The Communist Manifesto

by Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx

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What does the Communist Manifesto mean by the statement that the bourgeoisie has forged the weapons that will be used against it?

The Communist Manifesto states that the Bourgeoisie has created its own demise by building the very tools required for its destruction. This is a specific reference to the modern working class, who have been given more leverage over capital through Trade Unions and political parties. In particular, it refers to how the Bourgeoisie allowed or even encouraged workers to form Trade Unions so that they could effectively produce goods in a more efficient manner. Therefore, workers are now capable of turning their labor power into capital and using it against the bourgeoisie.

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In chapter 1 of the Communist Manifesto, Marx provides the rationale for why the proletariats, or working class people, would eventually overthrow the mechanism of society run by the Bourgeoisie:

The price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of machinery, etc.

Therefore, as labour conditions become less favorable in relation to wage, the Proletariat will find their work unacceptable and incite a revolution. The nature of the weapons you refer to is influence over capital, that which has diminished in the Bourgeoisie class as a result of the end of feudalism. Essentially, the working class now hold labor power and thus have a greater influence on capital. According to Marx, this very transition into a capitalist society is how the Bourgeoisie allowed the working class to acquire these weapons:

Not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons—the modern working class—the proletarians.

At the time Marx wrote his manifesto, workers were sometimes successful in securing increased wages through revolt, but only for a time. Marx emphasized that Proletariats would gradually become more successful due to the combinations of Trade Unions, band together as a political party, and continue to gain strength as a movement.

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The quote essentially means that the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, has sealed its own fate by deliberately controlling all of the means of production and exploiting the labor of the working class, the proletariat. The statement is a reflection of the belief of Marxism that capitalism is, by its own nature, inherently unsustainable, and will always fall when the masses are freed from their ignorance through education.

One of the "weapons" on the side of the proletariat is sheer size. By virtue of their very function, the proletariat must always vastly outnumber the ruling class. Later in the quote you've referenced, the book goes on to say that the masses have "nothing to lose but their chains." This is the ultimate realization that will radicalize the working class into overthrowing their oppressors.

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The weapons that the bourgeoisie have forged that will be used against them are the very people whom they exploit. The working class, or proletariat, are the people who work grueling and/or tediously long hours in for minuscule pay while the boss, or owning class, are able to profit immensely from the working class's labor. According to Marx, in The Communist Manifesto, the working class will reach a class consciousness that will enable them to rise up against the owning class and liberate themselves from the shackles of class oppression. Through this resistance, according to Marx, the working class will seize the means of production and gain control of the work places and products of their labors, as they are truly the ones who are necessary for production, not bosses.

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Marx means that the bourgeoisie, the owners of the means of production, have created a weapon by exploiting the proletariat, who are the masses of people who work for a living. The owners have paid the workers low wages and forced them to endure poor working conditions. The bourgeoisie do this so they can collect the profit the proletariat's labor produces. The proletariat will become a "weapon" when they rise against their masters. First, since there will always be more people in the proletariat than in the upper classes, the proletariat (often called "the masses") will have numbers on their side. Eventually, Marx argues, these people will be politicized and recognize they "have nothing to lose but their chains," as he says later in this work. Once the workers recognize that their labor creates all the wealth in society and that they greatly outnumber their masters, they will rise up in revolution against the bourgeoisie and take over the means of production for their own benefit.

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