By Randall Margo, PhD
G.L.O.B.A.L Justice Commentator/Global Economy & Administration Adjunct Faculty, Golden Gate University; Public Administrator
Recent May Day protests around the globe received significant media attention as these marches prominently featured economic issues linked to an overall theme of social equality and justice. Coincidentally, but perhaps prophetically, this year also marks the hundredth anniversary of the communist revolution in Russia. Communists pledged to rid the world of injustice by uniting workers in a stateless society, devoid of cruel rulers, greedy capitalists and religion, which they concluded, all resulted in the exploitation of the masses. How the notion of communism came about, why it imploded, where we are now, and what the future portends is worth examining if we are to prevent its re occurrence.
Communism’s Anticipation- The 19th century ushered in rapid change in the nature of work in key European states, as the efficiency and lower cost of manufactured goods replaced products historically produced by tradesmen and artisans through the guild system. Agriculture productivity blossomed as well, with horses replacing oxen, that were later replaced by mechanized tractors, thereby significantly reducing labor requirements on farms. Along with these changes came a rise in global trade, resulting from improvements in ships, the development of railroads, and infrastructure progress such as the Suez Canal built in 1869, that reduced by nearly half the time and distance for a ship to travel from Europe to the Arabian Peninsula. In conjunction with all of the above was an unprecedented growth in population due to the mitigation of major diseases and enhanced agricultural output, which provided populations with a better diet.
Initially, tradesmen, artisans and subsistent farmers including women and children found work within European factories. However, this employment often included dangerous conditions, work lasting 10-16 hours per day, six days a week, and low pay. Consequently, numerous attempts were made to organize factory workers into unions to fight these oppressive circumstances. These efforts were tenaciously fought by the factory owners, who frequently used intimidation and sometimes outright violence to prevent laborers from collectively organizing for better wages, shorter hours, and improved working conditions. Governments often assisted the owners in resisting labor strife.
Against this backdrop, a theory blending economics, philosophy and history emerged from the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels emphasizing class struggle as the catalyst for societal change. Marx and Engels actually welcomed this harsh form of capitalism that replaced feudal society, as they envisioned this system as a temporary but needed arrangement until workers could fully appreciate that their plight was due to the logic of capitalism; that it necessarily pitted owners against one another in never ending competition. Exploitation of the worker was an essential component of the capitalism as businesses competed both within and outside national boundaries. Once
workers realized this situation they would revolt and take over the means of production from the owners, establish a communistic state that eliminated private property and individual rights so that an egalitarian society could be formed. The inequality of wealth created by both the feudal and capitalistic systems would be overcome by a communistic system that provided “to each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.