Full Hiatus Communism: Part 2
In my last article, I briefly examined some of the historical factors that surrounded the initial publication of The Communist Manifesto. The political climate of Europe, some 50 years after the French Revolution, was volatile. Marx and Engels weren't the only thinkers who yearned for a new world order. It is perhaps an accident of history and a result of the agitative, polemical style in which the Manifesto was written that made it stand out amidst a sea of tediously named political pamphlets. Having said that, I will leave my analysis of the text for Part 3. For now, I will describe some of the key differences between Marx and Engels in terms of their ideas about communism and how to achieve it.
Marx and Engels were from similar backgrounds: both were born to middle-class families and both had strained relationships with their parents. There are several key differences, however, that should be enunciated. Marx was a student of philosophy and law at the University of Berlin in what was then Prussia. His father wanted him to practice law, but Marx was more interested in the philosophy of law, and soon became involved in radical groups heavily influenced by the eminent German philosopher, Hegel. Marx became progressively more radical, joining student societies like the Doctors' Club that were monitored by Prussian authorities. He completed his doctrinal thesis, titled 'The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature' in 1841 and was awarded his PhD from the University of Jena. What the foregoing should tell you is that Marx had extensive academic training in philosophy, both of religion and of politics. He was a Young Hegelian, the name given to a group of thinkers that drew their philosophy from the aforementioned German philosopher, and his thoughts on religion and the prevailing social order were couched in those terms. Engels was a different creature entirely.
Friedrich Engels was the son of a wealthy textile factory owner. He was slated to continue the family business and was sent to complete an internship at a commercial house in Bremen, Prussia. Needless to say, he did not enjoy this role, soon finding himself reading the philosophy of Hegel and writing articles about the ills of industrialisation. He became a member of the Young Hegelians in 1841 while in Berlin. He met Karl Marx in 1842 while writing for the newspaper that Marx edited. Later in 1842, Engels' parents sent him to Manchester to work in one of their textile mills. They hoped that this would cure him of his liberal opinions. To the contrary, Engels saw the appalling conditions of factory workers first hand and wrote an account of them in 'The Condition of the Working Class in England', published in 1845. Engels was also influenced by Robert Owen, an English socialist.
These two accounts of the formative years of Marx and Engels (as a side note, please don't mistake me for assuming that this provides a comprehensive explanation of Marx and Engels' divergent backgrounds. Refer to 'The Communist Manifesto with an introduction by Gareth Stedman Jones' for an in-depth analysis) show that the two men had different influences. It is no surprise, therefore, that they had different ideas about what communism should look like and how it should be achieved. Engels was in favour of small socialist communities of 2000-3000 people which would be self-sufficient and combine agriculture and industry. This fundamental idea did not survive the collision with Marx and no mention of such communities appeared in the final draft of the Manifesto. Engels also had far more antagonistic views on democracy than Marx. In his work 'The Principles of Communism' he stated that "democracy would be quite useless to the proletariat if it were not immediately used to carry through further measures directly attacking private ownership." Marx was more respectful of democracy, although obviously still wished for it to be abolished and replaced with communism.
The differences in ideologies between the two collaborators are instructive as well as interesting. If the Manifesto had been centred around the creation of communist communities dedicated to the betterment and flourishing of their inhabitants, we would doubtless have a very different history of the 20th Century. It also demonstrates the relative naivety of Marx. He had a view that no structure, whether political, social, or religious, would be needed for communism to prevail. His view of history as something that would come to an end with the advent of communism made the Manifesto a somewhat smug polemic, rather than the serious philosophical document upon which a communist society was supposed to be based. In this sense, communism is unique among political and social philosophy in its foundational assumptions: that it represented the most natural of all systems of human organisation. It was envisioned as self-sufficient and required no structural institutions to perpetuate it. This was obviously incorrect and has been proven so in every iteration of Marx's ideology that has yet been applied. This doesn't mean that we should consign the Manifesto to the Hades of defunct political philosophy. However, it does mean that any relevance that the Manifesto has must be qualified with the history of the authors.
In Part 3 of the series on communism, I will look at the text of the Manifesto, examine some of its most notable ideas and discuss how they might be used today without killing 20 million Ukrainians.