Study Guide

The Communist Manifesto Power

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Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guildmaster and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. (Section1.2)

Karl Marx is basically saying that throughout history, the rich have had power over the poor. In democratic societies, many of us believe ourselves to be equal and free under the law. Marx argues that this is not the way the world works. In what ways is a day laborer less free than the owner who employs him or her?

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of old ones. (Section1.4)

Here Marx talks about new conditions of oppression. A criticism of Marx is that he doesn't adequately take into consideration certain conditions of oppression such as those of race (white domination) and patriarchy (male domination). How are gender and race domination intensified by capitalism?

The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie. (Section1.12)

Many people in liberal democracies tend to think of their governments as representing the interests of the people as a whole. But Marx is saying that governments inherently represent the class interests of the few rich against the many of the workforce. Check out this report about a 2014 Princeton University study that suggests the United States is an oligarchy—that is, ruled by the rich.

[The proletariat is] a class of labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital. These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market. (Section1.30)

In Marx's view, people must sell their labor to survive. But everything being bought and sold is subject to the ups and downs of the market. As capitalism increases in its complexities, some workers will find that no one wants their labor, either because they're unskilled, they're sick, or they're old. As a society, what should we do about these so-called powerless workers?

No sooner is the exploitation of the labourer by the manufacturer, so far, at an end, and 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. (Section1.34)

Marx is saying that your employer is just one bar of the cage of capitalism, and that other members of the bourgeoisie—your landlord, the grocery store owners, and more—are other bars. What invisible bars might there be? In other words, what under capitalism might be exploiting the workers that these workers usually cannot perceive?

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, 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 of productive forces as rapidly as possible. (Section2.68)

Marx argues that workers will come together to take back the product of their labor (capital) from the owners. In what ways is the proletariat politically more powerful than the bourgeoisie? What might the best (and worst) ways be for workers to leverage their strengths to alter how the means of production (such as factories) get used?

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. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class, if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, 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. (Section2.72)

Marx is saying that when the proletariat organizes itself as a class, instead of putting itself in power for its own interests, it will abolish class interests. To do this, the proletariat must run a temporary government or vanguard state. Marx seems to argue that this vanguard state will truly represent the interests of the people, but it actually tends to turn out that this new bureaucratic class will only further its own self-interest. Does this happen because capitalism has not yet collapsed? Or is the drive toward using position for self-gain an inherent aspect of human nature?

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