In the preface of the 1872 German edition of the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels write, “This program has in some details become antiquatedÂ although in principle still correct, yet in practice are antiquated because the political situation has been entirely changed” (Marx and Engels 130). Here Marx and Engels make the clear distinction that the concrete historical and social situation determines the strategy and tactics of a revolutionary movement. Too often Marx and Engels are read in ‘their’ time, where they become seemingly irrelevant and historically antiquated. The challenge is to read them in the modern time, to take the principles and tools of Communist thinking and analysis, and apply it to the modern historical and social situation dialectically. The return to Marx and Engels is not copying them in nostalgic-stale-dogmatic ways, but reliving them in the moment of their becoming, when they found themselves i n a unique situation and used the power of communist analysis to interpret and change it.
Marx’s critique of bourgeois socialism is entirely applicable to today’s liberalism and the modern welfare state. Marx describes the origins of bourgeois socialism, “A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society. To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitariansÂ They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat” (Marx and Engels 119). In his critique Marx exposes class collaboration as ultimately serving to maintain present conditions of bourgeois property, while parading itself as benefiting the working class. But how is class collaboration different from when Marx writes, “The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movementÂ reserving, however, the right to take up a critical position” (Marx and Engels 124)? Although traditionally read as a historical document (in bourgeois studies) the Manifesto is implicitly filled with strategy and tactics. The difference between fighting for the immediate aims of workers and reformism is dialectical. Lenin accurately pointed out this difference when he critiqued a characteristic of opportunism, “Opportunism means sacrificing the permanent and essential interests of the party to mome ntary, transient and minor interests” (Lenin 237). In revolutionary struggle, quantitative change leads to qualitative change if it is guided by revolutionary theory and correct strategy. The working class hones its skills in political and ideological battle by wresting demands and gains from the bourgeois class. These demands to the opportunist, to the reformer, and to the liberal, etcÂessentially to the bourgeois in outlook, are ends in and of themselves. To the revolutionary, fighting for the immediate aims of workers is a means to the greater end of political power for the proletariat. The Communist and advanced elements of the proletariat make demands that cannot be fulfilled under bourgeois conditions, only through their upheaval. Communist ideas are enough to overcome bourgeois ideas, however “it takes actual communist action to abolish actual private property” (Marx 154).
This leads to another essential principle of Communist theory that Marx puts forth more explicitly in later writings, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. It is still relevant and applicable despite wide and popular attempts to revise or discredit it. Marx writes, “Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another” (Marx and Engels 112). Also, proletarian power “cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property and on the conditions of bourgeois production” (Marx and Engels 111). The dictatorship of the prolet ariat must be understood dialectically. It is completely tyrannical in form, smashing all bourgeois relations and ideas (social, political, economic), but it is democratic in content, the great majority emancipates itself and thus frees all society from the slavery of private property relations. It is the opposite, the negation, of social-democratic or bourgeois parliamentarism, which is democratic in form, voting, etc. but dictatorship in contentÂi.e. bourgeois rule. The Communists aim for the “forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions” (Marx and Engels 125). Communists always bring forth “the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time” (125). The dictatorship of the proletariat is an essential concept for the understanding of class struggle today. It could not be put in better words than this, “Thus the idea of working class political rule as the necessary basis of socialism flows inevitably from the Marxist concept of the class struggle. One cannot be discarded without discarding the other” (Hall 293)..
