In January of 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels composed The Communist Manifesto, a developed theory that spread across the world like few manuscripts have ever done. Their revolutionary ideas changed the lives of millions of people and many generations. Marx and Engel’s importance, both ideologically and philosophically, cannot be underestimated.
Marx places a large emphasis on class struggle and its historical ramifications. In fact under the first section of his Manifesto Marx states that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle” (17). Marx believes that human history is defined by the animosity between the working class and the ruling class. The power of the ruling class, he believes, commands the contentment of the lower classes. He therefore breaks these two classes- the ruling class and the working class respectively-into the Bourgeois and the Proletariat. Firstly the bourgeois, Marx claims, is directly descended from the feudal society that has “not done away with class antagonisms” (18). Marx also explains that the discovery of America, therein “fresh ground” also fueled the rise of the bourgeois class. But the most important factor in the rise of the this ruling class results from a “series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange” (19). The Proletariat, on the other hand, is collectively the working class laborers who have only the means of their own bodies to earn capital. They are considered a commodity by the bourgeois, a machine in the making. Marx considers the proletariat to be slaves of the bourgeois and the bourgeois state. But, as Marx points out, “the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population” (27).
Returning to the impact that the bourgeois had on the period in question, it must be pointed out how the class distinctions came about. Marx credits the bourgeois with drawing everyone, including “barbarians” into civilization through increased communications and productivity. Their creation of enormous cities greatly increased the urban and rural populations. The class distinctions, which were always present historically, grew as they concentrated property into fewer hands and thus created political centralism. Nations were then formed ruled by the powerful, and very rich, bourgeois. Yet as a result of this new system an “epidemic of over-production” resulted (24). This “over-production” is not to mean an over-production of goods but of civilization. The growth of society led to a large pool of famine and discontent, which, Marx believes, forged the “weapons” of their own [bourgeois] destruction.
What the bourgeois did for economics cannot be overlooked or stepped upon. Marx blames the ruling class for turning personal worth into an exchange value. Therefore, the proletariat life is nothing more than extended profit. Marx also credits them with turning “the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science” into paid laborers (21). This process also includes the bourgeois family. Marx concludes that their families are reduced to mere monetary value. The bourgeois woman is also different than the proletariat woman in that the women of the ruling class are only another means of production (more bourgeois) while the proletariat women are nearly equal from the labor standpoint. Consequently the bourgeois must continually revolutionize the industry and constantly reconstruct social mores in order for their race to survive.
The Communists-the proletariat independent of nationality-challenge the constructs of the ruling bourgeois. Marx contends that the communists represent the interests of the proletariat as a whole, working in conjunction with, and not against, other working-class parties. Marx also points out that the communist goals are as follows:
1. formation of the proletariat into a class.
2. overthrow the bourgeois supremacy.
3. conquest of political power by the proletariat. (33)
Marx believes that the theory of communism can be summed up into one sentence: “Abolition of private property” (34). By this he does not mean the property of the working class because he believes that it has already been destroyed by the process of industrialization. The communists want only to destroy labor simply for the means of capital.
Hence this leads to the long journey that the communists have before them to complete and fulfill their theory. Marx points out that property, once abolished, must be converted to common property, on that loses class character. This is an important and reoccurring theme in The Communist Manifesto. “The abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom is undoubtedly aimed at” (36). Marx exhibits here that conflict is inevitable and that the communists want to work together as a community, hence their namesake. The proletariat must accomplish, above all, political supremacy, to “constitute itself the nation” (40). Marx optimistically predicts that once the antagonism between classes vanishes, the antagonism between nations will thus vanish, uniting all. With the proletariat in power the means of production will be conducted by the State. Finally the following conditions will be applicable to all nations:
1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purpose.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national and with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production. (42-3)
Marx’s list proclaims and long and rough road to the utopian society that he envisions, but what will result from it would be happiness and contentment. Marx, in completion of his vision finalizes his Manifesto with the powerful lines: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!” (58)