Book Review: Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto was written in 1847 by a philosopher and revolutionary named Karl Marx. It was published by the Communist League in London on February 21, 1848. Our teacher chose this piece for us because it would help us to understand what communism was and what communists would have wanted for the future. This book is helpful in our studies because we get a deeper comprehension of what society was like during that time. It gives us some insight as to what some people believed and what their hopes were for the future. The Communist Manifesto provides Karl Marx’s perspective and philosophies on society and communism, which may be applicable in today’s world.
Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto to provide his beliefs on the problems of the world and what could be done about it. He explained the social situation at that time as well as what kinds of socialisms were present. He listed what he thought needed to happen to fix the system that was in place. For that, I believe that Marx was hoping to inform and persuade his readers. He wanted to inform anyone who was not yet informed and pull them onto his side of things to join Communism and help the Proletariat. According to brians.wsu.edu, “he spent most of his time and energy on a subtle and complex critique of the capitalist system.” Marx spent more time convincing people that capitalism was wrong than convincing people to support socialism. The Communist Manifesto was written for anyone lower in the class hierarchy than the Bourgeoisie who was looking for ways to help the Proletariat, change the inequalities, or maybe even just looking to understand what was going on and what could be done about it. Marx wanted Communism to grow and spread, and for the members of the Proletariat to join together and take back their lives from the Bourgeoisie. He wanted to call people to stand up and change the system that had held them down. You can read on history.com that “… the work had little impact. Its ideas, however, reverberated with increasing force into the 20th century, and by 1950 nearly half the world’s population lived under Marxist governments.” At first, The Communist Manifesto wasn’t doing what Marx had wanted. It wasn’t until later that the piece started having more of an impact on people. As I was reading, I kept this point of view and Marx’s goal in my mind so I could better evaluate what was solid information and what was put into the writing to persuade people.
Section I. of The Communist Manifesto begins by explaining the past classes in society. Marx goes into ways in which we have seen class systems in the past with oppression embedded inside them. He mentions the serfs, slaves, plebes, and more. He then goes into one of the two classes that he sees in that society: the Bourgeoisie. He explains that the Bourgeoisie comes from feudalism, as feudalism was replaced by manufacturing businesses when countries expanded. Marx then goes into the replacement for the manufacturing system, which was the Modern Industry. He describes the bourgeoisie as millionaires who were leaders of industrial armies. Marx talks about how with each step in the bourgeoisie coming to power there was a political advancement to go with it. Right after, he suggests that the government’s purpose was to assist the bourgeoisie. He then goes into how the bourgeoisie has ruined the aspect of true relationships. Now, everything is about money. People no longer have pride or meaning in the work that they do. He mentions how it used to be that you could see the qualities of a craftsman in the pieces they produced, but not that is gone, as the work has become redundant and all about making more money. All sentimental value, even in having a family, is gone.
Next, he goes into how the Bourgeoisie stays afloat, and what will lead to their fall. Marx says that they must continuously revolutionize the “Instrument of production” that they have. And by doing this, they keep changing how things are done, which keeps everyone on their toes. By needing to do this, the Bourgeoisie also ends up expanding all over the world. Because of this expansion, the Bourgeoisie products are being used everywhere, rather than the products the countries had already been making themselves. This results in the globalization and urbanization of more areas. But now, the Bourgeoisie may have bitten off more than it can chew. Marx explains that the very tools the Bourgeoisie used to come to power are the things that will bring their downfall. Marx says that capitalism can bring about an abundance of production and civilization, which the Bourgeoisie cannot remain in control of, and will lead to their fall. The Proletariat, Marx argues, will play a large role in the Bourgeoisie’s demise. The Proletariat is only growing, and it does the uncharming work for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. Marx compares them to soldiers and slaves, lined up in factories and doing the same boring, dangerous work all of the time. And because of capitalism, more and more people are falling into the Proletariat. Lower members of the Bourgeoisieare pulled down into the Proletariat as they are unable to compete. It’s no longer just the working class. Marx mentions that the Proletariat has tried to revolt a few times, but it’s not widespread enough to instill change in the system. The Proletariat is large enough to overthrow the Bourgeoisie if they were compelled to come together and do so, and as their lives get worse, they begin to form unions. Marx essentially says that the Bourgeoisie has dug its own grave, and the Proletariat will rise and defeat them.