Marx writes, “The Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things” (Marx and Engels 125). Each movement must be judged on its own unique historical situation and trajectory, which requires a Communist outlook forged in practice and application as well as study. For example, the Kuomintang (the Chinese nationalist party) was a reactionary party; it upheld the backward conditio ns of the countryside which subjugated the Chinese peasantry and preserved the gangster style capitalism in existence that was controlled by local lords. However, the Kuomintang played a revolutionary role in fighting Japanese Imperialism with its momentary and strategic ally, the Chinese Communist Party. It played a revolutionary role because it served to undermine the political and social order of imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, in favor of Chinese self determination, which was a necessary prerequisite for advancing the interests of the Chinese workers and peasantry. This is also true of certain feminist and civil rights movements, or the abolitionist movement, where the movement positioned itself against the old order and facilitated the conflict of contradictions in society allowing new social relationships to emerge. However, these kinds of movements can be ideologically disarmed and even welcomed and embraced by capitalist ideology as long as they are sapped of their revolutionary nature and radical critique (e.g. Martin Luther King Day). It is much more difficult to disarm anti-imperialist forces which stand to shake the very base of capitalism’s hegemonic rule. This is why bourgeois socialists (liberals, humanitarians, etc) find it hard to support today’s anti-imperialist forces, two of which are North Korea and the Arab independence movements in the Middle East. North Korea defends its sovereignty against US aggression which is necessary for any social progress to happen in the country. All social progress wo uld be reversed or stopped if it came under the subordination of US imperialism. The main imperialist forces in the Middle East are Israel and the USA; however, it is not revolutionary to simply just be anti-Zionist or anti-American. The actions of anti-imperialist forces must serve to unify and uphold the sovereignty of the people. In Iraq or Palestine, sectarian forces that fight US forces but also attack and divide different sectors of the population are reactionary because in actuality they strengthen imperialism by hampering the unity of the people necessary to successfully undermine US imperialism. It is fine to radically critique any social movement, but a condemnation of a revolutionary anti-imperialist force directly serves imperialism’s interests. All forces, regardless of ideological outlook, that unite people in defense of their sovereignty against imperialism are revolutionary by virtue of the role they play in a revolutionary situation. This is difficult for bourgeois socialists to accept, but Marx compels Communists to understand this essential dynamic of class struggle, social conditions, and the property question.
An important part of Marx’s Manuscripts is his definition and characterization of the proletariat. Traditionally the proletariat is seen chiefly in economic terms but Marx’s characterization is also dialectical, it is both quantitative and qualitative. Marx writes, “The product of labor is labor which has been embodied in an object, which has become material: it is the objectification o f labor. Labor’s realization is its objectification. In the sphere of political economy this realization of labor appears as loss of realization for the workers; objectification as loss of the object and bondage to it; appropriation as estrangement, as alienation” (Marx 108). Marx asserts the proletariat’s accomplishment in labor is its own devaluation, its opposite. This has special consequences in the realm of capitalist production, labor’s creation and objectification, commodities, becomes a material force hostile to it. Labor’s realization is its own loss of power. This universal truth of the proletarian experience is a totally subjective experience, but the subject, the proletariat, is denied its own subjectivity, its own consciousness through estrangement. This dialectical and qualitative element of the proletarian experience takes on new forms today. The environmental crisis which faces everyone with their own possible destruction is a new form of Marx’s entwirklichung, loss of reality. In the new technological age the digitalization of everyone’s lives in the advanced capitalist world presents a new alienation and ‘proletarian’ situation in a dialectical sense. Capitalism’s crisis is further sharpened as the devastated third world’s contradictions explode and clash sharply in direct conflict with the first world home of advanced transnational capitalism. Of course traditional commodity production, imperialism, and exploitation continue, but the proletarian experience takes on new- greater meanings when viewed dialectically, where some try to trap it historically and deem it obsolete.
Every great Communist revolutionary has been able to relive Marxism in their historical and social situation. Marxism becomes a revolutionary force when it is used radically, when it critiques and gets at the root of the situation and exposes it. Through Communist principles, analysis, and experience, the science of strategy and tactics becomes a powerful weapon for revolutionary change. Revolutionary ideas absorbed by the masses become a material force in history. Much like Marx and Engels later critique of their earlier writings, the principles of communism are as true today as they were in Marx’s time, but modern conditions call for modern communist understanding and the appropriate subsequent action.
Commentary of Comrade Konrad