Saturday, 14 December 2019

“A historical movement going on under our very eyes” Before and behind the Manifesto of the Communist Party

“the world has long since dreamed of something”

K. Marx to A. Ruge, September 1843

Last year, we showed more than once how the two-hundredth anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth had stirred up an authentic overproduction of gigantic idiocies[1].  But apart from the anniversary, there is an increasingly widespread interpretation that sees Marx’s work (and Engels’ and in any case the Manifesto of the Communist Party and more in general historical-dialectical materialism) as the individual fruit, more or less acceptable according to the different points of view, of philosophical minds, intellectuals and “thinkers”. To sum up, a “personal vision”, an “interpretation” that at most is to be placed alongside other “interpretations” or – as people say nowadays, banally – “narrations”.  The umpteenth demonstration that individualism is an ugly beast, particularly if it is joined to a purely idealistic and unhistorical – substantially counter-revolutionary – approach

 

 

The Manifesto itself puts us on guard. Opening it at Chapter II, entitled “Proletarians and Communists”, we read: “The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented or discovered by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes”.

 

“An existing class struggle”, therefore. Chapter I already refers to it clearly: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle” [2]. And it continues thus: “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes”.

We certainly do not intend to go back over this “history of class struggles”. Let us limit ourselves to the so-called “modern era”, the age of capitalism with its class divisions and thus with its warring classes: because it is this – this long history of struggle – that comes “before and behind” the Manifesto, inspiring it and making it materialistically and historically necessary, thanks to the pens of Marx and Engels.

***

At the dawn of the bourgeois revolution, the class conflict is already explicit. During the “English civil war” (1642-1651), from within the “New Model Army” organized and guided by Oliver Cromwell and an expression of the rising bourgeoisie, still uncertain and, within certain limits, “inconclusive”, albeit determined to break with the ties and abuses of the feudal régime, a group of “Levellers” singles itself out, a radical movement which, in an “Agreement of the People”, brandishes the slogan of “people’s sovereignty” and “equality before the law”.  The “Debates” which were held in August 1647 in a church in Putney, then a village just outside London, brought to light this contrast, this initial blossoming within the wider social conflict of a class clash which opposed the first wailing of the newborn bourgeoisie to the “rabble”.  From the “Levellers” movement (which Cromwell finally silenced), an even more radical one was to rise, known as the “True Levellers” or “Diggers” which, in the words of their most famous champion, Gerrard Winstanley, expressed the positions of the common people in cities and above all of the poor and exploited peasants in the countryside – those same peasants who, a little less than three centuries earlier, guided by Wat Tyler and John Ball to the cry of “When Adam delved and Eve span/ Who was then the gentleman?”, had besieged London in vain.  The “Diggers” theorized and tried to put into practice a sort of “communism of the land” based on a balance with the forces of nature, organizing “agricultural communes” which, of course, could not fail to be short-lived.  Both the “Levellers” and the “Diggers” revealed an aspiration to social egalitarianism – an aspiration still vague and contradictory in terms of its expressions and its programmes, due to the embryonic state of development of the production and social forces and thus looking more backwards towards a mythical “golden age” which they ended up identifying with a far-off (and totally hypothetical) “English past” [3].  And in any case, “history of class struggle” it was and is.

Without wishing to go back in detail over the emergence and consolidation of these expressions in a “fourth estate”, which a little at a time found its own voice and action, we can remain in England but take a leap to the following century.  It is between April and May 1797 and we find ourselves in the Thames Estuary at a place called Nore, where the powerful English Navy is moored: here, as in the other large naval contingent off the south coast at Spithead, near the Isle of Wight, discontent amongst the sailors has been growing for months due to the awful living and working conditions, the arrogance of the officers, the fines and the recourse to the “cat o’ nine tails” [4]. This is how what came to be known as the “Spithead breeze” started to blow, fuelled by the news arriving from revolutionary France, through the work of the Corresponding Societies and the reading of radical pamphlets by the Anglo-American Thomas Paine (The Rights of Man).  From Spithead to Nore, the sailors rebel, linking their protests to those gradually progressing on dry land, the expressions of a proletariat still in embryo, but nourished day by day by the enclosures (the forced fencing of common land, which uprooted people from the countryside, gradually transforming them into proletariat) and by the irresistible penetration of capitalism into the countryside and the city.  “Sailors’ councils” (how terrible!) are formed by delegates from all the ships, stable contacts are sought with the shoreline population, avant-gardes are dispatched to London, a cahier de doléances is drawn up with precise demands: pay rises, limits to the pace of work, the elimination of a series of repressive measures, better food, longer periods of leave on land… Soon the movement reaches beyond “purely” economic claims: in the end the Port of London is blocked, the rebel fleet takes up battle positions, a first red flag is flown, the “Floating Republic” is declared; in the capital the Stock Exchange crashes, the terror of a new “civil war” starts to rise, the spread of the French sans culottes virus… At this point the movement begins to lose momentum and come apart: established power manages to take the situation in hand again.  The mutineers are surrounded and arrested: the “leaders” are hung, the others severely punished. Nonetheless, the episode of the brief but intense “Floating Republic”, too, enters the annals of “working class history”, of that collective experience which, year after year, decade by decade, is destined to build up – and, in time, to evolve from quantity to quality.

