16 Mar 2015

Marx & Engels (2) Manifesto of the Communist Party, Selections from Ch.2 ‘Proletarians and Communists’, summary

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 forgive the typos and other distracting mistakes.]

Karl Marx & Frederick Engels

Manifesto of the Communist Party

Selections from
Proletarians and Communists


Very brief summary:

Capitalism is unjust, since it exploits workers. It reduces the freedoms and well-being of 9/10ths of the population. It should be replaced with a communist system where there is no private property and thus no basis for one class to subjugate another.


Brief Summary:
The communist movement has certain motivations and prescribed means to change society for the better, and they have rebuttals to capitalist critiques. In capitalism, the bourgeoisie exploit workers to advance their own private property, using as a basis for this purpose capital, that is, private property. Thus the cause and end of the exploitation is private property, and it should be done away with. In capitalism, most people work, but only a few benefit. Were private property to be abolished, we would have a classless society in which the production of one person benefits the entire society as a whole, who all share equally in those profits. To obtain this, first a violent revolution and despotic transitional State is necessary, bringing along with it economic turmoil. Then gradually out of this a more democratic and economically successful system will develop. There are a couple objections to such a communist system. 1) It does away with private property and thus the source of liberty. However, 1a) capitalism already does away with the private property of 9/10ths of the population, and 1b) certainly they are enslaved rather than free, being that they are toiling laborers earning very little of what they produce. So the freedom and private property in capitalism are not those of society at large but of a select wealthy few. Therefore capitalism cannot be justified in public policy. 2) Doing away with private property will eliminate the incentive that makes people work. However 2a) under capitalism, the people who toil the most gain nearly no private property as a result, so they are not motivated to work in order to obtain private property, and 2b) those who do profit are the capitalists who do none of the real labor. Thus the desire to acquire private property does not motivate them to work but rather to do nothing and let everyone else do the work.


The authors wonder what the relation is of communists to the proletariat (222b).

They state that the “Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties” (222bc).

In fact, the Communists only have interests that the proletariat have (222bc).

[They also do not have any policies aimed at shaping the proletarian movement.] “They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement” (222bc).

There are just two things that distinguish the communists from the other working-class parties. 1) Even in national proletariat struggles, they emphasize the interests of the proletariat as a whole, regardless of nationality. 2) Throughout the development of the proletariat’s struggle with the bourgeoisie, at each stage the communists emphasize the proletariat movement on the whole (222c).

[The Communists practically speaking are highly advanced and resolute, pushing forward all the other working class parties; and theoretically speaking, they are well equipped to lead the proletarian movement. (222d)] “The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat | into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat” (222-223).

The communists do not draw their conclusions from the ideas of ‘would-be universal reformers’ (223a).

Rather, their ideas come from where we are in the history of class struggle. Doing away with private property is part of this progress. “They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism” (223ab).

For, “All property relations in the past have continually been subject to historical change consequent upon the change in historical conditions” (223b).

For example, as a result of the French Revolution, feudal property was abolished in favor of bourgeois property (223b).

Similarly, Communism wants not necessarily to abolish all private property but merely bourgeois property. However, “modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few” (223bc).

[Since communists want the end of bourgeois property, and because bourgeois property is the last possible private property] “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property” (223c).

Communists have been criticized for wanting to take away the right to acquire private property by means of one’s own labor, and these critics claim that this property is the basis for “all personal freedom, activity and independence” (223c).

Perhaps the critics are talking about the private property of the “petty artisan” and the “small peasant.” [But we have seen how the things they produce are taken from them by their employers and in return they are given but a fraction of the profit those productions earn.] But the capitalist system has already done away with this property.

Hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned property! Do you mean the property of petty artisan and of the small peasant, a form of property that preceded the bourgeois form? There is no need to abolish that; the development of industry has to a great extent already destroyed it, and is still destroying it daily.

Or perhaps the critics mean that bourgeois private property is the fruit of one’s labor and the source of liberty (223d).

However, for the wage laborer it creates no private property. [The following part is not clear to me. Marx and Engels will say that it creates capital. But I am not entirely sure that he is saying that it creates capital for the laborer. If so, it is not clear how a low wage at subsistence level constitutes capital. If not, it is not clear to me how that point follows from the prior question asking if it creates property for the laborer, in which case it would seem to be: no.] It does create capital [for either the laborer or the capitalist], which is “that kind of property that exploits the laborer, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage-labour for fresh exploitation” (223d). In fact, property in the form it now takes “is based on the | antagonism of capital and wage labour” (223-224). Since there are two sides in this struggle, the authors will look at both, starting with the capitalist side (224a).

[Capital is generated by many workers and circulated among them and among other capitalists. Thus,] “To be a capitalist, is to have not only a purely personal, but a social status in production. Capital is a collective product, and only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion” (224a).

[Private property is personal. But since capital is something produced and circulated among all members of society, and since it is a source of a class distinction that subjugates one social class to the other,] “Capital is therefore not only personal; it is a social power” (224ab).

[This personal capital might be somehow converted into public property, perhaps through tax revenue spent on publicly owned properties. So since capital begins as social property, when it] “is converted into common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character” (224b).

