The Communist Manifesto And Karl Marx And

Frederick Engels Essay, Research Paper The Communist Manifesto and Karl Marx and Frederick Engels In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels present their

Frederick Engels Essay, Research Paper

The Communist Manifesto and Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

In The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels present their

view of human nature and the effect that the economic system and economic

factors have on it. Marx and Engels discuss human nature in the context of the

economic factors which they see as driving history. Freud, in Civilization and

Its Discontents, explores human nature through his psychological view of the

human mind.

Marx states that history “…is the history of class struggles” (9).

Marx views history as being determined by economics, which for him is the

source of class differences. History is described in The Communist Manifesto

as a series of conflicts between oppressing classes and oppressed classes.

According to this view of history, massive changes occur in a society when new

technological capabilities allow a portion of the oppressed class to destroy

the power of the oppressing class. Marx briefly traces the development of this

through different periods, mentioning some of the various oppressed and

oppressing classes, but points out that in earlier societies there were many

gradations of social classes. He also states that this class conflict

sometimes leads to “…the common ruin of the contending classes” (Marx 9).

Marx sees the modern age as being distinguished from earlier periods by

the simplification and intensification of the class conflict. He states that

“Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile

camps… bourgeoisie and proletariat” (Marx 9). The bourgeoisie, as the

dominant class of capitalists, subjugates the proletariat by using it as an

object for the expansion of capital. As capitalism progresses, this

subjugation reduces a larger portion of the population to the proletariat and

society becomes more polarized.

According to Marx, the polarization of society and the intense

oppression of the proletariat will eventually lead to a revolution by the

proletariat, in which the control of the bourgeoisie will be destroyed. The

proletariat will then gain control of the means of production. This revolution

will result in the creation of a socialist state, which the proletariat will

use to institute socialist reforms and eventually communism.

The reforms which Marx outlines as occurring in the socialist state have

the common goal of disimpowering the bourgeoisie and increasing economic

equality. He sees this socialist stage as necessary for but inevitably leading

to the establishment of communism. Human beings, which are competitive under

capitalism and other prior economic systems, will become cooperative under

socialism and communism. Marx, in his view of human nature, sees economic

factors as being the primary motivator for human thought and action. He asks

the rhetorical question, “What else does the history of ideas prove, than that

intellectual production changes its character in proportion as material

production is changed?” (Marx 29). For Marx, the economic status of human

beings determines their consciousness. Philosophy, religion and other cultural

aspects are a reflection of economics and the dominant class which controls the

economic system.

This view of human nature as being primarily determined by economics may

seem to be a base view of humanity. However, from Marx’s point of view, the

human condition reaches its full potential under communism. Under communism,

the cycle of class conflict and oppression will end, because all members of

society will have their basic material needs met, rather than most being

exploited for their labor by a dominant class. In this sense the Marxian view

of human nature can be seen as hopeful. Although human beings are motivated by

economics, they will ultimately be able to establish a society which is not

based on economic oppression.

Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents, presents a conception of

human nature that differs greatly from that of Marx. His view of human nature

is more complex than Marx’s. Freud is critical of the Marxist view of human

nature, stating that “…I am able to recognize that the psychological premises

on which the [communist] system is based are an untenable illusion. In

abolishing private property we deprive the human love of aggression of one of

its instruments…but we have in no way altered the differences in power and

influence which are misused by aggressiveness, nor have we altered anything in

its nature” (Freud 71). Freud does not believe that removal of economic

differences will remove the human instinct to dominate others.

For Freud, aggression is an innate component of human nature and will

exist regardless of how society is formulated. He sees human beings as having

both a life instinct (Eros) and an instinct for destruction. In Freud’s view

of human reality, the source of conflict, oppression, and destruction in human

society is man’s own psychological makeup.

Because of Freud’s view of human nature as inherently having a

destructive component, he does not believe that a “transformation” of humans to

communist men and women will be possible. Marx’s belief that the current

capitalist society will evolve into a communist society is not supportable

under Freud’s conception of human nature because the desires of human beings

are too much in conflict with the demands of any civilized society. This

conflict does not exist because of economic inequalities, according to Freud,

but rather because it is in human nature to have aggressive desires which are

destructive to society.

Freud’s approach to the possibility of reducing conflict among humanity

focuses on understanding the human mind, the aggressive qualities of human

nature, and how human beings’ desires can come into conflict with the demands

of human society. He does not believe that the problems of human conflict,

aggression, and destruction can be solved by a radical reordering of society as

the philosophy of Marx suggests. Instead, Freud looks inside ourselves to

explore these problems. At the close of his work, Freud states, “The fateful

question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent

their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their

communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction” (Freud

111). Freud does not offer any radical solutions to human aggressiveness, but

rather sees it as something that humans must continually strive to overcome.

He states “…I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow-men as a

prophet, and I bow to their reproach that I can offer them no consolation…”

(Freud 111). Freud can not offer some vision of a human utopia, but can only

suggest that there is some possibility for the improvement of the human

condition and society, but also warns that our success at overcoming

destructive instincts may be limited.

Marx offers a radical philosophy which also sees conflict as one of the

constants of prior human existence. Unlike Freud, Marx believes that the

aggressive and conflict-oriented aspects of human nature will disappear under

the communist society which he sees as the inevitable product of capitalism.

This is the hopeful element of Marx’s philosophy. However, if communism is not

seen as inevitable or the possibilities for reducing human conflict before a

socialist revolution are considered, then Marx’s view of human nature locks

humanity into constant conflict. If the future is to be like Marx’s version of

history, then there is little hopefulness in this view of human nature.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. Ed. James Strachey. New

York: W.W. Norton, 1961.

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto. New York:

International Publishers, 1994.