The Communist Manifesto is an attempt to describe the goals of Communism and the theory underlying the movement. The three most prominent forms of description in the Communist Manifesto are class, sexual and society reproduction, and capitalist class. In prescription, the three most prominent forms are the revolution of the politician, abolishment of the family, and social revolution. Let us examine these ideas.
The first description is class. The manifesto states that the era's means of production define class relationships. However, in the end, the relationships stop being compatible with the forces of production. This leads to a revolution which brings forth another ruling class. Thus, the manifesto advocates for the abolishment of all class systems in the world. The two distinct classes referred to are the proletariat (the wage workers) and the bourgeoisie (the social group or middle class). The manifesto states that the bourgeoisie exploit the proletariat by paying them meager wages. The manifesto demands the proletariat to take ownership of their work by overthrowing the bourgeoisie. This would transfer power from the few bourgeoisies to the whole society.
In the 19th century, the idea of abolishing the class system gave rise to many revolutions that took place all over the world (Walker 63). An example is the French Revolution, which removed the absolute monarchy that ruled France for centuries. Guided by communist ideas, radical left-wing politicians, marching masses, and peasants rose up against aristocratic and religious privileges of the ruling class. Indeed, the manifesto states that class struggles motivate all historical developments.
The solution for the class struggle is the revolution of the politician. Marx and Engels saw every class struggle as a political struggle. This would entail mass action, mass mobilization, and participation in the struggles of the oppressed without any regard to class. Such an organization of the proletariat would give rise to a revolutionary political party. Communists strive for forceful overthrow of all status quo, so that the proletariats become the ruling class. According to them, all other paths other than communism lead to disaster. Indeed, the 19th and 20th century saw countless betrayals of workers by labor leaders who protected the interests of the ruling class (Walker 62). An example was the betrayal of the Second International in 1914. However, in this period, the revolutionary working class parties envisaged by the manifesto did not fully materialize.
In the 19th century, the French Revolution had a profound impact on the advocates of the interests of the working-class in the world. To the advocates, a power change in the society required the use of the forced arms. This view arose from the Communist Manifesto which out-rightly advocated for armed struggle. Though the masses in the French Revolution were defeated by the superior weapons of the army, the idea of armed struggle survived (Duiker 127). Future social democratic parties used the idea of armed struggle to demand the substitution of the standing army with a militia force of the people (Walker 53).
The second form of description is sexual reproduction and society reproduction. The manifesto posits that an individual should be a product of the society rather than the biological lineage. The individual should pay his/her allegiance to the society and not minute familial relations. There should be denunciation of all rights to inheritance. In addition, all children should get access to education for free in order to avoid differences brought about by familial privileges.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 embraced some of the ideas proposed by the Communist Manifesto. For instance, the idea of free elementary and fundamental education in Article 26 of the declaration reflects the principles of the manifesto. Other aspects of the declaration that resonated with the Communist Manifesto are the guarantees of universal rights to association (article 20), non discrimination and equality before the law (article 7), and protection from unemployment (article 23). Thus, in a way, the Communist Manifesto influenced The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
However, the manifesto prescribes nothing less than the abolishment of the family. Marx and Engels advocate for the abolishment of the family in favor of free relations in the society (71). However, this proposition should be considered from the perspective of the role of the family at that time. First of all, women were forced to offer mundane labor for little compensation (Duiker 130). Also, child labor, which is now banned in many countries, was widespread (Duiker 129). Thus, the prescription to abolish the family may have arisen from Marx’s view that the family only served to provide laborers.
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It would be insightful to understand the feelings of Marx towards women as pertains to their position in society. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx saw the labor of the bourgeoisie as reducing the values attached to sex and age (59). This could mean that he did not want women to work, or that the volume of the work that women do had to decrease. Marx viewed communism as advocating for a “community of women”. This means that the women of the society would be shared by men. It seems that this was part of the move of abolishing the family, as there was a widespread exploitation of wives for labor at that time (Duiker 129). In fact, Marx contended that the bourgeoisie had the habit of taking “the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives,” leading bourgeoisie marriages to be in reality “a system of wives in common.” Marx argued that the community of women as envisioned in communism would not be remarkably different from that of the bourgeoisie, but it would be less hypocritical (72). Apparently, Marx wanted to abolish the bourgeoisie “system of wives in common” and replace it with “an openly legalized community of women” that did not deny the charges of prostitution.
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The historical happenings of the 19th and 20th centuries make the prescription of family abolishment relevant. As already noted, the 19th and 20th centuries saw many countries abolish child labor. In addition, the idea of legalizing prostitution was made real in many countries and states like Netherlands, Canada, England, Wales, Mexico and Australia.
The last form of description refers to doing away with the capitalist class. According to the Manifesto, the capitalist class is to be abolished. This class controls the economy of the world. It owns production and distribution of goods such as land, factories, transport system and so forth. Thus, the majority of people (proletariat) work for the capitalist class in order to get a wage or salary. The intention of this class is to accumulate enormous capital by overworking and underpaying the proletariat. Capitalists strive to maintain the status quo in order to protect their interests. Another technique they use is fostering disunity in the proletariat by encouraging competition among workers.
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The profit motive of capitalists does not arise from greed alone. The motive is imposed on them as a condition to safeguard their investments and maintain their position as capitalists. The competition they face with other capitalists makes them reinvest their profits so as to protect their market share. The class division and the profit motive of capitalism causes many problems all over the world, from crime to starvation. For instance, from 1870s to 1990s, the per capita incomes of rich countries increased while that of poor countries miserly decreased (Duiker128). In the period of 1984-1994, the Gross Domestic Product of advanced countries was 1¼ percent, while that of poor countries was 0.34 percent (Duiker129). This is saying that, in the 19th and 20th centuries, the capitalist class ensured that the rich became richer, and the poor became poorer. If the capitalist class had been abolished as proposed by the Communist Manifesto, the world would lack such tendencies.
Besides, the 19th century saw the rise of socialist countries such as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). However, Gleason argues that the USSR was, in fact, a “state capitalist” (373). For instance, in the USSR, wage slavery still existed. In addition, production, buying and exchange of goods depended on the dictates of the international capital. The USSR was even ready for war so as to safeguard its economic interests. These practices were against the dictates of the Communist Manifesto. Thus, the USSR was not a communist state.
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What the manifesto wants is a social revolution. Marx envisages a time when “full communism” will replace the “dictatorship of the proletariat" (71). This is a time when the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat will no longer exist. As a result, the bourgeoisie will no longer be able to maintain the status quo, as they will lose the control over production. There will be no longer private property as the new society will be free from material and personal dependence. In this period, the proletariats will take power and lead a stateless and classless society. People will freely associate and master their social movement.
Though the social revolution has not entirely come to pass, its utopian promise has influenced many revolutionary ideas in the 19th and 20th centuries. Examples of these are Syndicalism, founding of Social Democratic Parties, the 1891 Erfurt Program and Reformism, the 1904 founding of the Socialist Party in the United Kingdom and the First World War.
The prescriptions and descriptions of the Communist Manifesto are of great significance in the today’s world. Their critical analysis would enable the world society to check the excesses of capitalism. Indeed, many of the problems in today’s world are a result of capitalism. Marx and Engels foresaw these problems and proposed solutions in the Communist Manifesto. Apparently, reason demands that the world adopts some of the prescriptions and descriptions of the Communist Manifesto.