|Marx Contra Marx: A Traditionalist Conservative Critique of The Communist Manifesto|
|Written by K.R. Bolton|
There is much about The Communist Manifesto that is valid from a conservative/traditionalist viewpoint. Marx was a product of the “spirit” of his Age, orzeitgeist. This 19th century zeitgeist remains the same today. Hence, Marx provides an insight into materialism, or what might also be called economic determinism, which has continued as the dominant ethos of the 20th and present centuries. As Oswald Spengler pointed out, Marxism does not seek to transcend the spirit of Capital but to expropriate it. The fundamental worldview of a Marxist and of a corporate globalist CEO is the same. This article examines the Marxist analysis of what is today called “globalization,” but does so from a conservative perspective.
Marx’s method of historical analysis was that of dialectics: thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. His attitude towards capitalism as a necessary part of the historical dialectic needs to be understood on that basis. One does not have to be a Marxist to appreciate dialectics as a valid method of historical interpretation, and Marx indeed repudiated Hegel, the best known of the dialectical theorists, because of Hegel’s metaphysical approach. In contradistinction Marx’s method is called “dialectical materialism.”
Dialectally, the antithesis, or “negation” as Hegel would have called it, of Marxism is “Reactionism,” to use Marx’s own term, and if one applies a dialectical analysis to the core arguments of The Communist Manifesto a practical methodology for the sociology of history from a “Reactionist” perspective emerges.
Conservatism and Socialism
In English-speaking states at least, there is a muddled dichotomy in regard to the Left and the Right, particularly among media pundits and academics. What is often termed “New Right” or “Right” in the English-speaking world is more accurately identifiable as Whig-Liberalism. The English Conservative philosopher Anthony Ludovici succinctly defined the historical dichotomy, rather than the commonality, between Toryism and Whig-Liberalism, when discussing the health and vigor of the rural population in contrast to the urban:
…and it is not astonishing therefore that when the time of the Great Rebellion the first great national division occurred, on a great political issue, the Tory-Rural-Agricultural party should have found itself arrayed in the protection and defence of the Crown, against the Whig-Urban-Commercial Trading party. True, Tory and Whig, as the designation of the two leading parties in the state, were not yet known; but in the two sides that fought about the person of the King, the temperament and aims of these parties were already plainly discernible.
Charles I, as I have pointed out, was probably the first Tory, and the greatest Conservative. He believed in securing the personal freedom and happiness of the people. He protected the people not only against the rapacity of their employers in trade and manufacture, but also against oppression of the mighty and the great…1
It was the traditional order, with the Crown at the apex of the hierarchy, which resisted the money-values of bourgeoisie revolution, manifested first in England, then in France and over much of the rest of mid-19th Century Europe. The world remains under the influence of these revolutions, as it does additionally under the Reformation that provided the bourgeoisie with a religious sanction.2 These Revolutions were part of the historical dialectic that Marx saw as necessary in the march towards communism.
As Ludovici pointed out, in England at least, and therefore as a wider heritage of the English-speaking nations, the Right and Free Trade Liberals emerged as not merely ideological adversaries, but as soldiers in bloody conflict during the 17th Century. The same bloody conflict manifested in the USA in the war between the North and South, the Union representing in the English political sense, Puritanism and concomitant plutocratic interests; the South, a revival of the Cavalier Tradition, ruralism and aristocratic ethos. This at least was how the South perceived its conflict, and was acutely aware of this tradition. Hence, when in 1863 Confederate Secretary of State Judah P Benjamin was asked for ideas on a national Seal for the CSA, he suggested “a cavalier” based on the equestrian statue of Washington in Capitol Square at Richmond and stated:
It would do just honor to our people. The cavalier or knight is typical of chivalry, bravery, generosity, humanity, and other knightly virtues. Cavalier is synonymous with gentleman in nearly all of the modern languages… the word is eminently suggestive of the origin of Southern society as used in contradistinction to Puritan. The Southerners remain what their ancestors were, gentlemen.3
This is the historical background by which, much to Marx’s outrage, the remnants of the traditional ruling classes sought anti-capitalist solidarity with the increasingly proletarianised and urbanised peasants and artisans. To Marx, such “Reactionism” was an interference with the dialectical historical process or the “wheel of history.”
