Summary of The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

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  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023

Summary: 12 min

Book reading time: 1h18

Score: 5/10

Book published in: 1848

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  • The capitalist class exploits the working class in the 18th century.
  • The condition of the working class in the 18th century leads to alienation.
  • Since the class system enables some to exploit others, the suppression of classes through the creation of one big class will prevent anyone from exploiting anyone else. At least in theory.

Table of Contents

What The Communist Manifesto Talks About

The Communist Manifesto is a book written by Marx and Engels. It draws a picture of the social condition of classes in the 19th century. Its thesis is that the only way for the proletariat to stop being exploited by the bourgeoisie is to abolish private property, overthrow the bourgeoisie, and create a society ruled by one same and equal class.

I read the Communist Manifesto when I learned it was such a short book.

While I am far from being a Marxist or a communist, it was an interesting read.

I was surprised to see I agreed with Marx’s observations regarding the fate and conditions of the working class (today, the employees).

I’ve always said that communists and libertarians both agreed with what they observed. Both of them see that society rests on the working class which doesn’t get adequately compensated for their work.

However, their paths diverge when it comes to solving this problem.

While communists seek to unite to take down the system and replace it with hypercentralization, libertarians leave individuals the choice to escape it through entrepreneurship.

While I am far from sharing communists’ revolutionary methods, I understand them – much more than traditional socialist methods.

In a way, I am a revolutionary, but from an individual perspective. I think it’s far more fulfilling to make your own revolution, quit your job and build your company than it is to go fight policemen and burn governmental buildings.

One leads to transcendence and self-actualization. The other one leads to poverty, anarchy, and dictatorship.

Find below a summary of the Communist Manifesto.

Buy the book here.

Summary of The Manifesto of the Communist Party by Marx and Engels

Chapter 1: Bourgeois and Proletarians

All societies across history can be characterized by the same constant: the struggle of classes. Be it in the Middle-Age, the Roman Empire, or anywhere else, there has always been a class of oppressed and a class of oppressors.

Their clash was resolved when one won over the other.

Today, this struggle has been simplified with the opposition of two big classes: the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat.

The recent scientific and commercial advances developed free trade at a speed never seen before, and with it, the rise of the bourgeoisie.

Their fate is tied to the economy. As one developed, so did the other. The state acts as a manager for the bourgeoisie’s sake.

The bourgeoisie has ended all religious and political exploitations (feudal, patriarchal). It replaced them with transactional relations (cash payment) between all men.

Yet, transactional relations are just another type of exploitation.

Due to the nature of the market (demanding ever bigger profits), the bourgeoisie must relentlessly innovate the means of production to increase production at cheaper costs.

This goes against the interests of the working class as they need to constantly change and adapt to follow up on the innovation.

The bourgeoisie, due to the constant search for new markets to sell their products, has transformed the production and consumption of goods and services, from a local industry, to an international one, which destroyed local businesses.

National preferences became impossible. The local literature was replaced by world literature.

The bourgeoisie, by pushing the market everywhere, has transformed the most barbarian civilizations into civilized societies. They created a world in their own image.

They have made countries dependent on cities (since this is where production happens) hence making the rural peasants now dependent on them too.

This has led to an extreme concentration of the propriety of means of production within fewer hands, as the political power increasingly became centralized.

image 72
The countryside has become dependent on what happens in cities.

The bourgeoisie has created more production capacities in the last hundred years than the rest of the world since its beginning.

They built industries on the back of the feudal system and transformed it into a capitalist system.

As one system collapsed, another one was born.

History repeats itself now, as the bourgeoisie is no longer capable to control their own productive machine.

Capitalism creates economic crises that threaten the entire system and the fate of the bourgeoisie itself.

The bourgeoisie’s solution to these crises is to destroy the wealth that was created in surplus, and to look for new markets to sell their goods to, hence making the next crises more powerful every time.

The weapons with which the bourgeoisie killed feudalism (free production and free trade) are now about to kill the bourgeoisie itself.

And those who will carry these weapons are the proletarians.

Capital enabled the bourgeoisie to develop which enabled the proletarians to develop – a class of people whose fate is tied to their capacity to find work and create ever more production for the bourgeois.

These workers, in the job market, are a commodity that is bought, sold, hence obeying the law of demand and supply.

With the invention of machinery and the division of labor, jobs lost their individual characters. Since these jobs are easy to perform, the proletarian is paid what barely allows him to survive.

Modern industry has transformed small shops into big factories where workers are arranged like soldiers and commanded as such.

They are slaves to the bourgeoisie, the bourgeois state, and the machine they operate.

The more modern the industry becomes, the more the workers become alike. Today, it doesn’t matter if the work is made by a man or a woman, the result is the same.

Both of them have become instruments of labor.

Let’s summarize: the new production methods have destroyed the qualities once sought in artisans, making both the middle-class and the peasants, men and women, mere instruments of production due to the decrease of qualifications to work in factories.

Doing so, they have created two classes, the bourgeoisie, and the proletariat.

If the proletariat comes together, they will be able to oppose and fight the bourgeoisie.

