Communist Manifesto

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The Manifesto, translated from the original German: "Have you ever thought how crazy it is that, like, there's so much stuff? But some people have a lot of stuff, like, way more than they need? And then other people don't have enough to live with dignity, right? Shit, man. That's not fair! It's no wonder that the guys who don't have anything are totally pissed at the rich guys who are basically, like, hoarding the stuff they need. That's the whole history of the world, you know? Those guys being mad at those other guys. And sometimes they get really mad, and just fucking take what's theirs, you know? That happens over and over again, forever."
Jon Stewart[1]

The Communist Manifesto is a thirty or forty page political manifesto (who'd have thunk it?) written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848, describing the basic worldview and dogmas of communism, including class struggle, how capitalism had destroyed all the illusions of feudalism (the family with only one breadwinner, for example), an exact description of communism, and a rant on how bad all other forms of socialism are. The style of the manifesto varies between propaganda, scientific paper and an angry rant by two grumpy old men (although Marx was 30 when he wrote it but he outlived many real workers).

Whatever problems there may be in the manifesto (and there are plenty) it has been unfairly compared to Mein Kampf on multiple occasions. This ignores, among other things, the fact that Marx and Engels were observing and trying to deal with real world problems, not wannabe dictators foaming at the mouth about Jews.

Readers should also be aware that the Communist Manifesto wasn't Marx's serious political work. His political theories were explained thoroughly in Das Kapital—the Manifesto was thrown together in a hurry for the masses, because there were major revolutions going on in that year (though they were all eventually squashed) and they didn't want to be late to the party. A serious treatment of Marx's ideas, then, should focus more on Kapital, provided the reader can stay awake (it's a long, boring read!).

Summary[edit]

The Communist Manifesto is divided into four sections:

  • Bourgeois and Proletarians: Marx explains the rise of capitalism from feudalism. He also argues that history is shaped by, well, who owns what and that everything else is secondary. He finds that (then) modern society has been simplified, with power being divided into two opposing classes, bourgeoisie (capitalists) and proletarian (workers). At some point, Marx believes, the proletarian will figure out they're being given the short end of the stick and decide to cut out the former. Marx believes differences between race, gender, nationality, religion, etc., all wither away in unification of the proletarian; they are all miserable and don't have too much to lose.
  • Proletarians and Communists: Marx describes the goal of communists and their relationship with the proletarian. He lampoons those who call communism as being against freedom, and states that is merely against "bourgeois freedom," the freedom to exploit the proletarian and decide what to do with the fruits of their labor without their consent. Marx rattles against class culture, the modern family (particularly against child exploitation), nationality and traditional ideas (religion, philosophy, ideology). Marx encourages the proletarian to take over the ruling class and gives them a few ideas on how to kick start the communist transformation, including making all land public property, a progressive income tax, abolition of inheritance, confiscation of the property of rebels, a centralized bank, centralized communication and transportation, centralizing factories and farmers, the right (and expectation) for everyone to work, combining agriculture and manufacturing and ending the distinction between town and city by equally distributing people among the land, and finally free education and the end of child labor.
  • Socialist and Communist Literature: Basically, all of the other communists/socialists besides Marx are (according to Marx) excessively foolish (for lack of a better word). He rails against "reactionary socialism," reactionaries who more or less want feudalism back. He is also unhappy with German socialists who support the "petty-bourgeoisie" (shopkeepers, merchants, etc.). He doesn't like "bourgeois socialism," the idea that the philanthropist bourgeois will give up the means of production because it's the right thing to do. Lastly is "critical-utopian socialism," which is against proletarian political action and also hoped socialism could be enacted by showing that it is best for everyone through utopian experiments and the written word. Marx doubted the bourgeois would give up their power so easily.
  • Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties: Basically, communists should stay true, but they should also be pragmatic and work with social democratic parties and even the bourgeois if it gets them closer to their goals. According to Marx, "communists everywhere [should] support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things." They should support democracy and not hide their goals. The manifesto ends with the infamous phrase: "Working Men of All Countries, Unite!"

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race, pg. 96 (Including a photo of Marx and friends on weed.)