The Communist Manifesto is among the most widely read and widely discussed written work known. It was a short statement of the aims and arguments of the revolutionary movement in Germany, but was soon recognized worldwide.
These notes on it, lightly edited, are from the pages of the Texas Communist Party.
Communism already (in 1848) inspired fear among Europe’s rulers. Communists needed a public explanation of their views, goals, and tendencies. Thus, progressive leaders of many nations gathered in London to create this straightforward declaration, this manifesto.
1. Workers and Capitalists
- Class struggle explains all written history.
- The main economic classes of the past, such as slaves, aristocrats, kings, and serfs had the relationship of oppressor versus oppressed. They fought constantly until, eventually, they either destroyed themselves or transformed society into a new and better stage.
- Capitalism sprang from the ruins of feudalism as property owners took power from the aristocrats who had ruled. As capitalists took over governments, they re-shaped them to advance capitalism. Governments in capitalist countries are committees for furthering the interests of the capitalists.
- From the 18th century, capitalism raged through the planet. It destroyed other economic classes and exploited the lands and peoples of all nations.
- Some previous classes all but disappeared as the capitalists took power, but the working class became the main opponent of capitalism. Capitalists are driven to improve their methods of production to outpace other capitalists. One result is that they tend to drive down prices. Another is that they constantly try to lower workers’ wages and benefits. Just as capitalists constantly need more and better machinery, they also need more and better-trained workers.
- Big capitalists tend to displace small ones, whether farmers, small producers or small shopowners. As they are displaced, they become workers. Thus, capitalism creates more workers. Through constant training and regimentation, capitalists also strengthen the working class and make it more and more capable of taking over.
- Capitalism reduces all economic and social activity into a search for profit. Capitalist politicians act on the behalf of their own national capitalist class.
- This is especially evident in foreign affairs, where the politicians are willing to sacrifice the lives of millions to gain advantage for their own capitalist class.
- Even though the capitalists have created marvels far surpassing those of previous societies, it is a serious mistake to think of capitalism as purposeful. It is not. It’s only “purpose” is to create profit for capitalists. Any and all other accomplishments are incidental.
- The third class evident in modern capitalism consists primarily of small businesses, farmers, shopkeepers, and some professionals. They fight the capitalists to maintain their own incomes, but their fight is not a progressive one. In fact, it is anti-progressive, because these middle-class people wish to move history backward to stop the relentless march of big capital. Only the working class is revolutionary, and only the working class can grow in power enough to challenge the capitalists.
- A fourth “class” is sometime considered, but they are extremely weak and not at all progressive. These are the idlers and criminals, who neither produce nor play any independent fighting role. They may temporarily help the workers, but not in any consistent way. They are usually available for hire by the capitalists against the workers.
- When class fought class in previous societies, the revolutionaries had fewer members than the rulers. But the working class movement is a movement of the vast majority of people. They fight within their own nations to overcome their own capitalist oppressors.
- Capitalism, as noted, is capable of great developments, but its progressive role in history soon ends. Instead, its main role becomes that of oppressor, warmongerer, polluter, and destroyer. As capitalism’s progressive role came to an end, the revolutionary role of workers became more important and more evident.
- Fortunately for human kind, the capitalists have created and organized their own replacements. Given the survival of our planet, the fall of capitalists and the victory of workers are equally inevitable.
2. Workers and Communists
- Communists have no interests separate from those of the world working class. We do not have a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” to impose. Every strategy, and every tactic, is taken to enhance the working class and make it stronger. Even though workers’ struggles take place within their own nation, communists maintain a world view.
- The immediate goal of communists is to help the workers form and improve the working class to grow in power and, eventually, overcome the capitalist ruling class. History shows that this changing relationship between oppressor class and the oppressed has ever been the same.
- Communists and workers are no threat to freedom for ordinary people. Rather, they threaten the power of capitalists to continue exploitation. Communists have no intention or reason to take away ordinary people’s property, but they fully intend that the means of production should pass under the democratic control of the people. The authors point out that the workers want no more than what they have created. Capitalists, of course, want it all!
- The rights of women and of children are emphasized.
- As workers, the majority of people, come to power across the world, divisions among people will begin to terminate. Artificial national boundaries and armies will no longer be needed, as people on both sides of every border share common interests. Workers have no separate country.
- Communists strive to extend democracy to all aspects of modern life, including economic decisions. The capitalists control the economies today with no concern for democracy. Workers have always struggled for more democracy, and have won many smaller battles. Once the working class controls the economy, the battle for democracy and the socialist revolution will be complete.
The goal of communists is stated at the end as:
…we shall have an association in which the development of each is the condition for the free development of all.
3. Analysing Socialist and Communist Positions
This chapter is delightful for the authors’ use of language and vocabulary as they demolish the rival philosophies of their time. We don’t have to look at the 19th century to find dishonest authors and quacks with fake answers. Our news stands and bookshelves are full of them today
- To analyze our problems and recommend honest solutions incurs the wrath of the capitalists, while phony analysis and meaningless solutions are safe—often even a good way to make an income and become famous!
- Reactionary spokespeople criticize capitalism, but recommend, as a solution, a return to the romantic fantasies of feudalism, in which the main characters are knights and beautiful princesses, not mud-covered serfs. Other reactionary “socialist” writers attack capitalism, but hope to advance the values of the ruling class. Marx and Engels, Germans, were particularly infuriated by middle-class philosophers of Germany who copied their ideas from the French, but made them even more abstract, spiritual, murky, and obscure.
- Many authors espoused ways to “improve” capitalism and make it more humanitarian. They say that corporate “free trade” schemes will help workers, or that clever corporate personnel policies will lead to a form of socialism. They preach that capitalism will become more and more humanitarian and will eventually become socialism without any need to organize the working class. The capitalists, they say, rule for the benefit of the workers. The historical anomaly of post-war prosperity gave a measure of undeserved believability to these harebrained ideas.
- A third general category of anti-Marxist philosophers was extremely popular then, and enjoyed a resurgence in the 1960s. They are well-meaning “utopian socialists” who criticize capitalism but do not want to organize resistance against it. Their criticisms may be valuable, but their solutions are useless and no threat to capitalism. They organize “counter-cultural” institutions, such as communal farms, private schools, or whole communities in peaceful nations such as Costa Rica, and even in Texas. While clever and brave, they opposed political organization of the working class and thus had no future.
All these “philosophers” are tolerated, even rewarded, by capitalists. Our universities are crammed with them. They make fine after-dinner speakers!
4. Communists and their Opponent Parties
Thoigh short, less than two pages, books have been written about the ideas in this brief chapter. Arguments about it continue still.
- Marx and Engels explain clearly that Communists are with the working class on its immediate aims whatever they may be. They talk about the many and diverse kinds of short-term coalitions they joined in different countries. But Communists also keep their “eye on the prize” of a long-term settlement with capitalism.
- Communists always remind workers of the basic class antagonism with capital. Communists keep the question of property, “who owns what”, in mind. Communists of all countries labor for union and agreement of all who treasure democracy.
The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers Of All Countries, Unite!