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This paper will review key points and quotes from the “Manifesto of the Communist Party” and then evaluate the book and place it in its sociological context. The book was written in England in 1848. This was a time of great social change brought about by the rise of the industrial age and the modernization of agriculture. There were many places in Europe where workers strikes and small-scale revolutions were happening. Karl Marx was born in Germany to a middle class family on May 5, 1818. His father had converted from Judaism to Lutheranism in order to be able to practice law in Germany. As Marx grew up he had a number of key influences and internal conflicts, which presaged his becoming one of history’s foremost revolutionary thinkers. As a young man, Marx was drawn to the advantages of the upper class, but was at the same time a rebel. Before his university education Baron von Westphalen mentored Marx. However, Marx fell in love with his mentor’s daughter Jenny. While they eventually married the engagement was kept secret for years out of concern for her family’s disapproval. Marx began his college education at the University of Berlin as a law student but discovered he had no interest in becoming a lawyer, this was against his family wishes. He began to study greatly philosophy which also against his father’s wishes. Additionally, Marx switched schools to the University of Jena in Bonn so that his liberal doctorate would be more easily accepted. From an early time in his life, Marx became a political activist and writer. Marx made it his goal to change society and not just write about it. Marx’s early adulthood had him writing liberal to radical articles for newspapers, which got him arrested deported in and from Germany and France. He eventually settled in London where he was supported in part by his friend Friedrich Engels. At the time, London was a place where radicals from many cultures and countries found a home. Ironically, Engels was the son of a wealthy industrialist and spent his early life in his family’s business. Engels was a philosophical Communist, but a practical Capitalist. In the 1840’s, the Communist party was a secret organization and its membership was quite diffuse. The Manifesto of the Communist party was written to change these two issues, bringing openness and unity.
The Manifesto was written as a call to action and a public coming out of the Communist party. Before this time the Communist Party had met in secret due to persecution of their members. The Manifesto begins with a sentence ominous to the ruling class: “A Specter is haunting Europe-the Specter of Communism (pg. 5),” the foremost parties fearing the ”Specter” of Communism were the monarchies of Europe. The Manifesto was the first time The Communist party openly called for the overthrow of Capitalism. “It is high time that Communists should openly in the face of the whole world publish their views, aims, tendencies…with a Manifesto…(pg. 5).” Marx posited that all societies were made up of different classes, with a common thread running from ancient history through feudalism up to the industrial revolution. There was always a ruling or “oppressor” class and then a class that was oppressed, be it slaves or serfs or working men who were naturally in conflict with the oppressors. Marx observed that the industrial revolution was the most dramatic example of this struggle. Marx also observed that as the bourgeois became wealthier, they also became more politically powerful, and further held that all governments over time have existed to maintain the ruling class in power through laws and armed force. Marx saw that the bourgeois created a global span of commerce, undermining the power of individual nation states, using modern means of transportation and communication. However, he opined that the increased power of the bourgeois contained within it their seeds of their destruction. He saw that by stripping the workingman of his dignity and identity that the bourgeois created a vast army of potential opposition.
Marx argued that the Communists were the intellectual and leadership vanguard of the proletariat in the battle against the bourgeois. He further held that the Communist party was a unifying element to unite the struggle of the proletariat across national boundaries, bringing together the best thinking from scattered groups. Marx believed that the nature of labor was not the true problem caused by the industrial revolution. Instead he argued that it was actually the private ownership of the means of production that needed to change. Into this whole discussion of property ownership, he adds intellectual property and art to be owned by the masses.
In The Manifesto, Marx worked through a number of arguments against Communism. He observed that though there are differences between western cultures, they are overwhelmed by the basic struggle of proletariat vs. bourgeoisie. As a result, he posits ten principles that will in general govern the transition to Communism across all nations. The list includes: abolition of private property and inheritances, heavy progressive taxation and ownership of property, banking, communication and transportation by the state, unification and distribution of agriculture and industry, attention on developing wastelands and of critical importance, the universal free education of children along with the elimination of child labor.
