The Communist Manifesto | Study Guide

Karl Marx

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The Communist Manifesto | Quotes


A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of Communism.

Narrator, Introduction

Karl Marx opens the work with these now-famous words. He is saying in mid-19th-century European politics, Communism has become a watchword, an insult bandied about to disparage political opponents. But like much in politics, the accusations are mostly false; there are few known communists in the parliamentary systems. Nonetheless, for bourgeois politics as usual, Marx is saying communism is already feared as being dangerous because of its mission to do away with capitalism and the bourgeois state.


The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Narrator, Section 1

Karl Marx claims that the "motor force" of history is the struggle between classes. Over time, classes change—from slaves to serfs to peasants—in conflict with masters, lords or aristocrats; however, it is the same and continuing class conflict that defines the politics of a period and marks the shifts in epochs as class relations change. For Marx, class conflict is defined by the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in permanent conflict over wages and profits.


The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

Narrator, Section 1

Trying to show the relationship between class power and political power, Karl Marx says the result of the political revolutions of the Enlightenment was to overthrow the feudal order and put into power the new class that chafed against monarchies. Thus, modern democracies are implements of class rule and act more as "dictatorships" of class interests than as popular democracies.


Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.

Narrator, Section 1

Karl Marx is trying to show the relationship between the transformation in industrial production and social ideas and social formations. First, the industrial revolution unleashed a wave of change in technology and production unparalleled in history. Those changes in production, in turn, produced changes in ideas and social formations; for example, doing away with notions of paternalism (a system where authority meets the needs and monitors the conduct of individuals) or obligation in exchange for the indifferent market, whereby sentimentality gives way to calculation. The key ideas are that economic changes of production relate to social changes of ideas, and these changes come rapidly with industrialization.


The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism ... are now turned against ... itself ... [and] called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons—the ... proletarians.

Narrator, Section 1

This quotation shows Karl Marx's staged vision of history as well as the basis of his ideas of class struggle. The weapons to which Marx refers are the means of production. With the rise of industrialism and the decline of feudalism, the bourgeoisie are the class born from manufacturing and later industrial manufacturing. Eventually the productive forces and the new class burst through old ideas, politics, and feudal systems to give rise to the modern era. Marx believes the same productive forces that support the bourgeoisie would eventually trap them by failures of overproduction and the shackles of private property. A new order would thus arise, helped by the proletarian revolution, to herald the era of communism.


Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class.

Narrator, Section 1

Karl Marx was the first writer to point to the proletariat as the agent of revolutionary struggle. This quotation reveals his thought that the proletariat plays a special historic role, one that will ultimately usher in a new era of political history.


What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

Narrator, Section 1

This quotation again highlights Karl Marx's view of political history as stages of progression. Marx is predicting the future based on recent forms of social struggle and change that developed in Europe. Where the bourgeois were born in feudalism, it became the seed that undid the feudal order and sought a revolution in politics and social organization. A similar revolution will happen to the bourgeois order, the seed being the proletariat. According to his analysis of history, Marx was confident enough to call this eventual downfall "inevitable."


In bourgeois society, living labor is but a means to increase accumulated labor. In Communist society, accumulated labor is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of the laborer.

Narrator, Section 2

In a capitalist economy, people work to increase wealth but see little return for their efforts. This is the bourgeois social order in which workers, or "living labor," exist to serve capital, or "accumulated labor."


In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.

Narrator, Section 2

Karl Marx sees political history as a class struggle based on wealth. Opposed to materialism and the accumulation of wealth and the power it grants, Marx's communist society has capital serving the interests of living people—workers—to provide "independence and individuality," rather than strip them from the workers as it now does under capitalism. Thus, capital would serve workers, not owners, directly.


Working men have no country.

Narrator, Section 2

Karl Marx says workers are not part of their political nations because they are excluded and exploited by the bourgeoisie that control the state, or the means of power. Further, antagonism between nations is a reflection of class antagonism at home. When class struggle ceases, national struggle will end as well, and nations will recognize a natural harmony of interest.


The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.

Narrator, Section 2

Karl Marx is arguing that ideas, culture, and ideology in society reflect material interests—of class and economics. This notion is at the foundation of two of Marx's principles. The first principle is the idea of historical materialism: material forces drive historical change; the second is the "base/superstructure" idea that the economic base determines much of what happens in the political superstructure.


The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involves the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.

Narrator, Section 2

Karl Marx is again arguing that economics determines ideas. Because the communists want to undo property relations and create an egalitarian society, they also have radical political ideas, not related merely to property but also to other social relations as well. These ideas, if put into action, could change the way people work and live, causing huge upheavals on all levels of society.


Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing the other.

Narrator, Section 2

This is a core idea in Karl Marx's concept of the state, conceived of as a neutral implement used in the interest of one class or the other. In bourgeois society, politics are the domain of the rich—the ruling class—and the state is a tool to express their interests. A proletarian revolution would reverse that order, making the state serve working-class interests and thus undoing the class divide in society.


As the parson has ever gone hand in hand with the landlord, so has Clerical Socialism with Feudal Socialism.

Narrator, Section 3

This excerpt comes from Karl Marx's critique of other forms of socialism. For Marx, both feudal socialism and Christian socialism are "reactionary." They are ideas of social harmony espoused by other classes (particularly feudal aristocrats or Christian clerics) to protect their interests in the era of bourgeois revolutions. This mirrors a shared perspective of these groups under feudalism, in which their ideas about the world are entirely false.


Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution ... Proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!

Narrator, Section 4

The Communist Manifesto announced the emergence, above ground, of revolutionary communist groups previously forced underground by state repression. Karl Marx says they no longer must hide their views and can openly avow the "forcible overthrow" of all of bourgeois society, thus causing the rich to be afraid. In one of his most famous slogans, Marx urges the proletariat to unite and fight for the revolution, as workers have "nothing to lose but their chains."

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