The Communist Manifesto


Karl Marx

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Chains Symbol Icon

At the end of The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels declare that the proletariat must free themselves of their “chains,” referring to the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie under the capitalist system. The use of the word “chains” illustrates that the dominance of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat represents a form of enslavement. This aligns with the authors’ argument that, as the bourgeoisie owns everything in society, the only resource the proletariat has is its labor power, which it must sell to the bourgeoisie in exchange for a wage. With no wealth of their own, members of the proletariat depend upon this wage for mere survival, putting their lives completely at the mercy of the bourgeoisie. Chains, then, represent the restriction that the class system imposes on the majority of society; because the proletariat has no property or wealth of its own, the only thing it has to lose in bringing about revolution is its enslavement. Finally, one of the actual uses of chains is to restrict movement—Marx and Engels are thus implying that the metaphorical chains of the proletariat prevent its own movement out of oppression. Communism, argue Marx and Engels, represents the proletariat’s opportunity to cast off its chains and “win” the world.

Chains Quotes in The Communist Manifesto

The The Communist Manifesto quotes below all refer to the symbol of Chains. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Signet edition of The Communist Manifesto published in 2011.
I. Bourgeois and Proletarians Quotes

Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrialist capitalist. Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the individual army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

Related Characters: Bourgeoisie, Proletariat, Artisans
Related Symbols: Chains
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
IV. Position of the Communists... Quotes

Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.


Related Characters: Bourgeoisie, Proletariat, Communists
Related Symbols: Chains
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chains Symbol Timeline in The Communist Manifesto

The timeline below shows where the symbol Chains appears in The Communist Manifesto. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
IV. Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties
Capitalism and Progress Theme Icon
Intellectual Suppression vs. Empowerment Theme Icon a Communistic revolution,” and declare that the proletarians have “nothing to lose but their chains.” The manifesto ends with Marx and Engels imploring the “WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES” to... (full context)