Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Communist Manifesto - Seminar Summary

In our latest seminar we took a look at the Communist Manifesto, which is widely considered one of the world's most influential political manuscripts. Written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the document lays out the purposes of the communist league, which was the first 'Marxist' international organisation. Marx was born in 1818 into a Jewish family, studying a mixture of law, philosophy and Journalism (much to the dismay of his parents) He met Engles in 1844, 4 years before the document was published.

Before looking further into the document, it's worth quickly going over the key terminology.

What is communism? Essentially, it is a form of socialism that abolishes private ownership. In other words, it favours the concept of living in a classless society, where property is commonly controlled.

What are proletarians? Defined as a member of the working class, although they are not necessarily employed. It's also worth mentioning that Marx felt that eventually the proletariat were likely to rise to power over the Bourgeois.


Who were the bourgeois? According to Marxist opinion, the bourgeois were classified as being part of the property-owning class, exploiting the working class (the proletarians)

The document begins with the phrase: "A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of communism". This is a reference to Hegel's idea of the zeitgeist. Hegel undoubtedly had an influence on some of the ideas explored within the manifesto. Marx introduces the text well with an introduction that justifies its creation, writing: "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".

Part 1, entitled 'Bourgeois and Proletarians', begins with a statement that claims society has always tried to order its members. Clearly, as a communist, this is something Marx is against. He writes, "In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere is a complicated arrangement of society into various orders". Marx develops this point further using the example of Ancient Roman society, arguing that even today the problem of class divide is still present. For the bourgeoisie, its always been about commerce and commercial value. Everything stems from the economy and the demand for financial power and dominance.

The manifesto explains the dangers of the seemingly unstoppable growth of 'bourgeois society', stating: "Modern bourgeois society [...] is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spell". The bourgeoisie has taken people with impressive qualifications and roles (e.g lawyers, doctors) and identified them not for the skill they show in their work, but the money they earn for this work. According to Marx, society seems to find itself in a state of barbarism due to to much civilization, too much industry and too much commerce.

The connection between slavery and the power of the bourgeoisie is developed throughout the manifesto. The idea suggests that because of the machinery, the work of the proletarians has lost its character. In other words, charm for the workman has vanished. As the manifesto states, "The proletariat have become slaves to the machines they operate". It also goes on to describe society's transformation through industrial development, stating: "Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist".

The second part of the manifesto explores potential solutions to solving the issue of class divide. The text begins by reminding the reader of the aims of the communists, which are: A) Formation of the proletariat into a class. B) Overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy. C) Conquest of political power by the proletariat. Marx suggests that private property should be taken away entirely, in favour of a society that revolves around collectivism. Marx goes on to put forward 10 points that state clearly his aims. They are as follows:

1) Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land 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) Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly
6) Centralization of the means of communication and transports in the hands of the state
7) Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan
8) Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture
9) Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country
10) Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.

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The Communist Manifesto (originally Manifesto of the Communist Party) is an 1848 political pamphlet by German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

The Communist Manifesto

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