Property Rights as Barriers to Freedom and the Case for Abolishing Private Property
The Communist Manifesto was written by Karl Marx in six weeks in 1848, and was first published as the platform of a workingmen's association that same year. This document, at first an integral part of a secret society, spread throughout Europe, beginning with Germany, France and England, but reaching as far as Poland in the years that followed its initial publication. The Manifesto eventually cemented Marx's reputation as a revolutionary communist throughout the continent, forcing him to move to London, where he lived until the end of his life. Now probably the most widely read of Marx's works, though perhaps not the best illustration of his thoughts, the document nonetheless created the foundation for many of the communist regimes of the 20th century. This very accessible account of communist ideology summarizes a forthcoming revolution and the inevitable rise of the proletariat that will form a new communist society. This paper will attempt to understand the document by focusing on one of the Manifesto's central facets: property rights as barriers to Freedom, and Marx's ardent case for abolishing private property. [1: John Simkin, "Karl Marx: Biography," Spartacus Educational, accessed April 14, 2011, http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm.] [2: "Karl Marx: Biography."]
Before analyzing the Manifesto and its central theses, however, it is important to place this document in historical context, and to describe its author's life, for the life of Karl Marx was a vital part in his contribution to history and the make-up of our modern society. Marx was born in 1818 in a town on the Eastern border of what is now Germany and Luxembourg, called Trier. The author was born to Jewish parents, but his father abandoned his Jewish heritage in favor of Protestantism to escape anti-Semitic laws and be able to practice law. Marx followed his father's career choice, and enrolled at Bonn University after primary schooling in Trier. At Bonn, Marx was unfocused, socialized and ran up large debts, which prompted his father to suggest the more "sedate" Berlin University.
This university switch prompted a desired change in Marx, who began to focus on his studies. In Berlin, Marx met Bruno Bauer, an atheist professor who introduced the student to the writings of G.W.F. Hegel. This pivotal encounter with Bauer exposed Marx to Hegel's theory that "a thing or thought could not be separated from its opposite," which meant that one thing could not exist without another, such as a slave and a master. Hegel also argued that unity and equality would eventually be achieved in society in what he called the "evolving process of history," a concept which fascinated Marx. [3: "Karl Marx: Biography." ]
After his father's death, Marx worked as a journalist to support himself and moved to Koln (Cologne), a city whose liberal views mirrored his own, where he found employment within a group that published The Rhenish Gazette. Marx's first article on the freedom of the press for this publication quickly earned him the title of editor. In Koln, Marx met Moses Hess, a socialist who invited Marx to his group's meetings, where Marx learned about working-class troubles and how socialism could end these struggles. Inspired by the Hess meetings and the Hegelian philosophies that he had studied as a younger man, Marx then wrote an article in the Gazette on the poverty of wine-farmers. This article was highly critical of the government and the newspaper was banned by Prussian authorities. [4: "Karl Marx: Biography." ]
Fearing arrest, Marx married his girlfriend quickly and moved to France, where he found a job as the editor of the political journal Franco-German Annals, at which Frederick Engels also contributed. In Paris, the writer began mixing with members of the working class. "Shocked by their poverty, but impressed by their sense of comradeship," Marx utilized all his philosophical experience to argue for the working class in an article, and to state that the proletariat would emancipate society eventually. Now a self-declared communist, Marx was forced to move to Brussels after arguments with the owner of the newspaper for which he wrote this controversial last article, who was a capitalist. In Brussels, Marx started working closely with Engels, who started supporting Marx and his family financially. The writer was thus able to focus on his studies and with Engels' help, often traveled between Brussels and London. [5: "Karl Marx: Biography."]
By 1847, Marx had established branches of the Communist Correspondence Committee in both cities. At a meeting of this committee in London in 1847, the Communist League decided that the organization's new scope was "the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the domination of the proletariat, the abolition of the old bourgeois society based on class antagonisms, and the establishment of a new society without classes and without private property." Excited, Marx returned to Brussels and immediately began working on The Communist Manifesto, which included some of these ideals, certain that a world revolution would soon happen (though his ideas would subside by 1849). [6: "Karl Marx: Biography." ]
All the events throughout Marx's development of his social and political career, led to the 1848 apex and creation of the work that this essay will treat. Without the constant moves to Cologne, Paris, Brussels and London by which Marx garnered ideas, or the historical circumstances of strong anti-Semitism in Prussia and the Empire's censorship of Marx's writings, this work may not have taken shape and today's world could be radically different. The historical and personal circumstances of the author's life are thus pivotal in the development of the Manifesto.
The next section of the essay, given this initial understanding of historical and personal circumstance will focus entirely on the Manifesto. First, it will describe various facets of the work, and then it will analyze in detail those sections that mention private property, and what these ideas were meant to signify. Marx's Manifesto, according to Frederick Engels, reflects the history "of the modern working class movement" and is "undoubtedly the most widespread, the most international production of all Socialist literature, the common platform acknowledged by millions of workingmen from Siberia to California." In a way, Engels is right, for this work changed modern history. [7: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: International Publishers, 2004), 5. ]
Engels continues by stating that the work was written for that portion of the working class, be it in Europe or worldwide, that was convinced political revolution was insufficient and wanted radical social change. This portion of the proletariat was, indeed, a rough, natural kind of Communist, and it needed some guidance as to how to proceed. With this brief background, Engels proceeds to summarize what he considers a joint work between Marx and himself, and which, in his opinion, gave the working class the kind of motivation they needed for action by providing them with the political and social context of the society in which they lived. The ideas the Manifesto addresses are thus as follows:
"[…] in every historical epoch, the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind […] has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited […] that the history of these class struggles forms a series of evolutions in which, nowadays, a proletariat -- cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class -- the bourgeoisie -- without at the same time, and once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinctions, and class struggles." [8: Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 6. ]
In this short summary of what the work is based upon, and what it claims to address, Engels encourages revolution by emancipation of the working class. Though this is the overall idea of the pamphlet, other subjects are addressed in just as great a detail.
The framework of the manifesto is as follows: introduction, the first chapter addressing bourgeois and proletarians, followed by proletarians and communists, socialist and communist literature, and the position of the communists in relation to the various opposition parties. These five areas of the Manifesto all address different things. In the introduction, Marx states that Communism, having been close to outlawed by "Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies" alike, will thrive because Communism is a great power itself and those who support the ideology will publish their views openly. [9: Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 9. ]
The next section addresses the two different classes, the bourgeoisie and proletariat, by describing the history of class struggle and arguing that present class struggle, promoted by capitalism, is between the ruling class and the working class, namely, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, respectively. Marx…