Marx: Idealism vs. Materialism
Karl MarxÃ¢s infamous statement that, Ã¢I am not a MarxistÃ¢? holds a profound truth deeply connected with his philosophy. It could be understood to mean that he disdained the hundreds of interpretations of his work following their publication. However, the statement resounds with a more important idea Ã¢” that a person cannot Ã¢followÃ¢? a philosophy at all. Or perhaps even that there is no such thing as philosophy, at least not as men normally understand the term. For when philosophy is understood to be independent of the philosopher, or the reader, or any conditions of the material world in which they live, it has fallen into the garbage heap of idealism. Marx insists that, Ã¢Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life… When reality is depicted, philosophy as an independent branch of knowledge loses its medium of existence.Ã¢? (155) When one treats Ã¢MarxismÃ¢? as an idea separate from their consciousness of the material world, they have lofted it into the cloudy realm of ideology, which contains the very shackles of oppression Marx attempts to fight. Indeed, this is merely the most extreme example, since the philosophy of Marx is entirely materialist. For Marx, every other ideology, philosophy, or religion is inherently idealist both because of their ideological nature and because of what they preach Ã¢” that there is some truth separate from the material world, and that ideas can be the motor of history. For Marx, though, if one questions how philosophy or religion transforms history or politics, they are asking the question backwards. Marx illustrates that no ideologies move history but all are created by history, or more specifically, the current state of and relation to the productive forces in society.MarxÃ¢s attack on ideology isnÃ¢t only about whether or not specific philosophies/religions are right or wrong (though that is part of the battle), it is the very approach men take to ideology in the first place that is the problem. The concept that ideologies can transform history neglects the origins from which ideology springs: history. He states that, Ã¢The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life.Ã¢? Ideas are not phantoms that men diligently try to capture through logic or any other means. They are birthed from the material world, including physical surroundings and the relations men have to each other and the productive forces of their society. MarxÃ¢s statements contradict an objective (i.e., timeless) reality, or an objective truth towards which ideologies strive. Ã¢Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence. They have no history, no development; but men, developing their material production and their material intercourse, alter, with this their real existence, their thinking and the products of their thinking.Ã¢? (154) This concept, that ideas have no history, is emblematic of MarxÃ¢s philosophy: if history is nothing but the succession of productive forces handed down through generations, there is no room for ideology to Ã¢transformÃ¢? history. This is not to say ideas donÃ¢t exist Ã¢” indeed, it is ideas that change and alter the productive forces from one generation to the next. It is just that every idea is grounded only in the present state of those forces and cannot be found anywhere else. For Marx, then, philosophy is grounded in its ability to describe and reflect society, not drive it anywhere past its own limitations.It can be retorted, however, that even a quick glance at history reveals guiding ideologies that have real, material effects on the social world. The Crusades werenÃ¢t a fiction imagined by a bored philosopher. Marx responds, though, that, Ã¢The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.Ã¢? (172) The ideas that guide society, then, guide them retroactively Ã¢” that is, to keep the rulers in power and attempt to slow the historical forces that would heave them from it. The rulers are not in power because they are the paradigm of the universal idea of an epoch, but the ideas of an epoch are universal because of the rulers in power. If an ideology is espoused by rulers, or is a leading ideology at a given point in time (except in a revolutionary time), it is because it is useful for the rulersÃ¢ own power. So ideologies that are Ã¢transformingÃ¢? history really arenÃ¢t: material forces of production are transforming society and rulers form ideas to embrace their own place within that structure. Ã¢The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.Ã¢? (173) In a revolutionary time period, the guiding ideas are not those of the rulers. They are ideas of a different class that wants to take power. However, to believe that they want to take power due to their ideas is again to view history backwards. They create ideas to justify their material needs in taking power, and in doing so, must create broader (and more universal) ideas than the rulers in power. Ã¢For each new class which puts itself in the place of one ruling before it, is compelled… to give its ideas the form of universality, and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones.Ã¢? (174) What we find, then, is that ideas mirror the productive forces of society, and both are controlled by the ruling class. Indeed, the production of ideas is just another niche in the division of labor, and like all other divisions, the profits flow to the top.Marx effectively dismantles idealism and the concept of ideas as the motor of history. After explaining how Hegelians and other idealists view ideas in history (Ã¢one must separate the ideas of those ruling for empirical reasons, under empirical conditions and as empirical individuals, from these actual rulers, and thus recognize the rule of ideas or illusions in historyÃ¢?), Marx spends the rest of Ã¢The German IdeologyÃ¢? writing a factual history of productive forces. (78) The commentary is implicit Ã¢” his factual history is the real basis of ideology. Going back to our original problem, we can see that Marx himself is grounded in the productive forces of his time. His ideology, however, avoids the pitfalls of every other philosophy by viewing history from an entirely non-ideological standpoint. Still, the irony that Marx, who proves that ideas donÃ¢t move history, is probably one of the single most cited authors people use and have used to change society is blatant. Marx would respond, however, that the material conditions of society have brought people to change it, and they are merely using his ideology as the justification behind it.
The Reversal of Power: A Marxist Reading of Frankenstein
As Victor Frankenstein of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein delves deeper into his search for the causes of life, he becomes consumed by his quest for the answer to his question as he toils over his creation – a decrepit but mortal form compiled of various body parts. He pushes himself to the edge of his capacity for labor, and in the process isolates himself from his family, his human needs, as well as the rest of mankind. When his project is complete, however, Frankenstein finds himself to be immediately repulsed by his finalized work and distances himself, leaving the creature to go off into the world and fend for itself without any knowledge of human society. Faced with this new set of circumstances the creature soon becomes completely separate from Frankenstein, a massive power entirely independent of its creator. This shift in control from the laborer to the product of the labor reflects many of Karl Marx’s ideas expressed in his “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts” as well as in “The Communist Manifesto.” It is useful to approach Frankenstein through a lens crafted by Marx’s ideas as such an approach reveals the alienation that Victor Frankenstein feels both from others while in the midst of his work, the hostility he feels towards the product of his labor, the Creature, once he is past his fit of obsessive construction and is able to view it in a new light, as well as the control that the creature is able to exercise over him as soon as it has grown to be its own autonomous being.
To begin, at the very start of Victor Frankenstein’s fixation on his work he severs his ties with the world outside his laboratory almost completely, focusing only on his attempts to animate his lifeless creature. He loses all sense of time and connection with the natural world as he states, “The summer months passed while I was thus engaged, heart and soul, in one pursuit. It was a most beautiful season; never did the fields bestow a more plentiful harvest, or the vines yield a more luxuriant vintage: but my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature” (Shelley, 81). Reading this passage through a Marxist lens, however, it becomes apparent that this is an excellent example of Marx’s first form of alienation from labor: alienation of man from nature. Marx finds this to be meaningful as he believes that “As plants, animals, minerals, air, light, etc., in theory form a part of human consciousness, partly as objects of natural science, partly as objects of art – his spiritual inorganic nature or spiritual means of life which he must prepare for enjoyment and assimilation – so they also form in practice a part of human life and human activity” (Marx, 63). In this statement Marx is raising the idea of nature as an essential part of human existence, particularly in that many of the things that bring happiness are things that are considered to be acts of human nature. Therefore, through isolating himself from the outside world and from the deeds of Mother Nature, Frankenstein is denying himself the simplest pleasures in life and is furthering his separation from society.
