Friday, October 24, 2008

Marx and Engels: Manifesto of the Communist Party

As a student coming from a nation ruling by a Communist Party, I read the Manifesto with respect and sincere. It’s by no means saying I agree with most of what the Chinese government did according to their understanding of Marxism, but I’m trying to discover how much the Manifesto impacted modern China, both positively and negatively. I still remember in my Chinese university, there was a philosophy course using the whole semester to talk about the Manifesto, but now I only have one night and one class to focus on it.

The idea of class becomes very complicated today. Everyone might have a class, but she may not be conscious about it, or not willing to identify herself within the class. But in the Manifesto, they believed “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – bourgeoisie and proletariat.” And in modern Chinese history, the government did categorize everyone into different classes, which could totally determine one’s destiny. Based on class, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” and “every class struggle is a political struggle.” That’s what I’ve learned the perspective of history in Chinese history textbook, but now I become more and more doubt it. I would rather put it simply as one of many different explanations of history, not the only one.

When analyzing the development of the bourgeoisie, I found Marx and Engels had some great predictions for today’s world. At first, they thought “the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. … The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.” If they still live today, I don’t know what they would say about globalization or the question why everything is made in China. They also assumed that “the necessary consequence of this was political centralization,” which European Union provides an excellent example. What’s more, “the commercial crises that, by their periodical return, put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly.” Who knows whether the economic crisis we’re experiencing now is the most threatening one; it’s not the beginning, nor the end.

Marx and Engels gave all their trust and credit to the proletariat. They praised “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.” However in practice, it could be a small group of people arouse the proletarian movement for their own purpose but in the name of for the interest of the immense majority. Comparing to bourgeoisie “has played a most revolutionary part,” they claimed “the proletariat alone is a genuinely revolutionary class.” Then who's the more genuine revolutionary class? Just like the French Revolution, only the most revolutionary class could exist till the end, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be ignored that they’re also the most horrible class. And Marx and Engels's most famous prediction or warning is that “what the bourgeoisie therefore produce, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.” But the reality is we still haven’t seen the fall of bourgeoisie or the victory of the proletariat, but capitalism and socialism are already kind of mingled into different societies.

I’m not criticizing Marx and Engels was wrong. They were just trying to describe the world they lived in, and how the world should be. They had many insights into the bourgeoisie, and they provided an alternate vision for the proletariat. They couldn’t expect what could happen in the world after their lives, no matter how greatly related to their Manifesto.

1 comment:

Christine said...

I find your post extremely interesting, especially since you come from a totally different background than I do.

I can't believe that there was a whole class at your Chinese university about the Manifesto.

I like your interpretation that everyone is not willing to identify his or herself in a particular class. This definitely goes against what Marx and Engels wrote.