***

Here we are in 1797, then.  In that same year (and it is no coincidence), in France the “Conspiracy of the Equals” erupts: another evident sign of a class struggle taking place.  Whilst the 1789 Revolution, the “bourgeois revolution” par excellence, runs its course (progressively pushing aside/repressing the sans culottes representing the poorer sectors of the French population), increasingly radical political tensions and positions emerge propelled by economic and social factors.  From the pages of the newspaper “The People’s Tribune” and through his “Society of the Equals”, Gracchus Babeuf becomes spokesman for these material drives that attempt to move beyond the bourgeois horizon, expressing the desire for justice and equality of artisans, destitute peasants, the exploited “poor” and a proletariat still “suffocated” amidst an indistinct “people” but already fighting vigorously to make its voice heard.  The “Conspiracy of the Equals”, which was to be wiped out in the same year, 1797, with the death sentence for Babeuf and other organizers and the expulsion of Filippo Buonarotti from France, is just one more expression of a real movement: its demand for the abolition of private property is already the materialization of the “dream of something” (to return to Marx’s expression), fuelled by the living and working conditions of an oppressed class and by the development itself of bourgeois society, with all its increasingly clear contradictions.

***

It is now the dawn of the 1800s.  The fact that this incessant “historical movement taking place under our very eyes” was accompanying, day by day, the affirmation of the new mode of capitalist production and was endeavouring to respond to the social fractures and economic crises it inevitably involved (and involves) is made evident by the first proletarian uprisings of the new century: more historical experiences full of fundamentally important lessons for the birth of scientific communism. And this, momentarily, takes us back to Great Britain: momentarily, because in the decades that culminated in the publication of the Manifesto, episodes of social insubordination interweave, on both sides of the Channel, as well as in the rest of the Continent.

In Great Britain, then, where, in the wake of the Levellers’ agitation there are repeated episodes of struggles by the “rabble” in the towns and in the countryside.  But it is to be mostly in the second half of the 18th century that, particularly in the domestic silk industry in London and its surroundings, hit by a serious crisis and with the widespread arrival of machinery, the silk-weavers, mostly Huguenot immigrants, are to be the leading figures in the harsh and widespread struggles of a movement that already preannounces Luddism (the systematic destruction of machinery).  Testimony to this are the many, continuous strikes and the disorder that follow over the decades up to the foundation and activities of the clandestine group known as “Bold Defiance” in the (by then) proletarian neighbourhood of London’s East End, attempting to offer the widespread discontent a resistance organization capable of advancing economic and political claims – an organization that was to be wiped out by established power in 1769 using brutal violence and hanging the main agitators.