Building further on this point, Frankenstein’s obsession begins to prevent him from taking the necessary steps to care for his own mind and body. He is unable to separate himself from his work, and as a result is unable to stop creating it despite his own needs as he states, “My cheek had grown pale with study, and my person had become emaciated with confinement […] My limbs now tremble, and my eyes swim with the remembrance; but then a resistless, and almost frantic impulse, urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit” (Shelley, 81). In losing his ability to tend to himself, Frankenstein exhibits the second form of alienation from labor: the alienation of man from himself. This is significant in that it begins to explain the way in which one can lose touch not only with the world around him but with his own mind as well. Marx claims that what separates man from other species is his ability to build as a means of creating beauty as opposed to only creating out of necessity, a theme that reoccurs throughout Frankenstein as Victor attempts to create what he defines as a beautiful being out of the collected remnants of human body parts. He states that due to this way of thinking “This production is his active species-life. Through it nature appears as his work and his actuality […] he produces himself not only intellectually, as in consciousness, but also actively in a real sense and sees himself in a world he made” (Marx, 64). With alienation of man from himself, however, Marx states that “It changes his superiority to the animal inferiority, since he is deprived of nature, his inorganic body” (Marx, 64). Viewing Frankenstein’s alienation process through this lens, it becomes clear the ways in which he is being robbed of his natural ability to create for himself. In losing this, he is losing part of what makes him characteristically human.
Furthermore, Frankenstein breaks off from his family almost completely, refusing to reply in his own handwriting even to the letters of his beloved cousin Elizabeth. When his companion Clerval comes to check up on him he picks up an unopened letter delivered several days before his visit that reads: “My dear cousin, I cannot describe to you the uneasiness we have all felt concerning your health. We cannot help imagining that your friend Clerval conceals the extent of your disorder: for it is now several months since we have seen your hand-writing; and all this time you have been obliged to dictate your letters to Henry […] Dear Victor, if you are not very ill, write yourself, and you’re your father and all of us happy” (Shelley, 88-91). By examining Frankenstein’s actions through Marx’s fourth form of alienation, the alienation of man from man, it becomes clear the full effect that locking himself away with his work has had on Frankenstein. In losing his ability to face himself he also loses the ability to face others, producing a system in which man is unable to comprehend what his labor is for, even in the case of producing for others.
Finally, as the creature is jilted by Frankenstein and becomes completely independent from him and as Frankenstein attempts to return to his life before his project, the creature confronts him as an aggressive and foreign object. The hostility that is felt between the laborer and the product of the labor as well as the threats that the creature places upon Frankenstein’s conscience is an example of how rather than the object becoming an extension of himself, he has become a slave to its power.Marx states in his works, “If man is related to the product of his labor, to his objectified labor, as to an alien, hostile, powerful object independent of him, he is so related that another alien, hostile, powerful man independent of him is the lord of his object. If he is unfree in relation to his own activity, he is related to it as a bonded activity, activity under the domination, coercion, and yoke of another man” (Marx, 65). This passage relates directly to control that the creature exerts over Frankenstein, similar to the control that not only the product holds over the worker but also the power the employer carries.
It is useful to read Frankenstein through a lens crafted by Marx’s works “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts” and “The Communist Manifesto” in that it adds new depth to the relationship between Frankenstein and his monstrous creation. By examining Victor Frankenstein’s interactions with the natural world, his ability to cater to his own human needs, and the way he maintains his relationship to others during his fit of obsession using Marx’s various steps of alienation of labor it becomes clear the ways in which creating for beauty or excess results in fixation and estrangement from the rest of humanity. In addition to this, Frankenstein’s monster can easily be viewed as a symbol for the control and power that the laborer’s creation holds over both the laborer and society in the way in which he attempts to frighten Frankenstein into submission to his will. Using Marx, these aspects of Frankenstein are made apparent and the ideas are made more complex than they would be if the text were to be read alone.
Shelley, Mary W. Frankenstein. D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf, eds. 3rd ed. Canada: Broadview, 2012. Print
Marx, Karl. Selected Writings. Lawrence H. Simon ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994. Print.
Alienation in Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto
Alienation is a core aspect of Marxist thinking. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels argue in The Communist Manifesto that capitalism is the cause alienation. The theory is that the estrangement, or alienation, of people, is a consequence of living in a society with social classes. Social classes lead humans to be separated from each other and ultimately from themselves. Marx and Engels argue that capitalism causes workers to be alienated from others due to class struggle, their act of producing and from the human species. Throughout The Communist Manifesto, it is shown that capitalism worsens the alienation of the worker from each of these aspects. As communism offers a unity between workers, alienation, for Marx and Engels, is an effect of capitalism and its exploitation of the Proletariat and communism is the solution that they offer.
The Communist Manifesto writes, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto 10). The idea of class is a struggle for anyone who is being oppressed by the confines of social class. This struggle is what has formed the society that Marx and Engels live in. The authors argue that history is a constant battle, “…now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending class” (10). This fight is due to alienation and oppression. Those who are being oppressed feel alienated, leading them to revolt against their oppressors. Marx and Engels use these examples from history to show how capitalism has led to revolution and war, “freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman…” (10). Why are these people being separated? It is due to social classes. Capitalism leads those in power to take what they can from the weaker party. This idea of class creates an unfair system for those in the lower class. They write, “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” (10). The thing that the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat have in common is that they are opposing each other. The Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat rely on one another but it is the workers that feel the alienation from the other as they get less out of this relationship. The upper class gets the benefits of the lower class workers while the lower class does not receive the same reward for their harder physical labor. Communism is the solution to the class struggle that Marx and Engels offer, by sharing that without class, no one would feel separate from another.
Another aspect of Marx’s theory of alienation is the alienation of the worker and his product. When the worker creates the product, the product generates wealth that is given to the bourgeois and not for the worker, and then the condition of the worker deteriorates. The worker is creating the thing that will eventually take control of him. This devalues the worker. Capitalism also takes away the value of one’s labor, “in bourgeois society, living labor is but a means to increase accumulated labour. In communist society, accumulated labour is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of the labourer” (19). In a capitalist society, the things or objects that the worker creates are taken from him; their labour becomes a commodity. In a capitalist society, one’s labor goes into the pocket of another, while in a communist society everything one creates will equally benefit everyone, including oneself. Workers have no control over the product, or over what they are producing and the products workers create end up dominating the workers.The worker loses wealth, financially and emotionally. This is because the wealth is handed to those in power leaving the worker enslaved, degraded and impoverished. Marx and Engels believe that communism will bridge this divide. They write, “let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE” (33). The authors argue that the worker has been so devalued that he has nothing left to lose. This also refers to the proletariat’s oppression as they mention “their chains” (33). Under capitalism, work is controlled by employers and not by those actually doing the work. The worker lacks fulfillment. This is how the social aspects of alienation emerge. The worker’s labor becomes something that is used to generate money for survival instead of labor to exercise human creativity. The ability to be creative in one’s labor is denied to workers.
Workers become alienated from humanity when their only means of expression is their labor. One loses his sense of self when his day-to-day activities consist only of labor for someone other than himself. Marx and Engels argue that laborers are losing their humanity by becoming attached to their labor, “…the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him” (14). They argue that the worker is becoming such a part of their machines and labor that they do not have individuality. The potential for human creativity is lost. One becomes less human when their life revolves around labor benefiting another while getting little in return. This happens under capitalism. Human potential is non-existent in a non-expressive and capital producing environment. The worker cannot produce growth because he is doing the same thing day in and day out. Humans, as opposed to animals, have a consciousness and a will. This consciousness allows for free human activity. This free activity or will is a part of human nature. The alienated labor that capitalism creates takes away the product, thus taking away this aspect of human nature. Taking away this human advantage turns humans into animals.This creates a gap between the classes because the lower class has lost its humanity while the upper class maintains and feeds off the lower class’ struggle. A communist society would allow workers to be creative because the person that work is being created for is themselves allowing for error and experimentation.
