The Communist Manifesto

Author: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles.  Marx was a German philosopher, economist, and a revolutionist. Marx published many widely known articles, but some of the most famous include Das Capital, Estranged Labor, and The Manifesto of the Communist Party. Marx worked on a radical newspaper as well, and his ideas remain influential and relevant today. Friedrich Engles assisted with the writing of The Communist Manifesto, and he was a social scientist, philosopher, and political theorist. He was good friends with Marx, and worked with Marx in other writings, such as Das Capital. 

Context: The industrial revolution had rapidly changed the structure of the European economy, and the working class lived in squalor conditions, owning next to nothing. The poor living conditions created feelings of discontent, and the socialist and communist movement was quickly gaining momentum.

Language: The Communist Manifesto is a political pamphlet, and is written as such. It was created to appeal to the common people, and was written in language to appeal to the masses.

Audience: The Communist Manifesto was written to the people of Europe, and it was published in English, French, German, Italian, Flemish, and Danish.

Intent: The intention of the document is to incite a rebellion against the capitalist system, while unifying the Communist movement at the same time.

Message: There are numerous themes in The Communist Manifesto, but one of the most important is the development and overthrowing of previous economic and social structures. The feudal aristocracy was a system built upon a hierarchy, although the feudal system was eventually unable to support the needs of the growing population. Therefore, the growing middle class, the bourgeoisie, eventually overthrew the feudal system. However, the system of class hierarchy did not disappear, as it simply created new classes. For a time, the bourgeoisie was able to support the population, although power and money became concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few. Due to this wealth gap, the vast majority of the population lived in terrible conditions, and because of the terrible conditions, the bourgeoisie lost their right to remain the dominant class. An interesting point made by Marx, however, is that the dominant economic system much reach its fullest potential before it can be overthrown. The guilds, for instance, at their maximum production, were unable to supply the population with their growing needs, so the guild system was replaced by manufacturing. According to this logic, the capitalist system would have needed to reach its fullest capacity in order to be overthrown by the communists.  Do you think Marx would be opposed government regulation of industry if it could make way for a worker’s rebellion?

Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto (1848)

Author(s): Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels

  • Karl Marx (1818- 1883) was a prominent German philosopher whose ideas on economics, labor, and classism have and continue to influence nations worldwide.
  • Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) was also an important German philosopher who shared views and co-authored with Marx.


  • laid out the aims and ideals of the Communist party
  • this manifesto was written after much of Europe had recognized communism as a threat to current powers
  • Communists from several nations worked together to draft the manifesto to replace “the spectre of communism” with a clear representation of the party’s views.


  • Although originally written in German, the Manifesto of the Communist Party was published in many languages in order to reach a broad European audience
    • English, French, German, Italian, Flemish, and Danish
  • Marx writes in a compassionate, but clearly phrased and organized manner. It is clear that this piece was written to address the masses in a language that they could easily understand and rally behind.


  • the manifesto is addressed to self-identified communists throughout Europe in order to unify them with a concrete definition of what it means to be in the Communist party


  • to combat against hostile views of communism common throughout Europe at the time
  • to refute false claims made about the communist party
  • to answer to certain objections made about the communist party (ie. there will be no incentive to work in a communist society)
  • to distinguish and define communism apart from other political views and past revolutions


  • the course of human history to this point has been defined as the struggle between classes. There has always been at least one class dominant over another class(es).
  • Communism will end this struggle because it seeks not necessarily to overthrow the bourgeois, but to put an end to all class-based society and instead create a classless society.

Question: How is this concept of Communism initially received, and what factors contribute to this reaction of the public?

Manifesto of the Communist Party

Of the many thought provoking and avant-garde ideas contained in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party, the core concept is explicitly stated in the opening line of the document where they wrote, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle.” (126) This concept of class antagonisms is alluded to throughout several portions of the text. They believed that the proletariat would ultimately rise up and unify, dissolving all class distinctions to create a society conducted by a tier-less working class. In the process of developing their argument, Marx and Engels described the implications of the bourgeoisie’s rise to power. In this post I seek to expand on this notion.

Marx and Engels wrote that the bourgeoisie had, “replaced an exploitation veiled by religious and political illusions by exploitation open, unashamed, direct, and brutal.”(127) These statements were in reference to how the industrial revolution had created a system of exploitation in which the owners of capital, the bourgeoisie, exploited the wage-laborers, the proletariat, by enacting exploitative labor practices. They believed that the division of labor created a situation where, “He (the worker) becomes a mere appendage of the machine, of whom only the simplest, most monotonous operations are required,” ultimately creating a situation where “the price of a commodity, and therefore of labor, is equal to the cost of its production.”(131) While it is true that the division of labor drastically improves production, Marx and Engels objected to this practice because it marginalizes the worker to the extent where his labor becomes so simplified and monotonous that they lose all bargaining power and leverage against the firm. Adam Smith, in his work An Inquiry into the Nature and Case of the Wealth of Nations, emphatically promoted this division of labor. He did not recognize the inherent pitfalls that inevitably arise with this boost of productive efficiency. Marx and Engels countered this stance by claiming that the increases in production were nullified by the working class’ horrific existence.

Marx and Engels argued that such an exploitative system could only remain in place for a limited time because “the bourgeoisie has not only forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also produced the men who will wield these weapons – the modern workers, the PROLETARIATS.” (130) It appears as though these “weapons” which they allude to are products of the very industrial system that has subjugated the working class: new technologies. Marx and Engels wrote, “the union, which took centuries for the burghers of the Middle Ages with their wretched highways, to establish, the modern proletariat achieves by means of railways in a few years.” (133) Once the proletariat rises up against its oppressors it is capable of commandeering the new technologies that they created with their own labor, such as the railroads, to help disperse their new ideas and help the revolution materialize at a previously unfathomable pace.


In addition to railroads, what other newly developed technologies and structures created by constantly expanding markets would prove to be valuable for the dispersion of communist ideals?

Marx and the Communist Manifesto

Marx delved into the many details describing why the current system was failing and was always bound to fail. He repeated the themes of antagonism and struggle. The proletariat was always in a losing battle against the bourgeoisie. He pointed out that the free market had gotten out of hand. A candle lit by the bourgeoisie had turned into a wildfire, which burnt down cities. The destruction did not stop at borders or coasts. The  system caused barbaric nations to be dependent on civilized ones just as the workers were dependent on the ruling class. After listing the problems he claimed he had a solution: communism. He outlined his plan in ten points which included abolition of private property and centralization of industry and credit to the state among others.

As in any quality piece of writing, Marx addressed a few potential counterarguments. He stated that the proletariat already were stripped of everything to be abolished in his plan, so only the bourgeoisie would be hurt. He claimed that workers gained nothing. He forgot to consider however that in the current system, the proletariat did not even gain the most basic human needs of food, water, and shelter if they did not work. In communism, one could not become wealthy through laziness, but neither could he become wealthy though hard work. If he was lazy, he would at least not die of starvation, dehydration, or lack of shelter for the most part because all of that was provided by the state. Therefore, the easiest option with the highest benefits was to work very lightly. Human nature always causes people to seek the lowest cost highest benefit option.