The Communist Manifesto
Section 3, Socialist and Communist Literature
In this section, Marx presents and critiques three subsets of Socialist and Communist literature. The first subset is Reactionary Socialism. Reactionary Socialists include the Feudal Socialists, the Petty-Bourgeois Socialists, and the German, or "True" Socialists; all of these groups fight against the rise of the bourgeoisie and modern Industry, without realizing the historical process the bourgeoisie represent. Feudal Socialists were French and English aristocrats who wrote against modern bourgeois society. However, their chief complaint about the bourgeois was that it creates a revolutionary proletariat that will uproot the old order of society. Thus, they objected to the bourgeoisie because they were a threat to their way of life. The Petty- Bourgeois Socialists were a class that saw it would eventually lose its separate status and become part of the proletariat. Marx concedes that the Petty- Bourgeois publications successfully showed the contradictions of the conditions of modern production. However, their suggested alternatives to this contradictory system were either to restore the old means of production and exchange, or to push the modern means of production and exchange into the framework of old property relations. Thus, this socialism is "reactionary and Utopian" and can't accept the facts of history. Third there is German, or "True" Socialism. These German thinkers adopted some French socialist and Communist ideas, without realizing that Germany did not share the same social conditions as France. As contemplated by the German thinkers, the French ideas lost all practical significance and were "emasculated." These socialists supported the aristocracy and feudal institutions against the rising bourgeoisie, forgetting that the rise of the bourgeoisie is a necessary historical step. The "true" socialists support the interests of the petty- bourgeoisie, and thus support the status quo. They even reject class struggles. Marx claims that almost all of the so-called Communist and Socialist literature in Germany at this time are in fact of this character.
The second subset of Socialism is Conservative, or Bourgeois, Socialism. This subset reflects the desires of a segment of the bourgeois to redress social grievances, in order to guarantee the continued existence of bourgeois society. Followers of this idea include "economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, [and] hole-and-corner reformers of every kind." They want the advantages of the social conditions generated by Modern Industry, without the struggles and dangers that necessarily accompany them. "They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat." These bourgeoisie believe that the best society is the society in which they have power; they want the proletariat to keep its weak role, but to stop hating the dominant bourgeoisie. A second form of this kind of Socialism recognizes the fact that only changes in economic relations could help the proletariat. However, the upholders of this kind of socialism do not accept that such changes necessarily entail a destruction of the relations of production. Rather, they wish to make administrative reforms, which simply decrease the cost and amount of administrative work for the bourgeois government.
The third subset is Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism. This subset originated with the first attempts of the proletariat to achieve their own ends. The attempts were reactionary, and the proletariat had not yet reached the maturity and economic conditions necessary for emancipation. These socialists therefore looked for new social laws to create the material conditions necessary to free the proletariat. Their writings are important because they attacked every principle of existing society, and are thus useful for enlightening the working class. However, they are of a Utopian character: although their vision did reflect authentic proletariat "yearnings" to reconstruct society, it was ultimately a "fantastic" vision, providing no basis for practical action. Thus the Critical-Utopian Socialists become less significant as the modern class struggle takes shape; lacking practical significance, their "fantastic" attacks lose theoretical justification. Thus, while the founders were in many ways revolutionaries, their followers are mere reactionaries. They oppose political action by the proletariat.
This section is principally a review of other Socialist thinkers. Marx argues that each approach fails because it misses out on a key component of Communist theory. The Reactionaries fail to realize that the inevitability of the bourgeoisie's rise, and of their eventual fall at the hands of the proletariat. The Conservative Socialists, similarly, fail to see the inevitability of class antagonism, and of the destruction of the bourgeoisie. The Critical-Utopian Socialists fail to understand that social change must occur in revolutions, and not by pure dreaming or words.
For a modern reader, Marx's discussion of the second subgroup perhaps deserves the most consideration. The Conservative Socialism that Marx condemns is precisely the attitude embraced by countries like the United States toward the plight of workers. Welfare, Social Security and a minimum wage are all measures that Marx would dismiss as attempts to preserve the capitalist system by making the situation of the proletariat tolerable. It is worth considering, then, whether Marx's critique is convincing. Basically, Marx seems to argue that these "reforms" are actually done in the interests of the bourgeois, in order to placate the proletariat and make them accept their social role. Marx believes that this form of Socialism is misguided; he contends that the only way to really address the grievances of the proletariat is through a restructuring of economic and social relations. This is a revolutionary act; the suggested reforms of Conservative Socialists are merely palliative. How does Marx's critique hold up to states such as the U.S. or Western European nations--nations that have instituted such "Conservative Socialist" programs? Is Marx correct in stating that these reforms serve the interests of the ruling capitalists, and not the workers? Looking back from the present, and having thus seen "Conservative Socialism" in action, does historical evidence still support Marx's claims of the inevitability of a proletariat uprising? Does it support the desirability of such an uprising?