Considerations on Labor and Laborers' Rights Similar in Pope's Leo Xiii Rerum Novarum and Communist Manifesto

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Rerum Novarum vs. Communist Manifesto or Not?

Throughout time, we have all beared witness to the problems that different kinds of issues can raise in society. Leaders of these societies will implement rules to try and combat these issues, for the sake of everyone’s safety. Two examples of this comes from The Communist Manifesto and Rerum Novarum. While they have their similarities, these two documents are not quite parallel as some people may make them out to be.

The Communist Manifesto argues that there are class struggles which are affecting production. At this point, there is a revolution that occurs and a new class emerges as the ruling one. “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation into a mere money relation.” (CM pp, 5). This is Marx detailing how the political class is breaking down the family. He says that the family will only barely exist as the ‘bourgeoisie family’. All that the Bourgeoisie is doing to the family is turning them into articles of labor and commerce. The family no longer has the same value as it did before the modern industrial revolution. Rerum Novarum also addresses the breaking down of the family in a different light. The Pope specifically talks about the importance of the employers giving their employees time off in case of family emergencies and other extenuating circumstances. “Rights of this kind which reside in individuals are seen to have much greater validity when viewed as fitted into and connected with the obligations of human beings in family life.” (RN pp. 5). The rights he is talking about are the ones detailed from the natural law. The Pope stresses that the government should restore rights to the family and make sure that they are not living with unnecessary difficulties. What the Pope is saying seems to be a solution for what The Communist Manifesto has to say about the family structure. Both texts see the children as a very important asset to the family. “…his children, who, in fact reflect and in a sense continue his person [the father]…” (RN pp. 5-6). He further stresses the children as being extensions of the father. On paragraph 21 of Rerum Novarum, the Pope is talking about how the family should receive as much aid as possible, should they fall into ‘extreme difficulty’.

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The Manifesto describes the past history of the proletariat. As soon as this class was created it began to struggle with the bourgeoisie. “In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants…” (CM pp. 6). Marx goes on to say that the Bourgeoisie made many types of changes with the current wave of productivity, which resulted in the breaking down of the proletariat. “…the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters.” (CM pp. 7). At this point, the workers were still disorganized. When they did ended up forming into unions, they were under the influence of the bourgeois, and actually served to the Bourgeoisie’s objectives. He describes that a similar movement of the breaking down of the older order is taking place in the modern society. In the Rerum Novarum, the weakening of the older order can be seen by the Pope detailing how the government should really be treating its citizens. “Non-owning workers are unquestionably citizens by nature in virtue of the same right as the rich…” (RN pp. 15). He is challenging the position that some people are holding on their opinions of the poor. This is how he is addressing how to weaken the older order; by destroying these primitive stereotypes of the poor and the rich, he is bringing about a new way to restore peace and harmony in society. In The Communist Manifesto, the battle between the Proletariats and the Bourgeoisie becomes more defined. He calls every class conflict a political conflict, This is also where Marx describes what he thinks the revolution of the workers will be like. The workers become the rulers, and work to eliminate private property. “Every form of society has been based on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. The modern laborer sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence in his own class.” (CM pp. 12). This topic can easily be tied to the issue of a violent revolution occurring among the working people. He describes that this society cannot live under the bourgeoisie’s rules and therefore, the bourgeoisie is not compatible with society. The industries of society are also advancing, which will spark revolutions to change the old order. Karl Marx is detailing that there will be revolutions to overturn the old order, while the Pope is detailing the kind of rules he wants to implement to change the old order. “And in like manner there are many things in which the power of the State should protect…it is more effective that the authority of the law anticipate and completely prevent the evil from breaking out by removing early the causes from which it would seem that conflict between employers and workers is bound to arise.” (RN pp. 18). The Pope is asking for action to be taken by the government, rather than simply address the problem like Karl Marx does, in order to effectively prevent a violent revolution from breaking out.

Both of these documents talk extensively about gender roles. They also talk about the importance of the father and the children, but seem to address the mother, or the woman, as a ‘working’ asset. “The bourgeoisie sees his wife as a mere instrument of production.” (CM pp. 17). Marx talks about a bourgeoisie marriage, which involves a system of wives and the idea of ‘free love’ for the bourgeoisie. He seems to see women as people who are responsible for reproducing more valuable assets to labor, or children. This way, the women seem to hold a position of domination, but are alienated at the same time. He even introduces this topic with the statement, “But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the bourgeoisie in chorus.” (CM pp. 17). Marx does not dive too deep into this topic in The Communist Manifesto other than just mentioning how a woman is a means of production to her husband. In Rerum Novarum, the Pope says that whatever wages the man is earning should be enough to provide for his family back home, his wife and for his children. “Finally, it is not right to demand of a woman or a child what a strong adult man is capable of doing or would be willing to do.” (RN pp. 19). He goes on to discuss that there are certain occupations that are less fitting for a woman. Both of these texts seem to inhibit the ability of a woman to be able to perform a task because of how much easier it would be for a man to do it, however, that is all both texts are saying about gender roles.

Karl Marx does not seem to provide many solutions to the problems he is addressing. The Pope, on the other hand, addresses the problems and comes up with a reasonable set of solutions. These two documents do draw parallels at the general ideas, like the weakening of the old order, class conflicts, and thinking about violent outbursts among the people. To only a certain extent, these documents are parallel.

Personal Reflection:

I always held a close-minded view of what communism was and I never paid attention to the kind of individual that Karl Marx was. I had never read Rerum Novarum up until this course, and I never went to the extent of fully viewing The Communist Manifesto. I did appreciate reading Rerum Novarum, especially seeing how the Pope wanted to address the problems visible in society. The Communist Manifesto did open up several mental doors, including the ones that better clarified what the idea of Communism really is about. I am glad that I read these two documents and that I was able to understand these two individuals a little bit better than what I probably would have imagined them to be.

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