Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
-T. S. Eliot


Marx and Engels' The Communist Manifesto

The scope of the future as predicted by Marx and Engles is staggering. For two people who had never seen an effective historical example of Communism, these authors truncate all explanation of their theory into hard-hitting, sometimes cryptic sentences that are capable of overpowering the reader through sheer stylistic power. But I am struck by the assumptions they make, particularly about the notion of global Communism, that seem either impossible to support through fact or impossible for humans to attain. While these men are highly cynical of the bourgeoisie, they seem to have a sort of dark optimism about the future of Communism that seems illogical.

Integral to their argument is that all communities functioned through Communism in early history. The first move of individuals to possess private property and own more than their neighbors began a cycle that slowly developed the divide between a land-owning aristocracy and the proletariat. Marx and Engels provide no specific evidence, but claim with all authority that Communism is man's natural state, and was the only way that humans ever lived successfully on this planet. This is my first problem with their argument; they claim that men live best under Communism, but have never personally seen nor have they examples of a culture where this is true. Also, they state that all men lived by Communistic values, but again have no way to prove that this is the case.

At the creation of the aristocracy, Marx and Engels identify a change in human society that perpetuates itself for centuries. This causes the creation of the hated bourgeoisie and the further trampling of the proletariat labor class. This part of history is defined by conflicts between the classes and the stripping of the rights of the masses. At the time that Marx and Engels were writing (Communist Manifesto was first published in Germany in 1848), they saw themselves as sitting at a monumental turning point in history; they believed that the modern construct of society would soon collapse under the weight of the suffering of the masses.

To make sure that the masses knew what direction to take, they published The Communist Manifesto as an argument for the establishment of global Communism. Marx and Engels apparently believed that while Communism was man's natural state, it would require much work to take place in the modern world. In fact, the establishment of global Communism is something they acknowledge as a bloody and destructive process that requires the annihilation of all societal constructs, not to mention the physical destruction of all industrial institutions (factories, homes, etc.). All people who opposed the establishment of global Communism would have to be killed, since the institution of this form of government would only last so long as everyone on the planet was participating in it.

These seem like time-intensive steps that require constant maintenance. If establishing global Communism alone requires this much work, how much more difficult would it be to keep the entire globe in that state? For Marx and Engels, that doesn't seem to be a concern. They speak at length about the path to global Communism, but seem to equate this return to what they consider man's natural state to be an erasure of the entire slate of time. They seem to only be in search of returning the ordering of man and nature to the way it was in the beginning, and are not worried that history may repeat itself.

To me, that is the biggest problem with Marx and Engels' vision. While they are being pragmatic enough to acknowledge that Communism cannot work if it only exists in small pockets, they seem to be falling prey to idealism when they predict that the world could remain a Communistic society if only global Communism could be achieved. It seems to me like this development would only last until individuals once again whet their appetites for personal property; and like they themselves pointed out, even the most perfectly Communistic state can be instantly corrupted by such motivations.

Again, I am finding a sort of hopefulness that seems counterintuitive. Like Darwin, who hoped in the gradual perfection of all species and nature, Marx and Engels seem to be placing their hope in man's ability to remain perfectly unselfish once the selfishness capitalistic society encourages is eradicated. Like Darwin, Marx and Engels seem to be aware of the plight of mankind, but choose to find a source for hope within the view each develops of the world.

This is particularly ironic, since these men are among the philosophers that are most widely cited as contrasting proof that Christianity has no fact-based support. Those who most strongly criticize what is called "Christian faith" are the first to point out that literature like The Communist Manifesto and The Origin of Species rely on the honest retelling of history and the scientific exploration of man. But each of these texts places its faith in a brighter future in something that is wholly unscientific; the hope that the world will get better regardless of how inexplicable or cold the world itself may be.

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