In memory of Joachim Bunge, who first smuggled this text out to me in the 1960s, and of my father, who first gave me the Communist Manifesto, printed by a Croatoserbian partisan brigade, in 1945.
If we then in a poem now & here consider the nature
Of people, as the great Lucretius considered the nature of things,
It’s because we too are only vouchsafed a dim break of day…
Brecht, On the Poem for Learning
Wars are destroying the world, & the ruins are visibly haunted
By an enormous spectre, not simply born of war.
In peace it could already be sighted, terror to the rulers
But friend to the children of slums. In scanty kitchens
Often it peeps, horrified, angry, into the half-empty pots.
Often it waits for the exhausted in front of shipyards & mines;
It visits friends in jails, passing without passport.
Even in offices it may be seen & in auditoria
Heard. At times it dons a hat of steel, enters
Huge tanks & flies with deadly bombers. It speaks in many
Tongues, in all of them. And in many it holds its tongue.
It sits as a guest of honour in hovels, a headache of villas,
It has come to change all things & stay forever, its name is
You’ve heard much untruth about it from enemies, from friends
Much untruth also. This is what the classics say:
History books speak of great individuals, how
Their stars wax & wane; how their armies roam;
And further how empires resplend & fall. But the doubting great
Teachers examine the old writings for other lore
& they teach: history is mostly the story of how CLASSES STRUGGLE:
For they see all peoples split into classes struggling among
Themselves. Slaves & plebeians once, patricians & knights;
Artisans, peasants, nobility; burgesses then
& proletarians, processing the enormous economy,
Stand at daggers drawn in enormous contentions of power.
In daring subversion the partisan masters thus added
The story of ruled classes to the story of classes that rule.
Yet the ruling classes behave differently at different times,
Rome’s patricians act other than Spanish grandees,
Burghers of early cities than the later cities’ bourgeois:
Here, a class cleverly uses the hulking despot,
There, the despotic plurality of their own Houses;
One opts rather for bloody wars, another for slyness,
As their specific position allows, but always to strengthen
The rulers’ rule, & always struggling against the ruled.
When peoples leap in slaughter on peoples, behind their battles
Other battles are raging, not so loud, steering the former.
The armies of Rome storm into the far-off icy Pontus
While back at home, in Rome, plebeians & patricians fight.
Germans are warring on Frenchmen, yet German cities, allies to
The Emperor of Germans, also wage war on German lords.
When a truce unites inimical classes to counter the external
Enemy, in true danger or artificial entrapment,
Both win the fight but only one the victory:
That class returns victorious, the other rings the bells,
Cooks the victory banquet & builds the triumphal column.
For deeper & longer lasting than the wars our primers render
Are the wars of classes, open or secret, not for enemy
Cities but for their own, ending only in revolution
Or in a joint downfall of the fighters, rulers & ruled
Thus came about the age, which now is ending, of the bourgeois:
A fleeing serf, he became a burgher of the market town,
Then of the city, & behind its secure walls the guilds
Flourish. Cloth keeps crossing the walls, & commerce awakens
The dreaming country. Seaports build ships that sail to new shores,
Busily round Africa & set courageous sights
On American gold. Opening Chinese & East Indian
Markets, the New World, the accumulation of wares & moneys
Give wings to manufacture, & powerful there appears
From feudal relations a new societal ruler, the burgher.
Industry overtakes crafts. Long will endure the distaff,
But the master crosses the market with less echoing footsteps
And work once divided by guilds is now by the factory owner
Divided within one, bigger workshop. & still the markets
Insatiably grow. Even manufacture can no longer fill
The new demands, & lo! machines & steam overturn
All again, & the manufacturer gives way to the captain
Of industry, commander of workers & financier–
Our bourgeois. The Teachers show us in detail how large
Machine-based industry created a worldwide market
& the market in turn helped to concentrate industry
Till the bourgeoisie had fought its way to eminent rule:
State power attends to the business of the bourgeoisie now
Clothed in pomp & purple raiment, a willing executive board.
And this class has proved a hard & most impatient mistress.