Worker unification is difficult to achieve since in the job market, they all compete for similar positions. But their growing number makes association possible.

image 73
Competition VS Unity.

The bourgeoisie is constantly fighting with the aristocracy; with another portion of the bourgeoisie who has no interest in further technical development; with the foreign bourgeoisie, etc.

As such, they need to drag the proletariat in the political arena for help (by seeming like they defend their interests), which gives the proletariat weapons to fight them and seize power.

All the classes that at some point ruled society subjected the rest of society to their conditions. The proletariat must do the same. Since they are characterized by the fact that they own nothing, their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property.

All previous movements were minorities. The proletariat is a majority movement that benefits the majority. They cannot raise if they don’t break the upper classes.

As we have seen, all societies have been based on the struggle of classes. However, certain conditions must be met so that the enslaved class can continue its existence. Serfs managed to become members of the commune while the petty-bourgeois eventually became a bourgeois.

All at some point, have evolved, except for the proletariat. The peasants, instead of rising, sank deeper below the conditions of survival. This outlines how the bourgeoisie can no longer be in charge of society. They cannot take care of their own slaves and keep them alive.

The bourgeoisie survives thanks to the formation of capital, which increases thanks to wage labor, which rests on the fact that workers compete for jobs against each other.

image 74
Technical innovation has pushed the bourgeoisie up and the proletariat down.

To break this cycle, workers must unite.

We can see how the bourgeoisie, with their behavior, is digging their own grave.

Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are inevitable.

Chapter 2: Proletarians and Communists

The Communists do not oppose any other proletarian parties. Communists are special because of these two things:

  • They seek worldwide unification
  • They represent the interests of the movement as a whole

Communists are the most advanced section of the proletarian and understand better their conditions.

Their aim is:

  • the formation of the proletariat into a class
  • the overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy
  • the conquest of political power by the proletariat

Communists are not distinguished by the fact that they want to abolish property since throughout history, property has been abolished several times (the feudal property was abolished by the bourgeois, for example).

What they want is the abolition of bourgeois property. However, bourgeois property is the ultimate evolution of the capitalist system, so, to end it, communists have no choice but to take the system down entirely.

The communist program can be summed up with this sentence: abolition of private property.

Not the private property earned with hard labor! Bourgeois property.

After all, wage labor does not create property, but capital, which cannot increase (because employees aren’t paid enough to save). As such, property, in this case, is based on the opposition to capital and wage labor.

Let’s have a look at these oppositions.

While capital belongs to the capitalist, it is in fact a collective product that can be created only if everyone in society works for it.

It is social power.

When private capital becomes common property, it’s only the social character of capital that changes – it shifts from belonging to the capitalist class to belonging to the proletarian class.

image 75
From a capitalist system to a communist system.

The salary for wage labor is the minimum salary, which is the salary that barely enables one to survive enough so that he can come to work. In this context, the employee only exists to increase capital, and lives as long as the interests of the bourgeois require it.

In this society, labor is no means to grow richer.

In a communist society, labor is a means to become richer.

Hence, the purpose of the communist party is the abolition of the freedom of the bourgeois.

Bourgeois are afraid of the idea of abolition of private property, but they don’t realize that for the 9/10th of society, abolition of private property already exists since they own nothing.

As such, the establishment of a communist society would make the abolition of private property only relevant to the bourgeois – since they are the only ones to own something.

Communism does not seek to make appropriation illegal, but the appropriation of the work of others illegal.

Some say that everyone will be lazy without private property.

But those that own do not work, and those that don’t own anything actually work. So, if no one owns anything…

The next thing we need to abolish is the family. The family as it is, only exists in the bourgeoisie, for the bourgeoisie, not for proletarians.

The home education of children should be replaced by a social education.

The bourgeoisie is horrified by this idea, but they don’t realize they have transformed proletarians’ children into mere production instruments.

They see their wives as mere human-making machines, and fear that the communists will free women from their marriage to make them common property.

While it is correct, the real purpose of the communists is to free women from their reproductive status.

Furthermore, bourgeois seduce and sleep with each other’s wives anyway, which isn’t far from what the communist want to introduce: free women being free to do whatever they want.

Communists also want to abolish countries and nationalities.

The proletariat has no country since we can’t take from them what they didn’t receive.

They need to acquire political supremacy and doing so, become the nation itself.

Differences between nations are decreasing, and since the unity of the proletariat from all countries must be achieved, this will make nations redundant. At the same time, this will end the exploitation of a country by another country.

The attacks from religion, philosophy, or any other ideology are benign and useless.

Throughout history, new ideas have emerged out of old ideas and destroyed them.

However, this was done in the context of the discipline itself. Religion, law, political science, philosophy, changed and evolved through new ideas, but they weren’t abolished.

Communism goes against history, and abolishes them all to create new ones.

The reason is that all previous societies were based on class antagonism, which explains why ideas evolved without killing the discipline.

Since communism is a radical change in society, it needs to radically break with traditional ideas, hence abolishing them.

Overall, once the proletariat will seize power and abolish the bourgeoisie, this is what will happen:

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.

