Every time election season rolls around, we begin to hear candidates hurl various accusations at their competitors. One frequent reference is communism. Yet, as often as we hear the word, do we actually know the gravity of the word and the meaning behind it? One study found that “more than a third of millennials in the United States now approve of communism while the popularity of capitalism has plummeted.” To get a better understanding of this controversial form of government, we need a deep dive into the original text: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Just before revolutions were breaking out in France (and the rest of Europe), the manifesto was published. Originally, it was published as a pamphlet with about 23 pages. The manifesto is divided into five sections: an introduction and four chapters of decreasing importance. The following touches on the high-points of each section.
Marx begins with two facts. The first being all of Europe has recognized communism as power. The second being a call to action for all believers of communism to share their views with the world.
Chapter one: Bourgeois and Proletarians
In this critical chapter, Marx makes his opinion of the societal class system and the problems that come with it clear. From this, two class types are defined: The bourgeois and the proletarians. The bourgeoisie are the modern capitalists; the people who own the businesses and employ the wage workers. This group is typically considered to be the upper-middle class and above. Marx considers the bourgeoisie to be the oppressors. In comparison, the oppressed are classified as the proletarians who would be the modern wage workers. Marx describes the proletarians as not having the resources to manufacture products themselves. As a result, they are forced to “sell their labor power in order to live.”
The author(s) then details the history of how the bourgeoisie rose to power. Essentially, as the world expanded with the discoveries of new continents and an ever-growing population, the need for production increased exponentially and new methods of mass production were created: steam and machinery. Marx believes that mass production has left no other bond between people other than a cash exchange. He even goes as far as to say that capitalism caused the death of chivalry.
In the end, Marx believes that the bourgeois has exploited the proletarians for financial gain and this exploitation and treatment will cause the working class to revolt against the bourgeoisie. Marx predicted this revolt is possible because of the constant evolution of industry and the creation of affordable communication and transportation.
Chapter two: Proletarians and Communists
This chapter opens with distinguishing the difference between class in regard to the proletarians and the communists and is essentially an argument as to why communism is so beneficial. The difference between the two groups is the knowledge and drive to push for a ‘better’ world for the working class, of which the communists are a part. The motive of the communists is clarified: to overthrow the dominant bourgeois. The author then goes on to explain that private party is a product of capitalism and should be abolished. The argument for this is the abolition of private property is not an end to property, but an end to the exploitation of wage workers via property.
The authors recognize several arguments against communism such as the abolition of private property creating laziness. Their counterargument is the bourgeoisie is already lazy and unfairly rewarded. In addition, Marx and Engels detail their advice on beginning a revolution: seize all instruments of production and thus, all capital. The desired end product is a free and equal society.
Chapter three: Socialist and Communist Literature and Chapter Four: Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties
The third chapter details how Marx defines his various types of socialism. Chapter four is the shortest chapter and focuses on the strategies of communists in France, Switzerland, Poland, and Germany. Marx is trying to motivate the working class to take action and ends with “WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE”.
So, what did Marx get right?
While communism may look attractive on paper to many readers, it is far from a successful form of government. However, Marx did have a few accurate predictions:
The advancement of technology will provide exceptional means of communication and make it easier to form a revolution. I wonder what Karl Marx would have thought of Facebook and Twitter.
Marx predicted the globalization of capitalism.