Friday, May 28, 2010

I was flipping through some old notes, and, being the lazybug that I am, thought today might be a good time for a "what did Marx actually say?" moment. Specifically, here's the ten point program he put forward in the Communist Manifesto (word for word but the emphasis is mine):

1) Abolition of property in land and the application of all rents of land to public purposes.

2) A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.

3) Abolition of all rights of inheritance.

4) Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.

5) Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6) Centralization of the means of communication and transportation in the hands of the state.

7) Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

8) Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.

9) Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country.

10) Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.

Interesting, no? Before you decide this (other than those parts that have been implemented already, which you like) is the most evil thing you ever heard, a few thoughts on interpreting it.

First, remember that it's highly contextual. This is what Marx thought would, generally, be a good political agenda for a communist party in "the most advanced countries" in the 1840's and 50's. It's extremely situational, instrumental. We encourage you to come up with a program suitable to your own context.

Second--I think this is the most important caveat of communism--remember that what we are looking for is a republic which exists for the sake of its people, particularly its most common people. Most of us in the United States have noticed that the government is no longer by or for us, so it's natural that we hesitate to engage. It's also natural that we don't want to give it any more of ourselves--our time, energy, funds--than we have to. To consider communism is to commit an egregiously assertive act of imagination. What would it be like, we ask, if our government were actually, fundamentally, for us? How could we make this happen?

Rather than being a distilled version of Marxist theory, the list is a thought-provoking historical artifact. Some items are contextual oddities; but the sections I've bolded, for instance, are the foundations of any meaningful equality of opportunity--let us all stand on the work of our own lives. And the sections italicized can be summarized: reclaim and protect a commons that can serve us all equally and well.

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