Once all classes have disappeared, the proletariat itself will have abolished its class status. Society will be one big association where everyone will be able to develop freely.

image 76
Once the communist revolution will be achieved, classes will be abolished.

Chapter 3: Socialist and Communist Literature

1. Reactionary Socialism

A. Feudal Socialism

In their fight against the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy took the defense of the working class with recycled socialism. This socialism promised the society of the past while announcing terrible problems for the future.

Feudal Socialism was born. It didn’t work because it was grounded in the past and incapable of understanding current times.

The proletariat knows what were the conditions of the working class under feudalism, and that the bourgeoisie essentially arose out of this system.

Practically, feudal socialists are not defending the working class, and benefit from the industrialist system anyway.

B. Petty-Bourgeois Socialism

The petty-bourgeois is a bourgeois arising out of peasantry. They’re constantly pushed down by the bourgeoisie who seek to replace them with machines.

Those that defended the peasants did it from the point of view of the petty-bourgeois.

This socialism rightly denounced the contradictions of modern production; the hypocritical apologies of economists; the disastrous effects of machinery and division of labor; the concentration of capital; the overproduction and the crises; the upcoming ruin of the peasants and petty-bourgeois; the misery of the proletariat; the anarchy in production; the inequalities in the distribution of wealth; the industrial war of extermination between nations; the dissolution of old moral bonds, of the old family relations, of the old nationalities.

This socialism however whether seeks to come back to the feudal system, or to force the current industrial system within the framework of the feudal system.

Hence, it cannot work.

C. German, or “True” Socialism

French socialism originated under bourgeois ruling. When this socialism arrived in Germany, the bourgeois had only started fighting against feudalism (the bourgeoisie wasn’t yet developed).

Due to the different social contexts, French socialism was literally interpreted in Germany.

Germans assimilated French ideas within their own philosophical canvas. The fight for the proletariat against the bourgeoisie got lost due to the non-existence of the bourgeoisie. It became the fight for liberty against tyranny. They called this socialism “true” socialism.

Meanwhile, the fight of the bourgeoisie against the feudal system became more popular (European liberalism).

This gave the “true” socialists the occasion to confront liberalism with the socialist ideals.

While true socialism gave means to the government to fight the bourgeois, it simultaneously benefitted the petty-bourgeois on which rested the entire German system, hence preventing change.

Doing so, it “killed two birds with one stone”, and spread fast. The “true” socialists assumed more and more representing the petty-bourgeois as the “classic german man”, and went as far as condemning communism and the struggle of classes.

2. Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism

Some Bourgeois understand the anger within the proletariat and want to help them improve their lives…but they only do so to keep the system intact.

These are the economists, the philanthropists, humanitarians, etc.

These people want all of the advantages of the bourgeoisie without its inconvenience like the struggle of classes.

They want the bourgeoisie, but without the proletariat.

They are imagining a world where the proletariat is part of society without seeing the bourgeoisie for what it really is.

A second type of socialism entails compensating the proletariat with more material possession.

Obviously, none of these socialisms promote a change of political organization and the abolition of the bourgeoisie itself.

The bourgeois socialism wants free trade “for the working class”, reform of the prison system “for the working class”, etc.

Bourgeois socialism can therefore be summed up as “the bourgeois is a bourgeois – for the working class”.

3. Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism

This type of literature finds its origin at the end of the feudal system when the proletariat already tried to achieve freedom, but couldn’t due to the fact that the economic conditions weren’t right.

The literature that was produced during that period was de facto reactionary, calling for social leveling, for example.

The communist system was born at that time, in the early days of the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

The founders of the system understood its structure but struggle to help the proletariat since it was not yet organized nor united.

While the early founders were waiting for more economic power, the situation of the proletariat worsened as the industry advanced (as we said). This made it hard for the proletariat to emancipate.

So they searched for a new system that would create this emancipation.

They knew that the only reason why they cared for the proletariat was that it was the class that suffered the most. They considered themselves far better and above the class struggle, and sought to create a better society for everyone, not only for the working class.

They naturally thought everyone would adhere to their plans. They didn’t want any revolution nor violent means to achieve them, just political reforms.

Hence they were doomed to fail.

This utopian socialism (at a time when the proletariat hadn’t yet understood how screwed they were) was the first instinctive vision they had for a new society.

While a revolution was out of the question, it wasn’t so bad because they attacked every societal principle, which helped with the initial enlightenment of the working class about their condition.

As the struggle of classes got deeper, the will to create a system with all other classes instead of revolutionizing it altogether lost its value. Today, the followers of Utopian socialism are reactionary groups, dreaming to reconcile the opposition of classes.

Chapter 4: Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties

The Communists can be allied with various different political factions in different countries.

They can even be allied with the bourgeoisie in Germany as long as they both take revolutionary actions against the feudal system and the aristocracy.

In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.

Communists don’t hide their purposes. They communicate clearly about the fact that their goals can be reached only by the violent overthrow of all existing social conditions.

The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chain. They have a world to win.

Working Men of All Countries, Unite!

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North Korea, the last communist dictatorship on Earth, and the poorest, most violent, and least free country in the world. Photo by Steve Barker on Unsplash
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