In those same years Ned Ludd is supposed to have taken action (the reserve is obligatory) – a simple workman who, in a fit of rebellion against his living and working conditions, breaks up a mechanical loom, thus inspiring the broader movement, active mainly in the first few decades of the 19th century, which took his name: Luddism.  By now the Industrial Revolution (the process of accelerated development of capitalism which starts to take root in and from Great Britain) is in full swing with its well-known, tremendous social implications.  And in its cradle (the smoky metropolises of central England, in Manchester, Salford, Bradford, Birmingham and other cities and towns), “Captain Ludd” appears at work – precisely as, a little later on in the countryside, a similar “Captain Swing” (or the Welsh “Rebecca’s Daughters”, whose members, between 1839 and 1843, took action at night dressed as women) acted against the first mechanical threshers – all further personifications of a desperate resistance to the destruction of century-old communities and the now unstoppable proletarianization. We should not forget that in those decades between the two centuries in Great Britain, a series of laws were in force against unionism, and, under the pretext of targeting the residues of feudalism and its corporations, aimed to repress the first workers’ uprisings and attempts to gain a stable, national organization.  The workers’ uprisings thus increasingly take on a political nature: as Luddism inevitably runs its course, conflicts and strikes are more frequent, becoming acute and impacting on entire proletarian communities and often seeing splendidly combative women in their front lines, as well as very young workers, and not infrequently interweaving with the Irish revolutionary movement.  Gradually, the claims take on broader and more precise political connotations and the development of this “historical movement” tends to confront political power, its laws and its “forces of law and order”.

In 1817 a group of weavers moves towards London equipped with blankets to protect themselves from the cold nights and carrying a long list of demands which are not even taken into consideration by the government:  they are to go down in the history of this infant movement of English workers as the Blanketeers.  Two years later, in August, comes the “Peterloo massacre”, where an enormous and pacific workers’ demonstration in Manchester is mercilessly repressed by established power: at least 15 deaths and between 400 and 700 wounded.  Whilst Robert Owens’ Utopian socialism gathers followers, with the brief community experiment of New Lanark and network of cooperatives and meeting places where political debate can take place, the class struggles assume connotations more openly opposed to power.  Between the end of May and beginning of June 1831, a real insurrection breaks out in Wales: in protest against the low wages and growing unemployment, the miners of the county of Glamorgan take to the streets to the cry of “Bread and cheese!” and “Down with the King!” and occupy cities, towns and villages, achieving perfect organization with road blocks and an efficient network of communications over the territory; soon other sectors of workers join the movement, the rebellion extends to the whole county and, for the second time since the mutiny of Nore, the red flag appears at the head of the workers’ banners, as a symbol of the will to rebel and fight; in Merthyr Tydfil, the heart of the region and centre of the real insurrection, for over a week the rebellious workers besiege magistrates, politicians and local businessmen at a meeting in a hotel to decide on a line of action.  At this point the government sends in the army and special assault squadrons which, after a series of initial defeats in the field, open fire on the demonstrators, killing over twenty and wounding a hundred; this is followed by arrests, trials, death penalties, long prison sentences and deportation to Australia.  Then, in 1834, with the Unlawful Oaths Act (the law passed in 1797, at the time of the sailors’ rebellions of Spithead and Nore, and affecting secret societies based on an oath of loyalty) still in force, six of the most charismatic members of the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, which had long been active around the town of Tolpuddle in Dorset, are arrested, placed on trial and sentenced to deportation to Australia; the “Tolpuddle Martyrs” are remembered in many rebel songs[5].

Thus, the evolution towards Chartism proceeds. In 1837, the London Working Men’s Association prepares a People’s Charter, claiming essential “rights” for workers, to be obtained by open battle, organization and recourse to the necessary violence: the fracture between Utopian socialism in the style of Owen and the Chartist movement becomes more evident. In May 1838, the Chart is published and presented in Glasgow: there is now open talk of “complete suffrage”, a general strike, international links, armed rebellion in the industrial North… After a Convention witnessing a radicalization of positions, well summed up by the important Manifesto of May 1839, an initial uprising breaks out in Birmingham in July of the same year; in November, two thousand Welsh miners march on Newport: the army retaliates by opening fire and killing 14 rebels; at the beginning of the following year, the trials of some Chartist agitators end with death sentences and many years of imprisonment.  Other wide-reaching strikes follow, repeated uprisings to demand bread (the Corn Laws, passed between 1815 and 1846, imposed customs duties on cereals produced abroad, thus raising the price of food at home) and, in August 1842, came the “general strike”, also known as Plug Plot Riots: workers in several factories in Lancashire, the heart of the textile industry, came out in protest, pulled out the plugs of the machinery’s steam tanks thus blocking production, upturned factories and clashed with the “forces of law and order”, receiving support from the miners and numerous other sectors of workers, whilst the strike extended to Yorkshire and other counties: it was to last almost two weeks.  Between 1843 and 1844, other important and semi-clandestine Chartist conventions were held:  the movement could then count on thousands of determined followers, a lively press consisting of leaflets and newspapers (the most famous: The Northern Star, which Marx and Engels were to write for), and valid organizers; its rank and file grew (not only in terms of quantity), swollen with the numerous Irish immigrants fleeing from poverty and the potato famine, as well as from English oppression.  And then, despite the many demonstrations of strength and repeated petitions and mobilizations all over the country, Chartism, too, declined – the practical demonstration of its limits and of the need to come to a higher definition of the political programme, theory and organization (yet still, in 1848, uprisings broke out that were serious enough to convince the authorities to transfer Queen Victoria in a hurry to the Isle of Wight and to mobilize the army, ranging cannons in the streets of Manchester, calling out the cavalry and proclaiming martial law…).

