July 2023

A Spectre, Haunting:
On the Communist Manifesto

Michael Bettencourt | Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt

This is a succinctly brilliant gloss by writer China Mi茅ville on the document that still haunts both the hopes and fears of people (depending on where they sit on the political spectrum). For instance, in the last election that landed Joe Biden in the White House, Trump (and others) felt he could still get mileage out of calling people communists and socialists, and how ready American pundits, newscasters and other information-spreaders are to cut off any discussion of changing the status quo by lobbing in the c-word and s-word. The only time the s-word is used approvingly is in the capitalist equation of "privatize the profits, socialize the risk."

Mi茅ville begins with a brief introduction that poses the question the rest of his book will try to answer: "What is The Communist Manifesto in this moment?" (4) He also uses a phrase that has now entered my lexicon: "But nowhere do I pretend to be dispassionate or neutral. I hope I've been neither uncritical nor dogmatic, that I've avoided surrendering to the habits of cosplay leftism. " [Emphasis added] (6)

And he notes that, for him and many others, "the Manifesto is no mere historical curio, but a restless, urgent, vital document." (7)

The next chapters (1 through 5) explicate the Manifesto: on its form, in its time, its outline, evaluations and criticisms, all of which are interesting but have the feel of a dissertation (though a very energetic one that does not follow academic niceties). The parts on gender and race (that is, gendering, racializing) are really good.

Chapter 6 is where Mi茅ville voices his own views most strongly, especially in the subsection "On Hate" (156). He brings up something I've often thought about: what are the emotional, strategic and organizing benefits of a strong, principled hatred?

    Hate should never be trusted, nor treated as safe, nor celebrated for its own sake. But, inevitable, it should not be ignored. Nor is it automatically undeserved. Nor, perhaps, can we do without it, not if we are to remain human, in a hateful epoch that pathologizes radical hate and encourages outrage fatigue.

    And nor is careful hate necessarily an enemy of liberation. It might be its ally. (161)

He is careful to point out, many times, that the hatred is not a hatred of individuals but of a class (the bourgeoisie, the ruling class) and of the system that that class inflicts upon everyone else: "The eradication of the bourgeoisie as a class is the eradication of bourgeoisie rule, of capitalism, of exploitation, of the boot on the neck of humanity. This is why the working class doesn't need sadism, nor even revenge—and why it not only can, but must, hate. It must hate its class enemy, and capitalism itself."

Other quotes, just because he writes so well:

    Who would we be not to hate this system, and its partisans? … This is a system that, whatever else, deserves implacable hatred for its countless and escalating cruelties. (165)

    Hatred is necessary for dignity, which means for political agency. (166)

    We must hate harder than did the Manifesto, for the sake of humanity. Such class hate is constitutive with and inextricable from solidarity, the drive for human liberty, for the full development of the human, the / ethic of emancipation implicit throughout the Manifesto and beyond. We should hate this world, with and through and beyond and even more than does the Manifesto. We should hate this hateful and hating and hatemongering system of cruelty, that exhausts and withers  and kills us, that stunts our care, makes it so embattled and constrained and local in its scale and effects, where we have the capacity to be greater. … It's for the sake of love that, reading it today, we must hate more and better than even The Communist Manifesto knew how. (167-168)

The book ends, appropriately enough, with a copy of the Manifesto for all to read and ponder.

On Feb. 24, 2023, Mi茅ville was interviewed by Brook Gladstone of On the Media on a program titled "Who Profits?" [https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/otm/episodes/2] Hearing Mi茅ville's voice speak out about this topic rather than just read his fierce words adds an aid to comprehension of the Manifesto's power and purpose, to feel in the gut and not just the head what Marx and Engels were trying to provoke: explosive anger governed by a rigorous analysis; a molten coolheadedness; an oath to fight; a joy in fighting.

Worth the read. Worth the listen.


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Michael Bettencourt is an essayist and a playwright.
He writes a monthly column and is
a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate"
and wife, Mar铆a-Beatriz.
For more of his columns, articles, and media,
check the Archives.

©2023 Michael Bettencourt
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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