Communism was not invented by Karl Marx contrary to some beliefs. In fact the famous Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was an attempt to bring an intellectual analysis to the communist-movement. This book written mostly by Marx who is basically trying to say that a capital driven economy is exploitative and communism is the ideal revolutionary economic model. The manifesto firmly states that the past is a history-of class struggles between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
The book opens with the iconic line: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Capitalism promotes the interests of the bourgeois class while the proletariat are the cogs in the Capitalist machine – useful as long as they keep the machine running. The bourgeoisie refer to the capitalistic class that own most of society’s wealth and the facilities and resources for making goods. The proletariat are the working class. The bourgeois class who own the means of production (i.e. machines, factories), need to keep earning profits. One of the ways is through labour competition which keeps wages low i.e. bringing in labourers from Bangladesh because they will work for less pay, which reduces the average pay in Malaysia for that job scope.
So the proletariat (i.e. the working class), consequently have to sell their labour for a pittance. In the modern industry, the proletariat does not have ownership of his work and cannot take pride or satisfaction in it. Extending their dominance in the economy to the government, the bourgeois also make up much of the government which represents their interests rather than that of the general public.
Now taking this to the international level, Developed Countries (DCs) seek out Less Developed Countries (LDCs) to exploit them for their resources and convert their systems to follow the bourgeois mode of production (pssst, industrialization) and create in them the demand for luxury material goods so that they are dependent on developed countries to give them this. The ideology is spread.
With much rhetorical flourish, Marx explains how Capitalism is an unsustainable economic model. It is prone to periods of economic crises that can only be overcome by exploiting existing markets more thoroughly, destroying means of production or finding new markets (think colonialism). Therefore the conflict between classes becomes unavoidable.
The struggle goes through a number of stages, first with individual, scattered workers rising up and then the conflict becomes more cohesive, with a growing group of workers and even some of the bourgeois sympathizers joining. The struggle then takes on a political face.
The following chapters of this little book address arguments against Communism. Communism is, apparently, first and foremost the panacea for the proletarian. Communism is supposed to represent the proletarians right as a whole. Communism does not discriminate between race, religion and nationality. The right to own private property is frowned upon by Communism. This is because the right to own private property comes at the expense of the majority of society. Abolition of free trade is necessary.
The communist manifesto is still very relevant today. The crimes Capitalism is accused of still crop up now. For example the issues of the haze is a crisis brought on by the structural problems in Capitalism; the pressure to stay competitive and its degrading perception of instruments of production. The most profitable way to clear forests for oil palm plantations is by burning them; the negative impacts do not factor into the profits or if they do, it’s given minimal consideration. Impacts on workers’ health and the environment are considered “externalities” that can be ignored.
As how Marx explains the relationship between LDCs and DCs, that relationship is visible in the connection between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore with regards to the palm oil companies and timber companies. These companies are largely based in Malaysia and Singapore and are obviously bourgeois owned; such as Golden-Agri Resources. These companies exploit the poor security and environmental laws in Indonesia. They create the palm oil that is used in products such as chocolate and lipstick. We consumers purchase these items, not because we actually need them but because companies and advertisements tell us we need it.
Capitalism only represents the interests of the bourgeois as seen in Indonesia’s policy making. They revoke concessionaires when efforts are made to preserve land as protected forest rather than convert it into a plantation (Reuters, 2015). According to Communism however, economic control should be centralized, all rights of inheritance should be abolished and the state should control factories and methods of production so that the people in general are treated better and more fairly and externalities are taken into consideration.
But then again we shouldn’t entirely dismiss capitalism because it does have benefits in driving development for society. Also most capitalistic systems today ARE regulated and include elements such as government intervention and social welfare. Even America, despite its claims to practicing free trade, has a lot of market regulations.
While the downfalls of Capitalism make it unsustainable when capitalism operates on a linear model, depleting finite reserves and not taking externalities into consideration, introducing the concept of a circular economy could radically change it for the better.
The concept is based on approaches such as Industrial Ecology and Cradle to Cradle which would aid in solving the problem of externalities in Capitalism. The Industrial Ecology approach aims to have industrial economies mimic the natural ecosystem which is cyclical in the passage of materials and energy (Erkman, 1997). The cradle-to-cradle concept is also based on the principles of the natural ecosystem and targets zero waste and externalities during production of goods (McDonough and Braungart, 2002). These approaches are now more feasible with improvements in technology and the awareness people now have of sustainable practices and of the magnitude of the environmental pollution caused by industrial practices. No system should be discarded because it is imperfect.
In summary, the Communist Manifesto lays out the ideas behind the communist movement and Marx’s criticism of Capitalism is still applicable 167 years after the book was published. His ideas however should be balanced out more objectively and he should acknowledge the upsides to Capitalism as well to present a stronger argument for capitalism.
Written by Lhavanya Dharmalingam
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