The authors now move from the side of the capitalist to the side of the wage-laborer (224b).

[The capitalist’s income normally goes beyond subsistence and is plenty to reinvest to make yet even greater income.] The average wage of the laborer is “minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence which is absolutely requisite to keep the labourer in bare existence as a labourer” (224bc). [The capitalist “appropriates” the profit from others’ labor. But] “What, therefore, the wage-labourer appropriates by means of his labour, merely suffices to prolong and reproduce a bare existence” (224bc). [This bare wage could be considered personal property.] Communists do not want to do away with the bare minimum that keeps people alive. Instead, “All that we want to do away with is the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the labourer lives merely to increase capital, and is allowed to live only in so far as the interest of the ruling class requires it” (224c).

[Capital is generated by labor, and its accumulation is then perhaps what the authors are calling “accumulated labor”. In capitalism, laborers are put to work to make a profit so to increase the capitalists’ accumulated wealth. However, in communism, the laborer’s work is invested back not into the personal wealth of a few individuals but rather in the increased well-being of the worker.]

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

[The accumulated wealth, that is, the “accumulated labor”, is something generated in the past. It is reinvested, making subtractions in the near future, especially in the lives of workers. I am not sure if those ideas will help us interpret the following sentences. Please read them to obtain a better interpretation.] “In bourgeois society, therefore, the past dominates the present; in Communist society, the present dominates the past. In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality” (224d).

[So clearly personal property is a means of enslaving people, since its investments exploit labor and perhaps also somehow limit current freedoms on the basis of past investment sacrifices having consequences in the present. Communism is accused of wanting to abolish private property and thus freedom. In fact, they want to abolish capital property and do away only with the ‘freedom’ of one class to exploit another.] “And the abolition of this state of things is called by the bourgeois, abolition of individuality and freedom! And rightly | so. The abolition of bourgeois individuality, bourgeois independence, and bourgeois freedom is undoubtedly aimed at” (224-225).

In a capitalist system, “freedom” is “free trade, free selling and buying” (225a).

Certainly in the context of history, all people now, the wealthy especially, have more freedom to buy and sell than they did in the Middle Ages. However, given the freedom for all society that would result in abolishing private property, we are now much less free than we could be, compared to the future that communists propose (225b).

The bourgeoisie are upset that communists want to do away with private property. But they themselves have already done away with it for the nine-tenths of the population whom they deprive of it.

You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.

[[We might wonder at this point how well these arguments would stand up now in societies where workers make enough to accumulate modest amounts of private property.]]

[Thus this criticism of communism only emphasizes the good that it can do.] “In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so; that is just what we intend” (225c).

Capitalists convert the proletariat’s labor into capital, that is, to profit from the labor or from rent, which is a “social power capable of being monopolized.” This is also a way that individual property [taken from the production of the workers] is converted into bourgeois property [the accumulated wealth of the capitalists]. Capitalists think that if you do away with this system, “individuality vanishes” (225c) [perhaps because they think that one’s power as an individual vanishes. Perhaps this power is really the individual power to subjugate other individuals, but I am not sure what the authors mean here by “individuality” and how capitalists think it is tied to capital.]

[Since the only “individuals” whose freedom their system aims to protect are the select wealthy,] “You must, therefore, confess that by “individual” you mean no other person than the bourgeois, than the middle-class owner of property. This person must, indeed, be swept out of the way, and made impossible” (225d).

Under communism, everyone benefits from everyone else’s productions. Thus “Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations” (225d).

There is another criticism capitalists make of communism. They say that working for personal profit is what motivates people to work in the first place. That motivation is lacking when people work for society’s benefit. Thus, “It has been objected that upon the abolition of private property, all work will cease, and universal laziness will overtake us” (225d).

[However, as we have seen, the proletariat never acquire any property anyway. They only work for subsistence. Also, those who get rich do none of the labor. So they are not motivated to work on the basis of accumulated property. Rather, they are motivated to exploit workers for this purpose.] “According to this, bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work, acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything do not work. The whole of this objection is but another expression of the tautology: that there can no longer be any wage-labour when there is no longer any capital” (226a).

[This summary skips pages 226b-230a]

The authors end their rebuttals to bourgeois arguments against communism (230ab).

So the aim is the revolution by the working class. The first step in this “is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy” (230b). [[We notice here the aim is democracy and not totalitarian regimes.]]

In order to achieve this, property must be taken from the bourgeoisie and given to the state.

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.

To make this transition will require despotic means and a period of economic turmoil.

Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production.

The steps taken will differ according to the needs of each nation (230c).

However, in advanced societies, the steps will generally be the following [which is all quotation]:

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. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport 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 liability 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 labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

[[Note above step 2’s similarity to Thomas Picketty’s new book Capital in the 21st Century: “The right solution is a progressive annual tax on capital” (572). However, here in this manifesto, it is not clear to me how after abolishing private property in the first step a taxation could be put in place in the second step.]]

Political power “is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another.” Thus, “When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character” (231bc). This revolution, if successful will “have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class” (231c).

This will instate a single class of all society in which, unlike in capitalism, the free development of one individual benefits all other in the society. “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” (231c).


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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