The Manifesto begins by announcing, "A spectre is haunting Europe--the spectre of Communism." All of the European powers have allied themselves against Communism, frequently demonizing its ideas. Therefore, the Communists have assembled in London and written this Manifesto in order to make public their views, aims and tendencies, and to dispel the maliciously implanted misconceptions.
The Manifesto begins by addressing the issue of class antagonism. Marx writes, "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." Throughout history we see the oppressor and oppressed in constant opposition to each other. This fight is sometimes hidden and sometimes open. However, each time the fight ends in either a revolutionary reconstruction of society or in the classes' common ruin.
In earlier ages, we saw society arranged into complicated class structures. For example, in medieval times there were feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices and serfs. Modern bourgeois society sprouted from the ruins of feudal society. This society has class antagonisms as well, but it is also unique: class antagonisms have become simplified, as society increasingly splits into two rival camps--Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.
The Manifesto then shows how the modern bourgeoisie is the product of several revolutions in the mode of production and of exchange. The development of the bourgeoisie began in the earliest towns, and gained momentum with the Age of Exploration. Feudal guilds couldn't provide for increasing markets, and the manufacturing middle class took its place. However, markets kept growing and demand kept increasing, and manufacture couldn't keep up. This led to the Industrial Revolution. Manufacture was replaced by "Modern Industry," and the industrial middle class was replaced by "industrial millionaires," the modern bourgeois. With these developments, the bourgeoisie have become powerful, and have pushed medieval classes into the background. The development of the bourgeoisie as a class was accompanied by a series of political developments. With the development of Modern Industry and the world-market, the bourgeoisie has gained exclusive political sway. The State serves solely the bourgeoisie's interests.
Historically, the bourgeoisie has played a quite revolutionary role. Whenever it has gained power, it has put to an end all "feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations." It has eliminated the relationships that bound people to their superiors, and now all remaining relations between men are characterized by self-interest alone. Religious fervor, chivalry and sentimentalism have all been sacrificed. Personal worth is now measured by exchange value, and the only freedom is that of Free Trade. Thus, exploitation that used to be veiled by religious and political "illusions" is now direct, brutal and blatant. The bourgeoisie has changed all occupations into wage-laboring professions, even those that were previously honored, such as that of the doctor. Similarly, family relations have lost their veil of sentimentality and have been reduced to pure money relations.
In the past, industrial classes required the conservation of old modes of production in order to survive. The bourgeoisie are unique in that they cannot continue to exist without revolutionizing the instruments of production. This implies revolutionizing the relations of production, and with it, all of the relations in society. Thus, the unique uncertainties and disturbances of the modern age have forced Man to face his real condition in life, and his true relations with others.