15 Mar 2015

Marx & Engels (1) Manifesto of the Communist Party, Ch.1 ‘Bourgeois and Proletarians’, summary, b

by Corry Shores

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[The following is summary. All underlining, boldface, and bracketed commentary are my own.]

[The following also has not been sufficiently proofread, so please ignore the typos.]

Karl Marx & Frederick Engels

Manifesto of the Communist Party

Bourgeois and Proletarians


Very brief summary:

The progress of history is a chain of revolutions where an oppressed class overcomes its oppressor and instates itself as the ruling class. Currently capitalists, the bourgeoisie or middle-class, have taken this position of power. But they do not deserve to keep it, since they exploit the masses and reduce their existence to unacceptably low levels. Also, the development of industry is creating a working class that is more homogenized, on account of increasingly mechanizing the labor, and thus this unity and solidarity of the laborers will eventually result in the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. They will do away with the bourgeoisie’s source of power by ending private property. But by doing so, they will eliminate the means that any one class can oppress another, thereby ending the history of class conflicts.


Brief Summary:
History can be understood as a sequence of class struggles in which revolutions instate new class divisions along with their own new class struggles. The most recent revolution was the change from feudal classes to the current bourgeoisie/proletariat [capitalist/worker] class structure, resulting from the rise of capitalism, modern industry, and global trade. The system works by exploiting laborers. They are paid as little as possible, worked as hard and long as possible, and the rise of the division of labor in the factory along with the increasing use of machinery has reduced labor from a rewarding human activity to a form of mechanized slavery. But since all jobs are becoming more and more mechanical, the importance of specialized skill is reduced, which puts all workers more on par with each other. This then creates the conditions for their solidarity, which is enhanced by technological developments in communications and transportation. Also, the bourgeoisie, besides the immorality and injustice of exploiting labor, have proven themselves unfit to rule, since they have overseen only the decrease in the quality of life of the majority of the population to bare subsistence and slave-like labor. They came to power as a part of a larger historical pattern of revolution. The conditions lending to their power are also what will make that power crumble. So not only should they fall, they inevitably will fall.


Marx & Engels offer a view of human history as being the ongoing story of the political, social, and economic struggles between hierarchized classes.

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

This struggle holds between such classes as “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman” or in other words, more generally between  “oppressor and oppressed” (209). These warring classes have “carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes” (209bc).

These clashing classes can be discerned in all epochs of history.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.

Modern bourgeois society arose out of the prior feudal class system. Although their rise saw the end of feudal classes, it “has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones” (210a).

Although earlier epochs, as we noted, had a “complicated arrangement” of social classes,

Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.

The bourgeoisie originated from the [merchant middle-class] burghers who were previously serfs in the Middle Ages (210b).

World exploration and colonization enriched and empowered the rising bourgeoisie (210b).

The guild system of feudal times was preplaced by the manufacturing system, to meet new market demands. “The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle class; division of labour between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labour in each single workshop” (210c).

But even the manufacturing system could not keep up with demand, and so steam powered industry arose. “The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry; the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois” (210cd).

As the world markets expanded, so too did domestic industry and infrastructure (210-211).

The modern bourgeoisie is the result of a series of revolutions [and therefore may itself fall victim to yet another revolution undoing its order].

We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange.

And, each small advance in the bourgeoisie’s rise to power “was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class” (211a):

An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

Thus as we see from the political upheaval it brought about, “The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part” (211bc).

This is seen especially in how it has “has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations” and “pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors’; and it has “drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation” (211d). [We notice here the violent rhetoric. If the bourgeoisie has committed such violent acts, it is only fitting that the communists should use in a similar way, metaphorically or otherwise, violence to change their order. As we will see in the next lines, their order is unjust and cruel:]

[The bourgeoisie] has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, | veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

[So while the feudal lords at least veiled their exploitation behind religious or political values, the bourgeoisie merely reduces human life to exploitative profit-making labor without any sugar-coating to conceal its injustice and immorality.]

Where previously certain occupations like doctor, lawyer, priest, scientist, and poet were held with “reverent awe” [and valued for their contributions to society’s well-being, functioning, knowledge, and culture], they are now viewed no more than as “paid wage laborers” [whose productive worth is quantifiable only in terms of currency value] (212a).

