The Communist Manifesto

by Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx

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Why does Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto inaccurately depict the evolution and outcome of capitalist economies?

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Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels drafted The Communist Manifesto (1848) not as a thoughtful, considered analytical document, but as a clarion call to action.  To put too much intellectual weight on that particular document, therefore, would be a little unfair, as inaccurate and meaningless as it ultimately turned out to be.  Far better publications setting forth Marx’s thinking on economic and political evolution would be his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844), and his voluminous Das Kapital (1851), in which he postulates that the relationship between capital and labor would lead to the former’s ultimate demise, but only following a protracted period of economic development during which capitalist economies would evolve into ever more efficient means of repressing labor, all the while branching out beyond their borders in the never-ending search for new markets to exploit, while the means of production would be consistently consolidated into ever-fewer hands.  Competition among capitalist economies for foreign markets would inevitably lead to conflict over decreasing numbers of markets, with wars as the ultimate result.

That Marx would turn out to be so wrong is testament to the resiliency of free market democratic systems, and to the fact that the only countries to become communist all did so under the worst of circumstances.  Marx was a firm believer that communism would be the end state of a capitalist system after the latter had exhausted itself.  Consequently, the only true candidates for communist revolution would be the technologically advanced countries of the West, mainly Germany.  That communism would be forced upon the people of underdeveloped and politically primitive Russia was anathema to Marx, although, later in his life, he began to articulate an alternative path to communism for the peasant-based economy of Russia, a notion that he tended to favor as his theories failed to materialize in Germany, Britain, or France. 

Marx, and The Communist Manifesto’s, ultimate undoing was in his underestimation of the ability of Western-style economies to adapt, and for labor to be able to organize in such a way that it did not have to rebel against capitalist economics.  His undoing was also attributed to the brutal, autocratic manner in which governments claiming the mantel of communism sought to force their will upon the masses.  The reasons for the Cold War’s end are many, but the collapse of Soviet-style economies modeled loosely on – but tied closely rhetorically to – Marxism played a major role.  The Bolshevik Revolution was never a worker’s revolt against the czar, or against the provisional government of Alexander Kerensky, so much as it was a simple grab for power by determined autocrats who sought to ensure total control of the means of production in government hands.  Rather than occurring at the end of an evolutionary process, communism came into power in the least technologically advanced societies that were ill-prepared for the strictures of totalitarianism.  This is why modern-day China has struggled, so far successfully, to develop its economy through capitalist means while maintaining firm political control over the country.  Western style capitalism means Western style democracy; total political control, however, is the highest priority for the Chinese Communist Party. 

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