"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."
February 24, 2006 3:57 AM   Subscribe

On this date in 1848, The Communist Manifesto was published. Howard Zinn: "I don’t see much point in abstract theorizing or getting into arguments about Marxism, Leninism, etc. ... Theoretical analyses are useful but not crucial. There is a lot of wasted time in such endeavors, but not all is wasted. Marx’s Communist Manifesto was a theoretical analysis, immensely useful and inspiring. His first volume of Das Kapital was useful too. His second and third volumes, and his Grundrisse, were probably a waste of time!" Informal Poll: How many of you have actually read the entire Communist Manifesto? (I haven't.)
posted by mickeyz (42 comments total)
I've read it. And I have all three volumes of Capital, but I can't admit to having read the last two just yet. I've been too busy playing Kingdom of Loathing... what would Marx have to say about a meat-based economy? But speaking of Zinn and Marx anyone read this?
posted by josephtate at 4:03 AM on February 24, 2006

Read it, read all of Capital, Grundrisse. Marxism is an incredibly powerful theoretical model that needs a hell of a lot of updating.
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:19 AM on February 24, 2006

I've got a lot of sympathy for Marx. He seems like a terribly impatient guy, the sort who wants to flip ahead and see how it will end, and gets frustrated when he can't.

Me, I'm the same way. I'd love to look forward and see how our current predicaments will end. And since I can't look, I can't help guessing and theorizing either.

Mind you, I don't expect that college students in 150 years will be reading my guesses as gospel truth. But if they did, that would be cool too.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:24 AM on February 24, 2006

I did a term paper on it in high school. Thought it was the best idea I'd ever heard. Ah, youth.
posted by Roger Dodger at 4:31 AM on February 24, 2006

I've read Communist Manifesto.

...In an 86-page "Collins Condensed" form.

I'm sure there'll be a lot of folks arriving in this thread shortly to demand we recognize that MARX IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATHS OF MILLIONS AND THE OPPRESSION OF BILLIONS blah blah fucking blah. So I'll get on the record first by saying those who take the writings of Ayn Rand as gospel truth are a much greater threat. Nuh.
posted by Jimbob at 4:32 AM on February 24, 2006

Polarization sweepers aisle 69 , polarization sweepers aisle 69 !
posted by elpapacito at 4:38 AM on February 24, 2006

Okay, okay, since hama7 doesn't show his face around here anymore, maybe this can remain a sensible discussion. I withdraw my insult, sir.
posted by Jimbob at 4:50 AM on February 24, 2006

Mark me as having read The Manifesto and volume one of Capital. And my pet theory is that Marx's works actually served as an unintentional warning to the people who controlled the means of production: find ways to make your blatant exploitation appear less blatant. And from expanding on that warning we get our present situation where the have-nots think that the haves are actually representing the have-nots' interests.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:59 AM on February 24, 2006

Mayor Curley hit the nail on the head: the modern day bread and circuses are DVDs, 200 channel TVs and cheap holidays in other people's misery.

Yeah, I read Manifesto and thought it a fine idea.
posted by Pericles at 5:12 AM on February 24, 2006

I read The Communist Manifesto and Atlas Shrugged back-to-back back in my twenties. I found that both ideas had much to recommend them - at least theoretically. Here in the real world, I suppose you'd have to move to Sweden to find a practical amalgam...
posted by fairmettle at 5:13 AM on February 24, 2006

I've read the Communist Manifesto. Go U Chicago!
posted by zpousman at 5:13 AM on February 24, 2006

I suppose you'd have to move to Sweden to find a practical amalgam...

Actually, I have a theory that all of the first world has benifited from a mix of socialism and capitalism. Sure, they way they do it in Sweden is a different from how it's done in Australia. And how it's done in Japan is different from how it's done in the US. But in all cases, democratic rule has worked to provide a mix of socialist security and equality, with capitalist wealth generation and innovation. The middle ground has won. Systems that head for one ideological extreme or the other, however, fail on both human and economic levels, whether it's Communism in the old Soviet block, or the free-for-all, lawless, uncontrolled, bribery-driven systems present in much of today's third world.
posted by Jimbob at 5:47 AM on February 24, 2006

It's not a long or difficult read, and it's a major document (rightly so) of modern history. I wish Mayor Curley wasn't so right about it, though.
posted by OmieWise at 5:52 AM on February 24, 2006

Spot on, Mayor Curley! The spin dominates all. But can it last forever
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:57 AM on February 24, 2006

I read the Manifesto back to back with The Prince. Ah... how it did prepare my fresh, young mind to wield the reigns of power... to supplant the mighty and elevate the masses...
*gazes out over his kingdom of cubicles*
*gets yelled at by his boss*
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:08 AM on February 24, 2006

Didn't Karl Marx once say "all I know is, I'm not Marxist" ?

