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The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848 by Prussian philosopher Karl Marx along with German businessman Fredrick Engels. During this time in history, revolutions were spreading all over Europe and major powers were fighting to maintain aristocracy and conservatism. While the revolutions shaped the consciousness of the newly developed classes, they failed to meet republican goals. For every victory obtained during a revolution, tensions between the Liberalist middle class and Socialist working class increased and fractured the movements. Marx and Engels developed The Communist Manifesto as a party platform and call to action. It expressed to the proletarian working class that the best solution to their economic woes was to overthrow the bourgeoisie middle class.
The Manifesto outlines ten applicable measures to revolutionize the capitalist system of many advanced countries. Marx and Engel s philosophy was built on a materialist view of society in which human beings were defined not by their souls but by their labor. Labor was a struggle to transform nature by producing commodities useful for survival. Their philosophy emphasizes that society has a constant struggle between classes, the haves and have nots , and it is these struggles that drive history. Every time era and civilization has an example of this struggle (master vs. slave, feudal lord vs. serf, nobility vs. peasants). In the age of industrialization and capitalism, as aristocracy and nobility are facing a decline, it is the bourgeoisie vs. the proletariat. The bourgeois are the Liberalist middle class that gained wealth by becoming entrepreneurs and professionals. With this wealth, they formed a distinct culture, reformed politics, and gained control of the means of production. The manifesto states that it is the means of production that are being used to oppress the working class. The working class developed as a result of the agricultural and industrial revolution. Peasants who had previously grazed, gleaned and gathered off the land found themselves pushed off by landowners enforcing property rights. This left peasants with no means to survive except adapting to industry work.
These peasant men, women and children, became laborers forced to work in dangerous, filthy conditions for a very low wage. Their only worth lie in their productivity levels. If found lacking, they were easily replaced due to high unemployment. Life and health were considered expendable. These laborers formed the working class and their abilities became another commodity. Owing to do extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labor, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and , consequently, all charm for the workmen. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, mostly easily required knack, that is required of him. Since the machines created from the industrial revolution performed what many factory owners considered the bulk of the work, wages provided the bare minimum of subsistence necessary to live. Marx and Engels advocated that the only way for the proletariat to rise up and gain democracy, was to overthrow the bourgeoisie and become the ruling class. Rather than attacking the instruments of production, the manifesto directs the working class to destroy the bourgeoisie that caused the conditions of production. The first step of the revolution would be the abolishment of private property. By removing the property rights from the bourgeois, the means of production, or rather the factories, that act to oppress the proletariat are removed. The next measures further remove capital and property rights away from the bourgeois by imposing income tax, abolishing inheritance rights and confiscating property of emigrants and rebels. The Communists advocated measures of social reform by centralizing credit in national banks with State capital, centralizing communication and transport, extending factories owned by state and cultivating wastelands, and providing equal liability of all to work. The Communists also seek to abolish country and nationality, to provide an equable distribution of the populace to combine agriculture with manufacturing industry. The manifesto expresses in defense of this measure that The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. The final measure that Communist would apply is the free education of all children in public schools and the end of child labor. Marx and Engels are disgusted by the way industry has broken families and turned children into commodities to be used and abused by the bourgeois. While the measures do not explicitly state anything regarding women s right, the manifesto does express that abolition of the present system will remove the status of women, both bourgeois and proletariat, as being mere instruments of production . In the application and development of these measures, production and capital will be in the hands of the society as a whole rather than a few. There will no longer be a superior class to oppress another class socially, politically, or economically. The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
In opposition to the views of Marx and Engels was author Samuel Smiles who supported the views of classic Liberal economist David Ricardo. In 1817, Ricardo published The Iron Law of Wages, in which he justified that laborers were receiving proper wages. He argued that wages would fall according to supply, demand, and expenditures. As labor supply increased, demand for it decreased at a slower rate which leads to lower wages. Also, as population increased, commodity demand increased, which means more labor is required to meet demand which raises prices of commodities. Since laborers receive such low pay, all of the wage is spent on needed commodities, so basically the poor will remain poor. Like all other contracts, wages should be left to the free and fair competition of the market, and should never be controlled by the interference of legislature. Ricardo in no way advocates for a system to help the poor and states that the laws in place are simply making the rich poorer and draining the country s revenue. Instead, Ricardo advocates regulating the procreation of the working class and early marriages without the means to support a family. He supports teaching the poor independence, personal exertion, forethought, and prudence so they can develop a more bootstrap mentality as opposed to taking charity. These methods would provide a sounder and more healthful state . Using this logic, British author Samuel Smiles wrote his book Self-Help, in 1859. Smiles followed the maxim Heaven helps those who help themselves and that individual self-help is the main factor of improving quality of life. Like Ricardo, Smiles is against the systematic support of the poor. Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing it for themselves. Laws are considered overestimated because they cannot change the mentality of a person. Legislation is unable to turn lazy, drunk, irresponsible people into productive members of society. Ricardo and Smiles both express that the poor must reform themselves as opposed to reforming the political, social, and economic system as suggested by Marx and Engels. The Communist Manifesto supports the idea of the poor working proletariat unionizing together as one force to over throw an oppressive, corrupt system. The Iron Law and Self-Help do not ascribe any blame to the system, but rather that corruption lies in the poor themselves, implying that low standard life is due to individual folly.
In conclusion, the Communist ideals of an oppressive system makes more sense than the Liberalist ideals of blaming the misfortunes of the working class on the working class itself. If not for a needy working class, the middle class would not have the means and ability to live a higher standard of life. While machines may be an intricate part of production, manual labor is still necessary to not only run these machines but to build the machines themselves. The lower class is an important part of the economy. Even if the middle class views the working as commodities, nothing can be gained from a broken labor force just as nothing can be gained from a factory of broken machinery. However, by providing education and basic necessities many of the lower class can reform themselves into a more productive class of people. An educated workforce increases productivity which increases the standard of living for all. There will always be individuals not interested in self improvement, but the means should be provided to those who do. If the market dictates that workers receive wages so low they cannot afford necessities, then the market has failed. Free market is not capable of equally and efficiently allocating resources, so government should step in to effect outcome. This is a principle of modern economics. When the rich are getting rich off the backs of the poor, the poor should receive a fair benefit of the bargain with proper wage. The working class would not need charity, systematic or otherwise, if this was adhered to.