Notes from the Communist Manifesto

Key Ideas in the Communist Manifesto (for the purposes of our class).

The circumstances surrounding its publication.

  1. Industrialization (first in Britain, then in Europe)
  2. Urbanization
  3. Rise of capitalism
  4. Population Growth
  5. Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1854
  6. New technologies
  7. The rise of democracy (male suffrage included more and more of the poorest classes)
  8. Rise of public education
  9. Importance of the Press
  10. The Unification of European states
  11. Decolonization movements in Latin America
  12. The coming end of Slavery

The 19th Century in the images of the famous illustrator, Gustave Dore:

19th Century London:

A city thoroughfare:

Waiting at the Bishop’s Gate:

And meanwhile, heavy industry outside of the cities:

Alexis de Toqueville said of 1848: “society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy, and those who had anything united in common terror.”

Key Issues:

Who are the bourgeoisie?

Who are the proletariat?

What is the relationship between property and freedom?

Between labour and commodity?

The Base and the Superstructure?

Looking carefully at The Communist Manifesto, how did Marx envision the establishment of Communist Society. What were the concrete events that must happen?

1. Emergence of New Technology (e.g. the steam engine) and New Forms of Labour (the Division of Labour, the factory) which would lead to the emergence of Industrial Capitalism

2. Emergence of a new oppressor and a new oppressed (the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat)

3.The contest between the two leads to a revolutionary Proletariat, a class of increasing numbers and importance

4. Revolution (Note that Marx anticipated that this revolution would be an international movement, hence his call at the end of The Communist Manifesto, “Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”(Marx 39)

5. Establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

6. Nationalization of Private Industry (made private by the Bourgeoisie)

7. Redistribution of Wealth

8. Dismantling the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, replaced by a Communistic Society.

Something we can reflect upon, then, is how well (or how poorly) this outline events has corresponded to Communist Movements in history.

“Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells” (Marx and Engels 8).

This quotation always reminds me of poor old Mickey Mouse. First this:

And then, oh no!, this:

To be more academic about it, what purpose do you think Marx’s reference to sorcerers and spells and dangerous powers had? A good way to go about thinking of the answer to this question lies in recalling two key aspects we should consider when reading any primary source document.

1. What was the audience for the Communist Manifesto?

2. What was the political, economic, social context of its publication?

3. What recent historical events had influenced the way every single member of European society thought about revolution?

(These questions are closely related).


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