The Communist Manifesto

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The Communist Manifesto

by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels


A political pamphlet first distributed in mid-nineteenth-century Europe: published in London in 1848 (as Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei), in English in 1850.


Proclaiming that conflict between economic classes has been the driving force of history, the authors outline the growth of socialist movements in Europe and predict the imminent collapse of capitalism.

Events in History at the Time of the Pamphlet

The Pamphlet in Focus

For More Information

Widely considered to be the nineteenth century’s most influential revolutionary thinker, Karl Marx (1818-83) laid the theoretical foundations of modern socialism and communism. Born in Trier, Prussia (now part of Germany), Marx was educated primarily there and at the University of Berlin, receiving his doctorate in philosophy in 1841. Shortly afterward he met Friedrich Engels (1820-95), who belonged to the same circle of radical young Germans that Marx had joined as a student. Their friendship would ripen into one of history’s most fruitful intellectual collaborations, with Marx’s strong theoretical abilities complemented by Engels’s practical knowledge and organizational skills. Though living and working mainly in Britain after 1848, they wrote in their native German. Their masterpiece would be the monumental Das Kapital (“Capital,” 1867-94). Like The Communist Manifesto, Das Capital was written largely by Marx but drew on theories that he and Engels had developed together, and two of its three volumes were edited by Engels for publication after Marx’s death. Virtually all of the major ideas elaborated in Das Capital were first set forth in much shorter form in The Communist Manifesto. Their first major published work, it remains the most concise statement of an ideology that would ultimately change the course of history and hold sway over billions of lives.

Events in History at the Time of the Pamphlet

Industrial revolutions

Over the first half of the nineteenth century, European civilization began struggling to deal with the social and political upheavals unleashed by the Industrial Revolution. All European nations would eventually be swept up in the profound changes that accompanied the transformation from predominantly agrarian to modern industrial economies, but those changes came earlier to some than to others. The leader was Britain, where many of the technological innovations that spurred industrialization were first developed starting in the mid-eighteenth century. By the early decades of the nineteenth century, Belgium had become the first industrializing nation on the European continent, with France following more slowly by the mid-nineteenth century. Along with the United States, which began industrial growth soon after Britain, these three countries were the earliest to begin the shift over to modern industrial economies.

Originating among British textiles (cloth) manufacturers in the 1770s, a new method of manufacturing—the factory system—lay at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. Because factories ran on coal and required large amounts of iron and other metals, the spread of factories vastly accelerated mining operations. Factories, mines, and other aspects of industrial production brought greater economic productivity and higher overall prosperity to the countries that developed them. Yet, as critics began pointing out almost immediately, such benefits came at a high cost: industrialization also created serious social problems and, in many cases, great human misery. As the earliest to experience the benefits of the industrial age, Britain was also the first to suffer its ills. The prevailing economic theory of laissez-faire (French for “allow to do”) capitalism dictated that employers should be free from restrictive regulations. It was believed that this hands-off approach would promote general prosperity and thus would ultimately be best for everyone. However, in reality the ideal of laissezfaire capitalism was not evenly applied. For while employers were unrestricted, workers were not—with the result that employers enjoyed special protections under the law as compared with workers. For example, British workers were forbidden by law from forming unions, or from going on strike for better wages, shorter hours, or safer working conditions. By the 1840s the exploitation of workers had begun drawing sympathy from a wide range of writers and social critics in Britain.

Particularly brutal was the plight of child laborers in coal mines and factories, where they commonly worked 16-hour days in the most grueling conditions. Exposed by a British Government investigation in 1843, such exploitation was publicized that same year by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s widely quoted poem “The Cry of the Children”:

“For oh,” say the children, “we are weary,
And we cannot run or leap;
If we cared any for meadows, it were merely
To drop down in them and sleep. . . .
For, all day, we drag our burden tiring
Through the coal-dark, underground;
Or, all day, we drive the wheels of iron
In the factories, round and round.”

(Browning in Abrams, p. 1,091)

For many observers, the worst that industrialism had to offer could be seen in the slums of Manchester, the northern English industrial city that was the center of British textiles manufacturing. In 1848, the year that The Communist Manifesto appeared, English author Elizabeth Gaskell published Mary Barton, an influential novel that graphically described the filthy, overcrowded living conditions of Manchester factory workers and their families.

