In the last posts we talked about Reactionary Socialism and its three variants. Marx and Engels were somewhat appreciative of the critic posed by the reactionaries to the Bourgeois State. They, however, acknowledged that it was “retrograde”; that is, it represented deceleration. As such, it was to be sacrificed in the altar of Progress. Pre-industrial society was not part of the dialectical process, but the raw material to be processed.
After their attacks on reactionary socialism, Marx and Engels proceed in their pamphlet to describe “Bourgeois” or “Conservative” Socialism. Their diagnosis can easily be summarized: it’s the product of the bleeding hearts of certain bourgeois types. According to Herman Hesse, to fall into sentimentalism is to indulge in emotions, which, while disturbing, are not strong enough to justify taking action. Sentimentalism, that most bourgeois of mental dispositions, is the distinguishing mark of Conservative Socialism: sentimentalism which doesn’t lead to revolutionary action.
Conservative Socialism’s opposition to the Revolution is temperamental, instead of existential or ideological. It hinders revolutionary acceleration because it finds itself relatively comfortable in a static bourgeois establishment, and its concern is to look for a way to purge Progress of its more negative aspects: to reform it. In contrast of grim, reactionary peasants up in arms, Marx and Engels identify the movement with “economists, philanthropists, humanitarianists, those who aspire to improve the situation of the working classes, charity organizers, animal welfare societies, promoters of campaigns against alcoholism, preachers and social reformers of all kinds (...)”. These socialists don’t see workers as their enemies, and they don’t want to be perceived as such by them either. They have a trusting, can-do attitude, and a faith in the Bourgeois System which paradoxically makes them unable to unleash its potential as a catalyst for Progress-through-Revolution. Consequently, wherever conservative socialists try to improve the material conditions of the Proletariat, they end up thwarting the whole dialectical process.
This dynamic has not changed in its essence since the 19th century. It has, however, adapted to new cultural conditions. Western Revolutionaries, who, unlike the Soviets or the Chinese, had failed in armed revolution, developed Postmodern Critical Theory as a means to expand their ideological battleground. Identifying different collectives as a new oppressed class, the destruction of the Bourgeois State could now be achieved through Kulturkampf. Bourgeois socialists have followed through with this experiment in ideological arms-racing, building substitute, milquetoast versions for every meme the communists came up with, resulting in their deactivation.
An illustrative instance of this can be found in Modern Family, a TV comedy which showcases a bourgeois idealization of modern family life. The show portrays a fairly standard white family, which, despite having a conventional nucleus, includes also a Latin American illegal immigrant single mom and a homosexual couple. In spite of any possible initial misgivings, the “vanilla” members of the titular family are fully supportive of their relatives. Their acceptance is at least partially attributed to the fact that said characters are just normal, well-adjusted people. This inoffensive portrayal, however, erodes any transgressive edge, completely robbing them of their potential to dissolve bourgeois institutions such as the nuclear family. The take-home message, then, is: it’s OK to be gay, especially if you’re happily married and adopting, and not scandalously LARPing as the vulgar twin of Oscar Wilde at chemsex parties. Refugees are welcome, but they should adopt all of our cultural values, preferably mix with the local population, and accept their destined social role as token minorities.
Historically, Conservative Socialism survived in all the countries where the Communist Revolution didn’t succeed. It actually worked as a fantastic vaccine to the revolutionary virus, a mechanism which guarantees its survival. In the contemporary political landscape, civic nationalists and the like are the group heir to the conservative-bourgeois socialists of Marx’s day. They are characterized for being the sector most willing to accept revolutionary conquests which have already occurred. Nonetheless, they would prefer that those conquests be painless and barely noticeable; to absorb them into the body of the Bourgeois State and its existing social institutions. The bourgeois is a pragmatic man: he recognizes unwinnable battles and pretends to have been on the winners' side all the while. This ambiguity allows him to combine Left and Right-wing sensibilities –a fact which, by the way, should make us reflect on the meaning of Conservatism and the bogus nature of the Left-Right dichotomy.
Conservative Socialism might be sentimental and self-righteous, but it is neither stupid nor harmless. Revolutionary governments are perfectly aware of the mechanisms of socialist disruption, as they should be. That’s why serious, savvy communists like our friends in the PRC are taking none of that NGO-y, worker’s rights crap from the West. When Western conservatives agitate for the improvement of conditions in Chinese factories, their intention is not to rile the workers up against the government. They sincerely want them to have better conditions, because in their comfort they will turn as indolent as westerners are. Chinese Capitalist Communism drags the West from the revolutionary future, and when conservatives feel the pull, they instinctively resist it. There's no ill-will here, as there might not be in the writers of modern sitcoms; it's all about the feels.
This article is part of a series centered around the Communist Manifesto. The next installment will be published shortly. You can read the previous article here.