Several comments and questions with respect to this text.
I think in this text Marx offers a very I insightful solution to the debates within Western Marxism in the 20th century – on the role of subjective and objective factors of the communist revolution. Lukács and his followers were seeking an answer to the question why revolution was not successful in Hungary, Germany, etc. in the early 20th century in what they denote as “the subjective factors” – in the specificity of labour movement and self-consciousness of the proletariat. Marx makes a very good point – in the best tradition of his dialectical thinking – that for the revolution to be successful, we need a unity of the subjective and objective factors. On the one hand, a high degree of development of productive forces, on the other hand, high development of self-consciousness. If either one is missing, the revolution will not be successful. As Marx put it, “if these material elements of a complete revolution are not present (namely, on the one hand the existing productive forces, on the other the formation of a revolutionary mass, which revolts not only against separate conditions of society up till then, but against the very "production of life" till then, the "total activity" on which it was based), then, as far as practical development is concerned, it is absolutely immaterial whether the idea of this revolution has been expressed a hundred times already, as the history of communism proves” (p. 16-17 online).
Hasan brought up an excellent point – on the extent to which communism is feasible only as a “world-historical” phenomenon. I agree with him that several times Marx makes explicit statements about impossibility of “local” communism. At the same time, I would suggest that we interpret these statements carefully. When Marx talks about communism as a world phenomenon, for me, it implies that for communism to be self-sustainable, i.e. a system capable of reproduction, it does indeed need to be universal. As Marx put it, “each extension of intercourse would abolish local communism” (p. 14 online). At the same time, this does not imply that genesis and initial stages of development of communism cannot be localized within a particular country or a group of countries. To put it in the “mystified and mystifying terms” of the Hegelian philosophy, we need to distinguish between communism in its Becoming and its Being. The former can be initiated not as a global phenomenon, whereas for the latter to be a system capable of reproduction, it needs to be a world phenomenon.
There is a quite an interesting point having relevance for the agenda of the left today. Analyzing the class struggle in the Middle Ages, Marx stresses that there exist revolts of completely marginalized strata of the society that are not strong and influential enough, on the one hand, and small action by members of the guild system not questioning the system as such and merely demanding improvements within it, on the other hand: “While, therefore, the rabble at least carried out revolts against the whole municipal order, revolts which remained completely ineffective because of their powerlessness, the journeymen never got further than small acts of insubordination within separate guilds, such as belong to the very nature of the guild-system” (p. 25-26 online). I think it reflects quite well the current situation too – radicalism of the marginalized groups of the society and demands of the wage-labour. The real challenge for me is how can this be overcome?
Marx argues that “in imagination, individuals seem freer under the dominance of the bourgeoisie than before, because their conditions of life seem accidental; in reality, of course, they are less free, because they are more subjected to the violence of things” (p. 35 online). I think the first part of the argument is a good point on the reasons behind an appearance of more freedom. As for the second part, I suppose the point on the reality of less freedom is not proved by Marx. Why is it not just a different mode of un-freedom compared to the previous epochs? How can these different modes of un-freedom (i.e., different qualities) be quantitatively compared?
Speaking of transition from feudalism to communism, Marx shows that “here they [serfs] only were doing what every class that is freeing itself from a fetter does; and they did not free themselves as a class but separately. Moreover, they did not rise above the system of estates, but only formed a new estate, retaining their previous mode of labour even in their new situation, and developing it further by freeing it from its earlier fetters” (p. 35 online). Can it be the case that it is the only possible way of freeing oneself, i.e. individually, not only with respect to the transition from feudalism to communism, but also the transition to communism? If it is not applicable to communism, why not? Can setting up enterprises not rising above the capitalist system but forming a new one within it be a mode of liberation nowadays? If yes, how, if not, why not?
Absence on intra-class mobility, a possibility of which is reduced merely to an accident, is one of the arguments by Marx important for his concept of revolution. What can we say about intra-class mobility today? Does this argument hold today, hence, can it be one of the arguments by the modern left? How can it be estimated, if at all?
Marx stresses a transformation of Man for and through revolution: “Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is, necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew” (p. 42 online). Man changes through the revolution, but in order to initiate the revolution the Man should already be changed. Isn’t it a contradictory statement? How can we reconcile the two claims?
Just a note on the meaning behind the concept of abolition of the family: “Where the family is actually abolished, as with the proletariat, just the opposite of what "Stirner" thinks takes place. Then the concept of the family does not exist at all, but here and there family affection based on extremely real relations is certainly to be found” (p. 57 online). I am brining this up because this point is often misinterpreted.