By that time, owing to his own family’s background, Friedrich Engels was already well acquainted with Manchester. Engels’s father, a wealthy German textiles manufacturer, was part owner of a Manchester textiles factory. In the early 1840s, Engels had spent nearly two years living mostly in Manchester, recording workers’ conditions there as well as in other British industrial cities. He published his observations in his book The Condition of the English Working Class (1845). “The area is full of ruined or half-ruined buildings,” Engels wrote of one working-class Manchester neighborhood:

Everywhere one sees heaps of refuse, garbage, and filth. There are stagnant pools instead of gutters and the stench alone is so overpowering that no human being, even partially civilized, would find it bearable to live in such a district.

(Engels in Abrams, pp. 1,644-45)

Engels’s firsthand knowledge of British working-class conditions would provide a firm empirical basis for the theories that he and Marx would articulate a few years later in The Communist Manifesto.


Before the Industrial Revolution, production of material goods had typically occurred in three ways:

  • Household production, in which the occupants of a household (including servants) manufactured items for use within the household.
  • Handicraft or artisan production, in which a few skilled workers, laboring in small shops, turned out specialized goods.
  • Domestic or cottage industry, in which employers owned raw materials that they sent out to a number of craft workers, who in turn made the finished products themselves, in their own homes or small shops.

During the Industrial Revolution, factories greatly increased the amount of goods that could be produced, transforming not just the means but also the scale of production. The factory system combined four major innovations:

  • Large concentrations of workers in sizeable buildings or building complexes (the factories themselves) devoted exclusively to production.
  • Heavy reliance on machines. Throughout the nineteenth century, factory machines were powered by steam, which was created by burning fuel (most often coal) to heat water.
  • Highly coordinated production, with workers specializing in particular stages of the process rather than creating the finished product from the beginning. Workers were also now closely monitored and disciplined by supervisors.
  • The rise of a class of wealthy owners of industrial enterprises like factories. Because such enterprises require large capital expenditures to get started, those who could afford to set up (and thus to profit from) large industrial operations have been called “capitalists.” The economic system of free enterprise in which they flourish, called capitalism, is the major target of Marx and Engels’s critique in The Communist Manifesto.

As industrialization proceeded, so did the growth of an urban working class needed to perform industrial labor. Hand-in-hand with the poverty of this growing working class came its lack of a political voice in early-nineteenth-century Britain, as in most other European countries. Discontented workers contributed significantly to a wave of revolutions that swept Europe from the 1820s through the 1840s, although other forces also played a part in the turbulent events of these decades. In Britain, a series of reforms staved off the outright revolts that other countries suffered. However, the reforms came only after riots and violent uprisings, starting with the Peterloo Massacre (1819) in Manchester, when armed troops killed 11 people while crushing a workers’ protest. At least 571 others were injured in the incident. Thereafter a major piece of British legislation, the Reform Bill of 1832, extended voting rights from upper-class men to middleclass men. But property qualifications continued to deny British working-class men the right to vote (no women could vote until 1918).

Between 1832 and 1848, the strongest calls for continued reform in Britain came from the working-class Chartist Movement, which Marx and Engels refer to in The Communist Manifesto. The Chartists took their name from their so-called People’s Charter, drafted in 1838, in which they presented six demands for Parliamentary reform. The demands included the abolition of property qualifications for election to Parliament, as well as for voting in the elections themselves. The Chartists presented petitions to Parliament in 1839, 1842 (when they garnered 3 million signatures), and 1848, but the British legislativ body rejected each of the petitions. Engels knew many of the Chartists’ leaders, several of whom he introduced to Marx during the latter’s visits to London in the 1840s.

Early socialist movements

By the mid-nineteenth century, observers of all political stripes were struggling to formulate solutions to the ills of the industrial age. The Scottish-born historian and social critic Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) was one of the most influential shapers of nineteenth-century British culture. Essentially conservative, this engaging but often contradictory writer exalted the principle of work, but decried the way that mechanized industry reduced it to a virtueless cash horde. In books such as Past and Present (1843), Carlyle opposed laissezfaire capitalism. Instead, he expressed nostalgia


Social unrest combined with agricultural catastrophes to create an atmosphere of seething revolt throughout Europe in the 1840s. In 1845 and 1846, potato and grain crops failed in Britain, Ireland, and other countries, leading to higher food prices across Europe. Peasants agitated for the abolition of the feudal system, middle-class professionals such as doctors and lawyers demanded greater political rights, and industrial workers too called for a political voice. As The Communist Manifesto predicted, these pressures would result in widespread revolutions in Europe in 1848, but —contrary to Marx and Engels’s predictions—those revolutions were not communist in character. Nor, as it turned out, were they successful. They seem, however, to have had an effect on later history. Harsh oppression followed the crushing of these revolutions in most countries, yet despite this oppression, many of the democratic reforms that the rebels sought were enacted during the second half of the nineteenth century.

for the feudal relationships of the medieval world, in which (as he saw it) the powerful were protective patrons and the less powerful were loyal clients. In contrast with Carlyle, the equally influential British historian and political leader Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59) viewed the problems of industrialism as temporary and surmountable. Whereas Carlyle distrusted democracy, the liberal Macaulay argued for further extending the vote. He championed the industrial age as a shining example of progress, trumpeting its achievements and innovations as proof of humanity’s ultimate perfectibility.

