Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Melodrama in the Communist Manifesto

What makes Marx's Communist Manifesto such a powerful and effective piece is its heavy use of core melodramatic principles and stark comparisons between opposing forces. Not only does he invoke the age old antagonism between "white hats" and "black hats" through his contrast between "the spectre of communism" and the "old powers of Europe," but he also raises the question of the power struggle between social classes. 

He explains that "oppressor and oppressed, [stand] in constant opposition to one another, [carry] on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time [ends], either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." 

According to Marx, human history has always been a history of class struggles, especially with the coming of modernity. As a response to this modernity, the class struggle has been reduced to a mere antagonism of a quality similar to that shown in melodramatic works: the rich, aristocratic, oppressors -- the bourgeois -- and the poor, misunderstood heroes of Marx's manifesto -- the proletariat. However in this vein, a new force is introduced, one that in this work is said to be the tool which allows the bourgeois to oppress as they do. 

"The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation."

Marx completely villainizes free trade and capitalism, his true "black hats," and portrays his ideology in a very positive light to the working class.

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