Marx and Engels: The Communist Manifesto

Book Cover_Comm Manif

Only forty pages of this book constitute the Manifesto itself.

Britain in 1848, the year of the Manifesto, was a much divided country and there was a general fear of revolution. The Enlightenment had brought about a new way of seeing the world. Along with advances in science and mathematics came the harnessing of power. No longer was manufacture and food production dependent on the horse and the water mill. James Watts’ steam engine, the condensing engine, applied to Hargrave’s Spinning Jenny, invented in 1770, and to Cartwright’s power loom, invented in 1785 and his wool-combing machine, invented in 1789, brought the production of cotton goods on an enormous scale and revolutionised agriculture, reducing the need for human labour. A network of canals provided the necessary boost to transport, enabling raw materials to be moved to the sites of manufacture and products to be carried away for consumption and export. Trevithick’s steam locomotive, invented in 1802, brought power to transport and Stephenson’s rocket of 1829 marked the beginning of the railways.

In search of a better life and relief from hand-to-mouth existence, rural workers moved from the country to the towns, only to find squalor, exploitation, disease and early death for themselves and their children. There were exceptions. Enlightened manufacturers like Wedgwood and the Quakers Rowntree and Cadbury provided decent housing, fair benefits and a reasonable life for their workers.

That was not the norm. Business was the new political power that eclipsed the aristocracy and disrupted the social structures that had developed over centuries. Profit was the principal motive of the mill-owners and to achieve this they were entirely ruthless in their use of human labour. Similar inhumanity occurred in agriculture and 1832 saw the creation of the first trade union in Tolpuddle in Dorset. In 1834 six men were transported to Australia for their activities. This caused widespread outrage and a protest march resulted in four of them returning to England.

Marx and Engels were correct, if selective, in their analysis and a group of communists gathered in London. Marx was tired and sick, so, although Marx’s name is appended, it was Engels who wrote the resulting Communist Manifesto.

The preamble mentions none of these injustices, records the alarm which the Communists party is creating among the powerful and announces:

“I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European Powers to be in itself a Power.
II. 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.”

The original was in German.

Thus from the outset political power is to oust profit. Straightaway the lines are drawn between the Bourgeois, who are blamed for all ills, and The Proletarians. There is to be a class war. Engels provides definitions of the Bourgoisie and the Proletariate in a footnote, as an afterthought, one imagines:

“By Bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern Capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labour. By Proletariate, the class of modern wage-labourers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labour to live.”

The solution is set out after a long analysis and a self-confident rationale in ten measures:

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents 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 together of wastelands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &C., &C [sic]

Nowhere is mentioned the abolition of money. Earlier the manifesto plans the abolition of the family as having evolved to nothing other than Bourgeois property, and denounces the progress of women because it takes work away from men.

Echoes in modern politics are clear. The humanitarian issues earn only a brief, qualified, note right at the end. The measures are to be achieved by an iron grip on the way people are to be allowed to live their lives, with resort to force where necessary.

Socialists are bracketed with the Bourgeoisie. There were, apparently, three brands of socialism:

Feudal Socialism – ” … they join in all coercive measures against the working class, despite their high-falutin phrases, they stoop to pick up the golden apples dropped from the tree of industry, and to barter truth love and honour for traffic in wool, beetroot-sugar, and potato spirits … Nothing is easier than to give Christian asceticism a socialist tinge… “

Petty-bourgeois Socialism –  “… The mediaeval burgesses and the small peasant proprietors were the precursors of the modern Bourgeoisie… Ultimately, when stubborn historical facts had dispersed all intoxicating effects of self-deception, this form of Socialism ended in a miserable fit of the blues.”

German or “True” Socialism – “… German philosophers seized on [French Communist] literature, only forgetting … French social conditions had not immigrated along with them … the so-called Socialist and Communist publications that now (1847) circulate in Germany belong to the domain of this foul and enervating literature.”

Finally the Manifesto announces:

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The Proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

And famously:


Take your pick, a property-owning proletariate operating in a free market with minimal government, or government, imposed violently, ever-present in every aspect of life.

34 thoughts on “Marx and Engels: The Communist Manifesto

  1. The ten pillars that the Manifesto sets out as necessary for a just society, have always been worthy of at least serious discussion, particularly today.

    My attention was particularly drawn to “…….gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country……..” An excellent idea, I think.


    “……Free education for all children in public schools……..”“. While this is more or less now the norm for schooling up to the age of eighteen, it still isn’t the norm for post secondary school education. Shouldn’t it be?

    You also said “……..Earlier the manifesto plans the abolition of the family as having evolved to nothing other than Bourgeois property……..”