With brazen cheek & iron heel it stamped out the rotten
Patriarchally still idyll, tore up the feudal, old,
Motley ties that bound protector & protégé,
Permitting no nexus but naked self-interest between people,
Payment in cash. The chivalric masters & loyal servants,
Love of native soil, honest craftsmanship, serving
A cause or inner calling, it has drowned in the icy jet
Of calculation, & brutally sold off dignity of persons
As small change. In place of the numberless chartered freedoms
It set up the sole Freedom of Trade. No doubt, this was always
A natural, pious exploitation; now it is naked
& shamelessly wielded.
Physician & priest & judge & poet & researcher, in the past
Still met with pious awe, it hires as workers for wage,
Sends to a doctor the ailing as paying customers, & he sells
His recipe, & the priest sells his consolation.
Justice may now be purchased from the watchman of property, the judge.
Whatever ploughs its inventor imagined, its dealer sells
For swords. Hungrily the artist glorifies, with quick
Nobilitating brush-stroke, the bourgeoisie’s visage,
Versed in the artifice of art he massages for money the lady’s
Languid emotions. Smirking, the bourgeois turns the poets
& thinkers into paid lackeys. The temple of knowledge becomes
A stock-exchange, and even the family’s holy abode
Hustling he stamps with the seal of unholy haggling
Indeed, what are to us the aqueducts of Rome, the pyramids,
What a Crusade, & what even the Great Migration of Peoples,
To us who have seen the titanic buildings & expeditions
Made by this all-upsetting class, that always & wherever
It breathless reaches replaces what it created, living
On upset? Without pausing it alters machines & all products.
Formerly unimagined forces it hauls from air & water,
Creates new materials, never seen on this planet:
Thrice in one generation it changes the cloth of one’s clothes,
The hold of knife & fork frequently alters its feel
In the hand, & the eye is always faced with new formations.
So too are people changed, peasants are into factories
Driven, craftsmen driven in droves to new savage shores.
Villages shoot up & cities where this class digs for ore,
Dead & unpeopled in a flash when it moves away. So quick
A boom was never seen before, nor so quick a bust.
Retaining unaltered the way of production was always the first
Business of the classes that rule–this class is the first that erects
The upset as the sine qua non of society. Building its buildings
On permanently quaking soil, fearing nothing
So badly as rusting & moss, it enforces daily change
On the force of existing relations, all that was stable habit.
The steady & solid is pulled down, the sacred desecrated,
& people stand unsafe, the earth rolling beneath their feet,
Finally forced to examine their living with sober sight.
And all of this happens not in one country or two
For an unquenchable urge to sell off the bulging commodities
Ceaselessly drives the bourgeois class across the whole
Worldwide expanse of the Earth. It must everywhere look around,
Build upon, settle in, everywhere tie the sticky threads.
It makes consumption & production cosmopolitan.
It is at home everywhere & nowhere. It destroys the rich
Crafts & indigenous arts, & fetches its raw materials
From furthest-off places. Its factories service fashions & needs
Brought forth by the most diverse climates. High amid
Clouds the feverish commodities climb up the mountain pass.
They trample on rotting toll-bars that have stood for a thousand years.
Their password is CHEAP! & who are the white-bearded geezers there,
Priests come to curse the blasphemers? Not a chance, they are buyers.
And those walls there, never conquered? –The agents smile
& with bales of lightest calico batter soundlessly down
The Chinese walls. Mountains make way, islands regroup,
Peoples start needing each other. Spiritual wealth too becomes
A commonwealth of spirit. The Roman scholar avidly reads
A formula from Poland, lines penned by an English hand are completed
By a Japanese hand, & together scholars all over the world
Design an image of the world. Literatures of various peoples
Become the world’s literature.
Panting, the coolie hauls from entrails of the foreign vessels
Products never before beheld, & sweating behind them
The great new begetter itself, the machine. Thus the bourgeois
Civilizes barbarians by turning them into further bourgeois.
Like joins to like & produces more likeness, the bourgeoisie
Produces a world after its own image & likeness.
Thus cities lord it over the country, & they grow gigantic
Constantly tearing people from the doldrums of rural duration.
And as cities over country, so the bourgeois nations lord it over
The peasant henceforth; the civilized rein in barbarians
and semi-barbarians, the East becomes dependent on the West.
