The Communist Manifesto
Karl Marx

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Karim Chandra

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Summary

Summary

The Communist Manifesto is a document which explains the goals of communism and the underlying theory of the Marxist movement. It says that the exploitation of one class by another is the guiding force behind all historical developments. Class relationships in society are defined by the means of production of that era. However, with time, these relationships stop being compatible with the growing forces of production. There comes a time when a revolution occurs and a new class emerges as the dominant one. This process, driven by economic forces, is known as the "march of history.” In modern industrial society, this class conflict is between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. However, the growing influence of capitalism is fast leveling this exploitative relationship between the two classes. In this case, the working class (proletariat) will lead a revolution against the ruling class (bourgeoisie). However, this time, the revolution will be of a different nature than earlier revolutions. In previous revolutions, property or wealth were reallocated to the new ruling class. But proletariats, by nature of their class, have no means of acquiring wealth or property. So, when they become the dominant class, they will have to dissolve all ownership of private property and get rid of different classes in society.

The Manifesto contends that this development is unstoppable and that the concept of capitalism is inherently unstable in society. The communists actively promote this revolution and will support the parties and people who are guiding history to its natural progression. They also believe that social classes cannot be removed by bringing in reforms or changing the governments. Rather, a revolution is required. The Communist Manifesto has four sections. The first deals with the theory of history and the uneasy relationship between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. The second explains the relationship between the communists and the proletariat. The third brings out the flaws in previous socialist literature. Finally, the fourth explains the relationship between the communists and the other parties.

Context

A group of radical workers known as the "Communist League" met in London in  1847 and asked Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to pen a manifesto which famously came to be known as the Communist Manifesto. Marx was the main author while Engel looked after the editing part.

Published in London in 1848, the Communist Manifesto is the most influential and widely read document of modern socialism. It sums up the philosophy of communists which has come to be known as Marxism.

Marx (1818-1883), a German philosopher, economist and sociologist, was an influential political revolutionary who came in contact with Engels (1820-1895) in Paris after 1843. The duo worked together on several essays and became famous for their revolutionary articles on communism. Marx was heavily influenced by the works of GWF Hegel who gave the theory of history as a process which makes the world conscious of itself as spirit. Marx took it one step further by theorizing that as the man becomes conscious of himself as spirit, the material world makes him feel alienated from himself. To escape from this alienation, a revolution is required.

Marx and Engels were not just content with theorizing about the revolution. They were activists who believed that theory was useful only in promoting social change by explaining the means and purpose of revolution. By doing this, they believed that they were actively influencing history. The Communist Manifesto can also be described as an attempt to influence history by disseminating information about the communist movement. Marx's theory is best understood in the context of hardships faced by industrial workers in England, France and Germany in the 19th century.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution gave rise to a class of workers who lived in abject poverty and pitiable working conditions with little political representation.

The Communist Manifesto was penned on the eve of the revolution (1848) in Germany. After the failure of this worker and student-led revolution, Marx revised some of the arguments and predictions in the Communist Manifesto but the general structure as well as the revolutionary tone remained unchanged.

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