Monday, September 8, 2014

The Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto expresses three common themes of melodrama: the central idea of good vs. evil, a fear of the emerging capitalist society, and the rhetoric of revolution.

At the very beginning of the document, Marx states: “society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other—Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” (15). This class conflict is the sole purpose of this writing. It has grown to the point of threatening society as a whole. Society has been divided into two classes, have’s and have not’s, essentially good and evil. Marx portrays this as an ongoing process. At one point, the class struggle was between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie; now, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. As Marx later expounds: “[the bourgeoisie] creates a world after its own image” (16). This quotation seems particularly melodramatic, as it portrays the bourgeoisie as an unstoppable evil force. Our society is helpless, and the world is doomed to succumb to their desires.

The Manifesto portrays capitalism as a flawed economic system, and this creates another aspect of melodrama in its argument. As Singer expresses in “Melodrama and the Consequences of Capitalism,” “For many people, the social upheavals of modernity—the erosion of traditional feudal and religious authority and the rise of modern capitalism—were more anxious, unsettling, and oppressive than they were empowering” (132). The entire Communist Manifesto is an anxious, unsettled reaction to capitalism. It explains: “The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations; modern industry labor, modern subjection to capital … has stripped him of every trace of national character” (20). The communist reaction to capitalism is one of fear. It is unsettling to be unsure of one’s ability to support himself.  The economic system has changed, along with its relation to family and religion. This is the classically melodramatic want for stability and faith that everything will resolve itself.

Finally, the Manifesto expresses a revolutionary theme in its ending: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!” (34). The rhetoric is compelling, and as with most melodrama, can incite people to action. Historically, this has been a theme of melodramatic writing. However, it seems an odd way to end the document. The common theme throughout the Manifesto has been that communism is the way to avoid cycles of oppression and violent revolution—the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie. This writing though, is similar to something we would hear in a revolutionary speech. Portraying the working class as "chained" will urge them to take action against those shackles. Urging a class to unite is a precursor to social change. This type of rhetoric makes the document a classical example of melodrama.

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