The Communist Manifesto

Summary

Section 2, Proletarians and Communists

Summary Section 2, Proletarians and Communists

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."

Commentary

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?

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