Marx’ and Engels’ theory of communist revolution - why and how.
2.1 Marx and Engels
2.2 The Communist Manifesto
2.3 Abolishing the Bourgeois property
“To each according to his needs, from each according to his ability”.
Critique of the Gotha Program
During the first two months of 1917 Russia was still a Romanov monarchy. Eight months later the Bolsheviks stood at the helm. They were little known to anybody when the year began, and their leaders were still under indictment for state treason when they came to power. You will not find another such sharp turn in history Â— especially if you remember that it involves a nation of 150 million people. It is clear that not only the events of 1917 deserve study, but also the causes of the revolution.
The characteristic of a revolutionary country is that change is a quicker process there than elsewhere. As the revolution recedes into the past the process of change slackens speed. Already, to get a clear vision of the direction in which Russia changed, it is necessary to visit the people who put these ideas on paper and who advocated for these radical rebels. Not to mention their intentions on promoting communist practice and how they planned to go through with it. The main persons behind these writings are Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels. They are two individuals who through time have had a great influence on human thought. Thus, many questions emerge from Marx and Engels reflections. This written assignment on communism will attempt to extract some ideas from the creators of Marxism, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, on how they intended to establish communist society, i.e. how they were going to overthrow the bourgeois supremacy and then hand over the power to the proletariat.
"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, but an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement, which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”
Marx & Engels
The German Ideology
2.1 Marx & Engels
Marx & Engels helped build a working class organization that encompassed a huge spectrum of political groups, but they fought fiercely against those who sought to divide the working class along racial, gender, or ideological lines. Marx refused to dictate or impose a morality on all workers; neither did he dictate a universal course towards achieving socialism. Instead he stressed to each to his own. In one country, Marx explained, the methods used for creating socialism would be different from another. And further, he meant that it was not the job of Communists to dictate how workers ought to do achieve liberation, but for the workers themselves to decide. The job of communists in these revolutionary movements was to advance the international workers movement in a general way, to represent their common interests and to fight against both the bourgeois and workers who divide workers on any basis. In reality, the most notorious of those who took the name communist were the very opposite of the communism of Marx and Engels. Examples of this are Stalinism and Totalitarian communism . (http://marxists.org/Library/subject/students/intro.htm#s0)
 Totalitarian communism; the prevalent (perhaps only) form of "communist" ideology practiced in the 20th century. The state in these societies "represented" workers interests (health, education, sports, etc.), but workers didn't control or have power over the state. All power was instead concentrated in the party, the "vanguard" of the workers. Since all power rested in the political party, the freedom of workers was immensely curtailed, allowing such violence as the Stalinist purges to proceed without successful opposition. (Political Science Encyclopedia, 1997 p.123)
2.2 The Communist Manifesto
In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels promoted the view that Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties, and they have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. Further on, they do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement. The Communists should, however, be distinguished from the other working-class parties by their constant struggle for the entire proletariat. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they should point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. Equivalently, in the various stages of development, which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere should represent the interests of the movement as a whole (Marx, Engels, 1848, p.425)
The Communists, therefore, according to Marx, are the most advanced and definite section of the working-class parties of every country, and this section in addition pushes forward all others. However, in theory, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of demonstration, the circumstances, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties of that time: Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy and conquest of political power by the proletariat. Â“The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are not based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered by this or that would-be universal reformer.Â” These ideas merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle. For Marx and Engels, this was a historical movement going on under their very eyes. (Marx, Engels, 1848, p. 425)
The abolition of existing property relations was not at all a distinctive feature of communism. All property relations in the past have continually been subject to change, when there has been change in the historical conditions. For example, Marx points out, that the French Revolution abolished feudal property in favor of bourgeois property. Consequently, the distinguishing feature of communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property (http://marxists.org/Library/subject/students/intro.htm#s0). Modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products that is based on class antagonisms, the exploitation of the many by the few. In this sense, as Marx further expresses in the Communist Manifesto, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.
2.3 Abolishing the Bourgeois property
How does Marx then intend to abolish the oppressive system the proletariat is living under? The central text in my examination of this question will be the Communist Manifesto where Marx and Engels gives and overview of how they foresee this change in society.
The past epochs of history have, as we have already seen, one fact in common, the exploitation of one part of society by the other. In MarxÂ’ view, the end of this exploitation cannot be achieved without the total disappearance of class antagonisms. The first step on this path was thought to be the communist revolution. In Â“The German IdeologyÂ” Marx describes why a revolution is necessary. Â“In the development of productive forces there comes a period when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, can cause mischief, and are no longer productive but destructive forces (machinery and money)Â” (The German Ideology, Chp.1, p 21). Marx claims that a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes. This is the class that forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution. Marx calls this the communist consciousness, and it should arise among the other classes as well through the contemplation of the situation of this class. The conditions under which definite productive forces can be applied are the conditions of the rule of a definite class of society. The social power of this class is deriving from its property, and has its practical-idealistic expression in each case in the form of the State (The German Ideology, Chp.1, p 22). Therefore, MarxÂ’ view is that every revolutionary struggle is directed against a class, which till then has been in power. What is important to point out here is that the people (e.g. the proletariat) are interested in maintaining the state of production, while transferring the power.
