Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto and the Concept of Social Hierarchy

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Social hierarchy has been evident since the beginning of time. Human society has been (mis)using it in order to maintain a civilized world. The movie “The Young Karl Marx” directed by Raoul Peck shown in 2017 and the documentary “The Corporation” by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott in 2003, although fourteen years apart, both tackle the injustices brought about by our society’s social ladder. Amidst focusing on different subjects and themes, both films were able to touch on the effects of the industrial age such as capitalism, and growth of corporation. This paper aims to explore the similarities and differences of the two films.

Both foundations of these art were derived from compelling parts of mankind’s history and human interpretation. As mentioned, both films were able to portray the effects of capitalism, particularly cheap labor, and control exercised by businessmen. “The Young Karl Marx,” (original title: Der Junge Karl Marx) as the title states, is a biopic on the father of Communism, Karl Marx, along with his associate, Friedrich Engels filled with subtle symbolisms. “The Corporation,” on the other hand, is a 145-minute documentary Rotten Tomatoes described as “a surprisingly rational and coherent attack on capitalism’s most important institution,” interviewing corporate critics, company CEOS, and business gurus. Both pieces are based on real events of the past; however, both pieces are interpretations of history. Just like any interpretation or art, for that matter, “The Young Karl Marx” and “The Corporation” are, in one way or another, tinted by the goal and principle of their makers.

“The Young Karl Marx” focused on the life of Karl Marx, mainly his friendship with Engels and their road to developing The Communist Manifesto. The opening scene of the film introduces Marx’s concept on ‘class struggles’ through a Marxist parable about the slaughter of the proletariats for the crime of gathering dead wood in a forest. This scene becomes even more compelling as it is accompanied with a narration which foreshadows and sums up the totality of the movie: “In England, the industrial revolution transforms the world’s order and creates the new proletarian class. Workers’ organizations are founded based on a ‘communist’ utopia in which all men are brothers. Two young Germans will disrupt this notion, thus transforming the struggle…and the future of the world.”

Trying to portray the film as close as possible on historical accounts, letters, and memoirs, Peck was able to bring back to life many significant characters like Proudhon, Bakunin, Weitling, Jenny, Mary, Young Hegelians, The League of the Just, and many more. Aside from characters, historical arguments and exchanges such as the famous rebuttal of Marx to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty, and ideological discourses provoked by Marx’s critical nature, were also depicted.

Meeting the sophisticated, son of a factory owner, a clear bourgeoisie but similarly radical and revolutionary Friedrich Engels is equivalent to providing Marx the key that develops Marx’s vision of the world. Engels’ research, resources and help have ignited a flame to Marx’s heart that will eventually change the world – whether it be for the better or worse, no one really knows, as shown in the film. The film also highlights the participation of Mary Burns, a proletariat and Engels’ partner, and Jenny, an aristocrat and Marx’s wife, in the development of the “most complete philosophical and political transformation of the world since the Renaissance” as described by the Jacob Burns Film Center. Amidst suppression, police raids, ideological disputes, and political mayhems, Engels and Marx were able to advance the labor movement, unifying dreamers and idealists into a common goal, grounded with a strong foundation, The Communist Manifesto. Aside from that, “The Young Karl Marx” is successful in evoking 1840s Europe’s revolutionary climate as a battle of ideologies between a political ideology almost on the same spectrum – anarchism and communism.

Ironic enough, the film ends with the capitalist printing presses printing the pages of The Communist Manifesto. Over this scene are closing texts: “The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself. The 1848 revolution broke out one month later. Class confrontation in Western Europe overthrew the old regimes…,” signifying the success of the revolutionary communists.

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All in all, Peck was able to depict Marx in his rawest form possible, sans glorification and romanticization. He was flawed – unhealthy, underpaid, struggling for a living and made plenty of enemies because of his analytical nature; but he was able to make one of the most significant changes that was able to affect the course of the world, or the way we see the world, for that matter.

On the other hand, the geniuses behind “The Corporation” exposed the side of the corporation we usually overlook. Living and thriving in a capitalist world, most of us remain blinded by the privileges and benefits of capitalism. Abbott and Achbar presented 40 interviews with various esteemed and associated individuals that will soon develop and show the point of the film.

After the documentary establishes the rise of corporation from the dawn of industrial age (the Age of Coal), through a narration and series of interviews, it gradually shows the different images portrayed by the corporation through different lenses. For those working for corporate institutions, the corporation “succeeds as an organization like a family unit” with a group of people working together in order to achieve the same goals. However, critics said that corporations are “monsters trying to devour as much profit as possible with whoever's expense.”

The first part of “The Corporation” depicts the corporation as a person. This personification of the corporation was developed through asking the question, “If the corporation is a person, what sort of person is he?”. To this, one of the critics described the corporation as “a person with no moral compass” because it was apparently “designed by law to be concerned only to their stakeholders.” As the film develops, it shows interviews, and circumstances related to the corporation such as the issue on cheap labor by various companies, wherein the corporation was able to demonstrate all the symptoms of a psychopath based on a Personality Diagnostic Checklist by the World Health Organization-Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV. This was a very creative way of getting the point of the film across.

The second part suggests the limitlessness of the corporation’s power to exploit, such as the “race of biotechnology companies,” “development of planned communities,” and others. It also highlights the subtle manipulation of corporations in our choices through advertisements and how nobody seems to dispute because it is legal or the corporation is powerful enough to justify its action in court. This part makes the audience ponder on the reality that, indeed, the influence of the corporation deeply runs in our lives.

In the last scenes of the film, “The Corporation” discloses the corporation’s apathy to the government and its willingness to do anything, even overthrow a president, in order to gain profit. It also shows the success of the people of Cochabamba and Bolivia against their country’s water system’s privatization and Acata and California’s putting limits on the number of their chain restaurants. Lastly, the film subtly suggests to overthrow the corporation either through legal means or protest – a clear manifestation of Marxism because of a re-embodiment of a problem suffered by most people during the time of the father of Communism.

The documentary is a compelling exposition of something that is yet to be conquered by mankind. It urges us to take a stand against the corporation, which is something we cannot do. It is a difficult situation to kill something that the world has been benefiting from over long period of time and is now controlling it. Still, “The Corporation” is an eye-opener of the danger of laissez-faire capitalism.

“The Young Karl Marx” and “The Corporation” have similarities in most of the topics they present such as exploitation, struggles of the working class, and the effects of a capitalist society. Aside from that, the two masterpieces were able to leave a powerful idea to their audience through their creative depiction of history, real life events that are and will always be significant.

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