The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: Marxism 2011

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Description

The Communist Manifesto reflects an attempt to explain the goals of Communism, as well as the theory underlying this movement. It argues that class struggles, or the exploitation of one class by another, are the motivating force behind all historical developments. Class relationships are defined by an era's means of production. However, eventually these relationships cease to be compatible with the developing forces of production. At this point, a revolution occurs and a new class emerges as the ruling one. This process represents the "march of history" as driven by larger economic forces.

 

Modern Industrial society in specific is characterized by class conflict between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. However, the productive forces of capitalism are quickly ceasing to be compatible with this exploitative relationship. Thus, the proletariat will lead a revolution. However, this revolution will be of a different character than all previous ones: previous revolutions simply reallocated property in favor of the new ruling class. However, by the nature of their class, the members of the proletariat have no way of appropriating property. Therefore, when they obtain control they will have to destroy all ownership of private property, and classes themselves will disappear.

The Manifesto argues that this development is inevitable, and that capitalism is inherently unstable. The Communists intend to promote this revolution, and will promote the parties and associations that are moving history towards its natural conclusion. They argue that the elimination of social classes cannot come about through reforms or changes in government. Rather, a revolution will be required.

The Communist Manifesto has four sections. In the first section, it discusses the Communists' theory of history and the relationship between proletarians and bourgeoisie. The second section explains the relationship between the Communists and the proletarians. The third section addresses the flaws in other, previous socialist literature. The final section discusses the relationship between the Communists and other parties.

Context

In 1847, a group of radical workers called the "Communist League" met in London. They commissioned Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who had recently become members, to write a manifesto on their behalf, soon known as the Communist Manifesto. Marx was the principle author, with Engels editing and assisting. The Communist Manifesto was originally published in London in 1848. Of all the documents of modern socialism, it is the most widely read and the most influential. It is the systematic statement of the philosophy that has come to be known as Marxism.

Marx (1818-1883) was a German philosopher, economist and sociologist, as well as a political revolutionary. He met Engels (1820-1895) when he moved to Paris after 1843, and they worked together on several essays. Marx and Engels are best known for their revolutionary writings about Communism. One of Marx's primary intellectual influences was the work of G.W.F. Hegel. Hegel's theory presents history as a process in which the world becomes conscious of itself as spirit. Marx took this idea and furthered it, arguing that as man becomes conscious of himself as spirit, the material world causes him to feel increasingly alienated from himself. Escape from this alienation requires a revolution.

Marx and Engels were not simply content with theorizing about revolution in the abstract, however. They thought that theory was only useful insofar as it promotes social change, clarifying the proper means and ends of revolution; they were thus not only authors, but activists, and believed that by theorizing they were actively influencing history. The Communist Manifesto can be understood as one attempt to influence history by spreading information about the communist movement.

Marx's theory should be understood in the context of the hardships suffered by 19th-century workers in England, France and Germany. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries created a seemingly permanent underclass of workers, many of whom lived in poverty under terrible working conditions and with little political representation. The Communist Manifesto was written on the eve of the Revolution of 1848 in Germany. The failure of this worker and student-led revolution caused Marx to later revise some of the arguments and predictions that appear in the Communist Manifesto. However, the general structure of Marx's original arguments, as well as its revolutionary tone, remained unchanged.

Terms

Bourgeoisie  -  Composing the class of modern Capitalists, the bourgeoisie are the employers of wage laborers, and the owners of the means of production.

 

Means of production  -  The means of production include not only the physical instruments of production (tools, machines, etc.), but also the methods of working (skills, forms of cooperation, division of labor, etc.), and knowledge that can be applied to production (science, etc.).
Mode of production  -  The economic structure of society that defines people's mode of living. It consists of the means of production as well as the relations of production.
Proletariat  -  The class of modern wage-laborers. They do not have their own means of production, and therefore they must sell their own labor in order to survive.
Relations of production  -  The necessary relations between people as required for a certain form of material production. The relations of production refer to the distribution of the means of production, the forms of possession (collective and individual private property), and the distribution of the product.
 

 

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