The communist revolution is directed against the previous mode of activity, it is to make a break with old society, and replace the old system with the new Marxist ideals. It is to abolish the rule of all classes with the classes themselves. The communist revolution should dissolve all classes, nationalities, etc. which exists within the bourgeoisie society, and to Marx the working class, the proletariat, is the expression of this dissolution. The cause itself is the alteration of men on a mass scale, and according to Marx, it can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution. Marx thought this revolution was necessary, not only because the ruling class can not be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can Â“only succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found a new societyÂ”, in a revolution. (Marx, 1845 p.23)
In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels illustrate how this revolution should precede. Raising the proletariat to the position of ruling class, winning the battle of democracy, is only the first step in the revolution. They would then have established what is often referred to as the Â“dictatorship of the proletariatÂ”, although this was not an expression used by Marx and Engels themselves. This political supremacy will then be used to gradually wrest the capital from the bourgeoisie and thereby centralizing the means of production in the hands of the state, the state then representing the proletariat.
How will this then be done in practice? Marx stresses that this in the beginning can only be affected by direct attacks upon private property and bourgeoisie production. However, it is significant to mention that these measures would be different in different countries. On the other hand, the following was thought to be generally applicable to the majority of the most advanced countries of that time.
As presented in MarxÂ’ and EngelsÂ’ Communist Manifesto, the first action is abolition of property in land, and application of all rents of land to public purposes. Hence, Marx and Engels thought of a future communist society where private property of the means of production would be non-existent, a society in which the means of production would be used in common by the producing class, marking the dissolution of all classes. Marx and Engels stressed that there could still be differences and that there would still be division of labor, but the means and products of labor would not be private property, and consequently, the conflicts between different people and groups of people would not be antagonistic. Secondly, Marx and Engels advocated a heavy progressive income tax. In addition to this, they wanted to abolish all rights of inheritance, this because a capitalist does not only have a purely personal, but also a social status in production, which is passed from one generation to the next. The social character of the property must thus be altered. Further on, they wanted to confiscate the property of all emigrants and rebels, as would be natural in this type of revolution. They then promoted a centralization of the credit in the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly. This centralization did not only concern the capital, but also the means of communication and transport. All this they required to be in the hands of the state. In addition to this, there had to be an extension of factories and instruments of production, owned by the state, which would bring development of wastelands and soil in harmony within a common plan. Further, Marx and Engels envisioned an equal obligation of all to work, establishing an industrial army, concentrating especially on agriculture. Then, combining agriculture with manufacturing industries, there would be a gradual abolition of all the distinctions between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country. National differences and antagonisms between peoples would vanish; they disputed, due to the development of the bourgeoisie, freedom of commerce, the world market, uniformity in the mode of production and the corresponding conditions of life. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels anticipate that the domination of the proletariat would cause them to vanish still faster. United action in the leading civilized countries was one of the first conditions for the liberation of the proletariat. In proportion to the exploitation of one individual by another, they hoped that this would also put an end to the exploitation of one nation by another. As the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another would also come to an end. Finally, they wanted to abolish child labor in factories, and put the children back in school. The Communist Manifesto does not reveal any intention of inventing a society of education. They do however seek to alter the character of education, and then rescue it from the influence of the ruling class. (Marx, Engels, 1848 p.429)
In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels wish to illustrate that in the course of development, class distinctions will disappear, and all the means of production that has been concentrated in the hands of a few, will eventually be in the united hands of the whole nation, the public power will then lose its political character. In MarxÂ’ view, political power is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its struggle with the bourgeoisie organizes itself as a class, and by means of a revolution makes itself the ruling class, it will sweep away by force the old conditions of production. Along with these conditions, Marx then reveals, it will have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally. It will thereby also have abolished its own supremacy as a class. In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, Marx and Engels imagined a society in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
Let us now in short sum up how Marxist theory imagines these huge, radical changes in society: According to Marx, history is inevitably moving towards a final conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This struggle will culminate in a revolution, in which the proletariat will establish itself as the ruling class. By effecting certain measures as mentioned earlier in this text, the proletariat will then put an end to all class antagonisms, and thereby, finally, all exploitation of man by man.
According to Marx and Engels, this development is inevitable, regardless of any moral implications. Marxism can, however, not be said to be an amoral theory. The writings of Marx and Engels are clear in their condemnation of the exploitation they see in their society, and this is the moral background, this is why the revolution was seen to be necessary, as well as inevitable. Whether they were right, only time will show.
Marx, Karl (1875), Critique of the Gotha Program, Progress Publishers, Moscow USSR.
Marx, Karl (Written: 1845-46, Published in full 1932), The German Ideology, Progress Publishers, Moscow USSR.
Marx, Karl and Engels, Fredrick (1848), Manifesto of the Communist Party, Progress Publishers, Moscow USSR.
Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2002
Østerud, Øyvind (1997), Political Science Encyclopedia (Statsvitenskapelig Leksikon), Universitetsforlaget