Marx and Engels use alienation as one tool to show the problems with a capitalist system in The Communist Manifesto. Throughout the authors’ writing, it is shown that through a communist system alienation of peoples could be ended. Whether it is through one’s relationship to social class, one’s relationship to his or her production or one’s relationship to human nature it is seen through Marx and Engels’ writing that the capitalist system is a system that separates people rather than uniting them. Throughout The Communist Manifesto, it is seen that communism is the solution to this gap in society. Communism breaks down barriers created by social class, communism brings purpose to one’s labor and communism creates a relationship between human beings and human nature. Through Marx and Engels’ writing, it is seen that communism will bring value to the proletariat’s life and work.
Solution to Isolation: Marx, Cavell, and Descartes
Human beings are social in nature, depending upon one another in order to truly thrive. Modern life, however, seems to work against the conditions needed for humanity’s success, forcing members of society into alienation while under the illusion of a flourishing, collaborative social system. When it comes to ideological concepts and derived meaning, such things are social at their core, and are heavily impacted by the parameters of the society from which they come to fruition: such ideas have informed the queries of philosophers and political theorists both in the post-Enlightenment past and in the in the near-present.
According to Stanley Cavell in Must We Mean What We Say?, part of this alienation is due to the establishment of general normatives within language that are used in modern life. Modern conversation has slowly devolved into going through the motions––words spoken without care for their implications. All too often, subjects are treated too objectively with little acknowledgement of context or history––the latter of which, Cavell claims, may encompass “one’s own past, to what is past, or what has passed, within oneself” (Cavell XIX). Reliance on concepts evoked by words has taken away from consideration for their true aim or purpose. While Karl Marx also takes issue with the apparent alienation present in modern life, Marx identifies the source to be rooted in the nature of production relations. These relations define the economic structure of a society, and from this foundation a political structure is developed. During the 19th century, the distinction between the working class and the exploiters of the working class became apparent, a change marked by industrialization-fueled capitalism. The worker’s position became akin to a cog in a wheel, their mechanistic role furthering alienation to exist beyond classes, extending to the individual self. In utilizing physical labor to create commodities to be consumed by the capitalist society, workers’ bodies became commodities as well, their physical being and skills turned into objects to be traded for some nominal wage.
Karl Marx int he Communist Manifesto establishes a base-superstructure distinction to make evident the idea that government and laws aren’t natural occurrences, but simply manifestations of the social realities dominated by class interests. Reforms from the base are essential to making impactful change within the superstructure, which is why economic (base) and political (superstructure) revolution go hand in hand to combat the alienation that is a consequence of stratified social classes. Marx’s base-superstructure model extends beyond economic and political practices to individual beings themselves.“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” (Marx 160) Leveling class disparities would have a direct impact on individuals’ societal place within the external world. It is the external environment that acts as the base that dictates the superstructure that is their awareness and the way in which they perceive things.
By establishing conditions of the external world integral to one’s mental state of affairs, Marx introduces a clear contradiction to traditional Cartesian individualist thought. In the Sixth Meditation of his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes establishes that he has a “clear and distinct idea” of himself which he cannot doubt, while his physical being is something that might “possibly” exist. Based on these premises, he concludes the mind to have sovereignty over the external world, existing in a manner “entirely and absolutely distinct from [the] body.” (Descartes 1-27) Both Cavell and Marx would argue that there is no such thing as sovereignty of the mind, for things that subsist within the mind––thoughts, values, opinions––are intangible concepts that are established by the nature of social order and structures. Talking is necessary for learning, and learning is “essential to an understanding of what science”––or any subject––“is” (Cavell XVIII). Marx describes language as “practical consciousness” (Marx 173), its presence confirming the mind to be a “social product.” (Marx 174)
Descartes does make some acknowledgement of the use of language in the development of his work, but he expresses concern about the imposition of words and how he is “almost deceived by the terms of ordinary language.” However, Cavell also addresses issues surrounding “complexities of the assertions” (Cavell 12) contrived from vocabulary, specifically that of the vocabulary which is used in modern philosophy, being estranged from meaning. While Descartes uses the linguistic discrepancies to question and nearly reject the validity of language and divert all focus to internal processes, Cavell proposes more social interaction by way of conversation as the remedy. The conversation in question, however, is far more reflective and in depth than the imitative language utilized by most individuals in the everyday. It requires knowing the implicatures of a dialogue and the hidden meanings of words beyond their literal sense. “Intimate understanding is understanding which is implicit,” (Cavell 12) which requires more effort and cognizance than understanding that is simply derived from the surface level. Through integrating this intensity and intimacy into the speaking of a language, people are able to establish relations between one another. In doing so, people not only mitigate the sense of alienation that is so prevalent in modern life, but also develop better understandings of the nature of ideas and ethics, as well as the roles they play in everyday life. By participating in discussion, people are able to collaboratively work towards solid definitions for conceptually controversial topics that are both “familiar and foreign” (Cavell XIX), like knowledge, morality, or justice. For Cavell, the answer of what the true essence of what these themes are does not come from an established place of heightened enlightenment, but rather from the depths of the ordinary, in which seemingly trivial things are elevated, afforded attention and importance in an effort to develop a meaningful understanding of the everyday.
Marx takes a different approach to solving the issue of alienation in modern life, but the source of the solution is similar––impactful change must start with the common man, not from those in a position of any particular economic or political power. A communist revolution to overthrow the existing capitalist system brought about by the proletariat working class would drastically modify the economic base upon which the superstructure of political and social systems depend on. All people would be brought together under by communist organization, no longer even allowing alienation to exist as a viable plight, communism turning all “existing conditions into conditions of unity.” (Marx 189) However, an externality of camaraderie to this extent between all members of society is that every individual is “[stripped] of their natural character,” reduced solely to the “individual as a person,” apart from anything “accidental” or irrelevant to the self, in order to “[subjugate] them to the power of individuals united.” (Marx 189) In gaining a stable place and sense of belonging in the world, one loses all sense of self that is not fundamentally human. Such markers of identity are considered by Marx to be non-essential to human flourishing, inhibiting remnants of impact on the individual left by the external world. By getting rid of them, people are liberated to interact only with the true essences of their selves in the purest form.
While Marx’s solution to figuring out modern life involves subduing animal spirits in order to achieve unity, Cavell seeks to take advantage of it, utilizing unique personal experiences as a means of opening the mind to perceive and comprehend things that are beyond those which exist innately within one’s independent consciousness. There can be no empathy without difference and no decisive growth of understanding without a sense of self beyond the “essential”, collective thought opening the possibility of turning into a breeding ground for complacency. Cavell makes explicit calls to action, not for political or economic remedy, but rather social convention, because his aim is not to systematically change the state of the external world, but merely to bring “the truth of this world” to light (Cavell XXV). Solidarity is to be achieved through disagreement, and intimacy gained by coming to terms with all the contradictions that breed disparity in everyday life. In the development of Marx’s ideas of communist revolution, there is clear knowledge of the historical precedents set by economic conditions and relations of production. However, Marx’s perspective establishes history as a mere series changes in the state of “material collisions” as opposed to a dynamic social narrative, a point of view that further heightens his distinction between essential and extraneous parts of the individual (Marx 189). As a result, communism in itself focuses too intently on what he determines to be the base, simply reducing everything to economics. Within the communist system there seems to be no place for broad cultural history or history that provides consideration for the self.
When plagued with all the harms involved in an improper, imbalanced communist society, the equality and camaraderie promised by communism can be an appealing solution to the isolation present in modern life. However, there are always questions of practicality and feasibility involved when looking towards revolution as the answer. As opposed to bringing about, as Marx puts it, “the end of history” (Marx 189), we should be intent on doing as Cavell suggests and make history, focusing more on the social implicatures existent all around us. It seems more impactful and emotionally substantial to find meaning in one’s present situation than it is to demand a new situation altogether.