Carlyle was not alone in focusing on the ways that industrialization had altered the relationship between employers and workers. Already the extraordinary British industrialist-turned-reformer Robert Owen (1771-1858) had engaged in a series of startlingly successful social experiments, starting with the creation in the 1810s of a progressive community around a textile factory in New Lanark, Scotland. Owen stressed education above all and argued that humans were entirely the product of social forces. By controlling these social forces, Owen and his followers believed, society could positively influence the shaping of individuals. Owen helped in early attempts to organize labor unions, which the British government treated as criminal conspiracies. The word “socialist” first appeared in print in 1827 in the Owenite periodical Co-operative Magazine, describing Owen’s followers and their beliefs.

The word “socialism” appeared soon after, in 1832—but in a French newspaper, where it was applied to the views of another reformer, the French social theorist Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825). Saint-Simon, whose ideas strongly influenced those of Carlyle and later British socialists, called for voluntary cooperation between workers and employers. Arguing that together this industrial class should overthrow Europe’s older aristocratic elites, Saint-Simon envisioned a harmonious society founded on rational, scientific principles and mutual cooperation. By the 1830s in Britain and France, the words “socialism” and “socialist” were being commonly applied not only to the Owenites and Saint-Simonians, but also to a wide range of competing but broadly similar movements. The followers of another French reformer named Charles Fourier (1772-1837) also began calling themselves socialists in the 1830s, for example. Like Owen, but unlike Saint-Simon, Fourier stressed the building of small communities, and had little interest in larger political issues.

While differing in some important respects, these early socialist movements did have several key elements in common. They agreed that the exploitation of workers should be ended, and they agreed as well that society should enact some sort of limitation on property rights in order to curtail the power of the wealthy. They argued that society, not individuals, should own factories and other industrial facilities. But they also agreed that in general terms the ultimate target of such measures was (as Saint-Simon stressed) the old aristocratic elites. It was against this traditional oppressor of the common people, rather than against the emerging class of capitalist employers, that the early socialists directed their strongest efforts. These thinkers also envisioned Utopias, or idealistic and cooperative societies, and their proposed changes were based on reform, not revolution. For these reasons, The Communist Manifesto dismisses the movements of these thinkers as helpful and well-intentioned but ultimately misguided.


There were attacks on the wealth of the capitalists too, most notably by the followers of the French radical Gracchus Babeuf (1760-97). Babeuf had been a relatively unimportant figure in the French Revolution of 1789. Later he was executed for hatching a conspiracy to overthrow the revolutionary government and install what he termed a dictatorship of the people. A key element in Babeuf’s plan was the elimination of all private property, and it is this point that has led later historians to see him as a fore-runner of communism. The idea would be taken up by France’s Pierre Joseph Proudhon, whose book What Is Property? (French; 1840) answered that question with the famous aphorism “property is theft.” Followers of Babeuf, a number of zealous but disorganized French radicals, called themselves babouvistes. They rose up especially during the July Revolution of 1830 in France, when French industrial workers—themselves inspired by socialist ideas—took to the streets to demand greater political rights, including the right to vote. The July Revolution overthrew the conservative King Charles X and installed Louis Phillipe on the French throne, to the relief of the middle class and of business interests in France.

In France, as in the rest of Europe, the aftermath of the July Revolution was marked by continuing social and political unrest. Revolution was still in the air, and secret societies flourished. It was in Paris during the 1830s that some of these clandestine political groups started calling their beliefs “communism.” The word first came into wide use in the 1840s, to describe the ideas of the French social theorist Étienne Cabet, whose Utopian doctrines had been influenced by Owenite socialism. But it also continued to be used by underground radical groups of the far left, often made up of exiles, who found “socialism” too soft to describe their militant views. For example, a number of young German exiles gathered with others in Paris, Brussels, and London, after their views had caused them to be banished by the conservative German government. Calling themselves the League of the Just, the more radical members also referred to themselves as communists. Among that faction were Marx and Engels, who met in Paris in 1844 when Engels, then working on The Condition of the English Working Class, visited France.

