From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 1, 5 January 1948, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
On the 100th anniversary of the writing of the Communist Manifesto by the founders of modern socialism, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Labor Action is devoting this page in commemoration of this great document and its authors. The historic significance of this anniversary, celebrating the issuing of the Manifesto with its ringing message of freedom to all of mankind, is clear to all of our readers, and Labor Action joins in the revolutionary salute to its authors.
Among the historic documents now being shown around the country on the “Freedom Train,” you will not find that one which more than any other expresses the burning demand of mankind for human freedom and emancipation. That is the Communist Manifesto, written 100 years ago by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.
The reason for this is very simple, and it casts a good deal of light both on the nature of the “Freedom Train” and on the Communist Manifesto.
The Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation of Lincoln – to take two of the best behind the train’s show-cases – these and others were ONCE heart-lifting and soul-stirring appeals for the liberation of man from man. But this country freed itself from King George a long time ago, arid the Southern slaves were emancipated from the slave markets a long time ago. And today, instead of being exploited by foreign kings and merchant princes, we American workers are exploited by red-white-and-blue native robber barons and capitalists; and we who are American Negro workers are no longer being sold bodily from the auction block but are forced to sell ourselves piece-meal into the wage-slavery of the assembly line or the tenant-slavery of the share-cropper.
The language is still stirring; and we, Marxists and socialists, do not sneers at the fight for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but proudly assert that ONLY we are really carrying it on. But the words on the parchment are now only words in a showcase window for the sponsors of the “Freedom Train” – the struggle of men, with arms in hand that once stood behind those words is now a thing of the past, and Attorney-General Clark did not put either Jefferson or Lincoln on his “subversive” list.
But the Communist Manifesto – the declaration of labor’s independence and the proclamation of labor’s coming emancipation – is “subversive,” they tell us. Why? Because the struggle to which it calls IS STILL GOING ON TODAY, one hundred years after the Communist Manifesto! This document of human freedom is not merely a parchment from the past but as disturbing as yesterday’s editorial to the conscience of capitalist attorneys-general.
The opening words of the first chapter tell us that the history of our world is the history of the STRUGGLE BETWEEN A WORKING CLASS AND ITS RULING CLASS, the struggle of contending classes over the economic and social mastery of society. Every revolution of the past, including Jefferson’s and Lincoln’s, overthrew one set of tyrants to put another in its place. The revolution of our day will, for the first time, be able to abolish minority-class rule because for the first time that class which is developing toward mastery of society is a class which is the overwhelming MAJORITY of society – the working class.
There is no fact of our day more important than this – not one. America is split down the middle – not between “good men” and “bad men,” not between Negro and white, not between foreign-born and native-born, but fundamentally between workingmen and their capitalist exploiters. Earthquakes take place along such fault-lines in the rock strata; social earthquakes and revolutions, take place along the line of class cleavage.
The government pretends to be the impartial umpire of the social struggle. This is a lie, says the Communist Manifesto. Truman is not trying to hold the balance between labor and capital. He is calling all the strikes, against labor, except when he is too afraid of getting a barrage of pop bottles on his head in 1948. It’s true that Marx and Engels do not mention. Truman. They said: The executive of the modern government is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole capitalist class. Taft and Hartley have taken this to heart and understand its truth a lot more intimately than most workers. They know that’s why they’re in Congress. Most of labor still thinks it can somehow use the capitalists’ own executive committee to get their own interests.
The Communist Manifesto explained why that is so. Labor’s consciousness of its own position has lagged far behind in America. The United States has been and is the richest in the world. The crumbs have fallen faster and thicker from the bosses’ tables than in other countries. The little men have been kept half-satisfied, only half-starved, only half-rebellious. And so American “labor’s ideas, views and conceptions have been for the last hundred years kept below the exploding point.
“Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man’s ideas, views and conceptions – in one word, man’s consciousness – changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, on his social relations and in his social life? ... The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.”
This is what Marx and Engels saw a hundred years ago, when European workers were under the exploding point as American labor still is. But there are fools who still tell us that since labor has not revolted against capitalism so far, we cannot expect it to revolt as material conditions worsen and degenerate; that because labor has voted Democratic and Republican, it is fated to continue voting Democratic and Republican.
But already in the Communist Manifesto the two young men who wrote it saw what was happening to capitalism.
“Modern bourgeois society ... is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells ... It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on trial, each time more threateningly ... And why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce ... And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by the enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.”
The capitalist class, says the Communist Manifesto, has shown itself unfit to rule because it cannot even feed its slaves! This truth Europe’s workers are feeling in the pit of their stomachs; American labor as yet has a few more crumbs.. But one thing is certain: the material conditions of life for the common people is drastically, catastrophically changing, and with them are changing the views and ideas of workingmen.
Up to now, says the Communist Manifesto, the workers have not been fighting their own enemies but only the ‘enemies’ of their enemies. When this sentence sinks’ into the understanding of a worker, he can become a new man, Truman, is our enemy, says many a worker; but Taft and the Republicans are the more reactionary enemies of Truman; let us therefore help Truman lick his enemy. “EVERY VICTORY SO OBTAINED IS A VICTORY FOR THE BOURGEOISIE,” says the Communist Manifesto. There is nothing on the “Freedom Train” that makes half the sense that this does.
Let’s be practical people, says the labor politician, and gain a partial victory by voting Truman in and Taft, out. This kind of practicality was known to Marx and Engejs a hundred years ago. They wrote: “Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. THE REAL FRUIT OF THEIR BATTLES LIES, NOT IN THE IMMEDIATE RESULT, BUT IN THE EVER EXPANDING UNION OF THE WORKERS.” Vote for Truman (or Roosevelt.) as many times as you like, and celebrate your subsequent, “victories,” but then when the next choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum” comes up, you are right back where you were. Your organization has not advanced an inch, you are still at the mercy of the choice between the lesser and greater evil. BUT – take your own fate in your hands, break away from both sets of capitalist exploiters, begin the union of the workers, on the political field, and THERE YOU HAVE THE REAL FRUIT OF THE BATTLE. “Every class struggle is a political struggle.” Labor must take over the government. Until then it is the government of its enemy and real freedom and democracy cannot exist.
The clarion call which the Communist Manifesto sounds is the appeal “TO RAISE THE PROLETARIAT TO THE POSITION OF RULING CLASS, TO ESTABLISH DEMOCRACY.”
TO ESTABLISH DEMOCRACY – that is the aim of socialism. Not only the fake limited political democracy such as still hangs on by a thread in the degenerating countries of capitalism, but the real economic and social democracy which comes from a society where men own their own means of livelihood, the factories and industrial machine, through a democratic Workers’ Government of their own people. TO ESTABLISH DEMOCRACY – that is our aim, and that is why we denounce the Stalinist horror in Russia as a slanderous caricature of the socialist goal. TO ESTABLISH DEMOCRACY – “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
That is how the second chapter of the Communist Manifesto ends, and that is where we begin. There is no other social goal worth fighting and dying for.
Last updated on 26 December 2015