The conservative philosopher-historian Oswald Spengler was intrinsically anti-capitalist. He and other Conservatives saw in capitalism and the rise of the bourgeoisie the agency of destruction of the foundations of traditional order, as did Marx. Not much of this is understood by Conservatives today, especially in the Anglophone world, where Conservatism is generally regarded as a defense of capitalism, which is also equated with “private property,” despite the centralizing tendencies which Marx predicted – with satisfaction.
Marxism, growing from the same zeitgeist as English capitalism in the midst of the industrial revolution, proceeds from the same ethos. Marx chose the English school of economics, and eschewed the German, conservative-protectionist school. Spengler noted that:
Marx was thus an exclusively English thinker. His two-class system derives from the situation of a mercantile people that sacrificed its agriculture to big business, and that never had possessed a national corps of civil servants with a pronounced, i.e., Prussian, estate-consciousness. In England there were only “bourgeoisie and “proletarian,” active and passive agents in business affairs, robbers and robbed – the whole system very Viking-like. Transferred to the realm of Prussian political ideals, these concepts make no sense.4
Spengler in The Decline of The West states that in the late cycle of a Civilization there is a reaction against the rule of money, which overturns plutocracy and restores tradition. It is a final conflict in Late Civilisation of what he called “blood versus money”:
…[I]f we call these money-powers “Capitalism,” then we may designate as Socialism the will to call into life a mighty politico-economic order that transcends all class interests, a system of lofty thoughtfulness and duty-sense that keeps the whole in fine condition for the decisive battle of its history, and this battle is also the battle of money and law. The private powers of the economy want free paths for their acquisition of great resources…5
In a footnote to the above Spengler reminded readers regarding “Capitalism” that, “in this sense the interest-politics of the workers’ movements also belong to it, in that their object is not to overcome money-values, but to possess them.”6
The “Prussian” concept of “socialism” can be summed up in one of service to the common interest, above sectional interests: “organization, discipline, cooperation. All things that are independent of any single class.” Spengler states that Marx took these external features of what is essentially an ethical idea, and made them instruments of class struggle, as a doctrine for plunder.7
While Spengler was motivated by the “Prussian spirit” of discipline and duty, as distinct from English individualism, which he saw in the Marxist program, there were those in England who also sought an alternative to the money-ethos of both capitalism and Marxism, and doctrines such as Social Credit, Distributism and Guild Socialism, often in alliance and centered around the milieu of A R Orage and his journal The New Age, emerged and caught the attention of Ezra Pound, T S Eliot8, Hillaire Belloc9, G K Chesterton , and the New Zealand poet Rex Fairburn.10
Caste & Class
The “Revolutionary conservatism” of Spengler et al is predicated on recognizing the eternal character of core values and institutions that reflect the cycle – or morphology - of cultures in what Spengler called their “Spring” epoch.11 An example of the difference in ethos between traditional (“Spring”) and modern (“Winter”) cycles of a civilization is seen in such manifestations as caste as a spiritually-based reflection of social relations, as distinct from class as an economic entity; or profession as a social duty of divine provenance represented by the craft guild, as distinct from being an economic drudgery represented by the trades union (including employer associations) as instruments of class division. Traditional order represents spiritual and cultural ethos; the “modern” epoch, money, something reiterated by Spengler in our own time. The holy books of many cultures say much the same, and one might most readily point to The Revelation.12
The Myth of “Progress”
While Western Civilization prides itself on being the epitome of “progress” through its economic activity it is based on the illusion of a darwinian lineal evolution from “primitive” to “modern.” Perhaps few words more succinctly express the antithesis between the modernist and the traditional conservative perceptions of life than the following ebullient optimism of 19th Century Darwinist Dr A R Wallace in his The Wonderful Century (1898):
Not only is our century superior to any that have gone before it but… it may be best compared with the whole preceding historical period. It must therefore be held to constitute the beginning of a new era of human progress. … We men of the 19th Century have not been slow to praise it. The wise and the foolish, the learned and the unlearned, the poet and the pressman, the rich and the poor, alike swell the chorus of admiration for the marvellous inventions and discoveries of our own age, and especially for those innumerable applications of science which now form part of our daily life, and which remind us every hour of our immense superiority over our comparatively ignorant forefathers.13
Like Marx’s belief that communism is the last mode of human life, capitalism has the same belief. In both worldviews there is nothing other than further “progress” of a technical nature. Both doctrines represent the “end of history.” The traditionalist, however, views history not as a straight line from “primitive to modern” but as one of continual ebb and flow, of cosmic historical tides, or cycles. While Marx’s “wheel of history” moves forward trampling over all tradition and heritage until stopping forever at a grey, flat wall of concrete and steel, the traditionalist “wheel of history” revolves in a cycle on a stable axis, until such time as the axis rots – unless it is sufficiently oiled or replaced at the right time - and the spokes fall off;14 to be replaced by another “wheel of history.”