Liberty Defined, and Re-defined “The Communist Manifesto” and “On Liberty”
The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and first published in 1848 , precedes the writing of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty by more than a decade. Although Mill and Marx were both living in England by the time On Liberty was published in 1859 , the two authors moved in different circles. Whereas Mill was a high-ranking employee of the East India Company , Marx had emigrated to London in 1849 and was living in relative poverty despite his hard work and notoriety . Thus, to Marx and Engels Mill was more a contemporary than a comrade. Like the two authors whose paths overlapped in space and time without really touching, the Manifesto and On Liberty address some of the same themes but interpret them in different ways.
Although both The Communist Manifesto and On Liberty created massive paradigm shifts in the social sciences and they have many themes in common, they were written for different audiences to accomplish different goals. The Manifesto is chiefly a socioeconomic treatise while On Liberty concerns itself more with civic structure and morality. Although politics, economics, and moral philosophy all seek to explain and possibly optimize the behavior of people in groups, they are not the same field. The two papers, accordingly, ought not be considered as being opposed to one another except perhaps on the subject of Kantian moral theory.
Both writers place a high value on personal liberty. They share an optimistic view of a free individual’s ability to judge what is best for his or her own best interests, but they also acknowledge the power of “society” at large to act as a moral or legal authority. They both make optimistic predictions about how human beings in a state of freedom (that is to say, not excessively oppressed) will choose to conduct themselves. Each author expands on his assumptions to describe an optimal state of affairs that would bring as much liberty as possible to as many people as possible. Yet the authors differ so profoundly in their definition of just what liberty is, and what states of affair are necessary for its existence, that the differences outweigh the similarities. Marx and Engels present liberty chiefly in economic terms. But for Mill liberty is more of a civil and legal phenomenon related to the interactions between a state and the individuals that comprise it.
It is clear that Marx, Engels, and Mill all believe personal liberty is valuable. In The Communist Manifesto, the value of being able to do as one likes is assumed to be so obvious that Marx and Engels speak of freedom chiefly in the negative. They depict the proletariat or working class as lacking economic freedom, explaining that they are being “exploited”  by the bourgeois class. According to the Manifesto, bourgeois control of the means of economic production enables that class to control the price of labor, to the detriment of the laboring proletariat. Forced to compete for work and income opportunities, proletarian individuals are subjected to increasingly degrading, dehumanizing work experiences and are not free to choose more satisfying or profitable work or living conditions. This, according to Marx and Engels, is a bad thing.
In On Liberty, Mill describes a struggle between individuals and government so as “to make fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control” . Instead of regarding this struggle as evil or heretical, and instead of condemning people for questioning or seeking to limit the authority of a government established by divine right, Mill presents the conflict between individuals and their government as natural and appropriate. He thus assigns personal liberty the same moral value as government. He also states clearly that “[i]t is desirable, in short, that in things which do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself.” 
In both papers, the authors have an optimistic view of a free individual’s ability to think rationally and to judge what is best for himself or herself. They are also optimistic about how human beings in a state of freedom would behave. Marx and Engels do not question whether a working-class individual is capable of making intelligent decisions about where and how to live, or how to manage such parts of the means of production as come under his or her control. Once the bourgeoisie are safely eliminated and the last vestiges of bourgeois culture and values swept away, Marx and Engels claim that the proletariat will create a community in which “the free development of each person is the condition of the free development of everyone.”  In other words, the community as a whole, and the individuals in it, would be so anxious to protect the freedom of their peers that they would not consider themselves free or prosperous as long as any individual were not developing freely to the best of his or her own ability and desire. To this end, the Manifesto proposes free public schooling. The authors assume that people who have access to these education options will choose to exercise them, and that workers will gladly and voluntarily continue to work even without economic pressure or incentive to do so.
Like Marx and Engels, Mill is optimistic about universal education. Although he does not name the government as an appropriate provider of education except to the poorest students, he recommends that it force parents to purchase the education they believe is appropriate and affordable for their children. He offers no suggestion as to exactly how such policies would be enforced or how the public schools would be funded.
Unlike Marx and Engels, Mill acknowledges that some individuals will abuse their liberty. He does not pretend that freedom will produce right and morally appropriate actions except in the long term. Although he dismisses most violations of social norms as “eccentricity”, he admits that when an adult wallows in drunkenness, improvidence, and other destructive behaviors, the people who rely on that adult get hurt. But he stops short of recommending legal sanctions against the irresponsible. Instead, he relies on social “disapprobation”. He proposes to limit the state’s ability to punish an offender proportionately with that offender’s impact on others. Exactly how that impact could be measured or paid back especially in the case of violent crime, Mill does not say. Yet unlike the Manifesto authors, Mill at least acknowledges that free individuals will not always conduct themselves with consideration for the well-being of others.
The authors disagree more than they agree. They do not even define liberty the same way. To Marx and Engels, liberty is an economic matter. A person can choose, wish, and decide, but unless that individual has the economic or physical power to enforce his or her will, the freedom is illusory. This is classic Kantian theory from the Grounding on the Metaphysics of Morals . What a person “ought” to do is constrained by what he or she actually can do with the resources available. Thus, in order to have the freedom to choose where and how to live, a worker must have the economic resources to do so. Given that there is obviously a finite amount of wealth in the world, and any individual who has significantly more than another enjoys proportionately more freedom. The wealth disparity accordingly reduces the relative freedom of the have-nots. Thus, the way to create as much “good” as possible for as many people as possible (again, a Kantian precept) is to make sure that everyone has roughly the same resources and assets. According to Marx and Engels, the only way a worker can enjoy the same level of economic autonomy as a factory owner is if he or she is actually a factory owner, or co-owner, with an equal share in the means of economic production. Hence their recommendation for a massive economic leveling and redistribution, or collectivization, of resource ownership.
To Mill, liberty is a legal and intellectual matter. The first liberties he proclaims are liberty of thought and liberty of speech. Liberty to act (which is of primary concern to Marx and Engels) is more of an afterthought. To Mill, liberty is not an economic matter except to the extent that an individual may choose to engage in work for remuneration, or to invest resources in some profitable venture. Certainly a wealthy person has freedom that a poor person lacks, yet the fact that one person has more financial options than another does not appear to concern him. Mill assumes that people in a free society will exercise such options as are available to them given the education, resources, and opportunities they possess. He at no point suggests that these options are equal, or that they should be. Although Mill does not speak out against wealth redistribution or leveling, he begs the question as to whether economic equality is a necessary precursor to liberty. To Mill, it is not. Nor is the question a particularly significant one to him, even though to Marx and Engels it’s the only question of importance.
Mill’s discussion of money and property is limited to the moral and legal obligations he believes an adult in a free society ought to have. For example, Mill recommends that parents be required to provide education and financial support for their children. If one child should therefore benefit from a more thorough (and possibly more expensive) education, creating better opportunities for employment or investment, clearly some families would advance financially from one generation to the next while other families would deteriorate or barely survive. This, to Mill, is not a problem that requires optimization or interference. Instead of redistributing wealth or ownership so as to create the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people, he proposes to remove artificial legal and social barriers to individual achievement or experimentation. Mill’s argument is that, in the long run, the best and most sound innovations eventually prevail even when popular opinion is against them. He cites the rise of Christianity, the heliocentric view of the solar system, and various other innovations as evidence that it’s impossible to keep a good idea down. Like an early Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Mill asserts that although it’s impossible to predict exactly where the next brilliant invention will occur, the best way to cultivate such an advance is to create a fertile environment in which innovation and excellence are encouraged, or at least not punished, and where the incentive to excel is not taken away or artificially reduced. When a person is not allowed to profit from initiative or risk-taking, and when the benefits of it are redirected to others who did not participate in the effort, the incentive to excel is definitely reduced. This could be one reason why Mill does not address wealth redistribution: his entire essay is so permeated by the laissez-faire mentality that he may actually be begging the question as to whether a modicum of equality is necessary to liberty by assuming that it is not. Only from a position of relative socioeconomic privilege is such a mentality possible.
