COMMANDOS: Huh? Heh? Huh...
COMMANDO #2: Education.
REG: Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.
COMMANDO #1: And the wine.
COMMANDOS: Oh, yes. Yeah...
FRANCIS: Yeah. Yeah, that's something we'd really miss, Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.
COMMANDO: Public baths.
LORETTA: And it's safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.
FRANCIS: Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let's face it. They're the only ones who could in a place like this.
COMMANDOS: Hehh, heh. Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.
REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Marx never wrote a romance about the future. Not for him the Icarias, the Fourierist tract, the utopias of the Saint-Simonians. Not for him Robert Owen’s communes. All those infinitely detailed plans. The scheduling. The inversion of society. At Menilmontant, Enfantin designed the shirt with buttons on the back, so that the principle of association would be obeyed even when dressing – for it required two to button the shirt. And by such easy uses we dissolve egotism...
Marx’s comments on the future communist community are sparse, and often ironic – as when he writes in the German Ideology, a work that criticizes the critical critics, that that abolition of the division of labor will allow each to fish, hunt, and criticize during different parts of the day. That many have not seen the humor in devoting a part of the day to the critical critique is not Marx’s fault. This vision of utopia as a grand hobby shop seems massively below the level of the revolutionary impulse.
Still, the Communist Manifesto breathes a science fiction air. If Marx did not fantasize about the future communist community, he did draw a fantastic – if accurate – projection of history’s revolutionary class up to then – the bourgeoisie.
The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolised by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle class; division of labour between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labour in each single workshop.
Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even manufacturer no longer sufficed. Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionised industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry; the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.
Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.
We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.
Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune(4): here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part. [From Samuel Moore’s translation]
Many of the world historical actions of the bourgeoisie in the Manifesto are, at most, in the seed. The industrialization of agriculture, for instance, really doesn’t get on its feet until the 1870s, and even then Europe’s population, in 1914, was predominantly rural. In Mann’s Doctor Faustus, the narrator, Zeitblom, choses 1914 as the date when the ancien regime really collapsed – and there is a lot to say for that position.
Given the most revolutionary part allotted to the bourgeoisie by Marx, what are we to say of the proletariat? In the manifesto and in the German Ideology, the proletariat play a puzzling role. They are, Marx assures us, the class that, secreted by the industrial system of capitalism, will be its undertakers. But when we get down to it, the bourgeoisie does all the creative work here. To be Nietzschian about this, the proletariat seems to exist solely as a reactionary body – a body of labor and a victim of history. How is such a reactive force supposed to become an active force? We know that the bourgeoisie developed an incentive structure that not only made feudal inhibitions unbearable, but that also served as a weapon to overthrow the feudal structure. Why, though, should we believe this is true about the working class?
Up to now, I’ve been pressing on the seeming contradiction between Marx’s assumptions about the laboring class uniting and his vision of the absolute penetration of the commodity relationship into all spheres of the worker’s life. My point has been twofold: on the one hand, if capitalism has truly stripped the worker of any form of association except through the cash nexus, than the sense of solidarity that Marx is appealing to in the Communist Manifesto is doomed. Workers cannot unite, because they have no vision of themselves as united, and no medium through which to be united. If their interest is in pure cold cash, their association is extremely friable: having done away with the protocols that would justify sacrifice, they are more likely to make patchwork treaties with the bosses than to sacrifice their immediate interest for the sake of international solidarity as workers. On the other hand, this picture of the worker is simply wrong. Too often Marx uses his macro sense of historical development to analyze the microworld of family, friendship and association. Far from being outside of economics, emotional and social life is dependent on a vast and intricate structure of reciprocities that are not “feudal” but are as modern as money. We can’t leave the household, the kin system, etc., in the shadows, so to speak, but we should see it connected to the social whole. Modernity, in my view, is an intrinsically heterogenous system in which social relations defined under the regime of capitalism are not only juxtaposed with systems of barter and giftgiving, but are interpenetrated with them down to the factory floor itself. This doesn’t mean they are equally weighted down at the factory or in the stock market – it does mean that the compliance of the working population upon which capitalism depends is, itself, dependent on the working of these other reciprocities.
As we see with emotional labor, that by no means that there is a truce between the different systems. Emotional labor – looked at as one way of explaining what Elias called the civilizing process – and commodification form a fault line in the social whole. From such fault lines, massive earthquakes come.
However, suspending for the moment the issues resulting from that fault line – we are left with the question of the working class as a reactive class, shaped by the productive forces of history rather than shaping it. I think Marx was well aware of this question, and that it was partly to respond to this problem that the First book of Capital was written.
Kautsky, summing up the achievement of Marx and Engels, divides it between achievement in the world of thought and achievement in the political sphere. The latter achievement was in bringing together socialism and the worker’s movement – for, as he points out, they did not begin as one thing.
Socialism had arisen earlier. But in no way in the proletariat. Really it is, as is the worker’s movement, a product of capitalism. The former as the latter arises out of the pressure to work against misery, that capitalist exploitation imposes on the working class. Meanwhile, the defending forces of the proletariat in the labor movement arise autonomously wherever a numerous working population is gathered against which socialism premises a deep insight into the nature of modern society. Every socialism rests on the knowledge, that on the basis of civil society, there will not be an end to the capitalist misery, that this misery rests on private property in the means of production, and can only disappear with it. In this are all socialistic systems united, they only deviate from one another in the ways that they have suggested in order to achieve the anullment of this private property, and in the ideas, that they elevate of the new social property that they want to put in its place.”