Machinery & property & people, up to now scattered about
Coalesce into huge formations. Faster & faster,
Implements pile up in prodigious workshops, masses of people
Agglomerate into abundantly producing centers, & the swelling
Property piles up in the hands of a few proprietors.
New political fields are created: loosely bound regions
Separately ruled, with separate laws & separate tariffs
Are pressed together into one nation, with one single
National interest of the class that rules over all.
Never before did such a creative ecstasy happen
As was set ablaze by the bourgeoisie at the time of its triumph.
It created power out of steam & electricity. In few years
It cleared up, as by magic, the wildest continents of the world,
Pumped petrol out of the ground & propelled ships with it & cars,
Extracted coal & amassed it into heaping useful mountains,
Dug up iron untouched by a thousand generations
& forged steel into flexible bridges & heavy turbines
Milking the rivers & lakes to light up villages & towns.
It changed forests into weightless paper. Into distant prairies
The daily paper is flung by trains, good news & bad.
In five decades, as if humans wanted simultaneously
To live in all places of the planet, the ether became a carrier
Of messages. & now the first people rise up in steerable aircraft
Above the earth. No dream had ever shown to humanity
That such forces slumbered in its formative womb nor such liberations.
This gigantic creation of goods was confined & fettered
By aristocracy’s mortmain & its State of absolute kings:
Wrathfully the bourgeoisie exploded its fetters.
Like unto hurricanes arise the creative forces & shatter
Ancient power, supposed eternal. Other classes,
Yesterday servile, tear up the property deeds, codes
Of law & ledgers of debtors, laughing at senile rights.
Ruling opinions were always the opinions of rulers, they follow
The rulers’ downward path, for the flight of thinking must follow
Such tempests: they force the thoughts of people down to the ground
Or wheel them forcibly round to other flight paths.
Right is no longer right, wisdom not wise, all is other.
The temples had seen & defied a thousand seasons’ change
When they tumbled down into dust, shaken by the victors’ step.
But in those left standing, the gods’ countenance changes:
Lo! the Old Ones wondrously look like the rulers today!
Huge are the changes occasioned by new creative forces.
But liberty equality fraternity, what happened to it?
Freedom for the bourgeois to exploit people, say the classics, equality
Before the law for the rich & poor to buy palaces
Or to be permitted to sleep under the bridge arches.
Born out of tempests that bore it to power, the bourgeoisie
Beholds the deadly tempests violent gather against it.
For now that this class, with its new property deeds & rights,
Had conjured forth forces never hereto imagined
It seemed a conjurer who has lost control of the underground
Forces he has brought up. As rain quickens crops, but unceasing
Completely washes them out, so the rising creative forces
Multiply fortunes & powers of the class that rules, but rising
Still further, they endanger that selfsame rule.
From now on the story of commerce & mass production tells
How the forces that create the goods engage in rebellion against
The bourgeois ownership & bourgeois ways to create goods.
Colossal crises, recurring in cycles, similar to huge
& blindly groping hands that grip & throttle commerce,
Convulse in speechless rage companies, markets & homes.
Immemorial hunger had plagued the world when granaries emptied:
Now, nobody knows why, we’re hungry when they’re too full.
Mothers find nothing in the bare pantry to fill the small mouths
While sky-high mountains of grain rot behind walls.
& while bales upon bales of cloth are warehoused, the ragged family,
Overnight kicked out of its rented home, wanders freezing
Through emptied city quarters. He who cursed exploiters
Now cannot find exploiters. Ceaseless was his work,
Ceaseless is now his search for work. But the gate is locked.
Alas, even hell functions no longer. Where now? The giant
Edifice of civil society, built with so much exertion
By so many sacrificed generations sinks back into barbarism.
Not the TOO LITTLE is threatening, the TOO MUCH makes it totter.
The house does not exist for dwelling, the cloth for dressing
Nor the bread for stilling hunger: they must bring Profit.
If the product however is only used, but not also bought
Since the producer’s pay is too small–were the salary raised
It wouldn’t pay to produce the commodity–why then
Hire the hands? For they must produce at the workbench more
Than a reproduction of worker & family if there’s to be
Profit! Yet what then with the commodities? In good logic therefore:
Woolens & grain, coffee & fruits & fish & pork
All are consumed by fire, to warm the God of Profit!
