Last Updated on September 8, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 568
The Communist Manifesto outlines Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’s theory of communism. Originally published as a political pamphlet in 1848, the manifesto was intended to educate the proletariat and spark a communist revolution. The pamphlet was the authors' way of publicizing their views and inspiring others to stand united behind an official manifesto.
The work opens with a powerful—if perhaps theatrical—first line: “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism.” This “spectre,” the text argues, is just as valuable and valid as any other political and economic structure. Seeing this “spectre” as broadly applicable and worthy of widespread utilization, the authors then published their pamphlet in many languages, hence why it is such a ubiquitous theory even today. Communism, in their view, intends to abolish private property and free the proletariat workforce from the oppressive bourgeoisie—to end the “exploitation of the many by the few.”
Separated into four sections, the manifesto begins by arguing that a revolution is natural. Throughout history, class struggles have caused many uprisings from which society came out the better. The authors argue this by referencing examples that span from Middle Age feudalism to nineteenth-century capitalism.
Both Marx and Engels believed it was time for the proletariat to lead their own revolution. Increased industrialization and materialism had, they felt, led to proletariat wage laborers becoming a part of the “machine” and nothing more. These laborers worked for the profit of the bourgeoisie and were given nothing in return, an injustice that could not be resolved by anything short of revolt.
If the proletariat does not fight to end their oppression, the class divide will only worsen: “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes, directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.”
In the second section, Marx and Engels compare communists and proletarians and begin to refute popular arguments against communist theory. Their main point, however, is that the proletariat must embark on a “conquest of political power” to attain the rights and privileges kept from them.
Communism is not simply a reversal in which one group gains power over another; instead, it is the goal of creating a system of “accumulated labour” for the betterment of the majority’s existence. As the authors are quick to clarify: “The distinguishing feature of Communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property.”
The third section outlines previous socialist literature, how they fall short, and why the authors’ theory of communism accounts for these failings. While the authors recognize the virtues of these theories, they are more interested in pointing out their flaws and, by comparison, illustrating the value of communism.
The fourth section outlines the political agenda of communists and how they plan to align themselves with other political parties to further their aim. In this section, the authors deliver their call to action, turning their manifesto into a plea for action and unity.
Having used history and socialist theory to extoll the virtues of communism, Marx and Engels demonstrated that “Modern bourgeois society.. is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.” It is for this reason that all communist thinkers must join together to create a society free from the modern world’s rampant and cyclical injustices.