It has also reduced family life and relations to “mere monetary relations” [perhaps because people relate to each other only in terms of paying for one another]. (212ab)

Bourgeoisie has also demonstrated what humans are capable of when they are industrious. “It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades” (211b).

In the bourgeoisie epoch [on account of the forces of capitalism,] new methods and modes of production replace older ones [if they prove to generate more profit. As a result, the normally stable and secure structures of life and relations among people are made unstable and fluid, which is perhaps unsettling in a psychological and existential way.]

Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

The capitalist need for more sources of and markets for production has caused the bourgeoisie to occupy all corners of the world (212d).

World trade and production has minimized the importance of national boundaries. Goods are imported and exported everywhere, making all parts of the world interconnected and interdependent. This even holds in “intellectual production” as for example cultural products. “National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature” (213a-b). [This could also pave the way for a world socialism.]

The spread of the bourgeoisie’s influence has caused many other nations, no matter how developed, to enter into this capitalist system. “It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image” (213c).

The bourgeoisie have moved populations and productivity into the towns. This has prevented many people from residing in the “idiocy of rural life,” but it has also made country depend on towns and lesser-developed nations dependent on more developed ones (213d).

The bourgeoisie has not only centralized populations into towns, but it as well has centralized property and the means of production into only a few hands. As a result, political power has been concentrated and centralized as well.

The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with | the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, and one customs-tariff.

The amount of productive potential that was realized by the bourgeoisie surpasses anything that was previously accomplished or even dreamed of.

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?

In sum, the bourgeoisie has overturned the feudal system, which had to be done away with given how production and trade were developing (214c).

Then into the place of the feudal structures “stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political constitution adapted in it, and the economic and political sway of the bourgeois class” (214d).

But this great system of production and trade is also unpredictable and dangerous. It “is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells” (214d). There have been crises that were caused by over-production, where

there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them.

They solve these crises in three ways: 1) by destroying the excessive productive forces, 2) by conquering new markets, and 3) by further exploiting older ones. “That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented” (215cd).

Since it was these capitalist productive systems that overturned the feudal system, “The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself” (215d).

[These machines of production, which are in a sense no entirely within the control of the bourgeoisie, can also be appropriated by the working class and used against the bourgeoisie.]

But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons — the modern working class — the proletarians.

[Normally we think of the power of wealth of the bourgeoisie increasing as corresponding to the decrease of wealth and power of the proletariat. However, perhaps because these seem capitalist tools can be appropriated by the proletariat, who is already operating them, perhaps their potential power increases as well. Or perhaps the meaning of the following passage is more generally that the workers advance in training and abilities with increased sophistication of the industry.] The proletariat develops at pace with capital and the bourgeoisie. Laborers are dependent on this industry and are vulnerable to its fluxuations. (216a)

Because of the division of labor, factory work is less rewarding then it was back when workmen were more attached to their productions. Their work becomes machine-like. [Also, perhaps because the crappiest jobs produce only the least valuable goods, the worse the work, the lower the pay.] And the pay is as low as possible, and it gets lower with the repulsiveness of the work. Workers also must keep at pace with the machines.

Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him. Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labour, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. Nay more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labour increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time or by increased speed of machinery, etc.

The modern factory is like a slave operation run by a despot. [It is thus unjust and deserving of change. But also, since workers are ‘organized like soldiers’, there is the basis for them to fight against the system like soldiers.]

Modern Industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist. Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organised like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

Mechanization and the division of labor have made physical strength and skill less necessary in factory work. This has made men and woman equally viable as workers, and since woman and children can be paid less, they are often preferred (216-217).

And even though the laborer earns a wage, it is instantly lost back to other parts of the bourgeoisie.

No sooner is the exploitation of the labourer by the manufacturer, so far, at an end, that he receives his wages in cash, than he is set upon by the other portions of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.

The lower middle-class, including “the small tradespeople, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants” do not really remain middle class but instead “sink gradually into the proletariat”. This is because their capital is not great enough to compete with larger industries and also because their specialized skills become less valuable when new methods of production make them obsolete (217b).

“The proletariat goes through various stages of development” (217c). At first it fights against the “instruments of production;”

They direct their attacks not against the bourgeois conditions of production, but against the instruments of production themselves; they destroy imported wares that compete with their labour, they smash to pieces machinery, they set factories ablaze, they seek to restore by force the vanished status of the workman of the Middle Ages.

