Study Guide

The Communist Manifesto Section 2: Proletarians and Communists

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Section 2: Proletarians and Communists

  • Okay here we go. Now Marx talks about the relationship between proletarians and communists, meaning the Communist League who commissioned him to write the Manifesto.
  • The communists have no interests apart from the proletariat, he says. They point out the common interests of the entire proletariat regardless of country, and they support the whole working class movement's interests. They understand the historical picture and push it forward.
  • The immediate aim of the communists is to form the proletariat into a massive group, to overthrow the bourgeoisie's supremacy, and to conquer political power.
  • Now we get into the specifics of communism.
  • The bourgeoisie objects that communists want to abolish property. But property has always been abolished, Marx says; that the communists want to abolish it is nothing new. The French Revolution abolished feudal property in favor of bourgeoisie property, for example.
  • The distinguishing feature of the communists is that they want to abolish the private nature of bourgeois property (think of capital and the means of production, like factories and machinery—that's what the communists want to get rid of), which would leave workers the personal product of their labor but not capital with which to exploit others.
  • In other words, under communism, you're supposed to get to keep your own toothbrush and other personal belongings. But you won't be exploiting a bunch of laborers, forcing them to create toothbrushes for you to sell.
  • Property under the bourgeois system means exploitation and antagonism between capital and wage-labor. Capital, remember, is the profit of the rich. Wage-labor—that is, the proletariat's work for wages—doesn't create property for laborers; it creates capital for the bourgeoisie.
  • Here's an example. You might be paid to bake bread at a grocery store for the bourgeoisie to sell. You haven't created bread for yourself to eat; you've created profit for your employer. Now you have to buy food to eat from other members of the bourgeoisie rather than freely eat the bread you just made.
  • Capital is all that labor added up and taken by the bourgeoisie, rather than the labor serving as means to enrich the lives of the laborers. Abolition of this property system means abolition of bourgeois freedom, of free trade: selling and buying. By free trade, the bourgeoisie meant freedom from feudalism, not freedom for everyone.
  • Marx says people are horrified by the communists' proposals to abolish private property, but he says it's already been abolished for ninety percent of the population, since the proletariat has been left with the bare minimum of property, just enough to allow them to survive. Communists want to do away with the class character of property and the misery with which the fruits of labor are acquired.
  • Karl emphasizes again that communism doesn't take away the power of people to acquire and make use of society's products; it only deprives people of the power to turn these products into capital and enslave others with that capital.
  • The bourgeoisie argues that people will become lazy once bourgeois property is abolished, but Marx says the bourgeoisie is already lazy. It's wage-labor and capital that are to be done away with, not human productivity, comrade.
  • The bourgeoisie thinks that the disappearance of bourgeois culture means the disappearance of all culture. But for the proletariat, it means ending the culture of having to be a cog in the machine. Bourgeois notions of culture, law, and stuff like that are reflections of the bourgeois mode of production: capitalism. Ruling classes have always been unable to see that their eternal truths are merely reflections of their own class.
  • Now we get even more extreme. Marx says that people get angry with the communist proposal to abolish the family. Once again, though, communists are referring to the bourgeois family, which is founded on capital and self-interest. The proletariat practically has no family (there's no time for it, and no money), and one result is prostitution. Once capital vanishes, proper relations between people will exist.
  • Similarly, communists aim to do away with bourgeois education by rescuing education from the ruling class. The bourgeoisie has turned family and education into commerce.
  • The bourgeoisie protest that communists would introduce a community of women. Basically, that means they think communists want women to be sexually available to the entire community rather than married or otherwise unavailable. But the bourgeoisie, Marx says, see their wives as mere means of production and imagine that because communists want to share the means of production, they must want to make women common to all. But the communist idea, Marx says, is to end the status of women being little production factories in the first place.
  • Whereas the bourgeoisie is used to seducing each other's wives—and to going to prostitutes—the communists would end the need for prostitution. And besides, he adds, a community of women has nearly always existed to some extent. See the "Women and Femininity" theme for more.
  • The communists are accused of wanting to abolish countries and nationalities. But, Marx says, the proletariat has no country. National differences and antagonisms are disappearing due to business and the world market, and the coming supremacy of the proletariat will cause nationalities to disappear even faster, since the revolution requires unity from the proletariat to succeed. Hostilities between nations will end, comrade.
  • Accusations against communism coming from religious, philosophical, or ideological standpoints are not worth consideration, Marx says. Well, that's one way to deal with your opponents.
  • Anyway, Marx says people's ideas change due to system-wide changes in production, not the other way around. When production changes, ideas change. But all past ideas have developed in the context of class exploitation, so communism is the most radical idea, as the proletarian revolution will end exploitation and thus exploitation-based ideas altogether.
  • Marx announces that he's sick of talking about the bourgeois objections to communism. So now he's going to get into what his guys, the proletariat, should do once they're in charge.
  • The proletariat should use its political power to take capital from the bourgeoisie, centralize the means of production into the hands of the State (the proletarians organized as a temporary ruling government, a.k.a. a vanguard state), and increase total production as quickly as possible.
  • The measures a proletarian State will take will differ from country to country, but Marx outlines ten general steps that there might be. They involve putting credit, communication, transport, the means of production (factories, for example), and more into the hands of the State as inheritance and ownership of land are abolished, taxes are increased, and free education is provided to all.
  • Once this program ends class distinctions, the power of the proletariat will cease to be political power, because political power is nothing more than the organized power to oppress. And all oppression is class oppression, according to Marx.
  • In place of the bourgeois society, with all its class antagonisms, people will associate under the principle that freedom for any particular person to develop is the same as the freedom for all to develop.

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