“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”
― Karl Marx, Eleven Theses on Feuerbach
February 1848 saw the publishing of ‘The Communist Manifesto’ that would go on to become one of the major revolutionary writings propounding an ideology available to people in search of liberation. It called for a revolt by the working class against oppressive capitalism. Its maxim being, “Workers of the world, unite!” quickly became a rallying cry. Communism as an ideology has always called for a classless society, where everything is shared equally. A revolutionary German philosopher, Karl Marx, has been claimed to be the father of Communism. Marx proposed a new ideology that promoted a society where everyone would be treated equally. Richard Pipes in his book “Communism: A History” explains that the emergence of Communism can be traced back to Ancient Greece. One of the main criticisms of the ideology has emerged from the prevailing private property ownership, and such criticism can be easily found even during the period of enlightenment. The upheaval during French Revolution pushed Communism into the political sphere. Since then, communism has come to be associated with a revolution of a kind that had the power of overturning the prevalent economic structure that has been promoting inequality amongst men.
Lenin’s October Revolution in 1917, with the establishment of the first communist government, and its further spread to China with Mao Zedong’s rise to power marked the beginning of the political journey of communism. Taking inspiration from the Russian Revolution, the Communist Party of China was formed. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of ‘free market’ capitalism backed this ideology to a corner and it saw a gradual decline all over the world. The following years see the collapse of communist regimes around the globe, for instance, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Benin, Mozambique, Nicaragua and Yemen. In 1991, the Soviet Union is dissolved with the rise of a new Russian President Boris Yeltsin who banned the Communist Party. Communism soon ended in countries like Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Congo, Kenya, and other nations. North Korea remained nominally communist, although the North Korean government identified its ideology as ‘Juche’ (self-reliant).
The ”great experiment” had failed miserably. The Communist Parties that retained power after the war did not now constitute a threat to the ”hegemony of the global capitalist system”. Moreover, the majority of the nations decided to organize their economy in the lines of capitalism, thereby suggesting that the economic order of the world was majorly capitalistic. The Communist parties that maintained their authority were, however, compelled to cave into the establishment of the ‘the market’ by imitating various features of contemporary capitalist societies. Other than this, the sphere of International Relations is also portrayed in a very skewed and unfamiliar manner in the initial writings of communism. When compared to realism and liberalism, the latter put forward a world political scenario that resonates with those presented in the newspapers and magazines, thereby making it easier to comprehend, but communist thoughts aim at something “deeper, underlying-indeed hidden-truth”. It explains that world politics is all about wars, treaties, aid operations and all these occur within the global capitalist structure. Moreover, these structures have an enormous influence over such events and hence, while studying the global world structure a broader understanding of capitalism is necessary. Communism also argues that the capitalistic structure ensures that the powerful and the wealthy continue to prosper at the expense of the poor and the powerless.
The inception of communism has been attributed to the writings of Karl Marx who was also the founder of the Communist movement. Marx’s thoughts originated against a backdrop of great industrial change. Moreover, he explained the bourgeoisie (the property-owning class) and the proletariat (the industrial working class) while looking at history as a story that talked about the struggle of the oppressed against the oppressor. It is also imperative to mention that Marx while writing about the class struggle, talked about ‘mode of production’. The mode of production as mentioned is a combination of the ‘productive forces’ along with the ‘relations of production’. According to the philosopher, a new stage emerges when the productive forces and the relations of production are in a direct clash. For instance, we have the emergence of the primitive communism which was not a society that experienced clashes amongst classes as there was none, but the emergence of private property institutions led to its decline. This was followed by the slave society, the feudal society, and ultimately capitalism. Each stage experienced its struggle amongst the owning class and the ones who worked for that class. “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” Marx famously wrote. The modal quality of these relations in capitalism is in constant confrontation with each other believed Marx and hence, capitalism had in itself the seeds of destruction.
