When an unhappy social class rises in rebellion, it will believe it is rebelling against certain laws or taxes or institutions, but these are merely the impositions of the in-power class, and what the rebellion is really attempting to overthrow is the ruling class, itself. “Every revolutionary struggle is directed against a class,” says Young Marx.
Young Marx asserted that the laws, mores, and institutions imposed –often subtly– by the ruling elite will stay in place until such time that the ruling ideas grow outmoded and fall too out of line with real-world situations. At that point, the Society will begin to sluff off the outmoded ruling ideas and revolution grows imminent. However, says Young Marx, since the ideas rebelled against are extensions of the power of the ruling class, any revolution against a system or set of ideas will be simultaneously a revolution against the dominant class. Of course, the dominant class will not simple roll-over and present its backside so that it might be unceremoniously (or ceremoniously) kicked out of its place of power, luxury, and prestige– it will do all it can to cling to power, and what had been the thinly disguised coercion of social norms becomes, more and more glaringly, outright oppression.
At age 26, Marx writes that any oppressive regime stays in power, ultimately, by force… “A brutal relationship can be maintained only with brutality.” It is crystal clear to Young Marx that kingdoms are built upon the dehumanization of their subjects. In fact, such disrespect and disregard of humanity is the main and motivating idea of any authoritarian rule, says Young Marx, remarking that, “despotism’s only idea is contempt for men.” A Tyrant has no respect for the men he dominates, but watches them dispassionately, or even with amusement, as “they drown for him in the common mud from which they again and again emerge, like toads.” To the Tyrant, the common people are not quite human, but merely means to his ends.
Young Marx, writing with Engels in The German Ideology, says that revolutions will occur when people begin to feel that the sense and the benefits of “community” have been annihilated by class struggles which have become so antagonistic that families cannot or will not work together in harmony, and society is destroyed.
Without society, Marx believes that Man cannot become fully human, stating that “if a man is formed by circumstances, then his circumstances must be made human. If a man is by nature social, then he develops his true nature only in society.” As, according to Marx, it is “only in community” that “the means exist for every individual to cultivate his talents in all directions,” when people feel that the sense of community has been destroyed, they will turn to revolution, for at some level they realize that “they must overthrow the State in order to realize their personality.” The choice is at hand… the annihilation of the Self or the rejection of the State. When cornered, even such a domesticated beast as Man will attack in self-defense.
Sometimes in history, a tyrannical regional government acts under the commands of an imperial power far away. In that case, says Young Marx, the entire people experience a sense of shame, which he says is another name for “introverted anger.” But, says Young Marx (and many early twentieth century Chinese would agree with him)… “Shame is already a revolution.” A nation ashamed is “a lion crouched to spring.”
When the oppressed are ready, willing, and able to see the reality of their depraved condition, they will cast aside the lies and illusions promulgated upon them by the ruling class. Says Marx in an 1844-ish journal article… “the demand to abandon illusions about their condition is a demand to abandon the condition which requires illusions.”
For Young Marx, who has been slowly casting off the religious ideas of his youth, one of most important illusions to abandon is that of religion, which he calls (now famously, or infamously), “the opium of the people.”
“It is the task of history,” says Marx, “once the otherworldly truth has disappeared, to establish the truth of this world.”
I find it exquisitely ironical that, in tracing the readying of the masses to reject the “opium” of religion, Young Marx credits the revolution of that fervent believer, Martin Luther. By “restoring the authority of faith” and overthrowing the authority of the Church of Rome, Marx contends that Luther “shattered faith in authority,” and that since that time the idea of challenging authority has grown less fearsome and more acceptable to humankind.
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