The Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Karl Marx

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were both born in Prussia, now Germany. They had markedly different upbringings: Marx’s father supported his academic pursuits (albeit insisting his son studied law rather than philosophy), while Engels was pushed into joining his father’s business. At a young age, both men found an affinity with the works of German philosopher Georg Hegel, whose theory that societal progress is the result of conflicting elements had a strong influence over their political writings. Each of them found a community of like-minded individuals in the Young Hegelians, a group of intellectuals that reacted to and wrote about Hegel’s legacy. In 1842, Engels moved to Manchester, England, to work in the office of his father’s cotton mill, giving the young man unparalleled insight into the conditions of the working class and the effects of the capitalist system. Around the same time, Marx edited a German newspaper, advocating for the rights of the masses and pushing its editorial line in a more revolutionary direction. Under threat of censorship, Marx left Prussia with his wife, Jenny von Westphalen, to live in France. In 1844, Marx and Engels met in Paris, becoming close friends and collaborators. Not long after, with the Prussian government exerting pressure on France, Marx was forced to move to Belgium. Engels also moved to Belgium and soon after published a book called The Conditions of the Working Class in England, heavily critical of capitalism. In 1848, Marx and Engels were commissioned by The Communist League to write The Communist Manifesto, arguably the most influential political tract ever written. After this, both men continued to write political works and be involved in the revolutionary activity on the rise across Europe. Political pressure on Marx forced him to permanently resettle in London, England. Engels actively funded Marx’s work, periodically returning to work in business in order to raise finances. In 1870, Engels joined Marx to live in London, eventually dying of cancer in 1895. During the years between the manifesto’s publication and his death, Marx edited the New York Tribune and produced his magnum opus on capitalism, Das Kapital. He died in London in 1883, technically “stateless,” fifteen months after the death of his wife.
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Historical Context of The Communist Manifesto

Marx and Engels were writing in a century that had seen the rapid and wide-ranging development of industrialization. The Communist League formed in order to provide a political retaliation against capitalism, and it was this group that commissioned Marx and Engels to write the manifesto. It was not until the 1870s that the Marx and Engels’ ideas started to gain a major foothold in Europe. As the years went by, the ideas spread further, and countries as far afield as Russia, China, and Cuba made attempts at implementing communism. Though some of these communist societies produced some of humanity’s worst atrocities, Marx and Engels’ manifesto remains an extremely relevant critique of capitalism, inequality, and exploitation.

Other Books Related to The Communist Manifesto

In its declaration that “all history” is the history class struggles, The Communist Manifesto has much in common with Hegel’s theory that progress is made when two conflicting elements come to a head. Both Marx and Engels’ previous publications exert considerable influence on the manifesto too, such as Engels’ The Conditions of the Working Class in England. The manifesto has inspired huge amounts of writing since; Marxism itself represents an entire world of scholarship. Further afield, Charles Dickens’ works present a fictional preoccupation with the same issues that concern Marx and Engels: the lives and environments of the working class, and the inequalities of society brought about by the capitalist class system.
Key Facts about The Communist Manifesto
  • Full Title: The Communist Manifesto
  • When Written: January 1848
  • Where Written: Brussels
  • When Published: February 21, 1848
  • Literary Period: Victorian
  • Genre: Nonfiction, political science
  • Setting: Europe
  • Climax: Marx and Engels declare that all people in the working class must band together.
  • Antagonist: The Bourgeoisie
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for The Communist Manifesto

Procrastination. Marx procrastinated massively in the writing of the manifesto, and it was only the imposition of a tight deadline that inspired the work to be finished quickly.

Translations. Since its publication, The Communist Manifesto has been published in over 200 different languages.