More experiences, then, and more precious lessons which were to sediment and become metabolized: the interweaving of economic claims and political claims, the use of organized force to counter the force of established power, the struggles as necessary training for the conquest of political objectives, the progressive manifestation of a class identity to set against the confused agitation of the “people”, the need for a political party, to seize power, to set up the dictatorship of the proletariat as a bridge towards the classless society [6]… In the meantime, let us not forget that in 1842, a few weeks after the strikes, Friedrich Engels came to Manchester and immediately became an active witness to what was going on: his Condition of the Working Class in England, published in 1844-45, is based on material collected first hand in the proletarian neighbourhoods, as well as on broad documentation taken from a vast press – the work of doctors, reformers, politicians and bourgeois economists, worried about the now evident consequences of the Industrial Revolution and the factory régime.  Bonds of friendship and collaboration link Marx and Engels to some of the most clear-thinking Chartist militants, such as Julian Harney and Ernest Jones, who were soon to become passionate supporters of scientific socialism [7].

***

But now back to France, where the conditions of the proletariat were no less tragic than in Great Britain.  In one of the many reports describing them, a doctor from Nantes states, as early as 1825, that “for him [the worker], living means not dying”.  And whilst it is true that, as a historian of the workers’ movement writes, “between 1830 and 1836, the two countries have reached an unequal degree of development and the evolution of capitalism is far more developed [in Great Britain] than in France” [8], it is also true that in the latter country a working class still consisting mostly of home artisans and workers, but already with a significant quota of proletarians especially in the textile industry, is not slow in making itself felt: mobilization, attempts to create organisms of mutual aid, strikes, the destruction of machinery [9]...  Thus, at the end of July 1830, i.e. just forty years after the French Revolution and its lessons, for three days we see barricades reappear on the streets of Paris. The uprising starts with the printers (the metal type is used as bullets!) but soon it spreads throughout the capital and to the province, becoming an authentic insurrection and involving more or less all sectors.  Not only this: there are many episodes in which booksellers open up their warehouses, turning them into arsenals, and the owners of transport firms offer their vehicles to build barricades… In the “Three Glorious Days” contrasting impulses interweave: the proletariat once again drowns in the “people” whilst it is the interests of the bourgeois industrialists and traders to deal a blow to established power, as yet slow in becoming their tool. The historian previously mentioned comments: “Thanks to the working class, the bourgeois industrialists and traders have been able to seize power.  The workers expect their due reward.  They believe there is hope of this [...].  In reality nothing has changed for [them].  The bourgeois industrialists and traders will govern freely in the name of Louis Philippe.  Ministers Thiers and Guizot will be more hostile towards the people than the men of the restoration […]. The working classes lack […] organization, without which no battle can be attempted” [10].

Disappointed (yet another lesson!), the working classes do not back down. A month after the “Three Glorious Days”, the weavers of Rouen take to the streets demanding a reduction in hours and the abolition of the system of fines. The uprising quickly spreads to other places, the workers are charged and repressed violently by the “forces of law and order” but the weavers are again followed by the printers and then the navvies, metalworkers and mechanics, dyers, builders, blacksmiths, milliners and tailors…  A circular from the Préfecture declared: “In several classes of workers a most disturbing unrest exists.  It is becoming urgent to put an end to this state of effervescence.”  The voice of the bourgeoisie is always the same!

