Is Capitalism to Blame?

I found it captivating to read The Communist Manifesto Party by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels shortly after discussing Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Smith advocated for industrialization and capitalism in his work. He believed that as a states’ wealth and productivity grew, class disparities within that state would decrease. Marx and Engels disagreed with this idea. Wealthier, stronger entities dominated over less developed ones for centuries during the time these authors wrote their works. Marx believed that capitalism only extended the potential for this issue. He claims in The Communist Manifesto Party, “Modern bourgeois society, springing from the wreck of feudal society, had no abolished class antagonisms. It has but substituted new classes, new conditions of oppressions, new forms of warfare, for the old.”[1] Rather than restricting class disparities, Marx fully believed that the bourgeois society that rose from capitalism exemplified another dominating, ruthless power.

In my senior seminar for International Studies last semester, we discussed how superior races have dominated over “lesser” peoples since the beginning of time. Whether it was during Christopher Columbus’s reign over the Native Americans beginning towards the end of the fifteenth century or Great Britain’s invasion of India during the eighteenth century, more developed nations have always seen it in their interest to dominate over “lesser” people. Through this domination, these superior nations gained land, territory, and, ultimately, power. Marx would argue that capitalism is completely to blame for this continuous power struggle.

christopher-columbus-631I now pose these questions: Is Marx correct- is capitalism completely to blame for the power struggle that continues to exist today? What are some prominent examples that showcase this divide? How can we combat these struggles? How have First World countries made attempts to understand lesser nations? Or have they only made these issues worse?

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[1] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “The Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in The Communist Manifesto and other Revolutionary Writings, ed. Bob Blaisdell (Mineola, New York: Dover Publicans, 2003), 126.

Collectivism: What is the Government’s to take?

With the birth of the Soviet Union and the beginning of communist rule, the new government had to establish socialist norms for those living in the country. The All- Russian Central Executive Committee established these new rules, as on March 21, 1921 the committee addressed NEP in the Countryside, The Tax in Kind. In this document, the committee established collectivism norms for peasants in the form of taxing for the needs of the government and overall Soviet State. A little more than a year later, on May 22, 1922, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee spoke again, this time on the Right of Private Property in Commerce and Industry. This document clears confusion around the rights to private property in the Soviet Union, however also states that the decree is not retroactive, and does not return the right to property confiscated by the Soviet Union back to previous owners.

Both documents exemplify the complexity involved in changing the kind of government in a nation. Moving from Tsarist rule to communist rule involved a complete transformation of government and therefore laws and societal norms. Ideas that once did not need clarification, such as what is considered one’s private property or crops, suddenly needed vast explanation. The committee does seem to at least attempt to protect the rights of peasants and farmers within the confusion of the documents.

In my opinion, both decrees were confusing and somewhat contradictory. The first decree on NEP in the Countryside is hard to understand what rights exactly the government had to farmers’ crops and supplies. The second decree on the Rights to Private Property was a bit easier to follow, however at the end stated that the decree does not act retroactively in returning past confiscated property. With that being said, and considering how much property and land the Soviet Union confiscated at this point already, the second decree seems somewhat useless. Also, the wording of the documents and idea flow throughout the documents is hard to follow and was most likely not understood by the typically uneducated peasants. With that, the government most likely was able to get away with not following these laws as most of the people they applied to, the peasants and farmers, did not understand them. It seems that the government released these decrees just as a means to cover up any possible accusations of abuse of power.



Propaganda by Rail

A Soviet propaganda train.

A Soviet propaganda train. [6]

While the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution were made up highly educated revolutionaries who trained body and mind to overcome the constraints of the the capitalist bourgeois, most of the population (around ninety percent) was of the peasant class. Most of the peasants in Tsarist Russia were illiterate, uneducated, and knew little of the world outside the villages that dotted the countryside. These villages were scattered over the 6 million square miles of Russia making contact with all of them a challenge. For the Bolsheviks, an organization that placed great value on the power of the grassroots peasants, this was unacceptable. They needed the peasants to be aware of the changes taking place over the revolutions in the early 20th century, as well as a work force who would be educated in the doctrine of the new communist government. When the population of a country is educated, the value of its human capital increases. This makes the work force more efficient and worth more to the state. With the bureaucracy of the Bolsheviks beginning to follow the philosophy of scientism, the view towards the peasant population changed from indifference, to a need to directly control and educate in order to get the highest production possible out of its workers.[1] The population needed to be in agreement with the actions of the state as well to make the machine of communism run smoothly. Obedience to the state was necessary, and by using propaganda to educate the unlearned peasants they could be made loyal to the Soviet cause. The Bolshevik’s needed a way to reach these people and spread the word of the revolution to the masses. But struggling with the sheer size of the newly formed Soviet Russia was a herculean task.


