In most respects, the concerns of Marx & Engels are very different than those of today’s Left, but in certain other respects their work, especially in the Communist Manifesto, provide a template for almost all Leftist thought. There are three especially important ways in which they provide such a template.

One: M & E write,

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

The key phrase: “in a word, oppressor and oppressed.” The essential point is not that there are different social classes, but that the differentiation is always (a) binary and (b) morally asymmetrical. One class oppresses the other. There are no negotiations, no balance of powers, no possibility of collaboration or reconciliation. Moreover, “the history of class struggles” is the only history – it’s not the main event, it’s the one event. Nothing else matters; nothing else exists.

Two: Oppressors do nothing but oppress. It is their only form of action. Thus, “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” Oppressors do not – indeed cannot – love children. They can only exploit and oppress children, both theirs and the children of others. It is not possible for the oppressor class to have virtues.

Three: Communism, as Marx & Engels articulate it, is anti-humanistic. That is to say, they have no category of “the human.” As Edmund Wilson points out in To the Finland Station, their contemporaries the Communist League (also known as the League of the Just) adopted the motto “All Men Are Brothers.” This idea Marx & Engels strenuously repudiate. “Workers of the world, unite!” – and unite against your class enemies, with whom you cannot be reconciled, whom you must utterly destroy. A version of genocide – class being the marker of gens – is baked into the system.

At the outset I said that these principles effectively constitute the modern Left. But they constitute the modern populist Right as well. Replace “bourgeoisie” with “coastal elites” and the “deep state”; replace “workers of the world, unite” with Trump’s “I am your retribution” and J. D. Vance’s “Our people hate the right people.” Different targets, same logic. It’s conceptual Marxism — a conceptual order that gets extracted from the political-economic specifics of the argument and then is redeployed.

(This is also, not incidentally, how Judenhass works: Jew and gentile are “oppressor and oppressed”; it is not possible for Jews to have virtues; genocide is baked into the system.) 

The single most significant political division in the Western world today is between those who deploy this logic and those who don’t; between, in other words, Manichaeans and Humanists. The only two parties that matter.