A little less than one year goes by, punctuated by strikes, demonstrations and more destruction of machinery, and then, at the end of November 1831, the working class of Lyon, headed by the weavers and silk-workers, once more becomes the key figure, to the cry of “Live free and work, or die in the battle!”.  The workers, armed and well organized, rebel: they occupy the city, oblige the army to withdraw, appeal to the soldiers to join the rebellion… In only a few days, the authorities regain control of the situation: without a real guide and a real political vision, the courageous proletarians of Lyon can do no more than suffer the repression and on 3 December, a contingent of 20 thousand soldiers with 150 cannons enters the city.

But the Lyon uprising offers the European proletariat further lessons: in fact, this “state of effervescence” has in no way been placated.  While Minister Périer recommends “patience and resignation” to the French proletariat, between 1832 and 1833, albeit amidst inevitable contradictions in its formative phase, a vast network of workers’ associations develops (weavers, gilders, tailors…) claiming higher wages and shorter working hours (up to 18 hours a day!), which, in France as in Great Britain, has to deal with harsh anti-union legislation (“freedom to work” must always be protected!).  Influenced by Utopian socialism along the lines of Saint-Simon and Fourier, workers’ production associations arise, some of which even claim state intervention through the State banks: the proletariat still fails to get rid of the unhealthy weight of the other classes in question, which limit or channel its fighting spirit in the direction of reformist solutions destined to fail.

The fighting spirit was constant and generous but we cannot go into all the details of it here.  Suffice it to remember the magnificent fighting spirit demonstrated once again between the end of 1833 and beginning of 1834 by the silk-workers of Lyon, once again out on strike – this time a massive and organized turnout, blocking all activity and mobilizing entire communities and working-class neighbourhoods – soon followed, after the creation of a unified Committee of the various workers’ associations against the anti-worker and anti-union legislation, by the proletariat of Paris.  In the “six-day battle”, first in Lyon and in Paris immediately afterwards, the cities are placed under siege, there are repeated episodes of solidarity between workers and soldiers, the neighbourhoods in rebel hands distinguish themselves in terms of order and composure (the same was to be true during the Commune of 1871) and the split between the proletariat and the other classes in question clearly emerges.  In the end the repression was to be bloody and pitiless, with Thiers again at work as the butcher and Minister of Home Affairs: Lyon is razed and a witness would write that: “it has been destroyed, and not by the rebels”; in Paris, General Bugeaud instructs the National Guard to “massacre 3000 rebels.”  In September 1834, in the lithographic work called “Rue Transnonain” (from the name of the street in Paris where the “forces of law and order” carried out one of their tremendous massacres), the great artist Honoré Daumier was to immortalize for posterity the cruelty of which the ruling class is capable in order to remain in power.

The victims of the “Six Days” of April 1834, just like those who fell in the workers’ battles in England: more of our anonymous martyrs.

Faced with the bankruptcy of the various parties and of the political prospects for Utopian socialism, the need increasingly advances to gain class independence through the creation of a party that truly represents proletarian interests, above and beyond sectorial battles and economic claims, however necessary these are.  An attempt to respond to this need is made by Louis Auguste Blanqui, who has been active for some time in various clandestine Republican associations and is a member of the group “Friends of the People”, which pursues to some extent the work of Babeuf (it is no coincidence that Filippo Buonarroti is also one of its militants – a real trait d’union); Blanqui was already a leading figure in the July revolution of 1830 (the “Three Glorious Days”) and is destined to play a further key role some decades later during the Paris Commune. But his vision of the revolution as a coup by a small group of daring clandestine conspirators, however courageous, could not meet the need for a theory and general practice of revolution, the seizing of power and introduction, through the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the socialist mode of production.  Thus, his attempt at insurrection, in May 1839, supported by the same League of the Just – a forerunner of the League of Communists directed by Marx and Engels – ended in a tragic failure.

***

In this necessarily rapid and summary overview we cannot forget Germany.  “The German people, too, have their revolutionary tradition,” Engels was to write in 1850 [11], referring to the “peasants’ war”, which broke out in 1525, guided by Thomas Münzer, during which “German peasants and plebeians conceived of ideas and plans that their descendants very often withdraw from in alarm”, giving proof “of a constancy and energy that, in a centralized nation, would have yielded great results” – a war that “is not so remote from the fights we are carrying on at present,” because “the adversaries we must fight against are still mostly the same.”  Indeed, the classes and fractions of classes “that proved traitors everywhere, in 1848 and 1849, are already to be found as traitors in 1525, even though at an inferior stage of development” [12].