In the early twentieth century the most effective means of traveling the country was by rail systems. Because of the rails already set in place throughout Russia the logical way to reach the people was to use the trains. The first of the trains to reach the isolated peasantry was know as “Lenin’s train.”[2] This train was made up of 15 cars and “decorated with paintings in bright colors, with forceful and unmistakably revolutionary inscriptions.”[3] It is important to note, that the officials onboard the train were members of branches of the “people’s Commissariat.”[4] These men would distribute masses of pamphlets and readings free of charge to the people, as well as answer questions and advise on issues concerning the population. This was a powerful tool for the Soviet government to use, as the population will feel heard, and important to the government. This in turn will promote less resistance to newer ideas and obedience. The feeling of solidarity between the government and the workers was to be fostered in this way.

The success of such trains in spreading soviet propaganda prompted the creation of three further trains, with different routs that would bring the word of the “Revolution” to the “most hidden nooks of Soviet Russia.”[5] These propaganda trains would be responsible for returning the wishes of the people to the government and create an environment where capitalist imperialism would be unable to return to the minds of the population.



[1] Hoffmann, “European Modernity and Soviet Socialism” in Hoffmann and Kotsonis, eds., Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices (NY: St. Martin’s, 2000), 245-260.

[2] Iakov Okunev, A New Way for Culture Propaganda. 1919

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Agit-train October Revolution / Vertov-Collection, Austrian Film Museum



Unity of All Laborers: Soviet Ideals in the Wake of Post-February Revolution Independence Movements

The Red Army occupying Moscow, during the Russian Civil War

The Red Army occupying Moscow, during the Russian Civil War


((Bolsheviks in Moscow. Digital image. The Russian Civil War: 1917-1920. Accessed February 7, 2016.

In the U.S., there seems to be a commonly held misconception about the emergence of Soviet Russia and its relationship with its surrounding neighbors. From my history classes, I remember learning about Russia leaving World War I and the basics of the Russian Revolution. However, after that period, it seems that Russian history just disappears until World War II. Suddenly, Russia became our uneasy ally. I recall hearing the negative effects of the Great Depression on the Russian economy, like it had for all major global economies; however, aside from that, it was mostly Roaring Twenties and the New Deal. Since Soviet Russia grew in size from WWI to WWII and, as a class, we never really touched upon Russia; we were left to assume that the leaders of Russia thought it best to expand immediately. Reading these documents proved my assumptions wrong.


Russia’s transition from a new government to the might USSR was not as smooth. In fact, the documents provide evidence of the Bolsheviks pushing to help like-minded individuals in neighboring areas. For example, in the “Council of People’s Commissars, Decree on Recognizing the Independence of the Estonian Soviet Republic,” the response detailed in the document pushed for Estonian independence. This concept is contrary to what many students in the US are likely led to believe. The Council of People’s Commissars not only recognized the independence of the newly founded Estonian Soviet Republic, but pushed for both military and economic aid. These ideas are supported in two of the other documents, which essentially both call for the unity of Russian laborers in a global fight for freedom against the bourgeoisie and imperialists. It appears, however, that once Stalin took over control of the government, he sought to enforce these ideals strictly and militarily, as opposed to in a friendlier manner.

Nehru: Marxism, Capitalism, and Non-Alignment

Author: Jawaharlal Nehru joined the Indian National Congress and Mahatma Gandhi’s independence movement in 1919. After the British withdrew, Nehru became the first prime minister of independent India. In 1928, he became the president of the Indian National Congress. [1]

Context: This period in Indian history was a time of repression by the British government and increasing nationalist activity. Nehru joined the Indian National Congress, one of India’s major two political parties. Mahatma Gandhi was the party leader, and he advocated for change and independence from the British. Nehru went to prison several times where he studied Marxism.