[At this stage, for some reason, it seems that the workers are not organized against the bourgeoisie but rather somehow the bourgeoisie unites the workers against the bourgeoisie’s former rivals, the wealthy aristocrats from the prior monarchies.]

At this stage, therefore, the proletarians do not fight | their enemies, but the enemies of their enemies, the remnants of absolute monarchy, the landowners, the non-industrial bourgeois, the petty bourgeois. Thus, the whole historical movement is concentrated in the hands of the bourgeoisie; every victory so obtained is a victory for the bourgeoisie.

But as the industry develops, labor becomes less specialized. It also puts all the workers on a more equal level and gives them a greater sense of solidarity. They form unions and may at times riot together (218b).

The victories of proletariat are slight. But with each one, their union grows stronger. New developments in communications and transportation also help them strengthen relations among them (218c-d).

Although the union of workers is at times weakened by their own infighting, it nonetheless “ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier,” and it has been able to influence legislation in its favor (218-219).

The bourgeoisie is involved in its own battles: 1) with the former aristocracy, 2) with those parts of the bourgeoisie itself that are antagonistic to the progress of industry, and 3) sometimes with the bourgeoisie of other nations. In all these cases, the bourgeoisie [somehow] brings the proletariat into the fight. By doing so, they educate the proletariat in certain political matters that the proletariat can then somehow use against the bourgeoisie.

In all these battles, it sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for help, and thus, to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education, in other words, it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie.

As we noted above, members of the bourgeoisie slip into the proletariat. [Somehow] “These also supply the proletariat with fresh elements of enlightenment and progress” (219c).

Progress is moving toward the dissolution of the ruling class. Some of its members, seeing that the future lie in the working class, are converting over to this other side. This is even seen among bourgeois intellectuals who understand the tide of this historical movement and also convert.

Finally, in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the progress of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands. Just as, therefore, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole.

Since times are changing and the worker is the one who keeps up with them, the proletariat is in a special position to help bring about the future that is already set in motion.

Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.

The lower middle classes who fight the bourgeoisie only to hold onto their middle class status are not revolutionary but are rather conservative, since they do not want to change the class system (220a). In fact, they are reactionary, since the tide has already begun turning.

There are also those who are social scum, the ‘dangerous class’. They could join the revolution, but their life is so bad they are more apt to be bribed into service by the bourgeoisie [perhaps to stir trouble among the revolutionaries] (220b).

The proletariat are in a state where the system is of no use to them [and thus they have every reason to change it.]

In the condition of the proletariat, those of old society at large are already virtually swamped. The proletarian is without property; his relation to his wife and children has no longer anything in common with the bourgeois family relations; modern industry labour, modern subjection to capital, the same in England as in France, in America as in Germany, has stripped him of every trace of national character. Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.

[In previous revolutions, a portion of the society subjugates other portions. The proletariat, for some reason, if it wants control of “the productive forces of society,” it must do away with such a subjugating structure by getting rid of individual property. For, were no one group to have more property than another, then no group can subjugate another.]

All the preceding classes that got the upper hand sought to fortify their already acquired status by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation. The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property.

Previous revolutions have been conducted by or for some minority. The proletariat revolution, however, will be an act of nearly all of society.

All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The | proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air.

[Although eventually all proletariat of the world must unite,] the proletariat’s revolts must begin on the national level, [perhaps on account of the immediacies of their class conflicts.] (221a)

The authors have depicted how there has been a veiled civil war between bourgeoisie and proletariat that develops to open revolution (21b).

In prior class conflicts, the oppressed classes were able to improve their situation. The condition of the proletariat, however, continues to decline [on account of the problems of mechanized labor that continue to worsen with its development]. Thus the bourgeoisie cannot be trusted to govern, since they are unable to keep the lives of the masses at a certain basic condition.

Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. The serf, in the period of serfdom, raised himself to membership in the commune, just as the petty bourgeois, under the yoke of the feudal absolutism, managed to develop into a bourgeois. The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It 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.

The bourgeoisie’s power comes from capital, which is obtained and grown through wage-labor. Modern industry unites wage-laborers [as we saw above]. Thus modern industry’s development is bringing about the overturn of the class division that has been fostering and benefiting from this very same industrial development.

The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance | of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.




Works Cited

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. In Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Trans. Martin Milligan. pp.203-243. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1988 [1844].

Available online: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm


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