Proletarians and Communists

In the section entitled Proletarians and Communists, Marx and Engels speak out against claims made against communist ideology on the basis of philosophical, religions and ideological grounds.  By stating that the ruling class in every previous age has always created the ideology by which the age is dominated, Marx and Engels are making a point to find fault with previous ruling class systems as a whole throughout history.  All previous eras from ancient societies like Greece and Rome through the current bourgeois elite have one central, common theme – the exploitation of the bottom half of society by those at the top.[1]   To provide examples for this emphatic claim, the authors point to the overthrow of old world religions by Christianity, which in turn was overthrown by the humanist and rationalist thoughts in the 18th century enlightenment.[2]  At each of these turning points in society, fundamental concepts such as religion and law remained, they just changed form – necessarily evolving and adapting to current cultural knowledge, values and internal pressures.  The charge against communism, by contrast, was that by abolishing such concepts as ‘eternal truths’, the history of society would be turned upside down by recognizing and acknowledging a simple truth – all former societies have relied on the introduction of and the continuation of class distinctions, rivalries and exploitation.[3]  In other words, under communism both Marx and Engels hoped to make the proletariat the ruling class in order to break the cycle of exploitation of those in a ‘higher’ class upon those continually stuck in a lower one.

[1] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in Heritage of Western Civilization, eds. John L. Beatty and Oliver A. Johnson (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1995), 187.

[2] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” 187.

[3] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” 187.

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The Bourgeois and the Proletarians

It was interesting to see Marx and Engels refer to the bourgeois as revolutionary in their own right, seeming to place them on an equal playing field with the proletariat.  When they explained further, however, the distinctions between these two opposing revolutionary forces became clearer.  By severing relations formed under the feudal system throughout much of the world (especially Europe) and establishing a middle class, the bourgeois turned their focus exclusively to profit and self interest at the expense of those relegated to producing the materials the bourgeois required and desired.[1]  Rather than placing value either on society as a whole or upon individuals, the bourgeois valued only what could be exchanged and gained from them.[2]  This resulted in unapologetic exploitation of the lower class.  By continually revolutionizing production in order to gain more and more goods and personal property, the bourgeois uprooted all previous societal frameworks, creating one based solely on self-interest and personal gain.  As material desires spread outwards, nations became dependent upon one another in the constant quest for newer, more exotic goods.[3]  Nations who could not adapt to the new production methods and demands faced extinction.  By succumbing to these external, material pressure, these nations became bourgeois-based themselves by themselves, spreading the cycle outwards and enveloping European society.[4]

[1] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in Heritage of Western Civilization, eds. John L. Beatty and Oliver A. Johnson (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1995), 176

[2] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” 176.

[3] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” 177.

[4] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” 177.

Stalin: A Purely Political Leader

In the preface to his profile of Stalin author Hiroaki Kuromiya mentioned that Stalin lived solely by politics, and that set him apart from other leaders who lived at times by politics, but not to the sole extent that Stalin did.  Stalin was, by all intents and purposes, devoid of any kind of human sentiment that would waver his beliefs both in his party and in himself.[1]  In fact, in many ways Stalin seemed unable to separate himself as a person from Soviet ideology and the party – seeing himself as the embodiment of the party as a whole.[2]  The meaning behind this introductory statement was illusive except for brief glimpses until chapter 6, which focused on Stalin’s leadership in WWII.  Then the concept of Stalin as the personification of the Soviet party and his political role in both offensive and defensive leadership really sunk in, highlighting both his insecurity with himself as well as his faith in the overall party as a political system that was, in fact, bigger than himself.

Despite the years of terror in which Stalin purged almost every potential rival from the party, including many who simply disagreed with his ideas or criticized his policies or plans, Stalin remained paranoid and insecure at the dawn of WWII.  Although he had signed a non-aggression agreement with Hitler and was confident (despite reports to the contrary) that the German army would not invade Russia, he undoubtedly felt increasing pressure on both the Eastern and Western fronts.  By aligning with Hitler, Stalin faced the potential for war with France and Great Britain.  On the other hand, Japan threatened the Eastern side of the Soviet empire.  Given this enormous amount of pressure combined not only with his deep-seeded insecurity and potentially false bravado, Stalin made (according to Kuromiya) the mistake of his life by failing to heed the warnings of his intelligence officers about the German advance.  The mistake was costly both in terms of human lives and in terms of territory and reputation.  Recognizing the magnitude of his error in judgement, it seems as though Stalin retreated into himself, rather than taking the gruff command he previously exhibited.[3]  What was particularly interesting was that Stalin, despite his elimination of his rivals and opposition, at some level believed that his mistake would cost him at the very least his freedom, if not his life – a fate that millions of others had suffered under his rule for far smaller offenses.  A failure on the part of the Red Army or of the Soviet people or of the government was a personal failure to Stalin, who typically exhibited extraordinary patience, cunning and intrigue to his advantage.  This was how deeply entwined Stalin believed himself to be as the leader of the government, the army and the Communist party – an all-powerful dictator for all intents and purposes who still felt the strain of shortcoming on a personal and political level.

[1] Hiroaki Kuromiya, Stalin: Profiles in Power, Harlow: Pearson, 2005, ix.

[2] Kuromiya, Stalin, ix.

[3] Kuromiya, Stalin, 151.