Language: Nehru’s language is fairly simple, making it easy to understand. He describes his journey to his acceptance of socialism and communism.

Audience: This came from his autobiography, so his audience was the general public. Anyone who wanted to and had access to it could read it. He probably thought that those interested in Indian politics, Marxism, and capitalism would read it.

Intent: His intention was to describe how he came to be involved in Marxism, capitalism, and the politics of India. He wants people to understand the differences in violence between Soviet Russia and the rest of the world. Russia had progressed following Lenin. He also describes how the Central Asia had made great steps backward while Russia had made great strides.

Message: He wanted to convey the results of Lenin and Soviet Russia. He also wanted to describe the progress happening for India and the great economic development. He was happy that India was progressing because previously, India had faced much turmoil.

How do you think current Indian politicians would react to Nehru’s praise of socialism and communism?

Developing Countries and the Cold War

In “The Superpower Quest for Empire: The Cold War and Soviet Support for ‘Wars of National Liberation'”, Kanet illustrates that the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States in the Cold War had deep, lasting effects in the developing world, as each superpower attempted to assert its dominance over Third World countries to either lead them on the communist path or away from it. Unlike my previous perceptions of the Cold War, Kanet characterizes much of the Soviet Union’s initiative as resulting from a lack of US response. After the Vietnam War, the United States stepped back and displayed a general inability to respond effectively to Soviet initiative. Such inability to act and deal with political instability was mirrored in other modern, pro-Western governments, resulting in the rise to power of a strong group of anti-western governments in the 1960s and ’70s. The United States, of course, reacted negatively to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but, even here, the US reaction was not strong enough to illicit change – at least in the eyes of the next US President, Ronald Reagan. I had not before put such blame on the United States lacking initiative, but usually approach the Cold War as a somewhat balanced game between the two superpowers of stepping forward, then being pushed backward again, resulting in a somewhat continuous cycle between the two.

The Cold War is often painted as differences in ideology between the United States and the Soviet Union, but with an emphasis on the lack of actual, direct military action taken against either Superpower. In the focus on the direct conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States, the countries that are affected in the wake of the conflict are often underrepresented. How did the Cold War affect the economic and political development of these countries? What would have happened if they had been left alone? How did the United States and the Soviet Union change these governments’ (Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia, Cuba, etc) priorities?

Stalin, Fascists and Freedom

The texts assigned for Friday’s class portray the changing views, which the Soviet Union held towards Germany and other Western nations. While the Hitler-Stalin Pact suggests a mutual understanding between the two leaders (and, by extension, their nations), the later documents paint a far different view of a ‘fascist’ Germany.

In Stalin’s speech in February 1946, he seems to align the Soviet Union with the Western world in a coalition against fascism, and describes the USSR (and other countries involved in the coalition) as freedom-loving. To most Westerners, this would appear contradictory: freedom is only seen in a capitalistic, democratic context, indicating that socialism and communism are inherently freedom-less.

Stalin’s response to Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech shows a shift in Stalin’s thinking, as Stalin compares Churchill to Hitler and accuses Churchill of creating an English racial theory, somewhat similar to Hitler’s racial theory. This was a drastic shift, occurring in only a little over a month (Stalin’s response was published in Pravda in March 1946).

In general, these shifts in allies and the definition of ‘good’, ‘evil’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ don’t seem uncommon for the Soviet Union. The massive arrests during the time period, in addition to the Great Purges within the Communist Party, seem indicative of this trend.

Marx’s Manifesto

Author: Karl Marx was a German socialist whose theories about society laid the foundation for Communism. Marx believed that countries progress from a class divided society into a communist one through revolutions.

Context: Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848, at which point the Industrial Revolution had exploded. Great Britain’s economy was booming, and other countries were starting to see similar advancements. However, the time period was mired by poor working conditions, and a lack of humanitarian care.

Language: Marx used simple language in this section of the Communist Manifesto. Other parts of the document employ more complicated language, but the sections that describe Marx’s core ideas are easily read.