Heaps of machines, tools for entire armies of workers,
Blast furnace, shipyard & mine & iron & textile mill
All sacrificed, cut up to appease the God of Profit!
Yet their God of Profit is smitten with blindness. He never sees
The victims. He’s ignorant. While he counsels believers he mumbles
Formulas nobody grasps. The laws of economics
Are revealed as the law of gravity at the time the house collapses
Crashing on our heads. In panic torment the bourgeoisie
Starts cutting to pieces its goods & wildly runs with the remains
Around the globe, searching for newer & larger markets
(The plague-stricken thus flees but only carries the plague
Along & infects the places of shelter!). In new & larger
Crises it wakes up staggered. But upon the impoverished people –
Whose multitudes the bourgeoisie is whirling around
In planless plans, now thrown into saunas now onto icy
Streets again–it dawns that the Springtime of the bourgeois class
Is over: its constricting world can’t grasp the riches created.
Against the bourgeoisie the weapons are raised that once
It death-dealing swung to shatter the feudal world, for it has
In its turn brought forth a class which swings the death-dealing weapons
Against it. Together with it from the very beginnings there grew
In huge masses its inseparable servant, the proletariat,
That only lives by work but only picks up work
If it quick & abundant adds to the bourgeois’s capital.
As the capitalist is selling commodities so the worker
Sells his commodity, labour-power, & is forced to compete
& to share the ups & downs of the capitalists’ market.
Appendage to the machine, he sells his manipulation
& gets his subsistence & what it costs to propagate
& rear his useful kind, for the price of labour-power,
As of other wares, conforms to the cost of its coming about.
These workers cohabit no more in the patriarchal workshop
Of a master of their craft. Drilled in long columns, foot-soldiers
Of machine trades, they stand in the wide factory halls,
Slaves of the bourgeois class, daily & hourly enslaved.
Work is divided. The workers perform their monotonous part.
The hours run on killing the mind & exhausting the muscle.
What the journeyman of the crafts saw, the product of his hands,
They see no more, no shoe or plough which they would have made.
The machine is ingenious, the worker grows dull, for the grips are simple:
But the effort put in is still huge, the wheels revolve quicker.
No doubt, anybody can do it. Sweating women & children
Surround the workbench, gender & age count no longer.
All they are now is mere tools & living levers, producing
Commodities whose end it is to create Profit.
When they’ve given their exploiter more than they cost, when the exhausted slumping
Hands finally clutch the scanty pay envelope,
At factory gates new robber bands await them: landlord,
Usurer, shopkeeper, physician, all stage their raids.
No doubt, soon enough such “middle classes” as traders, peasants,
& craftsmen fall into the proletariat, because the small profit
Is not enough to buy new machines, or because factory
Production devalues their specialized skill–all are kicked out
From shop or workshop or tenant farm to the army of workers.
And the proletariat climbs up step by step in the war
That rages between the owners of hands & the owners of tools,
A war that came to be as soon as these classes came to be.
Single workers to begin with, then workers of a single plant
Fought their bourgeois owner. They began by fighting the ways
& not the whole system of bourgeois production of goods. They trashed
Foreign commodities & machines, & burned factories down
To rid themselves of this new, more profound enslavement, to get
Back to the feudal enslavement, to arrest, despairing & tired,
The iron hand on the world clock, by themselves forged.
Still scattered all over the country, the proletarians remain
Long disunited, divided by deadly competition
For work, & the divided workers fight first the enemy of their
Enemy, absolute monarchs & landowners, guildsmen
& clerics; for still the flag of progress flutters over
The bourgeoisie, & it’s able to incorporate all victories.
But any victory strengthens also the class it needed
For winning. The growing large industries concentrate proletarians
Into ever huger masses. Workers grow alike:
Who may find a wave in the turbulent torrent? Past differences,
Industriousness or skill, are cancelled working the machine.
Wages are equalized too. They fluctuate & sink in crises
Or totally cease whenever no work is to be had. All of this
Torments all at the same time. Coalitions of workers appear
Seeking to protect their wages. Open collisions begin.
