The Communist Manifesto

by

Karl Marx

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Communist Manifesto can help.

The Communist Manifesto: II. Proletarians and Communists Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Marx and Engels explain that the purpose of communism is to support the proletariat. The Communist political party differs from other working-class parties only in that it seeks to unify proletarians of different countries independent of nationality, concentrating on the movement “as a whole.”
Marx and Engels shift to talking about the specific relationship they foresee between communism and the proletariat. Communism seeks to take advantage of the increased connections between different nations (brought about by bourgeois advancements) to galvanize proletariats from around the world into a single, powerful force.
Themes
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Work Theme Icon
The chief goals of communism are the “formation of the proletariat into a class,” the overthrow of the bourgeoise’s supremacy, and the political empowerment of the proletariat. Communism, according to Marx and Engels, is not based on invented ideas or principles; it merely describes the factual class struggle going on in society.
Marx and Engels are essentially arguing that what is presented in the manifesto is based on objective, rather than subjective, reality.
Themes
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Marx and Engels call for the “abolition of private property.” They explain that they are not against property generally, but are opposed to “bourgeois property,” characterized as “the exploitation of the many by the few.”
Marx and Engels consider the crux of their argument to be about fairness—how can it be fair, they ask, that a minority of the population holds the majority of the wealth and power? Marx and Engels aren’t saying that people won’t be allowed to own anything in a communist society, but that resources will be distributed more evenly.
Themes
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Marx and Engels defend communism against accusations that it wants to stop people acquiring property through their own labor. They say that the bourgeoisie have themselves already destroyed old forms of property, like those of peasants or artisans.
To further emphasize the previous point, Marx and Engels argue that private property rights have already been abolished for the majority of people. Previous working classes did have some private property (for example, peasants often owned a small amount of land on which to farm their own food).
Themes
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Get the entire The Communist Manifesto LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Communist Manifesto PDF
Modern industry, claim Marx and Engels, doesn’t create any property for the laborer. Their work generates “capital,” which only enables further oppression by the bourgeoisie.
Workers don’t own the products they make or earn the money generated by their sale. The money accumulates in the hands of the wealthy bourgeoisie, only increasing their power and, accordingly, their ability to keep the proletariat oppressed.
Themes
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Work Theme Icon
Breaking down bourgeois capitalism doesn’t mean an end to property, but an end to property used for exploitation. Capital is generated by the proletariat, yet it does not become their property. Marx and Engels say communism simply wants to address this inequality; in communist society, accumulated labor will “widen, enrich and promote” the existence of the workers.
Marx and Engels want work to be a positive force in society, not just a means of generating profit and entrenching inequality. In a capitalist society, work is a necessity for survival for the proletariat, but work doesn’t serve them beyond mere survival. Marx and Engels want workers to have ownership over both the products of their work and the nature of that work itself.
Themes
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Work Theme Icon
The bourgeoisie paint communism as the “abolition of individuality and freedom,” but Marx and Engels counter that it is only the abolition of bourgeois individuality and freedom. To the bourgeoisie, “freedom” means only the freedom to buy and sell—free trade.
Marx and Engels imply that the ruling class in society has power over the meaning of concepts and words. “Freedom” to communism and “freedom” to capitalism mean two very different things—and ultimately, the bourgeoisie’s idea of freedom enables them to hoard wealth and maintain their dominant position.
Themes
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
In society as it already exists, private property is already done away with for most of the population. It’s only because those people don’t have any private property that the bourgeoisie is allowed to accumulate so much. The bourgeoisie, then, is hypocritical in criticizing the abolition of private property—it already imposes the non-existence of any property for the majority of society.
This continues Marx and Engels’ line of defense on the abolition of private property. As with most responses to criticism outlined in this chapter, they argue that they are only seeking to abolish the bourgeoisie’s ways of doing things.
Themes
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Communism, to Marx and Engels, is not about depriving anyone of the “power to appropriate the products of society”; instead, communism is about preventing people from using that power to exploit others.
One of the main difficulties with Marx and Engel’s position is that even a system that equalizes everyone’s appropriation of the products of society will require a means of distribution. That distribution will require some kind of concentration of power, opening up the risks that this power will be abused.
Themes
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Marx and Engels’ critics argue that the abolition of private property will make everyone in society lazy. Marx and Engels counter that the bourgeoisie is lazy and gets unfairly rewarded.
From Marx and Engels’ perspective, the proletariat does all the hard work in society, and the bourgeoisie has little to do except manage its exploitation of the proletariat and reap the rewards. This is a slight contradiction, given that in the previous chapter they talked about the immense productive force of the bourgeoisie when it comes to innovations in technology, communication, and interconnectivity.
Themes
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Work Theme Icon
Another criticism Marx and Engels hear about communism is that it will destroy all intellectual products and class culture. To them, however, communism only seeks to destroy specifically bourgeois intellectual notions of “freedom, culture and law.” Furthermore, communism only wants to abolish hierarchical class culture, not all culture generally.
Marx and Engels turn communism’s criticisms on their head by consistently pointing out that it’s just the bourgeois ideas of culture that they seek to abolish.
Themes
Intellectual Suppression vs. Empowerment Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Marx and Engels point out that the bourgeoisie has something fundamental in common with previous ruling classes: it sees its own ideas about how society should be as “eternal laws of nature and reason.”
It’s not surprising to Marx and Engels that the bourgeoisie sees their ideas as threatening—the ruling class always thinks its ideas are the most self-evidently true. By presenting its ideology as merely “how things are,” the bourgeoisie can quell rebellion amongst the proletariat. Although Marx and Engels later advocate for violent revolution, they consider one of the main battles against the bourgeoisie as being an intellectual one. The role of communism is to equip the proletariat with the intellectual “weaponry” needed to combat the received (and false) ideas of the status quo.
