The Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto, originally titled Manifesto of the Communist Party (German: Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei) is a short book written in 1848 by the German Marxist political theorists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It has since been recognized as one of the world's most influential political manuscripts. Commissioned by the Communist League, it laid out the League's purposes and program. It presents an analytical approach to the class struggle (historical and present) and the problems of capitalism, rather than a prediction of communism's potential future forms.
The book contains Marx and Engels' Marxist theories about the nature of society and politics, that in their own words, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." It also briefly features their ideas for how the capitalist society of the time would eventually be replaced by socialism, and then eventually communism.
Below comes in part from that Communist Party website:
The Communist Manifesto is divided into an introduction, three substantive sections, and a conclusion.
The introduction begins with the notable comparison of communism to a "spectre," claiming that across Europe communism is feared, but not understood, and thus communists ought to make their views known with a manifesto:
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: Pope and Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as Communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the Opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of Communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
I. Bourgeois and Proletarians
The first section, "Bourgeois and Proletarians", puts forward Marx's neo-Hegelian version of history, historical materialism, claiming that:
"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 re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes."
The section goes on to argue that the class struggle under capitalism is between those who own the means of production, the ruling class or bourgeoisie, and those who labor for a wage, the working class or proletariat:
"The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It ... has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment” ... for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation ... Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones ... All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."
"The essential condition for the existence, and for the sway of the bourgeois class, is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers."
II. Proletarians and Communists
The second section, "Proletarians and Communists," starts by outlining the relationship of conscious communists to the rest of the working class:
"The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any special principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement. The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole."
It goes on to defend communism from various objections, such as the claim that communists advocate "free love," and the claim that people will not perform labor in a communist society because they have no incentive to work.
The section ends by outlining a set of short-term demands. These included, among others, the abolition of both private land ownership and of the right to inheritance, a progressive income tax, universal education, centralization of the means of communication and transport under state management, and the expansion of the means of production owned by the state. The implementation of these policies, would, the authors believed, be a precursor to the stateless and classless society.
One particularly controversial passage deals with this transitional period:
"When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class."
It is this concept of the transition from socialism to communism which many critics of the Manifesto, particularly during and after the Soviet era, have highlighted. Anarchists, liberals, and conservatives have all asked how an organization such as the revolutionary state could ever (as Engels put it elsewhere) "wither away."
In a related dispute, later Marxists make a separation between "socialism," a society ruled by workers, and "communism," a classless society. Engels wrote little and Marx wrote less on the specifics of the transition to communism, so the authenticity of this distinction remains a matter of dispute.
10 Planks of the Communist Manifesto:
- Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
- A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
- Abolition of all right of inheritance.
- Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
- Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
- Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
- Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
- Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
- Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equal distribution of the population over the country.
- Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.
According to the Communist Manifesto, all these were prior conditions for a transition from capitalism to communism, but Marx and Engels later expressed a desire to modernize this passage.
III. Socialist and Communist Literature
The third section, "Socialist and Communist Literature," distinguishes communism from other socialist doctrines prevalent at the time the Manifesto was written. While the degree of invective of Marx's and Engels toward rival perspectives varies all are eventually dismissed for advocating reformism and failing to recognize the preeminent role of the working class. Partly because of Marx's critique, most of the specific ideologies described in this section became politically negligible by the end of the nineteenth century.
IV. Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties
The concluding section, "Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties," briefly discusses the communist position on struggles in specific countries in the mid-nineteenth century. It then ends with a call to action:
"The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win."
"Workers of the world, Unite!"