Somehow it impresses me that seeing my city, Manchester, in the UK - arguably the worlds first industrial city - and the horrible standards of living that workers here (and indeed himself and his friend Engels lived) in someway inspired him to write his books.

Mark Steel did a great lecture on Marx for the BBC - well worth finding the radio version on a torrent somewhere (clippet)
posted by 13twelve at 6:17 AM on February 24, 2006

Put me in the have read category as well as the "right on Curley" group as well.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:25 AM on February 24, 2006

I read it in high school, not for a class, but to make up my own mind.
posted by msjen at 6:35 AM on February 24, 2006

I've read it four or five times for classes. Its not that long. As for reading all of volume 1 of Das Kapital, no, thank God.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:43 AM on February 24, 2006

Pages read:
Wealth of Nations: 224
Commie Manifesto: 0

Capitalist bias?
posted by j-urb at 6:47 AM on February 24, 2006

Heh. I've read it, along with vol. 1 of Das Kapital and The German Ideologies (which I recommend higher than anything else Marx has written). Also read Wealth of Nations, The Prince... It's kind of required in every intro to political theory class worth taking (though I read it first in a high school class). Tried to read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, but found them so unredeemably written that I couldn't slog through, even for the sake of the girl I wanted to impress. Only later on have I realized that Ayn Rand is mostly high school power fantasy, and that dating a girl based on her philosophy would be a recipe for disaster.

Something else to keep in mind is the state of general Europe in 1848. They had just had the Weaver Riots and most of Prussia was in disarray. The socialists in Prussia and France were both gaining ground and being persecuted vehemently by their governments. More than anything, it was probably the later astute maneuvering of Bismark that prevented wide-scale revolution (by making conservatism popular in Prussia, where prior to him the lower classes certainly were more likely to be socialist). If Prussia had fallen, and it was a real opportunity, the Manifesto would have been immediately helpful, and both France and Austria would have fallen soon after. Russia would have been the bullwark against a further spread, as the Tzar was still powerful then, and it's doubtful that England could have been motivated to join as well (though certainly the Manifesto being written in England would have helped).
Remember also that at the time the Manifesto was written, while socialists and communists were a genuine threat, the heads of state were much more concerned about Napoleanism and were therefore taking steps to limit sovereign's ability to project power outwards.
posted by klangklangston at 8:24 AM on February 24, 2006

I've read it. I'm a socialist, how could I not?

I think Marx was a dick, by the way.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:31 AM on February 24, 2006

of course I've read it, I was studying 19th century German history. it's really not that long.
posted by jann at 8:51 AM on February 24, 2006

I read The Manifesto for a poly sci class led by Straussian, nee Bloomian, neocons. Looking back, it was pretty surreal--after 4/5 of a semester of reading Plato, Aristotle, and some essay by Irving Kristol, Marx gets brought on stage as the ultimate punching bag. I was proud to hold my own in that class and let the prof know he was a victim of false consciousness himself. He shrugged and gave me an A.

Kapital is one of those books (like Finnegan's Wake in a literary context) that everyone claims they've read but no one really has. Including Marxists. Mark my words. We can all agree that life is short.

And another pre-emptive anti-troll--many say that Marx isn't worth reading because his ideas have failed. I could say exactly the same thing about Jesus.

(And the recent thread on Fukuyama, where he basically admits his ideas are inspired not by Hegelian idealism but Marxist materialism, was fricking mind-blowing. Bill Kristol's cheerios were thoroughly peed upon, and it was awesome to witness.)
posted by bardic at 9:09 AM on February 24, 2006

I read it my freshman year in Intro to Economics, along with the 1000 other people taking the class. Milton Friedman, of all people, was running the course. Can your really get through college in the US without having read it?
posted by fuzz at 9:14 AM on February 24, 2006

I've read it, and I could easily see how it could inspire the workers of the world to, y'know, unite. But I also think that any reading or Marx should be accompanied by a reading of Orwell. The Communist Manifesto + Animal Farm = Crazy Suspicious!
posted by mosk at 9:14 AM on February 24, 2006

lol @ mosk
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:21 AM on February 24, 2006

Read it as I started high school and convinced myself that I was a full-blooded commie. I still like to tease anarchists by pretending to be a Marxist.
posted by youarenothere at 10:33 AM on February 24, 2006

Neocons are basically just 21st century communists: People with some weird model of the world that completely disregards human nature and advocates sweeping action in order to reach some lofty goal, action which when carried out in the real world rapidly falls to bits and turns into disaster.
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on February 24, 2006

Artw, you're right, it's just strange that they'd apply the label "conservative" to themselves in the first place. But I guess labels are just that.