Engels had joined the League’s London group after moving to Britain in 1842. Marx himself, exiled from Germany for his activities, had joined the Paris group until he was expelled from France in 1845. Moving to Brussels, from 1845 to 184 Marx then took over leadership of the Brussels group. Though Marx lived in Brussels and Engels in Britain, the two of them worked together closely after 1845, when Marx briefly visited Engels in London. In 1847, at their instigation, the League of the Just became the Communist League, and Marx was given the task of composing its manifesto, or statement of beliefs.


Socialism generally refers to political systems in which the state owns the means of production, along with important services, such as transportation and communications.

Communism can be defined as a socialist system in which all property is theoretically owned in common, and a single (communist) party monopolizes political power in the name of the workers or the people.

Marxism can be seen as socialism or communism organized along the lines proposed by Marx in The Communist Manifesto and other writings.

The Pamphlet in Focus

The contents

The Communist Manifesto runs to fewer than 50 pages in most editions, and it is divided into four sections. A brief preamble begins, “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism” (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, p. 130). The preamble then asserts that because this spectre has struck fear into governments across Europe, mystery and misunderstandings have clouded any true understanding of the communists’ actual aims. Communists, therefore, should now openly publish their views and goals.

Part 1, entitled “Bourgeois and Proletarians,” opens with the statement that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”(The Communist Manifesto, p. 131). All societies, in other words, have been divided into social ranks, and the struggles between these ranks is what has driven historical change. Adopting terminology used by some earlier socialist writers, Marx and Engels assert that in the industrial age the class struggle ultimately comes down to a conflict between two groups: capitalists, whom they call bourgeois or the bourgeoisie, and workers, whom they call proletarians or the proletariat. The bourgeoisie evolved out of the serfs of the Middle Ages, some of whom became merchants and grew more and more powerful as exploration opened up the world to European commercial domination. With the rise of industry, leadership of the bourgeoisie fell to the capitalist owners of industrial production. “Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class,” as it gradually overthrew the power of the feudal aristocracy that had ruled in the Middle Ages (The Communist Manifesto, p. 134).

With its restless energy, the bourgeoisie has created all of the urban expansion and technological progress of the modern industrial world. But in doing so, the bourgeoisie has also “called into existence” the very class that will “bring death to itself: the proletariat, or modern working class (The Communist Manifesto, p. 140). The proletariat “is recruited from all classes of the population,” as those classes are whittled away by the power of the bourgeoisie. At the beginning, the proletariat fights against “the enemies of its enemies,” that is, against the remnants of the once dominant aristocracy. Thus, it helps consolidate the power of the bourgeoisie. Only after growing in strength and number can the mature proletariat finally face and vanquish its true enemy, the bourgeoisie. This victory allows the proletariat to replace the bourgeoisie as the “revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands” (The Communist Manifesto, p. 145).

Part 2, “Proletarians and Communists,” begins by asserting that the interests of the communists are identical to “those of the proletariat as a whole” (The Communist Manifesto, p. 149). The communists, however, serve at the forefront of the proletariat’s struggle against the bourgeoisie. Their ideas are not based on the theories of “this or that would-be universal reformer,” but reflect “actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes” (The Communist Manifesto, p. 150). In the context of this struggle, “the abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism,” declare Marx and Engels (The Communist Manifesto, p. 150). Other revolutionary movements overturn these property relations too; in this regard, communism is not alone.

All property relations have in the past continually been subject to historical change … The French Revolution, for example, abolished feudal property in favor of bourgeois property. The distinguishing feature of communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property.

(The Communist Manifesto, pp. 150-51)

All other property besides that of the bourgeois, Marx and Engels argue, has already either been destroyed or is in the process of being destroyed by the power of the bourgeoisie.

Similarly, the communists are accused of wanting to do away with the family—but it is only the bourgeois family that they wish to abolish, since the bourgeois have already destroyed the family structure of the other classes:

The bourgeois claptrap about family and education, about the hallowed correlation of parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of modern industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour.

(The Communist Manifesto, p. 156)

Likewise, the Manifesto counters another common bourgeois charge against the communists—that they wish to “abolish countries and nationality” (The Communist Manifesto, p. 157). In their oppression by the bourgeoisie, “working men have no country” in the first place, meaning the same sort of oppression resurfaces in country after country; communists are not out to abolish nationality or country. That would be impossible since they “cannot take from them what they have not got” (The Communist Manifesto, p. 157). It is only bourgeois nationality that the communists will abolish.