Within the Western context, the revolutions of 1642, 1789 and 1848, albeit in the name of “the people,”15 sought to empower the merchant on the ruins of the Throne and the Church. Spengler writes of the latter era that in England, “…the Free Trade doctrine of the Manchester School was applied by the trades unions to the form of goods called ‘labour,’ and eventually received theoretical formulation in theCommunist Manifesto of Marx and Engels. And so was completed the dethronement of politics by economics, of the State by the counting-house…”16
Spengler calls Marxian types of socialism “capitalistic” because they do not aim toreplace money-based values, “but to possess them”. He states of Marxism that it is “nothing but a trusty henchman of Big Capital, which knows perfectly well how to make use of it.”17 Further:
The concepts of Liberalism and Socialism are set in effective motion only by money. It was the Equites, the big-money party, which made Tiberius Gracchu’s popular movement possible at all; and as soon as that part of the reforms that were advantageous to themselves had been successfully legalized, they withdrew and the movement collapsed.
There is no proletarian, not even a communist, movement that has not operated in the interests of money, in the directions indicated by money, and for the time permitted by money — and that without the idealist amongst its leaders having the slightest suspicion of the fact.18
It is this identity of spirit between capitalism and Marxism that has often manifested in the subsidy of “revolutionary” movements by plutocracy. Some plutocrats are able to discern that Marxism and similar movements “of the people,” are indeed useful tools for the destruction of traditional societies and hindrances to global profit maximization.19 The Duc d’Orleans sought to use “the people” for the same purposes in France during the 18th Century.20
Capitalism in Marxist Dialectics
While what is often supposed to be “Conservatism” is upheld by its adherents as the custodian of “free trade,” which is in turn made synonymous with “freedom,” Marx understood the subversive character of Free Trade, which is anything but a conserving tendency. Spengler cites Marx on Free Trade as stating in 1847:
Generally speaking, the protectionist system today is conservative, whereas the Free Trade system has a destructive effect. It destroys the former nationalities and renders the contrast between proletariat and bourgeois more acute. In a word, the Free Trade system is precipitating the social revolution. And only in this revolutionary sense do I vote for Free Trade.21
For Marx capitalism was part of an inexorable dialectical process that, like the progressive-linear view of history, sees humanity ascending from primitive communism, through feudalism, capitalism, socialism and ultimately – as the end of history – to a millennial world of communism. Throughout this dialectical progressive unfolding the impelling force of history is class struggle for the primacy of sectional economic interests. In Marxian economic reductionism history is relegated to the struggle:
[a struggle between] freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed… in constant opposition to one another, carried on uninterrupted, now hidden, now open, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.22
Marx accurately describes the destruction of traditional society as intrinsic to capitalism, and goes on to describe what we today call “globalization.” Those who advocate Free Trade while calling themselves Conservatives might like to consider why Marx supported Free Trade and described it as both “destructive” and as “revolutionary.” Marx saw it as the necessary ingredient of the dialectic process that is imposing universal standardisation; which is also the aim of communism.
