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It is fascinating reading the Communist Manifesto during a time of nationalist fervor globally. It contrasts strikingly with Marx’s 10 measures of revolution. For although he desires workers to more actively compose themselves as the center of their respective nations, he likewise calls on them to unite with all workers of the world. This is because he sees greater similarity between international workers than between workers and capitalists of a shared nation-state.
So what are Marx’s 10 measures?
10 Measures of Revolution
Paraphrased from Marx, here are his 10 measures of a revolution.
- Abolition of land property; rent money goes to public purpose
- Heavy income tax
- Abolition of inheritance rights
- Confiscation of the property of “emigrants” and “rebels”
- Central bank with exclusive state monopoly of credit
- Centralization of transport and communication under the state
- Multiplication of state-run factories; cultivation of wastelands; soil improvement
- All must work; establishment of industrial armies
- Combination of manufacturing/agriculture industries; population redistribution so city/country more equitably populated
- Free education for children; abolition of child factory labor
Why does “abolition” show up so often?
These measures of revolution aren’t ends in themselves. Eventually Marx wishes to see the nation-state fade evaporate alongside class. These are simply the precursors to that end.
Keep in mind that the revolution Marx sought after led to the working class becoming the owners of technology. Neither inventors, nor CEOs. Not board members or shareholders. Not managers. He wanted those that worked the machines to have control over their own lives. Therefore, Marx saw the 10 measures overcoming the capitalist obstacle to worker ownership.
Why the abolition of landed property? Landlords took high rents from workers.
Why the abolition of inheritance rights? Inheritance was one way capital passed from one generation to the next. It was a double slap to workers, because even if a capitalist had amassed great profits off the workers’ backs, a son by luck of birth did even less to earn it; he simply fell out of the right mother and continued to breathe for a few decades.
Why the confiscation of the property of emigrants/rebels? Recall that capitalists were not beholden to one country (and still aren’t). The East India Company had land and capital holdings in London, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Japan. Note, however, that the head of the East India Company was never Indian, Indonesian, Chinese, or Japanese. To establish this particular measure, Marx would have wanted workers from these locales to seize components of the East India Company in their territories. “Rebels” would refer to loyalists to the capitalist order.
The role of the state
If abolition of some roles features strongly, centralization might factor even more.
Note that income tax, centralized banks, centralized transport and communication, and state-run factories all require an initially strong state. You would need a strong state after a revolution, anyway, to fight off counterrevolution. Recall, however, that these are measures of revolution and not its fullest extent.
The full revolution lies in the dissolution of the state as the loss of class character alters former class relations. As Marx understands it, the state is the instrument of one class oppressing another. With this understanding, when the workers seize the means of production, they would all exist on equal footing in relation to property. This is a different class relation (regarding property). Marx sees changes in the means of production altering social relations. This alteration is so severe in the proletarian revolution that the state would eventually dissipate: you cannot oppress an equal. So his logic goes.
How much of the current state relies on exploiting classes (foreign and domestic) to maintain its power? How often are white collar criminals incarcerated with lower class criminals, even though white collar criminals negatively affect far more communities and their environs? What country would board so many American military bases if they had the power to say “No”? Would we honestly harbor any foreign military base on American soil, even our closest allies? This is class exploitation at its finest. And the majority of Americans don’t give it a second thought because of incredibly effective militaristic propaganda.
Terry Eagleton once noted that Marx overesteemed capital in his own time, for it was not as efficient then as Marx claimed it to be. Today, the United States constitutes the most economically and militarily successful capitalist nation in history. Its labor laws favor bosses over workers. The propaganda machine of its military is as effective as the institution is large. To enjoy, really enjoy, the freedoms proclaimed in this nation, one must possess the means to defend them. Else you are at the mercy of those with resources.
Marx notes the necessity of the workers seizing this power in order to liberate the people. It’s understandable why this worries a lot of people. Revolutions aren’t always successful. Even when they are, lots of stuff changes. People die, supply lines have to be secured, the newly formed state has to defend itself within and without. Imagine the loss of civil rights and basic freedoms during wartime. All of those “inalienable” and “god-given” rights come into question; it’s almost as if that rhetoric is meaningless without defense measures in place.
The call on all to work
If Republicans today ever read Marx (some have heard a quote or two from him, but to most he’s a bogeyman of “leftism”), they might jizz their pants when they see him call on all to work. However, this would be a moment where historicizing the Manifesto would be appropriate. Recall that in Engels’ preface to the Communist Manifesto he remarked that parts of the 10 measures of revolution matched conditions of 1848, not 1888. Part of the power of Marxist analysis lies in its focus on the present instead of the past. For the purpose at hand, work, when it is to secure the survival needs of the populace, is a good thing.
The vast majority of American jobs do not meet this standard. Do we really need life coaches, marketers, car salesmen, 50 brands of watches, new cars every 4 months, 2 major but different smart phone brands that offer nearly identical hardware, or 500 brands of denim jeans? Amber B. gives an even more scathing analysis. There she remarks that the majority of work in the U.S. is only possible by exploiting the resources and manufacturing of the global south.
Humans need food, shelter, water, air, sex, companionship, and a means of self-actualizing. When work exists beyond these needs, merely to occupy 8 hours a day so capitalists don’t feel like they’re paying their workers for nothing (even if a worker might have work that constitutes less than half that time), something is amiss.
As we move toward a post-scarcity world and greater automation, the need for work decreases. The rational thing to do, a la Marx, is for people to work way less hours since they would own the means of production.
Let’s say the world needs 1,000,000 new cars for the next year. After the car makers built that many cars, they could do something else with their time. They wouldn’t just punch a clock. This revolutionary measure would severely alter how society works. Not only would the measures of revolution alter the means of production, but it would alter social relations, too.
Then, as Marx writes elsewhere, humans are freer to reach their full potential. With survival needs met easily by technology, the thought goes that people would be freer to do something creative with their lives. There would be none of this “I don’t have enough time” regarding creative pursuits. People could rest and recreate as need be. This could particularly take place in regions that are already highly industrialized.
I think it would be interesting to think up communist aims today. Verso edited a 1956 philosophical porno between Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in “Towards a New Manifesto.” It largely consists of them using big words to pleasure titillate each other. A more useful exercise in updating aims for contemporary workers is the People’s Congress of Resistance’s “Society for the Many: A Vision for Revolution.” Note its similarities with Marx and Engels:
- Health, food, shelter, and education for all
- Collectivizing of banks, communication, transportation, and energy
- Abolition of militarism, colonialism, and imperialism
- Abolition of mass incarceration and aggressive policing
- Reparations for African-Americans and self-determination for indigenous peoples
- Abolition of patriarchal oppression regarding sex, gender, and sexual orientation
- Environmental justice
Note its move beyond Marx and Engels’ propositions. They did not have the history of environmental catastrophes to factor in. Now we see the effects human industry can have on the environment: acid rain, undrinkable water, and on a vaster scale, global warming. A huge step in measure seven would be to pump vast amounts of money into nuclear fusion research, a step toward cleaner, nearly unlimited energy.
The next entry will cover part 3 of the Manifesto, on the various communist literatures of its day.