Whether one likes it or not, Marx and Engels didn’t think much of rural life.
This is an early example (1848):
“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.”Now, let’s pause. Those guys used the word “rescued”. It’s there. You can see it: I emphasised it.
Time to use our noodles. Marx and Engels used the word rescue and we know that to rescue something is to save that something from a danger or a difficult situation. Right?
I never thought we’ll need to discuss this, but it seems we Marxists must think seriously about that. So, before jumping at my throat, hear me out first. Trust me, I haven’t lost my mind … yet.
Ready or not, here goes. Can we safely conclude from that that, according to Marx and Engels, the bourgeoisie did the rural population a favour: it allowed them to move to the big smoke? And them hillbillies, of course, were happy or at least happier than they were before: they no longer were idiots (from the Greek idios "own, private")?
Can we conclude that?
Or, think of it this way: according to Marx and Engels, with his brand new proletarian rank insignia attached to his shoulder mark, the formerly humble hillbilly, standing at ah-ten-SHUN! salutes the capitalist with barely dissimulated pride (woo hoo!).
Breath deeply and count to ten before answering.
I don't know about you, but I most emphatically don’t think so. But, believe it or not, that may be how some Marxists think. (UPDATE: In case you've been wondering who that peculiar Marxist was who thinks primitive accumulation made people happy)
I'll tell you why I don’t think so. Because to accomplish that “promotion” it took the bourgeoisie, according to Marx (and probably to Engels, too):
“[T]he expropriation of the great mass of the people from the soil, from the means of subsistence, and from the means of labour, this fearful and painful expropriation of the mass of the people forms the prelude to the history of capital. It comprises a series of forcible methods, of which we have passed in review only those that have been epoch-making as methods of the primitive accumulation of capital. The expropriation of the immediate producers was accomplished with merciless Vandalism, and under the stimulus of passions the most infamous, the most sordid, the pettiest, the most meanly odious.”I never thought I’d have to explain that, but Marx and Engels called that Primitive Accumulation: the forced mass transformation of peasants into proletarians.
It wasn't a happy experience then and it's never been one since, least of all for the former hillbillies and I’d bet given the choice many would have chosen their rural idiocy, thank you very much. But they weren't given a choice. Marx and Engels knew that, even if some Marxists forgot all about it.
But, but, but … didn’t they -- the newly “promoted” proletarians, that is -- gain anything from that?
Why, yes. Yes, they did. But it wasn’t “happiness” of some sort that Marx and Engels had in mind. It was another thing much more important. What they gained was breaking free from isolation, getting in touch, establishing relations with others in the same circumstances. They became a class, the proletariat; no longer were they like potatoes in a sack:
“The small-holding peasants form an enormous mass whose members live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with each other. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse.”That’s a slightly later example (1852).
Makes sense now, comrades?