This was without doubt the great problem of the “historical movement taking place under our very eyes” as regards Germany: the fact that the country was still a constellation of small states and the lack of centralization weakened the development of a proletarian and class movement, as was to be proven by the dynamics of 1848-49 in Germany; at the same time, the balance of power of the classes and the lessons from the counter-revolution that the proletariat and political avant-gardes were to learn would converge into Marx’s and Engels’ analysis, both in terms of the immediate measures that proletarian power would have to adopt (indicated in the Manifesto, Chapter II: Proletarians and Communists), and in the battle cry “Permanent revolution!” (from the “Address of the Central Committe to the Communist League” of 1850): this means the need, in a dual revolution (in which the agenda also includes anti-feudal tasks or – later – anti-colonial ones), for the proletariat, in complete organizational, political and military independence, to support a bourgeois revolution, but with the objective of immediately moving beyond this, removing it from the power seized against the old classes and establishing its own power… But let us not move too far forward: the internal dynamics in the year of the revolution, 1848, might perhaps be the subject of another, useful study.  Let us return instead to pre-1848 and to the lessons it teaches the proletariat and that Marx and Engels, driven by objective factors, were able to distill into the Manifesto.

In the years and months preceding 1848, albeit “only locally” (Engels emphasizes), people’s uprisings developed in the Odenwald, in the Black Forest, Slesia.  In the latter region, the heart of a textile industry in the midst of a deep crisis, due also to competition from England, the weavers were again at work: in June 1844 they were to be the key figures in an authentic uprising that would affect numerous towns and be bloodily repressed and remembered in the famous poem by Heinrich Heine (The Song of the Weavers”) and, some fifty years later, in a tragedy by the German playwright Gerhardt Hauptmann, entitled “The Weavers”, as well as in a splendid series of drawings by the German artist Käthe Kollwitz.  Engels himself, as German correspondent for the Chartist “Northern Star”, was to narrate the rebellion, emphasizing its simultaneous occurrence with similar uprisings in industrial England and its key role in the process of the political growth of the German proletariat.  In those same years the diaspora of German workers and militants, struck or pursued by state repression, would lead them to encounter their fellow fighters in France, Belgium, Switzerland and England.  Once again Engels, in his “On the History of the Communist League”, would write that “The present-day [1885] international workers’ movement is in substance a direct continuation of the German workers’ movement of that time [1836-1852], which was the first international workers’ movement of all time” [13]. The weavers’ rebellion in Slesia thus represents a key moment in the formation of that movement.

It is all too evident that at a political level all this (decade upon decade of economic and social crises, fights, rebellions and insurrection, fleeting victories and ferocious repression, the obstinate will to fight and the harsh lessons of counter-revolution) was to produce keen debate and polemics, clashes and divisions.  There would be the “young Hegelians” and then the German petit-bourgeois socialism and “True socialism” with its “philosophical absurdities”, the critical-Utopian socialism of the various Owens, Saint-Simons, Fouriers, Cabets, the conservative socialism of the Proudhons and Weitlings, Bakunin’s anarchy in a nutshell… All limited and distorted expressions of the class struggles taking place in those decades upon decades, of the way in which the various classes operate in the course of history at the time, and against them the young Marx and Engels were to battle incessantly; alongside them, in constant and fruitful interaction, were other anonymous and forgotten but generous militants (like Wilhelm Wolff, to whose memory Book One of Capital would be dedicated), who would then also contribute to founding the International Workers’ Association, or First International, in 1864.  And there was to be the unceasing work of the “old mole” embodied in the birth and death of organisms and organizations, clubs and associations, journals and newspapers, in search of a real and convincing theory and historical perspective.  And there was to be – this is what interests us – the formation in 1836 of the “League of the Just”, from which, a few years later, after an acute political clash that broke out between Utopian and reactionary socialists and scientific socialists, the Communist League was to emerge.  Let us once more give voice to Engels: “Communism among the French and Germans, Chartism among the English, now no longer appeared as something accidental which could just as well not have occurred. These movements now presented themselves as a movement of the modern oppressed class, the proletariat, as the more or less developed forms of its historically necessary struggle against the ruling class, the bourgeoisie; as forms of the class struggle, but distinguished from all earlier class struggles by this one thing, that the present-day oppressed class, the proletariat, cannot achieve its emancipation without at the same time emancipating society as a whole from division into classes and, therefore, from class struggles. And Communism now no longer meant the concoction, by means of the imagination, of an ideal society as perfect as possible, but insight into the nature, the conditions and the consequent general aims of the struggle waged by the proletariat” [14].

