Study Guide

The Communist Manifesto Section 3: Socialist and Communist Literature

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Section 3: Socialist and Communist Literature

  • In this section, Marx clarifies how his and the Communist League's communism differs from the socialism or communism of others.
  • First, he takes on the aristocrats who advocated for feudal socialism. Basically, as feudalism was coming to an end, the aristocrats were threatened by the rise of the bourgeoisie. So the aristocrats wrote attacks against them and made offerings to the proletariat, hoping for the support of the masses.
  • But the feudal aristocrats, according to Marx, didn't realize that their rule happened under different forms of production that were now gone.
  • The aristocrats accused the bourgeoisie of creating a revolutionary proletariat and working against their interests.
  • Clerical Socialism and Christian asceticism were nothing more than religious ways of approving of the aristocracy.
  • Next up on Marx's hit list is petty-bourgeois socialism. The petty bourgeoisie is sort of like the middle class today. They were threatened with losing their position and being turned into proletarians. So they advocated for reforms to the system that might help them improve their lives for the time being, but they didn't advocate for revolution—not for anything that would fundamentally alter the system and cause them to lose their status.
  • The petty-bourgeois writers were sometimes great at criticizing the economic theories of the upper class, but in the final analysis, they didn't want any fundamental changes. The economic views of liberals and the Democratic Party would generally be the example of the petty bourgeoisie outlook in the United States today.
  • Now Marx gets to German Socialism, also known as True Socialism. These guys, according to him, were philosophers or book-smart people who took on French communist ideas but didn't pay attention to the context of the French Revolution. Instead of understanding the specifics of France, these Germans made the French writings conform to the ideas of their German philosophers. Marx criticizes specific works of the German Socialists and basically says that the authors sucked the revolutionary life out of the French writings and talked about grand philosophical fantasies instead of the actual revolution.
  • As the German bourgeoisie arose against the aristocrats, German Socialism had a chance to attack, but instead it wound up misunderstanding everything and promoting grand-sounding notions about the ideal German man, who was more of a middle-class person than a proletarian. So much for German Socialism.
  • Okay, we're moving right along to Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism. Those promoting this view were members of the bourgeoisie who were just offering reforms in order to keep the proletarians' pitchforks away. It's similar to the petty-bourgeois socialism described above. Marx sums these views up as saying that the bourgeoisie is to stay bourgeois, and that's somehow supposed to benefit the proletariat.
  • Finally, Marx asks us to look at Critical-Utopian socialism or communism, and we say, "Okay." This school of thought basically consisted of writers who understood the problems with capitalism quite well but believed the solution was to form ideal little communities where people could live as communists. They effectively supported the bourgeoisie by rejecting revolution in favor of peaceful, experimental societies that were doomed to failure.
  • At least, Marx says, the Critical-Utopians offered good criticisms of capitalism. But they didn't understand that the entire working class had to be supported to create real change.

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