    Why did Engels later drop this? Since the Family more often than not emotionally scars its children for life – thereby making the Family at best a two-edged sword – I think a serious public debate about whether the Family should be abolished has never been more needed than today.

    • I note that, like me, you accept the seven pillars of wisdom without question, Christopher. As to:

      Pillar 9 you will be glad to learn that with HS2 and the abolition of most planning controls – one remarkable achievement has been the approval of 850 housing units next door to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage despite the efforts if local reactionaries – introduced by Attlee’s right-wing government, the current Cameron regime is making significant progress.

      Pillar 10 The reactionary forces of the remnants of the Bourgeoisie and their selfish obsession with personal profit are responsible for this oppression. How much longer should I have to rely upon you for my adult education, however revolutionary?


      Abolition of Family Engels did not “drop this” ! Major progress has been made. Everywhere the revolution is dissolving this bourgeois institution. I shall report your anti-revolutionary and decadent distortion of the Manifesto, which will be rooted-out with the utmost rigour. On conviction you will suffer the maximum penalty and humiliation.

      • Your informing me that Comrade Engels didn’t drop the abolition of the Family from his agenda has restored my faith in him, in the way my faith in God has been restored by the fact that the Family is actually in the process of dissolving – something I’d forgotten until you reminded me of it.

        Just as – in the words of Clemenceau – war is too important to be left to the Generals, child-raising is too important to be left to the parents.

          • “……Clémenceau…….the inventor of orangeade…….”

            A bit of a stretch isn’t it, between “Clémenceau” and “St Clement’s” (the bells of)?

            And, if Clemenceau did indeed invent orangeade, he must also have invented lemonade.

            You can’t have your orangeade and drink it too, you know.

    • In other words, eusociality not EU sociality. (I’ve been reading Wikipædia.)

      EO Wilson began by collecting flies but switched to ants because of the shortage of pins in World War II. I guess pins were about all Britain had for weapons in 1939. They are effective anti-fly missiles.

      • Really? I didn’t know that. I come here to learn.

        I actually did read The Communist Manifesto a few years ago. Due to its length, it’s been one of my favorite reads of all time.

        Looking forward to your review of Das Kapital.

        • You come here to learn? And here am I thinking all these years you are that visiting professor I keep reading about.

          I already know all about Das Kapital. In England we use it as the initial letter of a sentence, of a line of poetry, of the first of consecutive quotes of the same person, of a proper noun and in old legal documents of all nouns (sometimes).

          I don’t know about Germany, it looks like they’ve got a lot of rules. 😅

          • German speakers may have more rules, but they also have less of a God complex, wherefore they don’t feel the need to capitalize the word I.

            Like every enlightened professor, ich humbly concede that ich learn more from my students than they learn from me.

          • For your exceptionally judicious use of the Oxford Comma, you have won a free lunch, consisting of bangers & mash, maccaroni & cheese, and M&Ms for dessert. (Simply print out this comment and hand it to the cashier at your favorite London diner in lieu of payment. Let’s see what happens.)

            • Please do not report me at eBay … PLEASE!!!! It would tarnish my heretofore impeccable rating as a seller. Where else could I go and fence all the valuables I find in other people’s homes during my nightly strolls through the neighborhood?

              The essay on SNOOTery is titled Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the wars over usage by David Foster Wallace. Perhaps you can locate it elsewhere online. I’m too busy to do it for you. I must go practice the crwth now.

              Excuses? I’ll show you excuses.

            • So it’s something about people who like to show off their knowledge of the word for a Welsh home-made violin without a bow.

              This is not obscure: pay up or I’ll get the President of the Commission on to you.

  2. Thank you, Richard, for summarizing and then accurately paraphrasing what the Manifesto proclaimed. Particularly striking is the similarity (in my view) between the current political environment in the United States and the ten measures.

    Having been an employee for seventeen years of a large governmental entity-the public school system–and experienced first-hand its impotency at the hands of the teachers’ unions and inept administration, and from there, having opened a private for-profit business which employed twenty-five people, I think I understand what is at stake: there are those who are all about “free stuff ” and there are those who invent, produce, employ, and build. Whether the analogy concerns the EU or a school district, the conflicts have historically been the same, it seems to me.

    The economic debates, rather than philosophical or political ones–where individuals’ prejudices impede factual analysis, seem more viable to societal solutions.

  3. Well, I will read AK’s blog posts of yore later. He did go to the London School of Economics, right? I believe that until one runs a business, one has no clue. Great example of this belief is Barack Obama, our community organizer.

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