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GAINING A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO
Bourgeoisie: the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labor, the wealthy class
Capital: Money, or the bourgeois form of private property used to produce wealth
Capitalism: An economic system based on the exchange of capital (money)
Communism: A form of socialism proposed by Karl Marx which intends to effect socialist reforms by advocating a revolution of the proletariat (working class)
Proletariat: the class of modern-wage laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live, the lower class
Socialism: A social system which favors collective ownership of the means of economic production and distribution
SUMMARY OF THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO
The Communist Manifesto opens with the famous words "The history of all hitherto societies has been the history of class struggles," and proceeds in the next 41 pages to single-mindedly elaborate this proposition.
In section 1, "Bourgeois and Proletarians," Marx delineates his vision of history, focusing on the development and eventual destruction of the bourgeoisie, the dominant class of his day. Before the bourgeoisie rose to prominence, society was organized according to a feudal order run by aristocratic landowners and corporate guilds. With the discovery of America and the subsequent expansion of economic markets, a new class arose, a manufacturing class, which took control of international and domestic trade by producing goods more efficiently than the closed guilds. With their growing economic powers, this class began to gain political power, destroying the old feudal society which sought to restrict their ambition. According to Marx, the French Revolution was the most decisive instance of this form of bourgeois self-determination. Indeed, Marx thought bourgeois control so pervasive that he claimed that "the executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" (82).
This bourgeois ascendancy has, though, created a new social class which labor in the new bourgeois industries. This class, the proletariat, "wage-laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live," are the necessary consequence of bourgeois modes of production (79). As bourgeois industries expand and increase their own capital, the ranks of the proletariat swell as other classes of society, artisans and small business owners, cannot compete with the bourgeois capitalists. Additionally, the development of bourgeois industries causes a proportional deterioration in the condition of the proletariat. This deterioration, which can be slowed but not stopped, creates within the proletariat a revolutionary element which will eventually destroy their bourgeois oppressors. As Marx says, "What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable" (94).
In Chapter 2, "Proletariats and Communists," Marx elaborates the social changes communists hope to effect on behalf of the proletariat. Marx notes firstly that the interests of communists do not differ from the interests of the proletariat as a class; they seek only to develop a class consciousness in the proletariat, a necessary condition of eventual proletariat emancipation. The primary objective of communists and the revolutionary proletariat is the abolition of private property, for it is this that keeps them enslaved. Bourgeois economics, i.e., capitalism, requires that the owners of the means of production compensate workers only enough to ensure their mere physical subsistence and reproduction. In other words, the existence of bourgeois property, or capital as Marx calls it, relies on its radically unequal distribution. The only way the proletariat can free itself from bourgeois exploitation is to abolish capitalism. In achieving this goal, the proletariat will destroy all remnants of bourgeois culture which act to perpetuate, if even implicitly, their misery. This includes family organization, religion, morality, jurisprudence, etc. Culture is but the result of specific material/economic conditions and has no life independent of these. The result of this struggle will be "an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the development of all" (104).
QUOTES FROM THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO
Pick 3 of the following quotes and rewrite them in your own words. Think of and record an example of how this quote could be applied to today’s society.
EX: "Society as a whole is more and more splitting into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat" (80).
Society is divided by the rich and the poor. In today’s society there exists a growing margin between those that upper and the lower classes.
1. "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles" (79)
2. "The executive of the modern state is but a committee for the managing of the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" (82).
3. "[The bourgeoisie] is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society" (93).
4. "What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable" (94).
5. "The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all the other proletariat parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, the overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat" (95).
6. "...the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property" (96).
7. "In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all" (105).
8. "Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!" (120).
Pick 3 of following questions to answer. Develop strong responses written in complete sentences.
1. Who is the Communist Manifesto's target audience? What are its aims as a document?
2. Why do Marx and Engels claim that the bourgeoisie inevitably produces its own gravediggers?
3. What do Marx and Engels mean when they describe the proletariat as a revolutionary class?
4. How is modern Industrial society self-destructive? Why does Marx believe that the end of modern society will represent the end of social classes?
5. Why do Marx and Engels insist that the abolition of private property is central to revolutionary change?
6. Why is it necessary for Communists to call for a worker's revolution, if they believe that such a revolution is inevitable?
7 It can be very difficult to figure out what Marx believed a Communist society would look like. What hints does he give in the Manifesto about his vision of this future society?
A MARXIST INSPIRED POEM
Read the following poem. Use your “Pick a Lens, Any Lens Literary Theory” Handout and follow all steps to apply the Marxist lens.
Let’s go, Students (Daniel Viglietti)
Let’s go students,
To the streets and the squares.
For life is calling us.
Let’s go, comrades,
Our heads high;
Who fights for something
Today it is arms,
And tomorrow, what will they be?
What will they be? What will they be?
Today it is stones,
Think about it
Let us march,
Our fists clenched,
And our hearts in revolt.
Let’s us go like a river,
In the streets and the squares
Crying out what Artigas
Will one day tremble,
A cold wind,
We’re going to get them
Get them! Get them!
We are the new
Of the spring.
Against our voice
There are no barriers
We will defeat
The darkened air
Let’s go, let’s create
A new dawn.