The Communist Manifesto and Heart of Darkness: Power Struggles
While The Communist Manifesto and Heart of Darkness detail different ills of European civilization and different potential cures for those ills, ultimately, the two ills described in each of the texts are comparable in that they arise from the desire and struggle for power. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx outlines the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and proletarians and prescribes an “overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, [and] conquest of political power by the proletariat” as a cure. (The Communist Manifesto, p.67) Heart of Darkness describes the struggle for power through imperialism and the capacity for darkness that is inherent to man’s nature. However, Conrad does not seem to offer any sort of cure to this ill in Heart of Darkness; the ill seems to be inescapable and incurable as the novel ends with Marlow seems to be headed toward “the heart of an immense darkness.” (Heart of Darkness, p.77) Although the ills discussed are distinctly different, they are both, fundamentally, struggles for power. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx examines the oppression felt by the working class in Europe, known as the proletariat, at the hands of the ruling bourgeois class. Specifically, Marx analyzes the disproportionate distribution of wealth under the capitalist system. Finally, Marx urges the proletariat to fight for not only economic but also social equality with the bourgeois class and, most of all, the implementation of Communism. And while this ill and cure may seem only like a domestic governmental issue and revolution, it is not. Marx ultimately calls for "Communists everywhere [to] support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things." (The Communist Manifesto, P. 86) This strongly resembles the aim of imperialism: the extending a country's power and influence through diplomacy or military force; but in this case it is not a matter of “a country’s” power and influence, it is a matter of the Communist Party’s power and influence. In the end, both of these struggles for power, however different they appear in their means, they are, in their simplest forms, only struggles for power.
The two texts, Heart of Darkness and The Communist Manifesto are very different in that the former is a novel and the latter is more of a declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, and motives. However, even though Marx describes no characters in The Communist Manifesto like Conrad does in Heart of Darkness, the humane cannibals and bloodthirsty pilgrims are comparable to the hard-working proletarians and the money hungry bourgeoisie. In both relationships, one group is the dominant, ruling group (the pilgrims and the bourgeoisie) and the other groups (the cannibals and the proletarians) are subject to the will of the first group. These relationships can be described, using Marx’s very words, as relationships between “freeman and slave,…lord and serf,…oppressor and oppressed.” (The Communist Manifesto, p.55) The pilgrims share the same animosity toward the natives and treat them as poorly as the bourgeois class does the proletarian.
The proletariat class is taken advantage of and oppressed for not having their own means of production, while the cannibals are taken advantage of and oppressed for being savage and immoral. But Marlow discovers morality and restraint in the cannibals; he looks “at them… in a new light” and comes to realize “how unwholesome the pilgrims looked.” (Heart of Darkness, p. 41) To Marlow’s surprise the cannibals seem to deal with the hardships of the voyage better than the pilgrims do. They show an unexpected amount of self-control, even though they are constantly tempted by human flesh to revert to their cannibalistic ways. Marlow anticipated about as much restraint as from them as “a hyena prowling amongst the corpses of a battlefield.” (Heart of Darkness, p. 42) Similarly, Marx see’s something in...
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