While putting forward the role of the Bourgeoisie, he explained that they mercilessly exploited the Proletariat. The work of the Proletariat, argued Marx, created great wealth for the capitalist thereby giving impetus to expectation. For instance, a factory worker might be paid $2 by the owner to produce a yard of cloth. After which the owner then sells the cloth for $5. In this way, the owner/capitalist, controlling the process of production, makes a profit for himself. The worker, however, does not benefit in any way from this added value and also, fails to benefit from the fruits of his/her labour. This thought further gave rise to another theory of Marx claiming that ‘Alienation’ was intrinsic to capitalism. This unjust situation had been contented to give rise to feelings of resentment amongst the proletariat which would lead to the ‘overthrow’ of the capitalist system and would eventually lead to a revolution against the Bourgeoisie. Marx wrote that “Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange, and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and exchange, 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.”
Karl Marx and his writings have shown the world that they can influence people unlike any other. The thoughts of this philosopher have changed and developed over time. Marx’s idea which maintains that communism would give rise to a classless society has appealed to many as a result. The emancipatory nature of these thoughts has often led people to associate communism with a revolution which would lead to a complete overturn of the prevailing modes of production thereby ushering in a society which would free all men, and not only those owning the modes. Moreover, a vast number of Communist revolutions, most often a proletarian revolution, to free themselves from their oppressors has linked Communism with Revolution. Followers of Marx all over the world believe that the workers need to unite and free themselves from the shackles of the capitalists once and for all. This would be to create a world that would treat everyone equally. Thus, the proletarian revolution needs to happen in nations all over. This thought is reiterated time and again which has led to the usage of communism almost synonymously with revolution. In addition to this, with a vast majority of the world population having to face a certain degree of injustice which can be directly linked to an outcome of capitalism, there has been an inclination towards communism. The communists agree that oppression of the minorities is a problem that this society needs to deal with but they have also brought to light the fact that these things are not a result of the bad morals existing in humans, but are directly connected with the mode of production. —vehemently, in fact—but they do not see people’s bad morals as the origin of this, but rather is due to the mode of production.
Currently, the system that is manipulating the mode of production is capitalism. So, if people can do away with the current economic situation, they will see the emergence of a society that will treat everyone as they deserve to be treated. Also, there has been a gradual emergence of several schools of thoughts claiming a direct inspiration was taken from Marx and developing theories that are in line with the current situation of the world. The commitment to the cause of emancipation that would abolish a society based on injustice drew attention from scholars across the globe, and along with the mass that has begun realizing that they are working tirelessly for capitalism with little to no return. The idea that the social world has to be studied in totality widened the base of Marxism regarding the influence the thought held after the end of the Cold War. A well-known theory in the field of International Relations, the World Systems Theory by Immanuel Wallerstein is believed to have been inspired by the works of another communist, Vladimir Lenin. This theory has played a key role in the climate talks and explained the role of the ‘core’ countries (industrialized) and the ‘semi-periphery’ countries (industrializing), and the ‘periphery’ countries (relatively less industrialized when compared to semi-periphery countries).
Communism has always talked about a revolution that would bring down Capitalism. This action would be a conscious revolutionary act by the working class. It has talked about revolutionary socialism that would with time achieve a stateless communist order. Although a change in the perception of people has led to the association of communism with revolution, the writings say enough about the ideology to relate it to revolution and a revolutionary change in the society. With a little reading of communism, it becomes clear as day that what the writings truly talk about is a ‘Proletarian Revolution’. Now, how that is reached may vary, but the various group claiming to be followers of communism have this particular thing in common were they see capitalism as the oppressive system and layout means with the help of which it can be handled. A fundamental change is what binds all these schools together leading the mass or scholars to identify communism with revolution. However, it should be mentioned that Karl Marx saw the capitalist stage as a progressive one and claimed that the development of humankind would be promoted by Capitalism. Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, Capitalism is a stage that would move into a state of stagnation due to internal conflicts thereby giving rise to favourable conditions for a revolution.
By Sagarika Mukhopadhyay