Marx in describing the dialectical role of capitalism, states that wherever the “bourgeoisie” “has got the upper hand [he] has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.” The bourgeoisie or what we might call the merchant class – which is accorded a subordinate position in traditional societies, but assumes dominance under “modernism” – “has pitilessly torn asunder” feudal bonds, and “has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest,” and “callous cash payment.” It has, among other things, “drowned” religiosity and chivalry “in the icy water of egotistical calculation.” “It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade.”23 Where the discerning Conservative stands in opposition to the Marxian analysis of capitalism is in Marx’s regarding the process as both inexorable and desirable.
Marx condemned opposition to this dialectical process as “reactionary.” Marx was here defending Communists against claims by “Reactionaries” that his system would result in the destruction of the traditional family, and relegate the professions to mere “wage-labor,” by stating that this was already being done by capitalism anyway and is therefore not a process that is to be resisted – which is “Reactionism” – but welcomed as a necessary phase towards Communism.
Marx saw the constant need for the revolutionizing of the of instruments of production as inevitable under capitalism, and this in turn brought society into a continual state of flux, of “everlasting uncertainty and agitation,” which distinguishes the “bourgeoisie epoch from all other ones.” The “need for a constantly expanding market” means that capitalism spreads globally, and thereby gives a “cosmopolitan character” to “modes of production and consumption in every country.” This in Marxist dialectics is a necessary part of destroying national boundaries and distinctive cultures as a prelude to world socialism. It is capitalism that establishes the basis for internationalism. Therefore, when the Marxist declaims against “globalization” he does so as rhetoric in the pursuit of a political agenda; not from ethical opposition to globalization per se.
To this capitalist internationalizing process Marx identifies the opponents not as revolutionaries but as “Reactionists.” The reactionaries are appalled that the old local and national industries are being destroyed, self-sufficiency is being undermined, and “we have… universal inter-dependence of nations.” Likewise in the cultural sphere, where “national and local literatures” are displaced by “a world literature.” The result is a global economic culture, and even a global human, detached from all bonds of geographic and cultural loci, as lauded by apologists for globalization such as G Pascal Zachary. A type of nomad is emerging who serves the interests of an international economy wherever s/he is required.26
With this revolutionizing and standardization of the means of production comes a loss of meaning of being part of a craft or a profession, or “calling.” Obsession with work becomes an end in itself, which fails to provide higher meaning because of its being reduced to that of a solely economic function. With respect to the ruin of the traditional order by the triumph of the “bourgeoisie”, Marx said the following:
Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and the most easily acquired knack, that is required of him…27
Whereas the Classical corporations and the Medieval guilds fulfilled a role that was metaphysical and cultural in terms of one’s profession, these have been replaced by the trades union and employers associations as nothing more than instruments of economic competition. The entirety of Western civilization, and uniquely, much of the rest of the world, because of the process of globalization, has become an expression of money-values. However, preoccupation of the Gross Domestic Product – generally the sole preoccupation of ballot box politicking - cannot be a substitute for more profound human values. Hence it is widely perceived that those among the wealthy are not necessarily those who are fulfilled, and the affluent often exist in a void, with an undefined yearning that might be filled with drugs, alcohol, divorce, and suicide. Material gain does not equate with what Jung called “individuation.” Indeed, the preoccupation of material accumulation, whether under capitalism or Marxism, enchains man to the lowest level of animalistic existence.