Replace "progress of class struggle" with "advancing democracy globally" and "the creator's gift to all mankind" and you've got the magic juju dust the drives neocon mysticism.
posted by bardic at 10:46 AM on February 24, 2006

The part of Marx's theory that still rings true is wage labor and alienation. From cubicle farm to BurgerWorld, to Walmart and everywhere in between, we're all still alienated from what we do. We see no benefit in it other than a brief upsurge in our bank balance (or lessening of our overdraft) before the debt holders cash in. Our souls are barren. We watch the clock, waiting for the instant that we can briefly pretend we're free.

But do we revolt? No. The opium(s) of the people - TV, self-medication, overeating, and powerball tickets - dull our minds until we go back to work again.
posted by tizzie at 10:50 AM on February 24, 2006

I've read it, but most of it seemed nonsensical.
posted by Target Practice at 11:02 AM on February 24, 2006


Artw, I could kiss you. The more people that wake up to the fact, the better. Marxists and Neocons have direct historical common philosophical predecessors, and neither group's actual actions have much to do with their ostensible motivations. (Modern Islamic fundamentalism is also, perhaps surpsingly, another branch of the Positivist tree!)

Their worldview possesses them with such force that they must in turn force their worldview upon the outer, offending world.

2nd Crazy Rant of the day: I was reading "Martian Time-Slip" last night. Dick describes schizophrenia and autism as the retreat from externality into a private and incommunicable representation of the world. The main character feels he is fated to go to an ominous meeting and no amount of arguing can convince him otherwise. Language no longer signifies anything for him, it is an abstract game, a means to an irrational and obsessive end. Every argument put to him, he interprets through the lens of the private worldview he takes as a priori.

There are certain political or philosophical movements which demonstrate similar characteristics. Everyday meanings of words no longer apply, only the private intentions of the party member or those assumed of the assumed oppsition. The group's private symbolic system of signification is increasingly reinforced by the members. This is an involution, not an evolution directed at external reality.

Comparisons with similar historical incidents will be lost on them, since the signifiers used to describe those incidents no longer point towards their original significance, but only the subjective significance of the private worldview. "We aren't like them, we're fighting for this!" Self-contradiction on their part is literally inconceivable for them.

There is a fundamental break in the mind of the fundamentalist, a break between the exterior and the interior. All communication bears only on his internal vision; he cannot imagine a universe of discourse apart from it.

So, I think groups can behave in ways analogous to those of certain pathological individuals. If that is halfway true, I'm not sure what remedies would apply.
posted by sonofsamiam at 11:13 AM on February 24, 2006

Informal Poll: How many of you have actually read the entire Communist Manifesto?

I have now! Thanks for posting it. (I hadn't realize "All that is solid melts into air" was from the Manifesto.)

The "free love" bit was hilarious.

In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity -- the epidemic of over-production.

Paul Krugman on Marx's economics: "By my reckoning, Karl Marx made about as much contribution to economics as Zeppo Marx made to comedy. Or as John Maynard Keynes, rather more elegantly, put it, 'Marxian Socialism must always remain a portent to the historians of Opinion - how a doctrine so illogical and so dull can have exercised so powerful and enduring an influence over the minds of men, and through them, the events of history.'"

I've read it, but most of it seemed nonsensical.

Jon Elster's Making Sense of Marx seems to be the most commonly cited critique of Marx as a social scientist.
posted by russilwvong at 11:20 AM on February 24, 2006

I don't know how to read (but I just learned to write, and it's fun!!!
posted by MarshallPoe at 2:24 PM on February 24, 2006

I don't know how to read (but I just learned to write, and it's fun!!!
posted by MarshallPoe at 2:24 PM on February 24, 2006

I have.
posted by rush at 2:42 PM on February 24, 2006

Max Weber once claimed that the Russian revolution would destroy the reputation of Marxism for 100 years. 11 years left to go!
posted by anglophiliated at 6:12 PM on February 24, 2006

And another pre-emptive anti-troll--many say that Marx isn't worth reading because his ideas have failed. I could say exactly the same thing about Jesus.

And you'd be right.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:56 PM on February 24, 2006

Max Weber once claimed that the Russian revolution would destroy the reputation of Marxism for 100 years.

Well, if Marx were resurrected and given a chance to see post-Soviet Russia, whose industrial wealth now lies in the hands of oligarchs who use their riches to, say, buy football clubs, he'd probably argue that it was ripe for proletarian revolution.
posted by holgate at 12:04 PM on February 25, 2006

read it in junior high, right after reading a biography of marx, so it made sense nonetheless.
posted by 3.2.3 at 6:01 PM on February 25, 2006

I've read it twice. I've read about half of the Marx-Engels Reader also. Marx's commonly read works are a foundational framework for modern social analysis. But they're not the be-all and end-all.

Actually the concept of alienation is an extremely psychological one. The phenomenon that Marx tries to explain with alienation seems to me to be better explained with psychological concepts.
posted by halonine at 12:01 AM on February 26, 2006

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