The authors of both papers purport to be looking at what today might be called “the big picture”, but they disagree as to how it is composed. Mill never addresses the issue of whether, in his “free” society, an individual might be constrained by economic forces to the point where he or she cannot survive, much less participate productively. His assessment of one individual’s negative impact on another ends at the level of direct interaction and direct responsibility. Mill does not explore indirect causality. He never discusses whether decisions based on individual self-interest might, in the aggregate and on a large scale, might create bigger economic patterns and wide-scale social conditions detrimental to the liberty of far more individuals he or she has never met. Perhaps his faith in an individual’s ability to proactively change his or her own situation took precedence, or perhaps he simply met a genuine victim of circumstance. Either way, he ignores complex consequences that are the cumulative effect of millions of smaller individual decisions. Yet Marx and Engels completely understand the phenomenon by which the smaller decisions can, in the aggregate and over a long period of time, create a larger system that takes on a life and behavior of its own, creating an outcome not necessarily predicted or intended by the decision makers. They present the plight of the working class as the result of generations of self-interested bourgeois decision making.
The authors’ proposed mechanisms for achieving liberty in a society could not be more different. Marx and Engels require a massive restructuring of society, possibly with an actual revolution. Mill recommends not revolution but a healthy development of personal initiative on the part of the populace. That a government should exist only at the pleasure of the governed is definitely part of his formula, but whereas Marx and Engels present this consent as something that has not been given, Mill treats it as manifest fact. To Mill, an optimal level of social and legal liberty can be achieved by proactive individuals participating in a democratic process with minimal restrictions on other activities such as commerce and industry.
Both texts point out ways in which contemporary society fell short of the authors’ ideal. The social problems addressed by each author are different, yet both are amply supported by primary and secondary sources. Therefore, in order to rank one paper’s presentation of the social ills and conflicts in 19th century Europe above the other, it is necessary to determine not which position is better supported by the facts but which facts are the most important.
To Marx and Engels, the most urgent social problems related to liberty are those that affect people’s day-to-day lives. In the Manifesto they write about the poor living conditions and the lack of opportunity for the working class, particularly when contrasted with the more comfortable lives of the elite. Engels performed his own field work and research, describing the unhealthy, physically dangerous, and degrading lives of the working class in England, the most heavily industrialized nation of the time. His observations in “The Conditions of the Working Class of England”  support the pessimistic view. Although one might be tempted to consider Engels biased in favor of his own research, he was not alone in his criticism and his observations were not unique. Robert Southey likewise condemned the English working-class standard of living, citing not only disease and filth but also the depressing monotony of factory life . Later historians generally agree that working-class life at the beginning of the industrial age was unpleasant and often short. For example, Olwen Hufton supports Marx and Engels in their description of the effect of the European working-class lifestyle on women and families of the early 19th century:
The lower classes, dependent upon a multiplicity of expedients to produce enough to sustain a family, were of course condemned to a remorseless struggle to make ends meet, and poor lists make abundantly evident the plight of families reduced to want by the death, disappearance or incapacity of the male breadwinner. The consequences of a system which insisted that women should work but not have a professional career mentality produced then, as it still does, innumerable victims when the ideal family model crumbled. 
John Stuart Mill did not have Marx’s personal experience of poverty or Engels’s desire to personally document the living conditions of the poor. Prior to writing On Liberty, he would have been unlikely to have to read Engels’s “Conditions”, which was not translated into English until 1886  or possibly even 1892  (historians differ) despite the fact that the research was done in England. Mill was born into a privileged family. He received a sound education and lucrative work opportunities, married the widow of a very wealthy man, and served in Parliament . As with Marx and Engels, Mill’s perception of the world around him came largely out of his own life experiences. The challenges and injustices he saw as a rising employee (and later an officer) of the East India Company gave him a thorough view of the negative effect a government can have on free enterprise. Yet his later years as a Member of Parliament (MP) enabled him to see government’s side of the issues and the necessity of some form of regulation to limit abuses of freedom on the part of industry and individuals. That he should present the most pressing social conflicts of Europe as a contest between individual (or industrial) liberty and government regulation is therefore reasonable.
For Mill to condemn industry or industrial practice would have been absurd. Steeped as he was in logic, reason, and utilitarianism, he would have relied heavily on quantitative measures of the working class quality of life when determining the merits of industrialization. Period author Thomas Babington Macaulay, in “A Review of Southey’s Colloquies”, cites numerous facts and figures to show that life in industrial England was improving for everyone, even the factory workers, because a rising tide floats all boats. He cites the poor rates as determined by the tax rolls of 1825 and 1828, and also the mortality rate in the industrial centers. Whereas Engels and Southey relied heavily on qualitative statements to paint a picture of working class life, Macaulay is purely quantitative. He does not attempt to argue that the working classes have equal advantages or opportunities, but bases his entire argument on the fact that the proletarian situation, while not idyllic, is better than it was before industrialization.
Nay, the rate of mortality in those three great capitals of the manufacturing districts is now considerably less than it was fifty years ago, over England and Wales, taken together, open country and all. We might with some plausibility maintain that the people live longer because they are better fed, better lodged, better clothed, and better attended in sickness, and that these improvements are owing to that increase of natural wealth which the manufacturing system has produced. 
Citing Neil McKendrick, Sir John Plumb, Roy Porter, and John Brewer, Tim Blanning describes an increase in the standard of living across all classes, at least in terms of material goods. “What in the past had been seen as luxuries now became ‘decencies’ and what had been decencies now became necessities”.  In addition, the bourgeoisie now had money to invest. Speculation, previously the province of the independently wealthy, was now accessible to tradesmen and shop owners.
The influx of uninformed, relatively unsophisticated investors to the market, combined with the expansion of European economic interests, made it easy for frauds to wipe out unsuspecting investors. John Law’s Mississippi Bubble of 1719 helped bankrupt the French monarchy, and the South Sea Bubble of 1720 bankrupted many British investors.  Mill would have seen the demise of the East India Trading Company first-hand, and as an MP from 1865 through 1868, he would have seen the result of the Opium Wars which began in 1839 to protect a British company’s monopoly on the Chinese opium trade. How he would have voted on the 1970 bill to condemn the opium trade is unknown. Sir Wilfred Lawson’s bill was soundly defeated 151 to 47 due to the huge taxes made by the drug sales . Yet this is the environment in which Mill operated. People fought and died for British commerce and British industrial and economic interests. Also, in the not too distant past, philosophers such as Mill had been put to death for daring to speak their minds, especially on the subject of religion. To Mill, the conflict between the interests of the individual and that of the state was a life-or-death struggle, and freedom of speech and thought were the most fundamental liberties and the most deserving of protection. The troubles of the working class, removed as they were from his daily life, would have been just as academic to him as Utilitarianism would have been to a workers in Engels’s father’s factory.
Ultimately, the authors created their definitions of liberty based on what they themselves understood and valued. Their understandings, and their values, came out of their own personal experience. That both authors’ definitions of liberty are supported by both primary and secondary sources is evident. Yet both Mill’s position and the Marxist position are dialectical enough to be both supported and refuted by primary sources. So the fact that Mill and the writers of the Manifesto lived in different worlds with radically different influences does not discredit the world view of either. The question as to which definition of liberty best suits the social and economic issues of the times therefore depends on which world view, and which set of values, best aligns with the reader’s own point of view.
 Morgan, Michael L. (ed). Classics of Moral and Political Theory. p. 1158; Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co. 1992.
 ibid. p. 1043
 ibid. p. 1042
 ibid. p. 1159
 Marx, Karl; Engels, Friedrich. The Communist Manifesto. From The Collected Works of Marx and Engels. International Publishers, Inc., 1975. Reprinted by Hackett Publishing Co., 1992. See Morgan, op. cit. , p.1195
 Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. From 1869 4th ed., Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer. Reprinted by Hackett Publishing Co., 1992. See Morgan, op. cit. , p. 1047
 ibid. p.1078
 Marx, op. cit.  p. 1207
 Kant, Immanuel. Grounding on the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by James W. Ellington. Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Co., 1981. Reprinted by Hackett Publishing Co., 1992. See Morgan, op. cit. , p.1032.
