Naturally, feeling curious and rebellious, I bought it for a mere pound. This was a small, personal act of rebellion against my American Southern conservative Christian upbringing. I did not realize this beforehand, but this infamous and villified piece of literature measures but 30 pages in length. As soon as I got home, I began to tear into it, curious to see how the hype surrounding this pamphlet matched the reality of its contents. What follows is a summary/review of what I drew out of The Communist Manifesto.
SummaryIn the first few pages of the pamphlet, Marx proposes that humanity is divided into two groups: the bourgeoisie and the proletariats. In short, the bourgeoisie is the ruling class and the proletariats are the working class. The proletariat exists for the sole purpose of making the bourgeoisie money, or capital. The proles provide cheap labour for minimum wage, and then in turn, the bourgeoisie makes a huge profit on the goods produced by the proletariat. Once the workers earn their measley paycheck, most of it is taken back by the bourgeoisie in the form of taxes, rent, and purchased good.
As Marx continues to describe social conditions of Europe, he talks about several ideas that are still prevalent. He touches on the idea of globalisation, and claims that, in a sense, it is a sort of colonisation attempt by the bourgeoisie. It is in the interest of the bourgeoisie to 'civilise' foreign people, such as occurred with Africa and Asia at the hands of European imperialism. In doing so, new markets are created for the goods produced by cheap proletariat labour, thus increasing the capital of the bourgeois. Marx also proposes that some nations are essentially enslaved to other nations. This is an idea that we refer to now as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd world nations. These are terms we use frequently, but most of us don't understand the meanings of them. 1st world nations are essentially the bourgeois nations. 3rd world nations are the proles. the 1st world uses the 3rd world to produce cheap goods and labour. 2nd world nations are typically communist or socialist nations, and sometimes play the role of 1st world nations and sometimes play the role of 3rd world nations. Marx also talks about wage labour, an idea now know as 'wage slavery' to some. It proposes that hiring oneself out for wages (especially low wages) is akin to slavery. Sure, you're getting paid, but only just enough to survive, just as slaves are treated.
Marx procedes to lay out ten foundations of communism, which are known today as the Ten Planks. I won't list them because they make no sense out of context. Basically, they propose taking the property and money of the bourgeoisie and dividing it among the proletariat, because, after all, the proles are the ones who earned all the money for the bourgeoisie anyways. Towareds the end of the pamphlet, Marx says that communists support any revolution against the established order, regardless of who is rebelling or why. This echoes a bit of anarchism and you begin to understand why the two schools of thought seem to be linked. Not until the very last paragraph of the publication does Marx call for violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie.
First of all, let me say right now that this is not an easy piece of literature to read. It took me over two hours to read 30 pages. I found myself reading paragraphs and sentences over and over again to understand them. The fact that it was translated from German probably didn't help.
To be honest, I am surprised at what I found between the covers of The Communist Manifesto. It was mostly a diagnosis and not a prescription, if you follow me. Marx devotes the vast majority of the book explaining and analyzing the flaws and evil of the current structure of society, and very little time proposing solutions. Many of Marx's diagnoses ring true, unfortunately. The plight of workers has improved significantly since 1848, but it is still evident that workers exist to make the bourgeoisie money, and for no other reason. They are still paid as little as possible, but thanks to unions, the wage is now actually somewhat of a living wage. Also, the diagnosis about enslaved nations probably rings truer now than it did when it was written. Why is all of our shit made in China and Taiwan? Because it is cheaper. Essentially, their economies are subservient to ours (for how long, who knows).
I do feel, however, that Marx has an oversimplified view of society. Only on two or three occasions is the middle class mentioned. Marx paints a picture of a world inhabited solely by wealthy executives and politicians, and blue collar workers. No white collar workers are to be seen. It is possible that the middle class was much smaller in Europe in 1848, but I still felt that they would have been mentioned somehow. Throughout history, the middle class has been extremely influential, and most revolutions have started in the middle class.
After reading The Communist Manifesto, it is evident that Lenin and Stalin in particular, departed from Marx's ideology quite sharply. At the end of the book, Marx has one sentence where he encourages violent revolution. Marx was NOT anti-democracy. He recognized that most elected officials come from the bourgeoisie, and saw the need for reform, but there is certainly no mention of a Premier or a Politburo and the lack of elections and what not. It is evident that the totalitarian aspect of communism was purely Lenin's and Stalin's additions.
While Marx and his writings have been villified in western society since the Cold War, I found The Communist Manifesto quite un-radical. Sure, Marx proposes violent revolution, but look at how our nation was founded - a war over money. Marx was no more violent than any of our founding fathers. His political ideologies regarding property are a bit radical, but not mind-blowingly so, and, in these days of economic turmoil, they start to seem more and more valid.