Karl Marx's "Communist Manifesto"

Written: 2000.03.04
Last revised: 2001.05.17


When it comes to belief systems, there are many ideas which, if challenged, tend to provoke violent defensive reactions on the part of their believers. Star Trek fans, a disproportionate number of whom are pseudoscience afictionados, tend to become irritable when reminded of the vast gulf between Trek pseudoscience and real science. Creationists tend to become emotional and defensive when reminded that their precious ideas may make for good religious dogma, but they bear no resemblance whatsoever to science. And in spite of the utter failure of communism in the twentieth century, its defenders attack any criticism as "capitalist dogma".

Karl Marx wrote his Communist Manifesto in the middle of the 19th century, which was a heady time in human history. The Industrial Revolution was radically and rapidly changing society. New technologies were coming out all the time, and many spoke of huge, sweeping changes to come. The idea of "social engineering" became popular; people believed that, armed with advancing technology and an enlightened world view, they would be able to tear down the rotten and dysfunctional society that thousands of years of human civilization had slowly constructed, and replace it with a new, improved version.

The problem with Marx's grandiose vision of social engineering is that it assumes humans will play by rules which are against their nature, and that a large industrialized economy is simple enough to be centrally managed. Any engineer knows that when faced with an enormously complex piece of machinery, it is much easier to tweak it than it is to replace it. Complex systems such as societies and economies tend to obey the laws of chaos theory; the short and long-term effects of changes are unpredictable by even the most brilliant economists and sociologists, so any attempts at "social engineering" should be performed very carefully, and very slowly. It is a laudable goal to improve society, but it should be done through gradual change, not "revolution".

The funny thing is that communism does follow a twisted sort of logic. If you accept its underlying premises, some of its conclusions actually do make sense. However, you can't accept its underlying premises. Humans won't work as hard without self-interest to motivate them, as anyone familiar with the behaviour of our evolutionary ancestors will quickly realize. The collective self-interest of a nation of millions is much too remote and abstract to have the emotional immediacy necessary to strongly motivate most individuals. An economy of millions or hundreds of millions of people is not simple enough to predict and control from a central bureaucracy. People won't give up the traditional family structure, which has existed (either as monogamy or polygamy) in one form or another since the dawn of recorded history. And absolute power does corrupt absolutely, even in the hands of the benevolent Communist Party.

The Communist Manifesto

The first section of "The Communist Manifesto" is a long-winded and repetitive rant about the evils of capitalism:

The second section of "The Communist Manifesto" is a long-winded and repetitive advertisement for communism, in which every argument takes the form of a hideously distorted strawman caricature of capitalism, followed by his model of communism and the accompanying implicit message of: "there- isn't that better?".

The third section of "The Communist Manifesto" is a largely forgettable collection of historical discussions of various different socialist movements throughout history, as seen through Marx's eyes. The fourth section is a short summation, which ends with his infamous battle cry: "Workers of the world, unite!" That's a great slogan, but it is backed with terrible logic. All of his arguments follow the same pattern: take an aspect of society, falsely claim that it is hopelessly broken and cannot possibly be fixed under capitalism, and then leap headlong into the assumption that the solution is state control.

At no time does he explain why the state is guaranteed to outperform private industry or competitive mechanisms, nor does he explain why the state is guaranteed not to abuse the massive powers granted to it in his "utopian" plan. He creates a false dilemma by claiming that we must choose between a hideously distorted caricature of capitalism and his half-baked alternative, and then he assumes that any flaw in capitalism (even imaginary ones or strengths misrepresented as weaknesses) represents de facto support for communism (the hidden assumption is that his half-baked alternative schemes would solve the nonexistent or exaggerated problems without introducing enormous problems of their own).


Communism isn't totally insane; we all have a little bit of experience with it. After all, a healthy family's economy is basically communist: mother and father put their earnings into a common pool, draw from that common pool to finance purchases, and share a common standard of living with their children. But that model, as good as it is for a family, cannot be expanded into an entire country.

A father may work hard for the benefit of his family, but he has many motivations which don't apply to a worker toiling for his country. The parental drive to provide for the children comes from instincts hardwired into the human brain after millions of years of evolution. No such evolutionary imperative drives people to toil for an abstraction such as king and country. A father or mother receives also direct benefits from the work they do for the family. The same is supposedly true for communism, but when the size of the "family" grows huge, the connection between work and benefit becomes abstract. There is no immediate perceptible change in the collective fortunes of the state when one worker slacks off, unlike the change in a family's fortunes if Mom or Dad slacks off.

There is one thing which a communist family and a communist state do share: unfettered power for their leaders. If Mom and Dad want to be abusive, the children have no recourse inside the family. And if a communist government wishes to abuse its power, there are no checks and balances to stop them. Parents are (ideally) kept from abusing their power by the rule of law, but there are no credible police forces for the misbehaving governments of the world. If people can't always be trusted to resist the temptations of power over their own children, how can any sane person claim that politicians should be implicitly trusted to resist the temptations of power over a population of total strangers?

When viewed through the eyes of history, the 20th century will be remembered mostly for its startling rate of technological advancement, the evil of Hitler and Stalin, and the utter failure of communism. Neo-marxists expend a tremendous amount of effort to whitewash this failure, but they cannot deny the fact that no one has ever successfully implemented the philosophies of Karl Marx. Every attempt to implement marxism has turned into a disastrous dictatorship, in which the proletariat loved the communist lifestyle so much that they would risk their very lives to escape it.

Many books have been written about why communism failed, and a discussion of that subject is far beyond the scope of this document. I'm only attempting to highlight obvious logical and observational errors in "The Communist Manifesto," and to show how ludicrous it is to use this document as the blueprint for a modern society.

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