Of particular interest is that Marx writes of the manner by which the rural basis of the traditional order succumbs to urbanization and industrialization, which is what formed the “proletariat,” the rootless mass that is upheld by socialism as the ideal rather than as a corrupt aberration of the peasant, the yeoman and the craftsman. Traditional societies are literally rooted in the soil, with a sense of continuity through generations.28 Under capitalism village life and localized life are, as Marx said, made passé by the city and by mass production. Marx referred to the country being subjected to the “rule of the towns.”29 It was a phenomenon – the rise of the City concomitant with the rise of the merchant – that Spengler states is a symptom of the decay of a Civilization in its sterile phase, where money values rule.30
Marx writes that what has been created is “enormous cities;” what Spengler calls “Megalopolitanism.” Again, what distinguishes Marx in his analysis of capitalism from Conservative traditionalists, is that he welcomes this destructive feature of capitalism. When Marx writes of urbanization and the alienation of the former peasantry and artisans by their proletarianization in the cities, becoming cogs in the mass production process, he refers to this not as a process to be resisted, but as inexorable and as having “rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.”31
Marx points out in The Communist Manifesto that “Reactionists” view with “great chagrin”32 the dialectical processes of capitalism. The reactionary or Conservative in the traditional sense, is the anti-capitalist par excellence, because he is above and beyond the zeitgeist from which both capitalism and Marxism emerged, and he rejects in total the economic reductionism on which both are founded. Thus the word “reactionary,” usually used in a derogatory sense, can be accepted by the Conservative as an accurate term for what is required for a cultural, ethical and spiritual renascence.
Marx condemned resistance to the dialectical process as “Reactionist,” and identified conservatism as the real force that is in revolt against the mercantile spirit:
The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant. All these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If by chance they are revolutionary, they are so only in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat, they thus defend not their present, but their future interests, they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.33
This so-called “lower middle class” is therefore inexorably condemned to the purgatory of proletarian dispossession until such time as it recognizes its historical revolutionary class role, and “expropriates the expropriators.” This “lower middle class” can either emerge from purgatory by joining the ranks of the proletarian chosen people, become part of the socialist revolution and enter a new millennium, or it can descend from its class purgatory, if it insists on trying to maintain the traditional order, and be consigned to oblivion, which might be hastened by the firing squads of Bolshevism.
Marx devotes section three of his Communist Manifesto to a repudiation of “reactionary socialism.” He condemns “feudal socialism” that arose among the old remnants of the aristocracy, which sought to join forces with the “working class” against the bourgeoisie. Marx states that the aristocracy, in trying to reassert their pre-bourgeoisie position, had actually lost sight of their own class interests in having to side with the proletariat.34 This is nonsense. An alliance of the dispossessed professions into what had become the so-called proletariat, with the increasingly dispossessed aristocracy, is an organic alliance, which finds its enemies as much in Marxism as in mercantilism. Marx raged against the budding alliance between the aristocracy and those dispossessed professions that resisted being proletarianized. Hence, Marx condemns “feudal socialism” as “half echo of the past, half menace of the future.”35 It was a movement that enjoyed significant support among craftsmen, clergymen, nobles and literati in Germany in 1848, who repudiated the free market that had divorced the individual from Church, State and community, “and placed egoism and self-interest before subordination, commonality, and social solidarity”36 (that is to say, the elements of what Spengler would define as “Prussian socialism”). Regarding these "Reactionists," Max Beer, a historian of German socialism, stated the following:
The modern era seemed to them to be built on quicksands, to be chaos, anarchy, or an utterly unmoral and godless outburst of intellectual and economic forces, which must inevitably lead to acute social antagonism, to extremes of wealth and poverty, and to a universal upheaval. In this frame of mind, the Middle Ages, with its firm order in Church, economic and social life, its faith in God, its feudal tenures, its cloisters, its autonomous associations and its guilds appeared to these thinkers like a well-compacted building…37
It is just such an alliance of all classes – once vehemently condemned by Marx as “Reactionist” - that is required to resist the common subversive phenomena of Free Trade and revolution. Something of the type was seen again, as mentioned previously, in the post-World War I doctrines of Distributism, Social Credit and Guild Socialism, the first two at least, having been given impetus by Papal encyclicals,38 that saw the danger of Marxism as a product of the excesses of capitalism, and both as forms of materialism leading to a world devoid of faith. It is this faithless, secular world, where Mammon rules, and what Spengler saw as the epoch of decline, but perhaps also as one of prelude to revolt against “money”39 renewal and a “Second Religiousness.”40
K R Bolton is a Fellow of the Academy of Social & Political Research, Athens; “contributing writer” for Foreign Policy Journal and a regular contributor to The Great Indian Dream, Indian Institute of Planning & Management. He has been widely published on a variety of subjects in the scholarly and broader media, including:World Affairs; International Journal of Social Economics; International Journal of Russian Studies; Journal of Social, Political & Economic Studies; Geopolitica, Moscow State University; Irish Journal of Gothic & Horror Studies, Trinity College; India Quarterly, etc. Books include: Revolution from Above: Manufacturing “Dissent” in the New World Order (2011), Age of Chaos: International Relations in the New World Disorder (2012), Artists of the Right (2012).