The last section of Part 2 sketches the steps by which the proletariat will fulfill its historic mission:

The first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy. The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e. of the proletariat organized as the ruling class.

(The Communist Manifesto, p. 160)

Different countries will implement communist revolutions differently, Marx and Engels suggest, but they list a number of measures that might occur under a communist government:

  • Takeover of all land by the state
  • Imposition of a heavy graduated income tax
  • Abolition of inheritance
  • Consolidation of banking into one state bank
  • State control of all communication and transportation
  • State ownership of all industry
  • Obligation of all to work
  • Free education for all children

In Part 3, “Socialist and Communist Literature,” Marx and Engels address the ideas of earlier socialists and communists. They divide these ideas into three categories: reactionary socialism, conservative or bourgeois socialism, and critical-Utopian socialism. Reactionary socialism includes early aristocratic and petty-bourgeois responses to bourgeois ascendancy (Marx and Engels use the term “petty-bourgeois” to mean shopkeepers, small farmers, and other members of the lower bourgeois class). It also includes some of the Germans who imported socialist ideas into Germany in the 1830s. These socialists are called “reactionary” because they ultimately act in favor of the old feudal social structure. Conservative or bourgeois socialism comprises those bourgeois “economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity,” and others who concern themselves with “redressing social grievances” only in order to preserve the bourgeoisie itself (The Communist Manifesto, p. 171). Finally, the last category, critical-Utopian socialism, reflects the Utopian ideas of Saint-Simon, Owen, Fourier and others. While praising their works as valuable beginnings, Marx and Engels state that these socialists reflect the “early, undeveloped period” of the class struggle mentioned in Part 1, when the proletariat unwittingly opposes not its true enemy, the bourgeoisie, but the old aristocratic elite (The Communist Manifesto, p. 173).

Part 4, “Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties,” takes up only a few pages. Communists, write Marx and Engels, are willing to ally themselves with any political party that sides with the working class. In countries such as Britain, which have organized working-class political parties like the Chartists, communists clearly side with those parties. But in countries such as Germany, where no true working class yet exists, they fight alongside the bourgeoisie “whenever it acts in a revolutionary way, against the absolute monarchy, the feudal squirearchy, and the petty-bourgeoisie” (The Communist Manifesto, p. 178). Indeed, communists focus their attention on Germany. It is there that the bourgeoisie is about to carry out a revolution under “more advanced conditions” than the already completed bourgeois revolutions in Britain and France; yet “the bourgeois revolution in Germany will be but the prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution” (The Communist Manifesto, p. 178).

Thus communists support revolutionary movements everywhere, while always seeking to promote the interests of the working class within those movements. “Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution,” the Manifesto concludes: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!” (The Communist Manifesto, p. 179).


Marx’s materialistic conception of history is combined in Marxist theory with the “dialectical” ideas of the German philosopher W. F. Hegel, who suggested that history moves forward by the clash of one idea, which he called the thesis, with its opposite, the antithesis. The two ideas then combine to form a new, higher idea, the synthesis. This in turn becomes the thesis for a new “dialectical” conflict. For Hegel, these conflicts were abstract collisions that occurred only in the world of ideas. Marx took this view of historical progress and rooted it firmly in the material world, where he believed all history originated. Hence, the Marxist view of how history progresses is called “dialectical materialism.” For Marx, history will end when the final synthesis, that of a classless society, emerges from the revolution of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. The Communist Manifesto predicts that such a revolution is about to occur.

Marx’s view of history

With their famous opening statement that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” Marx and Engels suggested a new and compelling interpretation of history. In Marxist terms, human history began with the production of material goods—clothes, food, shelter—that people needed for survival. Classes arose, Marx believed, when some people began appropriating the goods produced by others. The class struggles that Marx describes as governing history in The Communist Manifesto represent the ongoing battle between such opposing groups throughout history. (In the industrial age, according to this view, capitalists appropriate the goods produced by workers.) Because the class struggles that determine history are conducted over material goods, Marx’s idea of history has been called historical materialism.

