Karl Marx, Engels, and Babeuf

February 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

The Marxist communist ideology is possibly one of the most misunderstood political dogmas of modern times. It is a theory in which, through the historical events and practices of his time, Karl Marx had predicted the next steps towards communism in a capitalist society. This transition is spoken of in great detail in the first chapter of the Communist Manifesto, as Marx lays down the elements of a capitalist society: the bourgeoisie, who run the factories and own vast properties, lands, and the means of production; and the proletariat, who form the majority as the working class. A capitalist society will, inevitably, reach a class conflict, [1] since “The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.”[2] The establishment of the bourgeoisie’s rule over society was ground-breaking in its own sense. Not only did it remove the major monarchical influence that chained society, but it had also done away with religious influences to the rule. Such religious manifestations of rule through the Church, for example, had hindered European society during the Middle Ages.

In the words of the Communist Manifesto, the bourgeoisie had “put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.” and “torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment’. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour…”[3]. The bourgeoisie’s role is therefore a necessary one. Through capitalistic aspirations, the bourgeoisie makes major steps towards business expansion, the widespread creation of more products, and the development of industrial monopoly.[4] The proletariat will inevitably become alienated from products and fellow workers, and will experience poor working conditions. These laborers will become “an appendage of the machine”[5] that they had worked for. Such scenarios will lead to the transition into communism, as everything would be in place for a successful revolution via the proletariat. The solidly established industries that were once privately owned by the bourgeoisie can pave the way for an easy transition into a system based on public ownership.

Gracchus Babeuf’s Manifesto of the Equals is of a different nature than the Communist Manifesto. He was writing before Marx, during the final stages of the French Revolution, and prior to the expansion of industrialization. Hence, his message was more applicable to the people of his time, and was more concerned with agricultural land distribution. Instead of constructing a theory or ideology for political thought, Babeuf was trying to rally the people of France into a revolution for equality: “The French Revolution was nothing but a precursor of another revolution, one that will be bigger, more solemn, and which will be the last.” [6] Although not as detailed in comparison to the works of Karl Marx, Babeuf’s wrotomg propagates in context a very vital point: equality is the natural right of man.

Though both Babeuf and Marx were circulating the idea of equality, and the inevitability of the abolition of all class hierarchies, there are many areas of difference between these two thinkers. Firstly, both writers had produced their works under different pretexts. Marx was writing under the conditions of industrialization, the development of small, densely populated cities due to industrialization, and the rule of the bourgeoisie over societal matters. Babeuf was writing when the French revolution was still newly born, and new ideas were only beginning to emerge in order to form France’s future. As mentioned earlier, his works were produced prior to the Industrial Revolution, and therefore the works spoke to rural France. Secondly, and possibly most importantly, Babeuf’s message is more of a teleological one than Marx’s, as more emphasis is placed on society’s need to re-establish humanity’s naturally-given rights. Equality is seen by Babeuf as the state which all human beings have been promised by nature: “EQUALITY! The first wish of nature, the first need of man, the first knot of all legitimate association!”[7] It is the right that all human beings are entitled to, and when that right is taken away, societies must do what they can to retain it: “And we’ll have this real equality, at whatever price.”[8]. Therefore, since equality is an inherent quality, any future revolutions must further preserve the purpose of human life. The Communist Manifesto, however, is better seen as a theory for the evolution of human society. Each society, in the view of Marx, has seen different stages in its development, which will inevitably reach a class conflict for equality through socio-economic factors. Instead of seeing equality as an intrinsic right, Marx sees it as more of a final step in the evolution of society.

As stated, capitalism, for example, is a necessary step towards communism, even if that capitalist society created (and most likely will create) inequality. Such a society must be endured, and the fight for equality must be put on hold, until the capitalist society has laid down all necessary variables for the transition to take place. Equality is, therefore, an end-result of societal revolution, rather than a fulfillment of a natural right. An area of common ground between both manifestos is the idea of societal evolution through rupture. It is undeniable that any form of revolution will “rock the boat” of a peaceful society. Communism, for example, requires a class conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, one that almost certainly requires bloodshed. Babeuf’s rally for further revolutions for equality in France may also stir violence in a society. Even Condorcet in his Sketch broadcasted the idea that the French and Anglo-American revolutions paved the way towards a free and perfect human society[9]. However, in the views of these writers, any violence caused by these revolutions is worth the risk. The revolutions are both required and inevitable according to both Babeuf and Marx, though their reasoning differs as to how or why. For, without these necessary revolutions, the inequities of society will remain, and the downward spiral of society will take center stage.

1. Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich. The Communist Manifesto. Progress Publishers, Moscow (1969) pp. 98-137 2. Ibid, pp. 98-137 3. Ibid, pp. 98-137 4. Ibid, pp. 98-137 5. Ibid, pp. 98-137 6. Babeuf, Gracchus. La conspiration pour l’égalité. Editions Sociales, Paris. (1957) 7. Ibid 8. Ibid 9. Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1955) pp. 4-5, 9-10, 128, 136, 140-142, 173-175 [1] Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist Manifesto, pp. 98-137 [2] Ibid, pp. 98-137 [3] Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich, The Communist Manifesto, pp. 98-137 [4] Ibid, pp. 98-137 [5] Ibid, pp. 98-137 [6] Babeuf, Gracchus, Manifesto of the Equals [7] Babeuf, Gracchus, Manifesto of the Equals [8] Ibid. [9] Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, pp. 4-5, 9-10, 128, 136, 140-142, 173-175

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