Manifestos, Two Revolutions
Communist (Karl Marx), Capitalist (Ron Paul)
William H. Peterson
by William H. Peterson
each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.
~ Karl Marx, 1875
basic freedoms are disappearing.
~ Ron Paul, 2008
In 1958, as a young American associate professor of economics on a grant-supported research mission on communism (or total state socialism), I flew into the Soviet Union during the Cold War. At the Moscow airport I was unceremoniously met and presumably properly brainwashed with a gratis English-translation copy of "Manifesto of the Communist Party" by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (benefactor Engels later said he was but a figurehead in actual coauthorship), published in German in 1848.
I have that very 120-page work (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1955) as I copy and italicize some telling excerpts. Rereading the copy, I am struck again by its odd cant and odder rationale — having had such earlier reactions as: Is This Really a True Pro Forma Manifesto? Or, Is It But an Illusory Tract of Political Pamphleteering?
My reply: Tract. Yet the Communist Manifesto made a big splash in socialist countries like the Soviet Union, Red China, and North Vietnam (against which we warred and quit after 58,000 casualties) and in socialist parties and circles across the world. The Manifesto betrays much political spinning — e.g., a paradigm of a Benign Savior State, hardly the grotesque dictatorship that I saw firsthand (in the vein of Nobelist Solzhenitsyn) apart from noting similar communist states such as East Germany and throughout Eastern Europe.
The daring Communist Manifesto starts with a bang that never lets up, a bang which, incidentally, is echoed in much of the heated campaign dialogue in the Obama-McCain election race. For hear Marx on how the bourgeoisie in his day dominates and exploits the supposedly downtrodden proletariat, and presumably still does today, per the Manifesto's opening lines and beyond ....
A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of Communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies .... It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of Communism with a Manifesto of the party itself ....
So the Manifesto rewrites world history, saying it boils down to an endless class struggle (a central communist idea) ....
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of contending classes ....
Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature: It has simplified the class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat ....
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the mostly feudal ties that has bound man to his "natural superiors," and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment." It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
Brutal exploitation is bad enough but Marx compounds mistruth in reading history both correctly and incorrectly. Correctly, by conceding that giant leaps in productivity and technology were indeed wrought by the bourgeois system. Incorrectly, by charging the bourgeoisie with theft of the capitalist order from its true owners, not the saving-investing risk-taking entrepreneurs and capitalists but — careful, comes a Marxist whopper — from the proletariat itself, per the underlined words in the next two excerpts ....
The bourgeoisie, during the rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations put together. Subjection of Nature's forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour? ....
But does wage labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of capital which exploits wage labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage labour for fresh exploitation ....
Exploitation? Granted, early factories were no picnics and hours were long. But Marx and the Communists miss the fact that their so-called proletariat is a prime beneficiary of capital formation which tends to cause productivity gain and ensuing wage improvement as entrepreneurs bid up the real wages of available labor — and so cause national living standards to rise. Marx tagged this vital process "capitalism," and the tag caught on. But to the Communists the process was still too slow and too sinning via bourgeois theft. So the Communists declare war on the West ....
The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!
The Communist Revolution or total socialism did come to pass in the 20th century, notably in the Soviet Union, Red China, and North Vietnam (a land we hit and quit in a long devastating war, costing some 58,000 U.S. casualties). Predictably, all three nations were grotesque dictatorships, devoid of liberty.
Now in 2008 comes another manifesto, another revolution, but one that is the very antithesis of communism, a fervent case for a return to peace and prosperity, per a new book entitled The Revolution: A Manifesto (Grand Central Publishing, 184 pages, $21), an American salvation spellbinder by Ron Paul, a true GOP originalist, an obstetrician turned political visionary with 4,000 deliveries to his credit, an ex-presidential candidate who raised some $35 million dollars and sparked a big swing of mostly young supporters in putting forth his amazing cause of Constitutionalism and freedom. As he dedicates his book ....
"To my supporters: I have never been more humbled and honored than by your selfless devotion to freedom and the Constitution. The American Revolutionaries did the impossible. So can we."
So meet Ron Paul, a ten-term Republican representative from Texas, a solid advocate of individual liberty, of a live-and-let-live foreign policy, of the US no longer serving as the "the policeman of the world" with troops in 130 countries, of returning to sound money via returning to the gold standard, of returning to our limited-republic roots by returning to our original Constitution and Bill of Rights. Judge Andrew Napolitano calls Congressman Paul "the Thomas Jefferson of our day." Critics call him "Dr. No."
Well, why not say No to a near-Orwellian world in early Century 21, as US government at all levels loom larger, as inflation and rising taxes serve to smother production and employment, a phenomenon called "stagflation" as business stagnation links to rising prices, with the makings of a perfect storm of far deeper economic disarray as the presidential campaign with debates casts not light but confusing clouding as partisan charges and counter-charges befuddle national and individual thinking. Yet clearer and wider individual thinking is at hand, as this welcome Ron Paul book points the way to a moral and economic recrudescence in America and abroad.
Dr. Paul makes his case for a US peace and prosperity comeback by marshaling facts and figures. He castigates the growing use and abuse of presidential executive orders which circumvent Congress and render President Bush No. 43 a government unto himself.
Too, Ron Paul vaunts the Austrian School of Economics and Ludwig von Mises who propounded a theory on communism unworkability for its denial or nonavailability of "economic calculation," as spelled out in a Mises article in a European professional journal in 1920 and expanded into a book, Socialism in 1922, with an English translation published by the Yale University Press in 1951. Mises held that without widespread daily market price fluctuations relevant supply and demand signals were blurred, that communist production bureaucrats were flying blind, that mistakes were inevitable sans sound economic calculation. Indeed, the giant U.S.S.R. & Co. imploded in 1989—1991. Mises was right again
Dr. Paul sees our Constitution designed to restrain government, not the people. But power-corrupting government is ever lured to undermine or overturn restraints to gain power and influence. Volatile power, pernicious influence. Hailing George Washington as the Father of our Country, Ron Paul recalls his pertinent idea: "Government is not reason; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous master and a fearful servant."
Dr. Paul also purposely pairs himself with the great 19th century legislator and philosopher, Frederic Bastiat, renowned opponent of "legal plunder." Bastiat marked three ways that citizens could deal with plunder:
- The few plunder the many.
- Everybody plunders everybody else.
- Nobody plunders anybody.
Dr. Paul says we Westerners pretty much follow option No. Two using such devices as import tariffs and non-flat income taxes so to live at our neighbor's expense. Thus Bastiat defined the modern state as "the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."
Bravo, Congressman Ron Paul. You are a unique moral leader in stormy times. You point up the seamy side of the modern welfare state, prod us on the urgency to stop squandering resources on useless wars, stop rotting the value of our currency, stop the immorality of resorting to a corrupt legislator-voter system of interventionism so as to lure us into stealing from each other via much misunderstood government.
Ron Paul's brave and yet, I trust, realistic last line in the book says it all:
"Let the revolution begin."
August 5, 2008
William Peterson [send him mail], a longtime contributor to the Wall Street Journal, won the 2005 Schlarbaum Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Study of Liberty given by the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Auburn, Alabama.
Copyright © 2008 William H. Peterson