A Manifesto So Compelling, Intriguing, Controversial, and Most Importantly, Still Relevant Today

The Communist Manifesto (1848)

Author: Karl Marx (1818-1883)

  • One of the most important and influential intellectuals of the nineteenth century
  • Economic situation was very volatile, but usually in poverty
  • Banned from entering many locations due to his radical ideas

Context:

  • Published in 1848
  • Industrial Revolution is either in full swing or starting to take hold, depending on location
  • The Communists has become feared by many in Western Europe, yet the group itself does not have a clear purpose, direction, or organization
    • Many of its members are not that knowledgeable of the complexities and history that Marx was able to notice
  • Western Europe is on the verge of revolution in many different locations – especially Germany

Language:

  • The Manifesto seems to be split into two in this regard:
    • Some sections are very dense with heavy academic wording and style → hard to read
    • Some sections are very straightforward and easy for everyone to understand
      • The list Marx made towards the end of the second section
      • The last words of the Manifesto, which are in all caps and are in simple terms
    • Marx, who ran his own newspaper, likely did this on purpose. Newspapers could publish excerpts from the Manifesto that were clear and easy for everybody to understand. Meanwhile, academics and the well versed could read through the denser sections and understand Marx’s intentions.

Audience:

  • The workers of the world, academics, and political elites were all likely part of the target audience of Marx.
  • Current Communists at the time of Marx’s writings were also part of Marx’s audience because it was in this document that Marx tried to shape the direction of the Communist Party/League.

Intent:

  • Marx was trying to spread the idea of Communism to the rest of Europe and was trying to organize the Communist Party/League.
  • Marx also has a few other motives:
    • Rebuke the Communist Party/League’s critics and return the challenge back in their direction
    • Explain how Communism is different from the varying strands of socialism
    • Explain the history of the bourgeois and the proletariat – highlighting constant class struggle
    • Establish the current state of Communism and revolutionary possibilities across Western Europe

Message:

  • The factory workers, or the proletariat, are the latest in a constant series of class struggle throughout history. The bourgeois are also part of this cycle, and they currently are in a revolution against the feudal powers of old. (These revolutionary beliefs come to fruition in the revolutions of 1848.) For the time being, the proletariat should help the bourgeois in these revolutions. Eventually, the proletariat will revolt against a bourgeois ruling class.
  • It lays the framework for the Communist Party/League, setting it apart from other Socialist groups.
  • All the workers in the world should unite against the capitalism and bourgeois class that oppresses them.

Why:

  • The Communists have been recognized as a threat by many of the Western European powers, and as such, Marx thinks it fitting that he set a standardized position of the Communists and provide leadership to a relatively incoherent movement.
  • Marx likely developed these views after seeing the horrors that capitalism and the Industrial Revolution have caused throughout Western Europe. On top of his own being witness to these situations, he likely has read the writing of many of those before him who also shared some of his thoughts.

Relationship to Previous Readings:

  • Marx alludes to a couple of the writers we have read before, such as Owen and St. Simon. However, despite likely agreeing with their assessment of the negatives of the Industrial Revolution, he distances the Communists from them. In short, in Marx’s perspective, Owen and St. Simon wanted to work within the system and improve all classes, not just the working class. Meanwhile, Marx clearly favors the working class and wants an overthrow or overhaul of the system.
  • Marx is advocating for a complete one hundred eighty degrees from Adam Smith. As opposed to allowing the economy to run its course, as Smith advocates, Marx desires from the state to completely control, balance, and equalize the economy.

Questions:

  • What is the appeal of the Communist Party/League and/or Marxism?
    • Placing yourself in the context of a factory worker, would you want to join?
  • Although we will likely touch upon this later, in what ways did the Soviet Union (USSR) and the People’s Republic of China veer away from the Communist Manifesto?

3 thoughts on “A Manifesto So Compelling, Intriguing, Controversial, and Most Importantly, Still Relevant Today

  1. Excellent use of the ACLAIM method to analyze this reading! You go above and beyond by explaining why Marx wrote this manifesto and comparing it to previous readings. This attempt by Marx to spread communism is quite interesting as it argues that exploitations of one class by another are the motivating force behind all historical developments and that the development of a communist society is inevitable and that capitalism itself is unstable. The appeal of this system is that there will be a complete elimination of social classes but I, on the other hand, would not want to be apart of this system as it doesn’t advocate for superior individual economic development.

  2. First of all, great job with the ACLAIM! I think this is the most thorough application of it that I’ve seen so far. The only detail I would add would be to include Frederick Engels in the author section; the poor guy already gets so little credit–not even an “ism” with his name.

    As for your first question, I would say that the appeal of communism/Marxism is that it asserts that the revolution of the proletariat is both inevitable and guaranteed to be successful; Marx and Engels did not consider in their manifesto that such a revolution could fail. I think that this point also relates to your second question. In never considering that the failure of their proposed revolution was possible, Marx and Engels showed their naiveté. As we can see from both the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, a communist revolution is not guaranteed to be perfect. Marx and Engels laid out a very idealized version of a revolution, down to the rules for the societies that would follow, which appear on pages 141-142 in Blaisdell’s book. Marx and Engels do not recognize that the proletariat can be just as greedy and corrupt as the bourgeoisie.

  3. While you do a tremendous job with the ACLAIM method, what really caught my eye was the question that you raised at the end. The question, what is the appeal of communism and would I want to join, is something that I gave serious thought to throughout the reading. Growing up in the United States and therefore a capitalistic society, communism seems like a foreign idea to me and something that I would not want to partake in, for it limits your upward mobility in whatever field of work you get into. With that being said, I’d imagine that if I were a factory worker in Europe in the middle of the 19th century my thoughts would be much different, for the life of a factory worker in Europe was miserable. Being a factory worker in the 19th century in Europe, you were forced to work in terrible conditions, long hours and you were a part of the lowest class in Europe. Therefore, as a 19th century factory worker, I would welcome communism for I would be in the same class rank as everyone else, for communism sees it that all persons are equal. Ultimately, while I may reject the idea of communism in today’s society, if I were a 19th century factory worker in Europe, I am pretty certain that I would welcome communism and be very excited about the benefits that I would receive.

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