 Engels, Friedrich. The Condition of the Working Class in England. (1845). Translated by W.O. Henderson and W.H. Chaloner (1958). Reprinted in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th ed., vol. 2. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., Penguin Books of Canada, Markham, Ontario, 1962. pp. 1625-33.
 Southey, Robert. Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society. (1829). Reprinted in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th ed., vol. 2. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., Penguin Books of Canada, Markham, Ontario, 1962. p. 1622.
 Hufton, Olwen. The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe 1500-1800. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1996. p. 175
 Blanning, Tim. The Pursuit of Glory: The Five Revolutions That Made Modern Europe 1648-1815. Penguin Books, New York, NY. 2007. p.126
 The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th ed., vol. 2. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., Penguin Books of Canada, Markham, Ontario, 1962. p. 1625.
 Morgan, op. cit. , p. 1042-43.
 Macaulay, Thomas Babington. A Review of Southey’s Colloquies. Published in The Edinburgh Review, 1830. Reprinted in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th ed., vol. 2. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., Penguin Books of Canada, Markham, Ontario, 1962. p. 1621.
 Blanning, op. cit. , p. 137
 Ferguson, Niall. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. Penguin Press, New York, NY, 2008. pp.152-157
 Hanes, W. Travis III., Sanello, Frank. The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another. Sourcebooks, Inc. USA, 2002. pp.293-294.
Blanning, Tim. The Pursuit of Glory: The Five Revolutions That Made Modern Europe 1648-1815. New York, NY: Penguin Books. 2007.
Engels, Friedrich. The Condition of the Working Class in England. (1845). Translated by W.O. Henderson and W.H. Chaloner (1958). Reprinted in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th ed., vol. 2. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., Markham, ON: Penguin Books of Canada. 1962.
Ferguson, Niall. The Ascent of Money: a Financial History of the World. New York: Penguin Books. 2008.
Hanes, W. Travis III., Sanello, Frank. The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another. USA: Sourcebooks, Inc. 2002.
Hufton, Olwen. The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe 1500-1800. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1996.
Kant, Immanuel. Grounding on the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by James W. Ellington. Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Co., 1981. Reprinted by Hackett Publishing Co., 1992.
Macaulay, Thomas Babington. A Review of Southey’s Colloquies. Published in The Edinburgh Review, 1830. Reprinted in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th ed., vol. 2. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. Markham, ON: Penguin Books of Canada. 1962.
Marx, Karl; Engels, Friedrich. The Communist Manifesto. From The Collected Works of Marx and Engels. International Publishers, Inc., 1975. Reprinted by Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis/Cambridge: 1992.
Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty. From 1869 4th ed., Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer. Reprinted by Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis/Cambridge. 1992.
Morgan, Michael L. (ed). Classics of Moral and Political Theory. p. 1158; Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co. 1992.
Southey, Robert. Colloquies on the Progress and Prospects of Society. (1829). Reprinted in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th ed., vol. 2. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., Markham, ON: Penguin Books of Canada. 1962. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th ed., vol. 2. W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., Markham, ON: Penguin Books of Canada. 1962.
Religion in Science for Darwin and Marx
Both Karl Marx and Charles Darwin have proven themselves to be strong voices against the chorus in their respective fields, particularly in their quintessential works, The Communist Manifesto by Marx, and The Descent of Man by Darwin. Both writers are recognized as accomplished scientists, who hoped to better the understanding of the world around them through their works, albeit in ways distinct from one another. Yet a clear similarity is their repudiation of religion. Both authors suggest that religion is a concept incompatible with science. Marx is less concerned with the ideas and concepts addressed by religion, but by the medium through which they are presented.
As a social construct, Marx believes that organized religion would be a remnant of the bourgeois ruling class, if it continues to exist in a communist state. If people in a communist state still had a need to congregate and express religious sentiments, then Marx would opine that the people were oppressed in their everyday lives and the revolution had failed to do what it sought to. Marx concludes therefore, that religion is incompatible with Communism, which, as a scientists, he believes is the most equitable social structure. Darwin, though his ideas seemingly bear the most contrast to traditional Christian views, does not discount the usefulness of organized religion. He states, especially in defense of his work, that religion and the natural sciences are used to solve distinct issues. He believes that science should answer questions within our field of understanding, so we can better understand and interact with our environment, while religion should (and is) used for questions beyond our perception, such as death, and purpose of life. Darwin’s views are superior to Marx because they clearly define boundaries between religion and science and more realistically acknowledge the limits of both the scientific and religious world, in comparison to Marx’s somewhat idealistic expectations of a religion-free, communist society.
Karl Marx begins The Communist Manifesto with powerful and poetic prose: “A spectre is haunting Europe- the spectre of communism,” (Marx 71). Marx refers to his political theory of Communism, which he attempts to persuade the reader is both necessary and inevitable, through the course of his text. In Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx powerfully declares that “[r]eligion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people,” (Marx Introduction, 1). Marx’s language expresses what could be called heresy for the time, for it dissents against one, if not the most, powerful social and economic force in the world. Marx never published this work, quite understandably, but he delivers a similar, though diluted, message to reach as many people as possible in The Communist Manifesto. Marx states that “man’s ideas, views, and conceptions, in one word, man’s consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life…” (Marx 90). Clearly, Marx believes that with the changing of the political system, from Capitalism to Communism, a change he advocates, certain ideas and sentiments that once were prevalent, must come to an end.
However, the reader is told explicitly that those ideas are religious: The history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonisms, antagonisms that assumed different forms at different epochs. But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms (Marx 91). Put simply, Marx believes that ‘general ideas’ in society, which tend to have religious connotation or tone, change form following the change of that society. These ideas tend to be in retaliation to the current ruling class at the time, or at the very least seek salvation from the ruling class. However, with every change of society, the one constant is that a ruling class has remained. Now, with the advent of Communism, a change will take place in society so that there is no ‘ruling class’, which will, consequently, see the end of what is known to be ‘organized religion’. In essence, the communist society that the people will live in replaces the need for organized religion as a medium for those ideas that retaliate against the ruling class to be expressed, because class distinctions have fallen away.
Some may wonder if Marx would be open to having organized religion in a communist state even if Communism is successful. Perhaps one would offer the counter argument that even if remnants of organized religion remain in a successful communist state, it is a helpful place for community worship or reflection. While the sentiment seems persuasive, Marx would most likely state that remnants of organized religion prove that a communist state isn’t successful. So long as organized religion still exists, the people are still oppressed, and the communist revolution has failed. Marx’s argument falls apart at this juncture: while there are no apparent logical flaws, he makes the crucial mistake of assuming complete adherence by the people to the principles of the communist state without accounting for corruption, greed, and a desire for power. Ironically, the faith he puts in his political system is what compromises the integrity of his argument. Marx’s argument is reliant on the unconditional success of the communist revolution in bringing peace and prosperity to the oppressed proletariat. While theoretically this would seem to be an optimal situation, subjecting these ideas to the realities of human nature reveals their inherent flaws. A few examples include an imperfect communist state, where the political system acts more like a socialist state or dictatorship. This can, especially with hindsight examples of failed communist states, be proven to be a confounding variable in Marx’s plan.
Additionally, Marx assumes that the people is he ushering into Communism will be accepting of losing a familiar place of worship, and being told to place their faith in a political system for their prosperity or security. The successes of Marx’s political theory depends on the overly optimistic view that people can easily abandon such deeply held religious principles. Marx acts as an optimist in this situation, to a fault.
