Reading Marx and Engels for the first time, I’m amazed how accurate some of their predictions and descriptions of world history are, how incisive and witty their criticisms can be, while at the same time perplexed by their economic theory of property, capital and wage-labor.
The bourgeoisie has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations…It has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest…It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value.
It has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production and with them the whole relations of society…Everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones…Man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible.
The bourgeoisie keeps doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation.
The bourgeois notions of freedom, culture, law, etc. are but the outgrowth of the conditions of production and property, just as its jurisprudence is but the will of the ruling class made into a law…It transforms into eternal laws of nature and of reason, the social forms springing from the present mode of production and form of property–historical relations that rise and disappear in the progress of production.
Property, as the fruit of a man’s own labour, is alleged to be the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity and independence. But does wage-labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage-labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation. Property, in its present form, is based on the antagonism of capital and wage-labour.
Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of labour for the maintenance and reproduction of human life; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriation, under which the labourer lives merely to increase capital.
German philosophers and beaux esprits eagerly seized on the French Socialist and Communist literature, only forgetting, that when these writings immigrated from France into Germany, French social conditions had not immigrated along with them. In contact with German social conditions, this French literature lost all its immediate practical significance, and assumed a purely literary aspect. Thus, the demands of the first French Revolution were nothing more than the demands of “Practical Reason” in general, and the utterance of the will of the revolutionary French bourgeoisie signified the law of pure Will, of true human Will generally.
It is well known how the monks wrote silly lives of Catholic Saints over the manuscripts on which the classical works of ancient heathendom had been written. The German literate reversed this process with the profane French literature. They wrote their philosophical nonsense beneath the French original.
The French Socialist and Communist literature was thus completely emasculated. And, since it ceased to express the struggle of one class with the other, the German felt conscious of having overcome “French one-sidedness” and of representing, not true requirements, but the requirements of truth; not the interests of the proletariat, but the interests of Human Nature, of Man in general, who belongs to no class, has no reality, who exists only in the misty realm of philosophical fantasy.