The Communist Manifesto
Section 2, Proletarians and Communists
The Manifesto then discusses the relationship of the Communists to the proletarians. The immediate aim of the Communists is the "formation of the proletariat into a class, [the] overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, [and the] conquest of political power by the proletariat." The Communists' theory simply describes a historical movement underway at this very moment. This includes the abolition of private property.
Marx says that Communists have been "reproached" for desiring to abolish the "right" of acquiring private property through the fruits of one's labor. However, he points out, laborers do not acquire any property through their labor. Rather, the "property" or capital they produce serves to exploit them. This property, controlled by the bourgeoisie, represents a social--not a personal--power. Changing it into common property does not abolish property as a right, but merely changes its social character, by eliminating its class character. In a Communist society, then, labor will exist for the sake of the laborer, not for the sake of producing bourgeois-controlled property. This goal of communism challenges bourgeois freedom, and this is why the bourgeois condemn the Communist philosophy. Marx writes, "You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population." Despite what the bourgeois claim, Communism doesn't keep people from appropriating the products of labor. Rather, it keeps them from subjugating others in the process of this appropriation.
The Manifesto then addresses some objections to Communism. Many dissenters maintain that no one will work if private property is abolished. However, by this logic, bourgeois society should have been overcome with laziness long ago. In reality, it is presently the case that those who work don't acquire anything, and those who acquire things don't work. Other opponents hold that Communism will destroy all intellectual products. However, this reflects a bourgeois misunderstanding. The disappearance of "class culture" is not the same thing as the disappearance of all culture.
Marx moves to the arguments against the "infamous" Communist proposal of abolishing the family. He says the modern family is based on capital and private gain. Thus he writes, the Communists "plead guilty" to wanting to do away with present familial relations, in that they want to stop the exploitation of children by their parents. Similarly, they do not want to altogether abolish the education of children, but simply to free it from the control of the ruling class. Marx complains that the bourgeois "clap-trap" about family and education is particularly "disgusting" as Industry increasingly destroys the family ties of the proletarians; thus it renders family and education as means for the transformation of children into articles of commerce.
Communists are also criticized for their desire to abolish country and nationality. Marx replies that workingmen have no country; and we can't take from them what they don't have. National differences and antagonisms lose significance as industrialization increasingly standardizes life.
Marx then says that those charges against Communism based on religion, philosophy, or ideology "are not deserving of serious examination." Man's consciousness changes with the conditions of his material existence. "The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class." In response to the claim that there are certain universal ideas, such as that of Justice, that have transcended the vicissitudes of history, Marx replies that this universality is only an apparent one, reflecting an overriding history of exploitation and class antagonism. The Communist revolution is a radical rupture in traditional property relations. It should be no surprise that it accompanied by radical changes in traditional ideas.
We see then that the first step in the working class' revolution is to make the proletariat the ruling class. It will use its political power to seize all capital from the bourgeoisie and to centralize all instruments of production under the auspices of the State. Of course, in the beginning this will not be possible without "despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production." Probable steps in the revolution will include: the abolition of ownership of land; the institution of a heavy progressive or graduated income tax; the abolition of all inheritance rights; the confiscation of emigrants' and rebels' property, making all people liable to labor; State centralization of credit; State centralization of communication and transportation; State appropriation of factories, the gradual combination of agriculture and manufacturing industries, the elimination of the distinctions between town and country, and the establishment of free education for children.
When class distinctions have disappeared, public power will lose its political character. This is because political power is nothing more than "the organized power of one class for oppressing another." When the proletariat eliminate the old conditions for production, they will render class antagonism impossible, and thereby eliminate their own class supremacy. Bourgeois society will be replaced by an "association" in which "the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."
One of Marx's most interesting claims in this section is that the ideas of religion and philosophy are actually rooted in people's material existence; particular ideas are only the results of certain relationships of production. The most enduring or prevailing ideas are simply those that serve the interests of the ruling class. Thus, the ruling class makes the rules that structure society, and supports those ideas that forward its own ends. For example, the bourgeoisie glorify property rights because they are the ones in society with property.
This is also the section where Marx gives a sense of what he thinks the revolution will be like. The workers become the rulers, and work to eliminate private property. It is important to consider in which instances the Manifesto is simply trying to describe a historical process, and in which instances it is also advocating particular methods and goals: Communism understands history to be an unchangeable force, but also as leading to a morally desirable outcome. The question thus arises, What is the Communist's role in the historical process? If the revolution is an inevitable force of history, we might even question why the Communist Manifesto is necessary.
Finally, this section is interesting because it exhibits Marx's techniques of responding to criticisms. Marx is harsh and often quite sarcastic about the critiques of Communism. Consider whether his approach is rhetorically effective. Would he be more convincing if he took a more serious tone about the critiques of Communism? Would the Manifesto retain its "revolutionary" character if he did change his tone?