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The Communist Manifesto

By: Karl Marx

The Communist Manifesto was conceived as an outline of the basic beliefs of the Communist movement. The authors believed that the European Powers were universally afraid of the nascent movement, and were condemning as "communist," people or activities that did not actually conform to what the Communists believed. This Manifesto, then, became a manual for their beliefs. In it we find Marx and Engel's rehearsal of the idea that Capital has stolen away the work of the artisan and peasant by building up factories to produce goods cheaply. The efficiency of Capital depends, then, on the wage laborers who staff the factories and how little they will accept in order to have work. This concentrates power and money in a Bourgeois class that profits from the disunity of workers (Proletarians), who only receive a subsistence wage. If workers unite in a class struggle against the bourgeois, using riot and strikes as weapons, they will eventually overthrow the bourgeois and replace them as a ruling class. Communists further believe in and lay out a system of reforms to transform into a classless, stateless society, thus distinguishing themselves from various flavors of Socialism, which would be content to have workers remain the ruling class after the revolution. The Manifesto caused a huge amount of discussion for its support for a forcible overthrow of the existing politics and society.

The Communist Manifesto is divided into a preamble and four sections, the last of these a short conclusion. The introduction begins: "A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre." Pointing out that parties everywhere—including those in government and those in the opposition—have flung the "branding reproach of communism" at each other, the authors infer from this that the powers-that-be acknowledge communism to be a power in itself. Subsequently, the introduction exhorts Communists to openly publish their views and aims, to "meet this nursery tale of the spectre of communism with a manifesto of the party itself".

The first section of the Manifesto, "Bourgeois and Proletarians", elucidates the materialist conception of history, that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". Societies have always taken the form of an oppressed majority exploited under the yoke of an oppressive minority. In capitalism, the industrial working class, or proletariat, engage in class struggle against the owners of the means of production, the bourgeoisie. As before, this struggle will end in a revolution that restructures society, or the "common ruin of the contending classes". The bourgeoisie, through the "constant revolutionising of production [and] uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions" have emerged as the supreme class in society, displacing all the old powers of feudalism. The bourgeoisie constantly exploits the proletariat for its labour power, creating profit for themselves and accumulating capital. However, in doing so the bourgeoisie serves as "its own grave-diggers"; the proletariat inevitably will become conscious of their own potential and rise to power through revolution, overthrowing the bourgeoisie.

"Proletarians and Communists", the second section, starts by stating the relationship of conscious communists to the rest of the working class. The communists' party will not oppose other working-class parties, but unlike them, it will express the general will and defend the common interests of the world's proletariat as a whole, independent of all nationalities. The section goes on to defend communism from various objections, including claims that it advocates communal prostitution or disincentivises people from working. The section ends by outlining a set of short-term demands—among them a progressive income tax; abolition of inheritances and private property; abolition of child labour; free public education; nationalisation of the means of transport and communication; centralisation of credit via a national bank; expansion of publicly owned land, etc.—the implementation of which would result in the precursor to a stateless and classless society.

The third section, "Socialist and Communist Literature", distinguishes communism from other socialist doctrines prevalent at the time—these being broadly categorised as Reactionary Socialism; Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism; and Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism. While the degree of reproach toward rival perspectives varies, all are dismissed for advocating reformism and failing to recognise the pre-eminent revolutionary role of the working class.

"Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Opposition Parties", the concluding section of the Manifesto, briefly discusses the communist position on struggles in specific countries in the mid-nineteenth century such as France, Switzerland, Poland and Germany, this last being "on the eve of a bourgeois revolution" and predicts that a world revolution will soon follow. It ends by declaring an alliance with the democratic socialists, boldly supporting other communist revolutions and calling for united international proletarian action—"Working Men of All Countries, Unite!".

 

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

German

Published In

1848

Author

Karl Marx

Prussia, Stateless

Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary.   Due to his political publications, Marx became statel...

More about Karl Marx

Friedrich Engels sometimes anglicised as Frederick Engels (28 November 1820 – 5 August 1895), was a German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist and revolutionary socialist. He w...

More about Friedrich Engels

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