1.A Ludovici, A Defence of Conservatism (1927), pp. 79-80.
2. M Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Asceticism and the Sprit of Capitalism (London: Unwin Hyman, 1930), passim.
3. R D Meade and W C Davis, Judah P Benjamin: Confederate Statesman (Louisiana State University Press, 2001), p. 270.
4. O Spengler, Prussians and Socialism (1919), IV: “Marx.”
5. O Spengler The Decline of The West, (London : George Allen & Unwin , 1971),Vol. 2, p. 506.
6. Ibid., footnote 2.
7. O Spengler, Prussian and Socialism, op. cit.
8. E Pound, Social Credit: An Impact, 1935 (London: Peter Russell, 1951).
9. M R Stevens, “T S Eliot’s Neo-Medieval Economics,” Center for Economic Personalism, Journal of Markets & Morality, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall 1999, p. 236.
10. D Trussell, Fairburn (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1984), p. 114.
11. O Spengler, op. cit., The tables of “Contemporary” cultural, spiritual and political epochs in The Decline can be found online at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/13596939/Spenglers-Civilization-Model
12. Chapter 18.
13. A Briggs (ed.), The Nineteenth Century: The Contradictions of Progress, (New York: Bonanza Books, 1985), p. 29.
14. "Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer:
Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…" W B Yeats, The Second Coming, 1921.
15. For the means by which “revolutions” in the name of the “the people” have long been formulated or manipulated by the interests they are supposedly opposing, see: K R Bolton, Revolution from Above (London: Arktos Media Ltd., 2011).
16. O Spengler, The Hour of Decision (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1934), pp. 42-43.
17. O Spengler, The Decline of The West, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 464.
18. Ibid. p. 402.
19. K R Bolton, op. cit., passim.
20. J Robison (1798) Proofs of a Conspiracy (Boston: Western Islands, 1967), p. 210.
21. O Spengler, The Hour of Decision, op. cit., p. 141; citing Marx, Appendix toElend der Philosophie, 1847.
22. K Marx, The Communist Manifesto (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), p. 41.
23. Ibid., p. 44.
24. Ibid., p. 47.
25. Ibid., pp. 46-47.
26. G Pascal Zachary, The Global Me: Why Nations will succeed or Fail in the Next Generation (New South Wales: Allen & Unwin, 2000).
27. K Marx, The Communist Manifesto, op. cit., p. 51.
28. A particularly vivid account of traditional rural life is given by Knut Hamsun inThe Growth of the Soil (1920).
29. K Marx, op. cit., p. 47.
30. O Spengler, The Decline of The West, op. cit., Vol. 2, Chapter 4, (a) “The Soul of the City,” pp. 87-110.
31. K Marx, The Communist Manifesto, op. cit., p. 47.
32. Ibid, p. 46.
33. Ibid., 57.
34. Ibid., III “Socialist and Communist Literature, 1. Reactionary Socialism, a. Feudal Socialism,” p. 77.
35. Ibid., p. 78.
36. M Beer, A General History of Socialism and Social Struggle, (New York: Russell and Russell, 1957) Vol. 2, p. 109.
37. Ibid., pp. 88-89.
38. Pope Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum : Rights and Duties of Capital and Labour, 1891; Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno, 1930.
39. O Spengler, The Decline of the West, op. cit., Vol. 2, pp. 506-507.
40. Ibid., pp. 310-314.