In some ways, historical materialism turned earlier ideas of history upside down. For example, in the English-speaking world, one school of nineteenth-century historians tended to view history as “the biography of great men,” to use Thomas Carlyle’s well-known phrase (Carlyle in Carr, p. 61). This view emphasized the roles of outstanding individuals in shaping events. Another common nineteenth-century view characterized history as an inspiring tale of human progress towards liberty and enlightenment. This was Thomas Macaulay’s view, and because Macaulay was a prominent political leader in the Whig party, it was known as the Whig interpretation. The Whig interpretation became the dominant view of history in nineteenth-century Britain, and it continued to influence British historical writing well into the twentieth century. Historians in both centuries have criticized historical materialism as ignoring the impact on history of individuals and of ideas such as liberty.

Such critics argue that Marx (and the many historians whom he influenced) improperly elevated what the poet T. S. Eliot called “vast impersonal forces,” such as economics, over human beings and ideas (Eliot in Carr, p. 54). Because it is the classes’ differing economic power—their wealth or their poverty, as measured in material goods—that separates them and constitutes the means over which they struggle, economic factors do indeed shape Marx’s view of history. Yet in emphasizing economic forces, Marx did not claim that either individuals or ideas are unimportant. As Marx himself wrote:

History does nothing, it possesses no immense wealth, fights no battles. It is rather man, real living man who does everything, who possesses and fights.

(Marx in Carr, p. 61; emphasis original)

In his influential book What Is History? (1961, from which the above quotations are taken), Edward Hallett Carr observes that all historical interpretations are shaped by the historian’s own circumstances and values. Marx’s interpretation of history was an economic one, because above all Marx was reacting to the economic exploitation of real people—both in his own age and in other ages as well.


In building on the ideas of the early socialists that have been outlined above, Marx and Engels also drew heavily on the work of other thinkers, especially in the areas of economics and philosophy. In economics, the most important influence on Marxist theory was Adam Smith (1723-90), the Scottish economist whose book The Wealth of Nations (1776) provided the classic exposition and defense of laissez-faire capitalism. Hence, in terms of economic theory, it was largely against Smith that Marx and Engels were reacting, both in The Communist Manifesto and in later works such as Capital. Smith’s ideas had been refined by English economist David Ricardo (1772-1823), whose emphasis on the inherent conflicts between economic classes—especially capitalist employers and industrial workers—contributed significantly to the class struggle outlined in The Communist Manifesto. In addition, Ricardo theorized that the value of goods could be expressed as a function of the labor required to produce them. This so-called “labor theory of value” also played an important part in shaping Marx’s thought.

Marx’s most profound intellectual debt, however, was to the German philosopher Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). As students, Marx and Engels had both belonged to the Young Hegelians, a group dedicated to exploring and promoting Hegel’s concept of the dialectic.

Publication and impact

Published in late February 1848, at first The Communist Manifesto was almost completely ignored outside of the Communist League, which disbanded shortly afterward. The pamphlet’s predictions of imminent victory for the working class seemed permanently dashed by the failure of the revolutions that broke out all over Europe in 1848. In particular, it was clear that Marx had seriously misjudged the readiness of Germany for the revolution predicted so confidently at the end of The Communist Manifesto. In 1864 a London gathering of workers, later called the First International, took place under Marx’s leadership, and a few years later the first volume of Das Capital (1867) appeared. Marx by that point was the undisputed leader of the international socialist movement, and his followers now took up The Communist Manifesto as the boldest and most accessible expression of his ideas. Over the coming years, Marx and Engels oversaw translations of The Communist Manifesto into German, English, Danish, Russian, Polish, and many other languages.

The influence of Marx’s thought has been incalculable, but was most apparent in the establishment of communist governments in Soviet Russia (1917), China (1949), and numerous other countries during the twentieth century. Many of these regimes collapsed in the 1990s, after the end of the Cold War—the long competition for world leadership between the Soviet Union (with its communist allies) and the United States (with its allied capitalist democracies). Indeed, in the eyes of many, they had been discredited years before they fell. The document that helped give rise to these regimes remains vital, nonetheless. As it was for Russian, Chinese, and other communists, The Communist Manifesto has remained an inspiration for revolutionary movements around the world.

—Colin Wells

For More Information

Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 4th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 1979.

Berlin, Isaiah. The Power of Ideas. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Carr, Edward Hallett. What Is History? New York: Vintage, 1961.

Cole, G. D. H. Socialist Thought: The Forerunners 1789-1850. New York: Macmillan, 1955.

Kolakowski, Leszek. Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth, and Dissolution: The Founders. Vol. 1. Trans. P. S. Falla. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. “The Communist Manifesto,” in Harold J. Laski on The Communist Manifesto. New York: Pantheon, 1967.

Mayo, Henry B. Introduction to Marxist Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960.

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