by Paulo Toledo,  March 1999




Throughout the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx talks about how the "spectre of Communism" is spreading across Europe and the World. Yet, on the whole, he never really discusses much what Communism is as much as he derides Capitalism and the many faults that he has with other Socialist systems. It would have been more appropriate for his work to be called "Anti-Capitalist and Other Socialism Ideas Manifesto." Marx does not, however, go into much detail about how Communists would run the economy. Due to the many misconceptions of what the Communist Manifesto is about, the following is a short summary and critique of this important piece of literature that had influenced many in this world.


The introduction of the manifesto starts off with the popular quote "A spectre is haunting Europe-the spectre of Communism."(p.54) This provides much imagery to the reader and draws his or her into the body of work. Marx tries to make a clear understanding of what Communism is and how people would go about creating Communism. In a way, it was a platform for what Communism was to Marx. The organization Marx was in, the Second Congress of the Communist League, wanted him to write this manifesto so that it could be spread around. It was a way of promoting Communism, thus spreading throughout Europe much like the introduction wanted it to be thought of as.


Marx then goes into the first part of the body of his manifesto, which is the section entitled "Bourgeois and Proletarians." In this part, he goes into how society started communal but then became more unequal as time went on. Systems such as Feudalism, Mercantilism, and finally Capitalism benefited from the use of exploitation. He first introduces the idea that economic concerns of a nation drive history, and that the struggle between the rich bourgeoisie and the hard working proletariat would eventually lead to Communism. He goes on and on how the bourgeois have always got what they wanted. Marx does site positives that were done by this group, but he certainly seemed more reflective on the negatives committed by the bourgeois. Marx states the bourgeoisie "has agglomerated population, centralized means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands." (Marx, p.59) He then describes the proletarians, or the labor class, and how they were formed, how they have suffered, and how they must overcome their struggles. Marx declares that this "`dangerous class,' the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution." (Marx, p.65) A revolution where the proletariats take over and dethrone the bourgeoisie.


The second section entitled "Proletarians and Communists" distinguishes how these two groups are one and the same. Marx first goes into detail about what Communists believe in, tries to show similarities between the two, and recommends that Communism be the best choice instead of the other forms of socialism. This is implied when Marx states "The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all the other proletarian parties: formation of the prletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat." (Marx, p.67) He tries to give concrete details of what Communism is, such as his idea that "in Communist society, the present dominates the past." (Marx, p.69) This section, however is still doing a lot of bashing on the bourgeoisie. For example, Marx wrote that in "bourgeois society, capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality." (Marx, p.69) He goes on and on about capital, bourgeois and communism. However, he really does not state any concrete ideas on how communists would run the economy.


"Socialist and Communist Literature" is the heading for the third section, and it is itself divided into many smaller sections. Reactionary Socialism has a)feudal socialism, b)petty bourgeois socialism, and c)German, or "True" Socialism as subsections. Conservative, or Bourgeois, Socialism and Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism do not have any subsections under them. Here, Marx goes into great detail trying to explain very briefly what each of these earlier, popular theories of socialism are all about, as well as his opinion on each of them. He states "Since the development of class antagonism keeps even pace with the development of industry, the economic situation, as they find it, does not as yet offer to them the material conditions, for the emancipation of the proletariat. They therefore search after a new social science, after new social laws, that are to create these conditions." (Marx, p.83) However, Communism does not need to do this and justifies itself by the movement of the proletariat. Once again, however, Marx does not offer any differing economic theories from these other Socialist ideologies. He still does not give a sample of Communist economic theory either.


Finally, Marx's last section of his Communist Manifesto is entitled "Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties" where he goes on giving the view of the Second Congress of the Coummunist League for which he was asked to write the manifesto for. He reiterates that "the Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement." (Marx, p.85) Yet again, no economic theory for Communism is stated. Thus, the Communist Manifesto is a very brief political rather than economic summary of what Communism is about. If one wishes to find capitalist bashing, other socialist ideas rebuked, and an opinion of bourgeoisie and proletariat life, the Communist Manifesto has all of this. But if one wants to find concise, specific information on what Communist ideologies and economic theories propose, the Communist manifesto will be too general.



  • Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1988.