Audience: Marx targeted industrial workers with this section. Other sections of the document targeted more educated members of industrial societies, but because the goal of this one was to insight labor revolutions, it targeted the laborers.

Intent: Marx saw communism as the best form of society, and wanted to spread communism throughout Europe. Communism is based off the working class, so he wanted to inspire industrial workers to follow his ideas.

Message: The class division between factory workers and factory owners is the most recent instance of a never ending class struggle. The workers must rise up against the owners and establish a new, classless, communist society. This new society will be healthier, more stable, and completely egalitarian.

Why: Like other communists, Marx feared the impending capitalist domination of Europe. He acknowledged that the Industrial Revolution was spreading from country to country like wildfire, and saw that communism would be stamped out if it did not  have a more prominent voice in Europe. So, in order to spread Communism, and keep the movement alive, he wrote the Communist Manifesto.

He also saw the terrible conditions most people were living in during the Industrial Revolution. Marx thought communism was the way to fix those problems, and prevent them from happening again.

Communist Manifesto-Karl Marx

Author: Karl Marx was 29 when he began writing the Communist Manifesto. He joined the Communist Federation in 1847. He was a leader with great power in the German Communist movement.

Context: Communism destroyed old beliefs, and replaced them with new ideas. Marx is convincing the audience that with Communism comes benefits like an improved economy, further development in railways, navigation and political power. He reminds the poor that if they do not give in they will have to suffer through oppression, higher taxes, and no freedom. He states the bourgeoisie “transformed personal worth into mere exchange value” (127), putting down those in a position of wealth.

Language: It is directed towards workers so sections are either made very understandable to all or directed at those in European power, which are more complicated to interpret.

Audience: Current Communists and the workers of the world, people who were unhappy with the current situation. It was also directed to those who were poor and repressed. It gave them a chance to rise up in society.

Intent: To get others to join the Communist part and to gain all European powers appreciation of Communism. Marx wanted to make communism known to all and convince others to join him.

Message: It is trying to convince those oppressed to not rebel but instead to embrace the idea of Communism. Marx states that if not followed, there will be a continuous difference in social classes.

The Communist Manifesto

Author: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles.  Marx was a German philosopher, economist, and a revolutionist. Marx published many widely known articles, but some of the most famous include Das Capital, Estranged Labor, and The Manifesto of the Communist Party. Marx worked on a radical newspaper as well, and his ideas remain influential and relevant today. Friedrich Engles assisted with the writing of The Communist Manifesto, and he was a social scientist, philosopher, and political theorist. He was good friends with Marx, and worked with Marx in other writings, such as Das Capital. 

Context: The industrial revolution had rapidly changed the structure of the European economy, and the working class lived in squalor conditions, owning next to nothing. The poor living conditions created feelings of discontent, and the socialist and communist movement was quickly gaining momentum.

Language: The Communist Manifesto is a political pamphlet, and is written as such. It was created to appeal to the common people, and was written in language to appeal to the masses.

Audience: The Communist Manifesto was written to the people of Europe, and it was published in English, French, German, Italian, Flemish, and Danish.

Intent: The intention of the document is to incite a rebellion against the capitalist system, while unifying the Communist movement at the same time.

Message: There are numerous themes in The Communist Manifesto, but one of the most important is the development and overthrowing of previous economic and social structures. The feudal aristocracy was a system built upon a hierarchy, although the feudal system was eventually unable to support the needs of the growing population. Therefore, the growing middle class, the bourgeoisie, eventually overthrew the feudal system. However, the system of class hierarchy did not disappear, as it simply created new classes. For a time, the bourgeoisie was able to support the population, although power and money became concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few. Due to this wealth gap, the vast majority of the population lived in terrible conditions, and because of the terrible conditions, the bourgeoisie lost their right to remain the dominant class. An interesting point made by Marx, however, is that the dominant economic system much reach its fullest potential before it can be overthrown. The guilds, for instance, at their maximum production, were unable to supply the population with their growing needs, so the guild system was replaced by manufacturing. According to this logic, the capitalist system would have needed to reach its fullest capacity in order to be overthrown by the communists.  Do you think Marx would be opposed government regulation of industry if it could make way for a worker’s rebellion?