Although Communism is most often associated with an economic program, Marx and
Engels were not economists, with Marx himself a philosopher more concerned, like most
philosophers, with the question of human consciousness rather than with questions of
economics. But, one of their most significant breakthroughsa paradigm shift, if you
willwas the way in which they understood consciousness not in metaphysical terms
like Plato and Augustine, for examplebut in material terms. Indeed, for Marx and
Engels, consciousnessand the symbolic systems (like language) used to express it is
shaped not by transcendent, metaphysical categories, but by material forces, most notably
by what they call the means of production, which is to say by the social, economic and
material arrangements under which human live, love and labor. To be more specific,
Marx and Engels are interested in the kind of human beings and human social
arrangements that emerge within Capitalism and its attendant ideology of individualism
as represented through a new Capitalist social typethe Bourgeoisie. They write in The
Communist Manifesto (1848):
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand has put an end to all feudal,
patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has piteously torn asunder the motley feudal ties
that bound man to his natural superiors, and has left no other means between
man and man than naked self-interest, then callous cash payment. It has
drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous
enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, is the icy water of egotistical
calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value (Marx 66)
For your essay, think of this quote as a point of departure for exploring the ways in which
the characters in Bartleby, the Scrivener (1856) dramatizes through a fictional narrative
the social processes Marx and Engels chronicle in their work.
In thinking about this issue, you might consider any number of things, including, but not
limited to: the nature of work in Bartleby, the nature of the social and political changes
the rather elderly lawyer has experienced in his lifetime, the lawyers long hard
struggle with his conscience, the hold Bartleby seems to have on him, his willingness to
tolerate idiocyncrasies in the workplace, individualism as a form of alienation (a favored
Marxist concept) rather than liberation, as Capitalists claim. In other words, use the story
to illustrate The Communist Manifesto and to help your readers understand what Marx
and Engels are talking abou
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