In Section II., Marx begins to talk about communism. He says that communism is there to help the Proletariat. He explains that the goals of communism are to unify the Proletariat as a whole and relieve them of the Bourgeoisie’s power over them. Marx then goes into what he believes must be done to fix some of the problems and struggles that are present. Marx says that there should be no more private property because the current system does not provide equal property to the people. The capital that the Proletariat works hard to make is not given back to them, so they must get rid of the Bourgeoisie’s capitalism. Marx mentions that the Bourgeoisie thinks that communism will only take away individuality and freedom, but the truth is that that will only happen to them, the Bourgeoisie. For everyone else, the exploitation that they’ve had to deal with will ease up. Marx argues that they have to put the Proletariat at the top and have them centralize the instrument of production. Marx then lists the steps he believes must be taken, starting with the abolition of private property, then graduated income tax, then getting rid of inheritance, then seizing the property of rebels and emigrants, then the centralization of credit, then the extension of State-owned instruments of production, then the equal liability to work, and ending with free education.
In the third section, Marx moves on to literature and the different kinds of Socialism. Written by English aristocrats, Feudal-Socialist literature was born after the French Revolution. These socialists wanted to stop the Bourgeoisie, but their motive was that they wanted to keep their power. Next was Petty-Bourgeois Socialism. These socialists are the ones who are falling or could fall into the Proletariat. Their writings acknowledge that there will come a time in which they (as in their class) will be gone, as they will become part of the Proletariat. They also pointed out the inequality in the current system of labor and capitalism. Then there was true Socialism, which was German. German thinkers would base this socialism on French ideas. However, Marx pointed out that Germany and France were very different at this time, so it wasn’t practical. Then there was Bourgeois Socialism, which was conservative. Marx was not a fan of this socialism, as the only thing that the Bourgeoisie wanted was its power and dominance over the Proletariat. These socialists were sneaky in the way that they were people who would seem to be good and honest with true intentions, but we know what they want. The last ism that is spoken about in this section is Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism. Marx says that this was born when the Proletariat was first trying to fix things. But, it wasn’t effective, as the Proletariat wasn’t strong enough yet. Marx explained that these writings were too idealistic to be efficient. On the other hand, Marx did like these writings because they enlightened the Proletariat. Overall, Marx was stating that the writings during the time were revolutionary, while the people were more reactionary, so it didn’t quite work.
The final section was about Communists. Marx begins this section by comparing the communist Party with other national parties at that time around the world. He spends some time on the goals of the Communist Party, which is to revolutionize and change the current system to bring down the Bourgeoisie and to help those who are treated unfairly, or the Proletariat. Marx knows that what he is calling for is harsh, but the downfall of those who were at the top was needed. As the Proletariat never earned anything, they have nothing to lose, and The Communist Manifesto is ended with a call to action.
This piece connected to other aspects of the time like the Industrial Revolution. The Communist Manifesto related to the Industrial Revolution because two of the main focuses, which were the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat, were prevalent during the Industrial Revolution and had the very problems and struggles that Marx was talking about. The Industrial Revolution spread across the world, as did the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. They had their problems, and in Marx’s writing, he explains the very things that the Proletariat could have done (like rising together) to fix things.
Overall, I liked the messages that Marx was sending through the piece. I liked that he was using this writing to try and inform people as well as persuade them to come together, fix the system, and overcome the struggles and oppression that they’ve had in the past. I think Marx was able to inform readers of what the situation was at that time and what could or should be done about it. The ending was really interesting to me, as it called people to come together to make a bigger impact and change. I liked it when Marx would talk about how the Proletariat needed to unite because then they could get things done. I think that those were also the parts that could accomplish his goal of persuading and motivating people. As I was reading, there were other times in which I would have to go back and try again because what Marx was getting at was either confusing or unclear to me. Some of the third section especially with all of the explanations got boring and uninteresting at times. While it wasn’t the easiest read, I do think that it’s a worthwhile one. I think that the piece gave me a more in-depth understanding of the goals of communism and socialism, as well as class struggles and life at that time.
Reading The Communist Manifesto helped me to understand communist and socialist views and goals. It also gave me a better understanding of the Bourgeoisie’s power, tools, and how it impacted everyone’s lives. It also gave me a slightly different perspective on the Proletariat, because I feel like sometimes when you read about the inequality and class struggles of the Proletariat you can begin to see them as completely powerless, but this piece doesn’t put them in that lighting. In this writing, you read more about what they could do together, rather than what they couldn’t do separately. As a student, this piece and assignment pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me to analyze documents I wouldn’t otherwise want to pick up. Because it’s not the more modern writing that I’m used to, this piece helped me better understand different writing styles. And although it did help me in these ways, I don’t think that I would recommend it to others. If it were more interesting or easier to understand then I would, but there were times in which I wanted to put it down, so I wouldn’t tell anyone to read it. Again, the only way that The Communist Manifesto changed was my perspective on the Proletariat because it didn’t show them as helplessly as other pieces have. Although it wasn’t a very fun read, I am glad that I did it.