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(Industrial Revolution: Primary Sources)

After living in various places throughout Europe, Karl Marx eventually found a home in England, and he is buried at Highgate Cemetery in London. Reproduced by permission of J. Gordon Melton. After living in various places throughout Europe, Karl Marx eventually found a home in England, and he is buried at Highgate Cemetery in London. Published by Gale Cengage Reproduced by permission of J. Gordon Melton
The philosophy of Karl Marx spread globally, as evidenced by these members of China's Red Guard Movement, rallying in support of Marxist theory and communism. Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos. The philosophy of Karl Marx spread globally, as evidenced by these members of China's Red Guard Movement, rallying in support of Marxist theory and communism. Published by Gale Cengage Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos

Excerpt from The Communist Manifesto

Published in 1848; translation from
German into English by Helen Macfarlane
published in
The Red Republican, June–November 1850

"Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class."

Whether you agree with it or detest its message, there is little doubt that The Communist Manifesto is one of the most influential documents produced during the Industrial Revolution. It is the core document of communism, a form of government in which all the people own property, including both land and capital, in common. The tension between communisim and capitalist democracy was at the heart of the forty-five-year-long Cold War (1945–90) between the United States and the Soviet Union (now the Russian Federation). Communism, and the fight against it, was one of the major features of the twentieth century throughout the industrialized world, as well as in the developing countries of Africa and Asia.

When it was implemented in Russia as a result of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, communism resulted in a dictatorship that seemed in most respects much worse than the conditions that inspired it. Individual political freedoms were crushed completely, and the economic hardships of workers in communist countries were far worse than their counterparts in countries like the United States, which allowed private property and limited regulation of businesses. In 1991, however, Russia ceased being governed by communists, as non-communists seized power peacefully in the wake of an economic crisis. The change in government seemed to signal the collapse of the views of German philosopher Karl Marx (1818–1883) as well.

In the United States, Marx and his philosophy were feared and detested for most of the twentieth century. For forty-six years following World War II (1939–45), the United States was in the forefront of an international struggle between communism and capitalism (the system of private ownership of business). In the 1950s, Americans could lose their jobs for belonging to the Communist Party in the United States because such membership was viewed as unpatriotic, and communism was seen as the enemy of everything Americans held dear, including private property and religious beliefs. In communist countries, even worse fates, such as execution or deportation to remote labor camps, befell people who advocated an end to communism in favor of capitalism.

The ideas behind communism were an important part of the Industrial Revolution, the period when machines and factories were being introduced, changing the nature of work for millions of people. The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848, a time of widespread unrest in Europe. As Marx described in the document, crowded cities, filled with people working in factories, were characteristic of the Industrial Revolution. So too was the fact that many of these workers had barely enough money to live on. Loss of a job meant loss of food and housing, almost overnight. Even in the twenty-first century, workers living in the developing countries of Asia and Africa, which do not have industries to generate wealth, often experience the same desperate conditions that were typical of Europe and the United States in the period between 1850 and 1900. It is perhaps not so surprising that the message of Marx still has appeal in these countries.

Things to remember while reading the excerpt from The Communist Manifesto:

  • The Communist Manifesto was written at the beginning of 1848. It was a year in Europe when industrial...

(The entire section is 3,727 words.)