In the Communist Manifesto, Marx writes, “The Communists are further reproached with desiring to abolish countries and nationality. The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got.” Later, he expands the idea: “National differences and antagonisms between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world-market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.”
Marx’s prediction that national differences are daily more and more vanishing may, perhaps, be true on a sociological or cultural level, yet the experience of the 20th and 21st centuries (thus far) seems to indicate that “antagonisms between peoples” are far from fading. In fact, they may be experiencing a renaissance. Marx suggests that homogenization is a product of bourgeois culture and global capitalism – this much seems evident. Yet the most puzzling aspect of Marx’s claim is that concerning how national sentiment is distributed among the classes. “The working men have no country,” Marx writes. “We cannot take from them what they have not got.” Yet today it is not the working man who is cosmopolitan, who recognizes his brotherhood with all men. It is the wealthy, the well-educated, the members of ‘bourgeois’ culture who are cosmopolitan, who fail to see meaningful differences between nations, who choose to move far from home and live in cities that exist as a mélange of languages and cultures and national origins. Meanwhile, the working man finds identity and meaning in living and working on the same plot of land, in the same town, or in the same community as his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather. The working man is skeptical of multinational or globalist schemes; he doubts the value of unrestricted immigration; he takes pride in his nationality and indeed is almost always the one who volunteers to fight and die for his nation when the wars engineered by the wealthy come to pass.
Contra Marx, it is not that the working man has no country and hence you cannot take what he has not got. Instead, it seems that the country may be all the working man has got.
He has neither the resources nor the desire to abandon his home, to move to a region unfamiliar to him, or to adopt the cosmopolitan attitudes of his bourgeois ‘superiors’. Instead, he is tied intimately and closely and affectionately to the place he knows as home. The wealthy cosmopolitan has little to suffer from immigration or the change of habitat; he may always elect to move to a different city, country, or place. Indeed, today it is the wealthy, not the working man, who does not have a country.
One might have the impression that a thinker such as Marx, who claims to be sympathetic to the empirical limitations of life on the working class, would recognize this, yet he fails entirely to consider how amassed cultural, social, and financial capital allows a man to transcend the boundaries of nationality or habitat.
The person who cares for the working man must admit the powerful role of home in his life. His habitat is the only home he knows, and when that home becomes uninhabitable for economic, environmental, or cultural reasons, working men and women become displaced and alienated from the very things that give them security. The often nationalist 20th century Scottish rock band Runrig once sang “It makes a poor man strong // To have a sense of home.” In doing so, they recognized what Marx and global capitalists alike have failed to see: i.e. to force globalization and unrestricted immigration upon the working man threatens to rob him of the place in which he lives by either rendering it uninhabitable or fundamentally changed. Yet, people are still surprised when the working man offers resistance to these ideologies. He may know that immigration provides material benefits for the economy, or that globally industrialized economies may make him marginally more wealthy. But the amassing of more plastic goods around him is not worth the loss of his home. It is not another dollar in his pocket, nor more cheaply available mass-produced trinkets that makes a poor man strong – it is the sense of belonging to a place, a community, of owning and living within a secure home that gives him strength to survive and thrive. From the safety of a home, poverty is bearable.
This fact indeed might indicate why Marx despises nationalistic sentiments. By robbing the working man of the only thing he has got, there will be no way to continue living under the difficulties of his economic status, and the existential crisis of his identity may foment rebellion. Marx’s internationalism plays the same role as his polemic against religion: in the guise of helping the poor, he aims to rob them of their only remaining comforts, in order to press them into the service of the revolution through capitalizing on their misfortune and despair.
The anti-revolutionary or the traditionalist recognizes, however, that there are things that matter far more than economics. If one has a church, a community, and a home, their economic status is of little concern to their overall happiness. The traditionalist recognizes the words of Deuteronomy and Jesus alike: “The poor you will always have with you.” He responds as Deuteronomy commands: “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the poor and needy in your land.” The traditionalist responds to the problem of poverty by emphasizing caritas, and by encouraging the poor to grasp hold of the immaterial goods that make his life worth living regardless of economic status: the family, the community, the faith, the country.
Marx aims to rob the working man of these things, so that he will join the revolution.
The Marxist revolution is not the property nor the idea of the working man. It is the brainchild and the darling of the left-wing academic, the wealthy member of the bourgeois society, the agitator and the progressive clergyman. These ideas find no purchase among the working class they purport to liberate; the working man recognizes that it is a poor revolution that begins by robbing him of every source of joy and comfort.
The Marxist claims to help the poor, to free the working man from the exploitation of bourgeois society.
The invariably bourgeois Marxist exploits the working man to feed the machines of ideological revolution.
Matthew YoungSee More Essays
Matthew Young is a Ph.D. student at UNC, and has been a contributor for the Carolina Journal. His research interests include Puritan political theology and religious toleration.