***

As is well known, it was to be this very Communist League that in 1847 would give Marx and Engels the responsibility for drawing up a “manifesto” that would outline the theory and programme of the fight.

Decades and decades of conflicts then: not of ideas or personal opinions but of material social forces clashing and, in the clash, releasing sparks of consciousness waiting to be gathered, systematically arranged, organized and lastly affirmed and made known, to guide and direct the struggles.  It is from all this that the Manifesto of the Communist Party emerges: not an individual work, not philosophical lucubrations and concoctions, but the precious distillation of class struggles – of that “historical movement that is taking place before our very eyes.”

 

[1] See, in our Italian newspaper Il programma comunista, “Piccole grandi miserie dell’ideologia dominante: Chicche da un centenario” (n.3/2018) and “Il bicentenario di Marx. L’invarianza storica del marxismo: noi manteniamo la rotta!” (n.5-6/2018; this last article is also available in our German newspaper Kommunistisches Programm, n.2/2018).

[2] Idem, p.8. In an 1888 footnote, Engels specified: “history as it has been handed down in written form”, referring to the now abundant ethnographic material brought to light by scholars like Haxthausen, Bachofen and Morgan, proving the existence in various parts of the world of an original classless society, or primitive conmunism: all topics dealt with by Engels himself, in 1884, in Origin of Family, Private Property, and the State.

[3]    It is worth remembering  that a “memory” of the common use of land can also be traced in various towns and cities in England in the term “Common”, indicating what remains of the original “common lands”; and that the very first Puritan colonies in the New World had a social structure fundamentally based on the common use and exploitation of the land. Not only: the experiences of the “Levellers” and the “Diggers” did not fail to also be reflected in the internal processes of the “American Revolution” of 1776, with a body of “democratic rebels” arising from within it.

[4]    It is no coincidence that amongst the fleet’s commanders was the infamous Captain Bligh, who, a decade before, had violently repressed mutiny on the ship he was commanding – the “Bounty”.

[5] E. P. Thompson’s, The Making of the English Working Class, 1963, 1968, is a must for anyone who wishes to go into greater detail concerning this phase of the English proletariat’s history.

[6] Not by chance, Marx would write, in a letter dated 5 March 1852, to his comrade in battle, Joseph Weydemeyer: “... And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production (historische Entwicklungsphasen der Production), (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society”.Where it is worth-while underlining the verb “to prove”…

[7] In his 1885 “On the History of the Communist League”, Engels was to recall: “While I was in Manchester, it was tangibly brought home to me that the economic facts, which have so far played no role or only a contemptible one in the writing of history, are, at least in the modern world, a decisive historical force; that they form the basis of the origination of the present-day class antagonisms; that these class antagonisms, in the countries where they have become fully developed, thanks to large-scale industry, hence especially in England, are in their turn the basis of the formation of political parties and of party struggles, and thus of all political history. Marx had not only arrived at the same view, but had already, in the Deutsche-Französische Jahrbücher (1844), generalized it to the effect that, speaking generally, it is not the state which conditions and regulates the civil society at all, but civil society which conditions and regulates the state, and, consequently, that policy and its history are to be explained from the economic relations and their development, and not vice versa… ” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/communist-league/1885hist.htm). 

[8] Édouard Dolléans, Storia del movimento operaio. I: 1830-1871, Sansoni, Firenze 1977, p.21.

[9] It must be remembered that the term “sabotage” comes from sabot, French for “clog”: the common wooden clogs were used to block and break up the gears in the first industrial machines.

[10] Idem, pp.32-33. We should remember that the Thiers quoted is the same Thiers who, as Prime Minister, was to order the pitiless massacre of the Paris communards in 1871: his was a long career in the pay of bourgeois power.

[11] F. Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, Chapter I. Notice the date! Only two year after the Manifesto and the most widespread “historical movement” with the name “1848”.

[12] F. Engels, Ibid.

[13] F. Engels, “On the History…”, cit.

[14] Ibid.

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