Themes
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Intellectual Suppression vs. Empowerment Theme Icon
Communism has also been criticized as wanting to abolish the family, say Marx and Engels. They argue that the bourgeoisie has already ruined family relations for the proletariat, and that bourgeois families are based on “capital” and “private gain.” Marx and Engels say that communism will prevent parents exploiting their children.
Marx and Engels don’t go into too much detail about one of the more seemingly controversial aims of communism—to abolish the family. Their point, if perhaps a little exaggerated, is that bourgeois family relation’s are not about any of things normally associated with family, like love and support. Instead, they are about money. In a sense, Marx and Engels are obliged to argue this line because they have earlier set out that everything in society is governed by economic status. Their other main point here is that communism would not allow children to be put to work, unlike capitalism.
Themes
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Marx and Engels address the question of education. They want to rescue education from the ideology and influence of the ruling bourgeoisie. They attack the bourgeoisie’s sanctimonious defense of family and education; in practice, bourgeois society breaks the family ties of the proletariat and forces young children to work.
This passage fleshes out the “abolition of family”— Marx and Engels are arguing that bourgeoisie exploitation has denied the proletariat the chance to have a happy and healthy family life. So it’s immaterial if some bourgeois families have such a thing, because the bourgeoisie has shown money to be more important than family in general.
Themes
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Work Theme Icon
Intellectual Suppression vs. Empowerment Theme Icon
The bourgeoisie, continue Marx and Engels, even sees women as “mere instruments of production.” Communism is criticized for wanting to establish a “community of women,” which Marx and Engels say has existed since the society began. The bourgeoisie is immoral, indulging in prostitution and adultery. Communism, they say, wishes to create an “openly legalized community of women” and do away with prostitution.
Marx and Engels see the bourgeoisie as hypocritical when it comes to moral issues. Furthermore, they use morality as a tool to oppress the proletariat when in fact “immorality” is largely a symptom of unfavorable economic conditions.
Themes
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Another criticism Marx and Engels often hear is that communism wishes to abolish countries and national identity. Their defense is that working men don’t have those things anyway. Besides, as industrialism increasingly makes different countries the same, national identities lose significance. The success of the proletariat depends on united action across borders.
Any national identity that the proletariat feels is based on bourgeois propaganda. To Marx and Engels, members of the proletariat have no reason to feel a sense of pride in their respective countries when those societies are designed to exploit them. Marx and Engels also believe that the bourgeoisie itself is guilty of undermining national identities—they drive down working conditions across the world in service of their increased industrialization.
Themes
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Intellectual Suppression vs. Empowerment Theme Icon
Marx and Engels do not consider the criticisms of communism from a religious or philosophical standpoint worth addressing. They say that all “ideas, views and concepts” change in accordance with any changes to people’s material existence. The ruling ideas throughout history have therefore been the ideas of the ruling classes.
Marx and Engels see economic circumstances as being the most defining factor of people’s lives. In fact, this implies that the kind of ideas found in religion are a kind of remedy to economic and social hardship, perhaps as the promise of a better life (or afterlife). This is less the case with philosophy because it tends to be the domain of the wealthier and more educated classes.
Themes
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Intellectual Suppression vs. Empowerment Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Marx and Engels say that revolutionary ideas in society are inevitable—elements of new societies form as structural tensions develop in the old. As evidence, they point to the overthrow of ancient religions by Christianity, Christianity by rationalism, and feudal society by the bourgeoisie.
This idea is indebted to the German philosopher Hegel, who had a big influence on Marx. It is a development of the idea that history is a series of class struggles, and that the proletariat’s revolution will the next—and final—structural overthrow.
Themes
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Intellectual Suppression vs. Empowerment Theme Icon
Marx and Engels say they have spoken enough about the bourgeoisie’s objections to communism. Instead, they want to point the way forward. They say the first step in the revolution is to raise the proletariat into the position of power. Then, the proletariat must seize all capital from the bourgeoisie and centralize all instruments of production. Marx and Engels admit that in the beginning, some of these actions will seem harsh and “despotic,” but they’re unavoidable.
At this stage in the manifesto, Marx and Engels feel they have provided the necessary intellectual responses to the criticisms of communism. Now, they look to the future, setting out how the proletariat should seize power and subsequently change society. The obvious difficulty with their suggestion here, which they do not address in the manifesto, is that there is no guarantee the proletariat will use power wisely—or even that its members will share power equally.
Themes
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Different countries will need different measures, but Marx and Engels present ten changes to society that will be “generally applicable.” In summary, these are the abolition of property (including land-ownership), high but progressive income tax, the centralization of money, communication and transport in the hands of the proletariat government, cultivation of unused land, compulsory work for all who can work, the abolition of the town/country division by more equal population distribution and, finally, free education for children and the outlaw of their underage labor.
These are the specific measures that Marx and Engels think will make society fairer. By any standards, they represent a total overhaul of society. Each suggestion is designed to remove the possibility of one section of society getting an edge over another—they want to remove the competitive element from daily life.
Themes
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Work Theme Icon
Intellectual Suppression vs. Empowerment Theme Icon
Over time, the proletariat’s public power will no longer resemble the politics of old. In fact, if successful, the empowerment of the proletariat will bring about the end of the requirement for class struggle and make a society that is truly equal. Instead of bourgeois society, there will be the “free development of all.”
Although the changes Marx and Engels outline are drastic, they believe that the empowerment of the proletariat will represent the final stage in humanity’s series of class struggles.
Themes
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Class and Hierarchy Theme Icon
Inequality and Distribution of Wealth Theme Icon
Intellectual Suppression vs. Empowerment Theme Icon