Darwin, however, understands that a reliance on a single mode of thought or way of living to provide societal structure is not practical or realistic. Darwin demonstrates this understanding in his work, The Descent of Man:
I am aware that the conclusions arrived at in this work will be denounced by some as highly irreligious; but he who denounces them is bound to shew why it is more irreligious to explain the origin of man as a distinct species by descent from some lower form, through the laws of variation and natural selection, than to explain the birth of the individual through the laws of ordinary reproduction. The birth both of the species and of the individual are equally parts of that grand sequence of events, which our minds refuse to accept as the result of blind chance. The understanding revolts at such a conclusion, whether or not we are able to believe that every slight variation of structure,- the union of each pair in marriage, -the dissemination of each seed, -and other such events, have all been ordained for some special purpose (Darwin 249).
Darwin, in a somewhat defensive paragraph expresses that his theory of evolution does not need to be ‘godless’. In his own words, Darwin challenges his critics in asking why proving the origin of species is more irreligious than understanding the science behind human birth. For Darwin, the study of birth and the study of the origin of species serve a similar purpose: to better understand how the environments of living species work in order to more efficiently live in those environments. He explains that he is not contradicting the whole of religion, but perhaps that his works contradict one account of Christian creation in the Bible.
Additionally, he explains how understanding the process of evolution does not substitute for the concept of divine purpose, the idea that everything was created for a reason by God, because his scientific theory does not explain every aspect of life. He recognizes, in this, that religion attempts to answer the questions that science can’t answer. “What is the meaning of life?” “Who or what created the Universe?” Where concepts of science (such as the theory of evolution) fall short, religion steps in to offer suggestions towards understanding. It is in this way, that Darwin’s argument demonstrates superiority to Marx’s. Darwin does not make the crucial mistake of having unrealistic expectations of his scientific systems. He acknowledges that his system has limits, in that it cannot answer a certain type of question, that religion offers answers to. While not offering his opinion on whether or not those answers are right, he allows the ideas of religion to exist legitimately. Because he allows for these two distinct systems to exist without conflict, they act as a fail safe for each other, allowing ideas to float between the two. If something cannot be explained by science, it may be explained by religion.
Both Marx and Darwin present convincing arguments as to the place of religion in a scientific world, but Darwin’s argument has some significant advantages over Marx’s. Marx makes the mistake of assuming that his scientific system of Communism will be completely and totally accepted by those who are subjects of it. Marx also fails to adequately address concerns his audience would naturally have about losing religion. He counters simply with an argument about the benefits of Communism. In all likelihood, this would make his dissenters more irate. Darwin, however, manages to avoid these mistakes by readily acknowledging and explicating the differences between religion and science, and accepting each system without finding conflict between them. Additionally, the differences between religion and science that Darwin outlines, allow for new information to prompt something once explained by religion, to be explained by science, and vice versa. Therefore, the ideas of science and ideas of religion can coexist. Darwin’s ideas remain superior because they are the most realistic, and they would most likely find more supporters, in both the religious and scientific communities.
Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. 1848. Penguin Group, 2011.
Marx, Karl. Introduction. Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, by Marx. 1844, pp. 1.
Philip Appleman, editor. Darwin. W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.
Back to the Future? Sustainability and Futurism in the Communist Manifesto
“We see then: the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society. At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged, the feudal organization of agriculture and manufacturing industry, in one word, the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder.
“Into their place stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political constitution adapted to it, and by the economical and political sway of the bourgeois class.”
—Karl Marx, Manifesto of the Communist Party, pg. 477-478 (transl. Robert C. Tucker)
Written in 1848 as a way to aid the Communist Party in outlining and defining a specific social vision, the Communist Manifesto explores the ways that the bourgeois institutionalization of free trade has become detrimental to human civilization. Before delineating how free trade has become a burden to societies everywhere, Marx and Engels explore the reasons why, and delve into the origins of this socioeconomic regime. In telling their own history of the world—even asserting that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”—Marx and Engels attempt reason through their current socioeconomic environment. However, by appealing to an unsustainable past to justify their ideals of a stable future, Marx and Engels point to an irreconcilable irony in their own work, which casts early doubts on Communism being fully viable at all.
“We see then,” write Marx and Engels, “[that] the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society.” Within this section, the theorists have been describing, with copious anaphora, the qualities of the bourgeoisie. Now, having addressed who the members of the bourgeoisie are, what they do, and who they are not, Marx and Engels turn to discuss their origins. This marks a shift into the passages which follow and which explain class distinction is still relevant, and this shift is clearly emphasized by stylistic devices, too. The passage begins with a conclusive “We see then” as opposed to the repetitive opening of “The bourgeoisie” featured in nearly all the paragraphs up to this point.
The origins of bourgeois societal relations are important to Marx, as the Communist Manifesto is, at its heart, addressing the origins of a new set of societal relations—those of the proletariat. It is therefore important for the writers to understand how and from where the current state of society and commerce emerged. (For the sake of expediency, only Marx’s name will be used from now on. This is done respectfully; after Marx’s death, Engels wrote in the Preface to the German Edition of 1883 that “The basic thought running through the Manifesto—…this basic thought belongs solely and exclusively to Marx. I have already stated this many times, but precisely now it is necessary that it also stand in front of the Manifesto itself” (472).) Specifically, Marx looks at “the means of production and of exchange,” since this group of factors is what he claims to be the “foundation” on which “the bourgeoisie built itself up.” Earlier, he asserts that the bourgeoisie “played a most revolutionary part” and “put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.” A strange irony plagues the reading of the origins of the bourgeoisie, which Marx believes to have “pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’ and have left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than ‘cash payment’” (475). While not incorrect in their characterization, these passages seem to reflect almost a sort of nostalgia for feudal times.
Nevertheless, feudal conceptions and practices of trade and commerce prepared the way for capitalism to rise to prominence. Marx offers his explanation of what these conceptions and practices were, designating “a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged, the feudal organization of agriculture and manufacturing industry, in one word the feudal relations of property”. He does not further explicate what this “certain stage” is that he is referring to, or what was so unique about such a stage that it brought about an abrupt change into bourgeois capitalism. Furthermore, Marx states this conception of societal relations in several different ways, calling it, in layers: “These means of production and of exchange” or “The conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged” or “The feudal organization of agriculture and manufacturing industry” or “The feudal relations of property.” Clearly these descriptions are all referring to one conception, yet Marx uses four layers or definitions to fully pin down what he means to convey. But even as he presents these four descriptions, Marx does not give any concrete examples (at least not in this passage; perhaps he believes that the text around this passage is specific enough). There are subtle differences between these four descriptions; in translation the words “means”, “conditions”, “organization”, and “relations” are all used. These different word choices overlap minimally, and add together present a larger picture than any one of them could present alone. It was not only feudal society that crumbled, but also all of its economic systems, as well as all of its means to sustain itself.
Sustainability is key. According to this passage, the “development of these means of production and of exchange” were not always prone to falling apart. There came a certain point when this development was no longer sustainable, came into conflict with that Marx calls already “developed productive forces” and then proceeded to break down. The European feudal system consisted of serfdom and the keeping of large manors or estates. Serfs were peasants who worked for the seigneurs who owned the manors, and formed the largest population group in feudal society. In many ways, the bourgeoisie-proletariat divide at the heart of Marx’s entire argument is very similar to the seigneur-serf situation found despicable by many at the end of feudalism. Marx himself criticizes this the seigneur-serf divide, denouncing various epochs of history and the oppression of one class by another: “in the Middle Ages,” he says, “[we have] feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters-journeymen, apprentices, serfs” (474). He acknowledges this constant theme throughout history, but believes that there can be an ultimate progression towards socialism and communism, which would break this chain of unsustainable class relationships. The final state of proletarian rule would then, of course, be sustainable, in a clear departure from all of its oppressive predecessors.
