indispensable explication of the principles of communism. This is not the case, as can be seen from its reception and its content. The Manifesto was more of an enunciation of the path to communism than it was a prescription for what a communist society would look like. In Part 2 of my series on communism, I will analyse the text itself and attempt to determine if it still has any worthwhile philosophical lessons to teach 150 years after being written.