Here & there, briefly, workers may win. More often they lose
The local battle for which they united. But the union stuck
& transcended localities. Trains & then phones connect places.
All over the country scattered skirmishes grow to struggles
Of classes. As a class the workers now fight the political fight.
& the class, oft sundered through competition among its needy members,
Always united anew through new fights fought in common,
Reaches for the letter of bourgeois law & forces the employer
To come a cropper here & there, it manages to pinch
A fleeting little hour or so off the long working day.
But it knows, & when it forgets blows will bring it back:
It has to seize hold of the law & finally break its letter.
The rising class gains much from the old classes’ dissension
& constant infighting. Still the bourgeoisie has to fight
Aristocrats in army & civil service, then within
Itself as the deadly roller of progress rolls over some of it,
& above all & always it fights the bourgeoisie of other
Countries. All these require fellow-fighters from lower
Strata, so it drags the proletariat to political struggles
As helper, & arms its own enemy in the arena.
The proletariat learned how to learn. Painstakingly
Exploited at workbench, drill & construction crane, it needed
Education & was forced into schools. Meagre the knowledge
It got & mostly falsified, but knowledge still of the power
Of knowledge & awareness about their thirst for their own
Angry abuse would a Haroon al-Rashid hear on the market
Against the bourgeoisie. The failing corner-store keepers,
Owners of petty businesses as well as rentiers & farmers
Fight tooth & nail to keep their minuscule property intact.
The carpenter luridly curses furniture factories, the farmer
Big agribusiness, & all deplore our moral decline.
These good people don’t want to subvert the societal structure, its lone
Good side they are attacking & accusing, the great production
Of goods, shaking their shattered fists in vain.
The rotting mob of our cities, formed from putrefaction
Of the old society’s lowest strata, is also oft
Pulled by revolution into proletarian ranks but it is
Only a victim, not an enemy of bourgeois rule, & easily bought
As a bestial servant to batter the proletarians down.
The only class finally that may vanquish the bourgeoisie
& shatter its fettering State is the proletariat. It has
The proper stature & position. What ensured life in the old
Society has long since been swept away & wholly destroyed
In the being of the worker. Without property, to wife & child
Neither family head nor bread-winner, discernible
Barely by nation & race, since identical servitude bound
To identical bench & machine endow him with the same
Identity from the Ruhr to Canton, the proletarian
Sees in religion & morals mere fata morganas,
Prejudices to him behind which hides the robbing grab.
Other classes, having come to power, protect what they got
While dictating to everybody else the novel way of getting.
This class conquers the goods-producing works by wholly repealing
The way they are got. This class has nothing to safeguard for itself.
To the contrary, any individual safeguard it has to destroy.
Mountains of machinery behind fences & walls & hidden even better
By laws, & on this side millions upon millions of willing workers
Terribly torn away from the means of working by fences & walls
& the State’s laws, each a singleton that may be hired
By the hour to set in motion the machines, hired like water-power
Or electricity, for the cost of production, but only if that
Blind God of Profit, the crazy one, nods, the gambler.
The rulers’ rule was always founded on the fact that the ruled
Could somehow live from the toil: their exploitation was sure.
But now the bourgeoisie can manage no more to ensure
A servile life to their serfs. Instead of feeding off
Its proletarians, now it must feed them. It needs to employ them
But has no employment for them & yet lets their numbers swell.
And dehumanization wins, marking the victims
& victimizers, chaos results from the bourgeoisie’s
Plans, the more plans more chaos, & lack is born from production
Wherever it rules, death-dealing to the vast majority.
No longer can society live under its rule. The new class
It raised, the proletariat, will bring it down: it raised
Itself the giant hands that dig its grave.
The vast majority is in this movement, & when it rules
This is no longer ruling but suppression of rule. Only
Oppression shall here be oppressed: the proletarians, lowest
Level of society, must, in order to rise, smash
Into pieces the whole social structure with all its upper levels.
The proletariat can only throw off its special class
Servitude by throwing off the servitude of all.
Copyright (C) Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 1964
Copyright of English translation (C) Darko R. Suvin 1999, 2001.