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Communist Manifesto

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KARL MARX (1812-1883) was born in Germany to Jewish parents who converted to Lutheranism. A very scholarly man, Marx studied literature and philosophy ultimately earning a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Jena. He was denied a university position and was forced to begin making a livelihood from journalism.

Soon after beginning his journalistic career, Marx came into conflict with Prussian authorities because of his radical social views, and after a period of exile in Paris he was forced to live in Brussels. After several more forced moves, Marx found his way to London, where he finally settled in absolute poverty. His friend Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) contributed money to prevent his and his family's starvation, and Marx wrote the books for which he is famous while at the same time writing for and editing newspapers. His contributions to the New York Daily Herald number over three hundred items between the years 1852 and 1862.

Marx is best known for his theories of socialism, best expressed in The Communist Manifesto (1848)вЂ"which, like much of his important work, was written with Engels's helpвЂ"and in Das Kapital (Capital), published in 1867. In his own lifetime he was not well known, nor were his ideas widely debated. Yet he was part of an ongoing movement composed mainly of intellectuals. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) was a disciple whose triumph in the Russian Revolution of 1917 catapulted Marx to the forefront of world thought. Since 1917 Marx's thinking has been scrupulously analyzed, debated, and argued. Capitalist thinkers have found him illogical and uninformed, whereas Communist thinkers have found him a prophet and keen analyst of social structures.

In England, Marx's studies concentrated on economics. His thought centered on the concept of an ongoing class struggle between those who owned propertyвЂ"the bourgeoisвЂ"and those who owned nothing but whose work produced wealthвЂ"the proletariat. Marx was concerned with the forces of history, and his view of history was that it is progressive and, to an extent, inevitable. This view is very prominent in The Communist Manifesto, particularly in his review of the overthrow of feudal forms of government by the bourgeoisie. He thought that it was inevitable that the bourgeoisie and the proletariat would engage in a class struggle from which the proletariat would emerge victorious. In essence, Marx took a materialist position. He denied the providence of God in the affairs of man and defended the view that economic institutions evolve naturally and that, in their evolution, they control the social order. Thus, communism is an inevitable part of the process, and in the Manifesto he was concerned to clarify the reasons why it was inevitable.

Marx's Rhetoric

The selection included here omits one section, the least important for the modern reader. The first section has a relatively simple rhetorical structure that depends upon the topic of comparison. The title, "Bourgeois and Proletarians," tells us right away that the section will clarify the nature of each class and then go on to make some comparisons and contrasts. The concepts as such were by no means as widely discussed or thought about in 1848 as they are today, so Marx is careful to define his terms. At the same time, he establishes his theories regarding history by making further comparisons with class struggles in earlier ages.

Marx's style is simple and direct. He moves steadily from point to point, establishing his views on the nature of classes, on the nature of bourgeois society, on the questions of industrialism and its effects upon modern society. He considers questions of wealth, worth, nationality, production, agriculture, and machinery. Each point is dealt with in turn, usually in its own paragraph.

The organization of the next section, "Proletarians and Communists" is not, despite its title, comparative in nature. Rather, with the proletariat defined as the class of the future, Marx tries to show that the Communist cause is the proletarian cause. In the process, Marx uses a fascinating rhetorical strategy. He assumes that he is addressed by an antagonistвЂ"presumably a bourgeois or a proletarian who is in sympathy with the bourgeois. He then proceeds to deal with each popular complaint against communism. He shows that it is not a party separate from other workers' parties. He clarifies the question of abolition of existing property relations. He emphasizes the antagonism of capital and wage labor; he discusses the disappearance of culture; he clarifies the question of the family and of the exploitation of children. The new system of public education is brought up. The touchy issue of the "community of women" is raised, as well as the charge that Communists want to abolish nations. Religion is brushed aside, and when he is done with the complaints he gives us a rhetorical signal: "But let us have done with the bourgeois objections to Communism."

The rest of the second section contains a brief summary, and then Marx presents his ten-point program. The structure is simple, direct, and effective. In the process of answering the charges against communism, Marx is able to clarify exactly what it is and what it promises. By contrast with his earlier arguments, the ten points of his Communist program seem clear, easy, and (again by contrast) almost acceptable. While the style is not dashing (despite a few memorable lines), the rhetorical structure is extraordinarily effective for the purposes at hand.

In the last section, in which Marx compares the Communists with other reform groups such as those agitating for redistribution of land and other agrarian reforms, he indicates that the Communists are everywhere fighting alongside existing groups for the rights of people who are oppressed by their societies. As Marx says, "In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things." Nothing could be a more plain and direct declaration of sympathies.

The Communist Manifesto

A specter is haunting EuropeвЂ"the specter of Communism. All the Powers of Old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter; Pope and Czar, Metternich Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.

Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where the Opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of Communism against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?


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