In writing the manifesto Marx examined various types of socialism and compared them to communism. He valuates and ultimately dismisses different types and forms of Socialism through the ages. In essence, he uses his analysis as a critique of other socialist ideas that might otherwise be seen as confusing or diluting the principles of Communism. These included Reactionary socialism, Petty-Bourgeois Socialism, and True German Socialism. Marx also explores what he calls Conservative or Bourgeois socialism. This Marx dismisses as impossible. Marx also explored a second form of this socialism, in which the industrial revolution can create a better life for the working class. This he dismisses as unlikely. Finally, Marx addresses Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism. This is the area where various reformers tried to change one thing or another about the industrial revolution. He looks at utopians such as Fourier, St Simon and Owen, and examines the ideas of each. His conclusion is that they are a fantasy failing to eliminate the natural conflict between the bourgeois and the proletariat. Especially Owen hoped for an evolution of the bourgeois into more enlightened stewards of capital. Marx concluded the Manifesto with the sweeping declaration that Communism supports all radical movements against the existing social and political order. Marx then writes his final sentence, one that was far reaching in its ambition and in its worldwide effects over time: “Working men of all countries unite! (pg. 41).”
The main goal of the Communist Manifesto was to openly call for action of the Communist Party. It achieved this goal and set a path forward for the workingmen of the world to unite and revolt against the Bourgeois, seizing the property of the ruling class. In fits and starts, over the next 100 years, Communism in one form or another spread across nearly half the population of the globe. The Manifesto also stands out as a simple and clear social analysis of the conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed of the industrial revolution.
I especially appreciated Marx’s exposition of the dialect underlying social change. This was not a new idea; indeed it was a very old one based on Aristotle and on Hegel. However, Marx adopts the concept of the dialectic underlying social change which is clear and coherent: the existing order always has within it the seeds of opposition and eventually this interplay of forces results in a new order. The Manifesto’s main strengths were: clarifying the social, political, economic and intellectual history of man in a platform for the Communist Party calling for action by the workingmen of all nations.
In terms of the Manifesto’s weaknesses, Marx failed to anticipate peaceful resolution of the class struggle between proletariat and the bourgeois. Capitalism evolved along the lines of Owen, the Utopian Capitalist reformist in England. Owen shared the wealth he created as a capitalist by creating a better life for workers. He provided better food and living conditions as well as better treatment in the workplace and better education for children. A second weakness of the Manifesto was that it failed to foresee the evolution of Communism. Essentially, the Communist revolution took strongest hold in two agrarian societies, Russian and China. Neither of these had a strong capitalist class and ultimately, Marx failed to see that Workers’ who seized power from the oppressors in turn become oppressors themselves. Rather than an ideal world of universal freedom and shared wealth, Marx’s “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” failed to “wither away.”
If you review the history of Capitalism after 1850 on, the workers of many capitalist societies were able to organize their power within the existing social order. Also, the power of wealth generation in Capitalism created an enormous surplus of wealth for all of society. This meant there was ample wealth for the capitalists to share with workers in order to maintain a stable society. Also, the wealth of ideas has in many ways supplanted the wealth of industrial production. Ideas do not always require great concentrations of capital investment. And in Capitalism, there have been many innovations to facilitate the flow of capital into industry and production. For example, Marx did not foresee that venture capital firms and junk bonds would eventually help redistribute wealth.
My reaction in reading the book was to be inspired to read and study more about Marx. He was an astute observer of politics, economics and society. He saw, during a time of great change and unrest, common principles underlying the world’s turmoil and foresaw a possible path out of the existing times into a newer and better (in his mind) world order. I would recommend the book to all, and It is especially valuable for those in the non-communist world; it serves as a historical basis for understanding the vast social upheaval following the industrial revolution.
The Manifesto definitely challenged me. Marx was a deep thinker with profound insight into our social, political and economic worlds. Although I do not agree with where The Manifesto led society, ultimately it can be argued that for many, life became better than it was during the industrial revolution. However, from my perspective, the gradual reforms and innovations in labor relations, technology, communications and capital markets have created an even better life in a more stable society that the societies created through the revolutions inspired by Marx. I do not believe, if I had written the Manifesto that it would have been different or better. It is a gem of social observation, a brilliant attack on the existing social order and provided practical alternatives, which over time became a great inspiration for action…exactly as the authors intended.
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