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 workers staged riots and revolutions in several cities, including Paris, France; Vienna, Austria; and Berlin, Germany. Marx was writing his manifesto (a statement of principles or intentions) as a political document designed to attract members to his political party, called the Communist League, one of many political parties competing for support from workers.
- For the most part, the economies of Europe in the 1840s were quite different from today. Wealthy individuals typically owned one modest-size factory. Large companies with factories in many countries were unknown. Many companies were family owned, whereas in the twenty-first century, industrial enterprises have many owners who have invested in a corporation, which is a kind of artificial person that the law recognizes as the owner of property. Thus, when Marx writes about the bourgeoisie (pronounced bourzh-wah-ZEE), he is writing about a specific and fairly large number of individuals and families who owned factories and other related enterprises and who worked together politically to try to make sure governments passed laws that were in their interest. Marx saw politics as a struggle between these property-owning individuals and the workers they hired, whom he called the proletariat.
- Marx goes to some length to describe how the class of factory owners—the bourgeoisie—had already carried out a revolution of their own. That revolution was what we call the Industrial Revolution, the rise of large factories and the disappearance of small workshops owned by skilled workers, such as weavers and blacksmiths. The Industrial Revolution also involved the migration of millions of people from the countryside and small towns to big cities where the new factories were located. Marx said people should not fear revolution since revolutions were natural in the course of history, and a communist revolution would be both natural and the inevitable result of the Industrial Revolution.
Excerpt from The Communist Manifesto
A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich [Prince Klemens von Metternich (1773–1859), political leader of Austria] and Guizot, [François Guizot (1787–1874), leader of France]: French Radicals and German police-spies.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
Two things result from this fact:
- Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power.
- It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of communism with a manifesto of the party itself.
To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London and sketched the following manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages.
Bourgeois and Proletarians
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.
The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.
Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. 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.
From the serfs of the Middle Ages sprang the chartered burghers of the earliest towns. From these burgesses the first elements of the bourgeoisie were developed.
The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.
The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolized by closed guilds, now no longer suffices for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed aside by the manufacturing middle class; division of labor between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labor in each single workshop.
Meantime, the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even manufacturers no longer sufficed. Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionized industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, MODERN INDUSTRY; the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.
Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.
We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.
Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance in that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association of medieval commune: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable "third estate" of the monarchy (as in France); afterward, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general—the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative state, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors," and has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment." It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable free-dom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation into a mere money relation.
The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigor in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man's activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former exoduses of nations and crusades.
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.…
The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralized the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralization. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class interest, one frontier, and one customs tariff.…
In proportion as the bourgeoisie, i.e., capital, is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class, developed—a class of laborers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These laborers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market.
Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labor, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labor, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. What is more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labor 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.
Modern Industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army, they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois state; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.
The less the skill and exertion of strength implied in manual labor, in other words, the more modern industry becomes developed, the more is the labor of men superseded by that of women. Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are instruments of labor, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and sex.
No sooner is the exploitation of the laborer by the manufacturer, so far at an end, that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portion of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.…
But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more. The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalized, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labor, and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level. The growing competition among the bourgeois, and the resulting commercial crises, make the wages of the workers ever more fluctuating. The increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon, the workers begin to form combinations [trade unions] against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots.…
Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a genuinely revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.
The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay, more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history. If, by chance, they are revolutionary, they are only so in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future interests; they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat.…
In the condition of the proletariat, those of old society at large are already virtually swamped. The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations; modern industry labor, modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character. Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.…
In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.
They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.
They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement.
The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only:
- In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.
- In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.…
The distinguishing feature of communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property. But modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few.
In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.
What happened next …
- The revolutions of 1848 did not succeed in overturning traditional political and economic systems; established authorities restored order. This did not deter Karl Marx and his English colleague and coauthor Friedrich Engels (1820–1895). Marx went on to write Capital, published in 1867, which was his analysis of how modern economics works, an answer to Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations (1776; see entry). Marx's writing continued to inspire revolutionaries for decades, and his theories were embraced by the Communist Party of Russia, which seized power in 1917 and formed the Soviet Union.
- Marx thought that history followed an inevitable path, and he predicted in The Communist Manifesto that everyone who was not a wealthy owner of factories would join the working class (the proletariat) until there was a violent revolution. In fact, within twenty years of the publication of The Communist Manifesto, the political picture in Europe had changed dramatically. Political parties based on the working class had begun to achieve results in reigning in some of the worst abuses of factory owners without a violent revolution. Their movement, called "social democracy," achieved widespread political power throughout Europe in the twentieth century. The "inevitable" revolution predicted by Marx did not come to pass, except in the Soviet Union in 1917, and there under circumstances very different than those envisioned by Marx.
- Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the late-twentieth-century decision by China's leaders to encourage private business owners, the figure of Karl Marx remains revered by hundreds of thousands around the world. Many others revile him as a prophet of evil, particularly for his criticism of religion and its role in society. The idea of Marxism remained a powerful force a century and a half after The Communist Manifesto was published.
Did you know . . .
As a person, Karl Marx was impatient and sometimes disagreeable. He alienated people with his sarcastic wit and blunt way of speaking. But at the same time, he was a devoted family man. He married his childhood sweetheart, and the couple had seven children, of whom four died as infants or children. Marx was devoted to his children. Of his surviving children (all three of whom were daughters), two married French Socialist politicians who became members of Parliament. His third surviving daughter married a British labor organizer.
For more information
Berlin, Isaiah, Sir. Karl Marx: His Life and Environment. 4th ed. New York and Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Eagleton, Terry. Marx. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Marx, Karl. Capital: The Communist Manifesto and Other Writings (includes translation of The Communist Manifesto from German into English by Helen Macfarlane published in The Red Republican, June–November 1850). New York: Carlton House, 1932.
Pipes, Richard. Communism: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2001.