Martinelli is a Seattle-based freelance writer and editor. In this essay, Martinelli examines how Spender's poem delivers a Marxist message about Communism, education, and the need for social revolution.
Spender's poem "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum" is an excellent example of his lifelong dedication to the pursuit of social change and human equality. During the earliest stages of his writing career in the 1920s and 1930s, Spender was a pacifist and Socialist. He was so stirred to action by the proletarian struggle that he joined the International Brigades—an international force of volunteer soldiers organized by the French Communist Party leader Maurice Thorez and the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Clearly, Spender was an advocate for the working class and an avid supporter of sociopolitical reform. His poetry was a reflection of his support of social reform. Even as he aged, Spender continued to fight for social change and equality for all of humankind. Although he became less of a vocal supporter of Communism, these ideals were still at the foundation of his writing and his political ideology. In the turbulent decade of the 1960s, Spender wrote "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum," a vivid, didactic poem calling for a Communist social reform that mirrors the writings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in their penultimate work The Communist Manifesto.
In 1848, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto as the platform of the Communist League, a workingmen's association. It was unavoidably formed as a secret society, because any organized uprising of the working class in Europe would result in a dramatic change both politically and socially for the ruling class. However secret the Communist League may have hoped to remain, by 1850 The Communist Manifesto was quickly translated into most European languages and the work became the doctrine of the proletarians, the exploited, working class, as they struggled for emancipation from the bourgeoisie, the exploiting, ruling class. Escape from this social hierarchy proved very difficult. In fact, neither Marx nor Engels saw the realization of the goals of their manifesto, yet it continues to fuel social revolutionaries across the globe.
The fundamental proposition that forms the nucleus of The Communist Manifesto states that every historical generation, since the dissolution of primitive society in exchange for political society and individual ownership of property, is built upon a socioeconomic structure that necessitates a struggle between two classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In order to emancipate the proletariat, Marx and Engels contend that society at large must be freed from exploitation, oppression, class distinctions, and class struggles. Looking back to the shift from primitive to political society, the ownership of property is the fuel that powers the machine that oppresses and exploits proletarians. Marx writes, "Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. In all these movements they bring to the front, as the leading question in each case, the property question." This is the base struggle for which the proletariat must fight: the dissolution of private ownership.
If dissolution of private property is key to the emancipation of the proletariat, then there is no peaceful resolution to the class struggle. The bourgeoisie will certainly not relinquish ownership of their capital and private land, and thus the proletariat must subvert and overturn the dominant social paradigm with a forcible revolution. Marx writes
The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at the Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
Workingmen of all countries, unite!
This is, effectively, the proletariat's war cry. The Communist Manifesto was much more than a political theorist document; it truly incited action among the working class, igniting and fueling revolution, uprising, and social reform. Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His life mission was to overthrow capitalistic...
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