At this crucial stage with which Marx is concerned, the feudal relations of property became “so many fetters.” This sudden restrictiveness and internal tension led necessarily to these “relations of property” being “burst asunder.” Marx’s word choice of “burst asunder” here is interesting, too, as it provides imagery vastly different from relationships “crumbling” or “fading away.” Rather, the movements of social upheaval are explosive and singular, leaving clear spaces for future reconstruction.
After the annihilation of the old system of property, trade, commerce, and production, “into their place stepped free competition,” which is what Marx’s society currently finds itself acting out, together with the accompaniment of “a social and political constitution adapted to it.” This accompanying constitution naturally leads to the “economical and political sway of the bourgeois class.” This simple statement—that with an economic system (in this case, free competition), inevitably comes a social and political constitution—becomes troubling when its implied universality is applied to other possible economic revolutions. This entire passage from its beginning of “We see, then…” is troubling because it opens up the possibilities of problems concerning Marx’s entire theory. The question of sustainability—of each subsequently adopted social and political constitution—again emerges.
Earlier, Marx uses wording such as “the bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part” and “the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production and with them the whole relations of society.” While Marx’s antagonism towards the bourgeoisie is foundation of his entire argument, and is clear from the opening sentence of his work, his own usage of the previously-quoted wording brings echoes of doubt into his theories of historical progress. The way the bourgeoisie achieved its rise to power was through revolution, and through the unsustainable development of social property relations. This seems to be the same means which Marx now advocates for the proletariat. “At a certain stage in the development of…production and of exchange,” conditions will be ripe for the proletariat to begin a worldwide revolution. The possibility that the proletarian revolution—which Marx will endeavor at length to distinguish from other class upheavals—could be analogous to its predecessor, the bourgeois revolution, is unsettling.
This possibility would lead to later literature exploring that reality of all class upheavals being a continuous cycle, as in 1984 by George Orwell. Orwell views the rise and fall of class conflicts as a constant shift from low class to middle, middle class to high, and the subsequent adaptation of humans to whatever social class they find themselves in. At some point—similar to Marx’s own conception of “at a certain stage”—the discontent of the lower class bubbles over, revolution occurs, and the cycle begins again. “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past,” Orwell once wrote, concerned with the usage of propaganda and historical reporting in a dystopian society. Yet these words can be applied to Marx’s attempts to harness futurism in the Communist Manifesto. By appealing to the past, he attempts to control the future, putting forth a vision of a human society which has finally reached its zenith. Yet he is unable to control this past which he so desperately attempts to form into his own concentrated history. The history of class struggles refuses to be molded to his teleological assertions. It slips away from the rhetorical grasp of the Communist party, liquid and flexible in its historical repetitions.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. Robert C. Tucker. New York: Norton, 1978. Print.
The Inevitable Revolution: Exploring Marx and Engel’s Promise
As the authors of The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are known as the initiators of communist and Marxist theories; many of their ideas are still at the heart of contemporary critiques of capitalism’s excesses. In their Manifesto, Marx and Engels famously predicted that the proletariat of the world would one day rise up in an inevitable revolution against their bourgeois “masters,” so to speak, and that then these proletarians would take control of the means of production for themselves, abolish property, and initiate communist societies. The problem with this prediction is that almost two centuries have passed since it was offered in the Manifesto and nothing even remotely close to an international proletarian revolution has occurred. Even on a smaller scale, no true communist nation has arisen in this time span either. In light of these facts, some have wondered whether or not Marx and Engels were too bold in their estimation that a proletarian revolution was inevitable. Has the capitalists’ control on the means of production become so entrenched that a revolution cannot be mounted? Has not enough time elapsed for the inevitable revolution to yet take place? Or is economic injustice so currently rampant that the members of the proletariat have missed their opportunity to rise up? The answers to these questions are not clear. But in order to explore Marx and Engel’s promise of a revolution more closely, this paper intends to analyze why Marx and Engels thought a proletarian revolution would occur in the first place and how the two thinkers might have been mistaken in regard to their predicted revolution as a result of their miscalculating human nature.
First, let us begin by analyzing why Marx and Engels thought that a proletarian revolution was inevitable. The two thinkers thought that once workers began to band together and realize that they are being economically exploited by the bourgeoisie, then trade unions would be formed in order to organize labor and to strengthen its negotiation position: “[T]he proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalized … Thereupon the workers begin to form combinations [i.e. trade unions] against the bourgeois.” (Marx & Engels 1948).
Here we can see that the forming of unions is the first foreboding of the revolution for Marx and Engels, because they see such formation as the catalyst that will show the proletariat that they all have the same interests, problems, and abusers. The authors thought that this realization would spread through the proletariat like wildfire until they would inevitably decide to rise up against the bourgeois and depose their oppressors. And such unions would not be necessary in the first place if the bourgeois did not make profits off of the surplus labor of their worker. It is precisely this manipulation, or even stealing, of workers’ surplus labor by the bourgeois that caused Marx and Engels to think a revolution was inevitable, because in their minds the workers would eventually see the inherent injustice of others profiting from the fruits of their labor. Thus it was thought by the two theorists that the proletariat would rise in revolution and stop bourgeois injustices once and for all (Marx & Engels 1948). Ultimately, Marx and Engels thought that unions would lead to the decline of nationalism, which would in turn set the stage for an international and inevitable uprising against the capitalists (Marx & Engels 1948).
But since the revolution that Marx and Engels forecasted has yet to take place, and since it seems like no such revolution will take place any time soon, if ever, it is likely that the two philosophers made a miscalculation in their understanding of human nature. While reading through the text, I discovered a particular passage that seems to indicate that this reality is actually the case. In this portion of the Manifesto, Marx and Engels predicted that laborers would lose their nationalist attitudes at a rate that simply has not materialized over the past two centuries: “The workingmen [will] have no country … National differences and antagonisms between peoples are vanishing gradually from day to day, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.” (Marx & Engels 1948).
It is here that Marx & Engels might have been too bold in their estimation of human nature. The previous quote seems to suggest that it is imminent that the formation of unions will lead to a dissolution of nationalist interests throughout the global workforce, which would have set the stage for an international proletarian revolution. But unions have formed in the world over the past two centuries and nationalist divisions are still as present throughout the globe as ever. Wars and national disagreements still take place and the laborers of the world still band behind their homelands, regardless of their being in unions. Therefore, it is clear that Marx and Engels thought that people would be quicker to support a grand and international struggle; what they failed to recognize is that humans are short-sighted creatures who are difficult to rouse for anything that does not immediately affect them. Perhaps they were too hopeful, but it does appear that Marx and Engels believed that people would be able to move beyond their personal and national existences to partake in a global communist struggle; as the past two centuries have shown, people have simply not acted this way.
All in all, no communist nation has ever truly appeared on earth, as no country has ever been organized in such a way that the laborers own the means of production. And since this is the case, obviously no international proletarian revolution has yet occurred either. In my research of The Communist Manifesto, I have seen several scholars argue that while Marx and Engels were excellent at critiquing capitalism as an economic structure, they provided few details on how a future of communist societies might emerge (Wolff 2015). Therefore, it does seem that they overestimated peoples’ willingness to look at and sacrifice themselves for revolutionary economic change. But it is also perhaps possible that not enough time has yet elapsed for Marx and Engels’s revolution to occur and that the process will be much slower than the two thinkers seemed to suggest in The Communist Manifesto. But whatever happens in the coming decades, we should not disregard all of Marx and Engels’s ideas simply because they may have have been flawed. There are still many areas of their theories that are relevant in critiques of capitalism today, and it is still possible that workers will one day band together across the globe. The reasonable timeframe of such an occurrence, however, is impossible to estimate.
Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1948). The Communist Manifesto. New York: International.
Wolff, J. (2015). Karl Marx. Retrieved March 18, 2016, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/marx/#1