This lesson will explore the 19th century roots of Marxism and communism.
In doing this, it will explain the role the Industrial Revolution played in forming the famous work of Marx and Engels, known as the Communist Manifesto.
In the middle of the 19th century, a group of socialist reformers known as the Communist League convened in London. Seeing the impoverished working class created by the Industrial Revolution, these reformers called for change.
In order to summarize their beliefs, they charged two German philosophers with special interests in the economy, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, to write a mission statement of sorts on their behalf. Little did they know, they were witnessing the birth of one of the most famous political ideologies of all time – Marxism and its Communist Manifesto.
Marx & Engels
Before we get into the specifics of these very famous men and their manifesto, it’s important to understand the time in which they lived.
As philosophers living in the 19th century, both Marx and Engels were opposed to the abuses of their industrialized society. To them, the Industrial Revolution was to blame for the oppression of the working-class poor who lived in slums and faced dangerous working conditions. Making matters worse, while the poor suffered, the wealthy thrived.Marx and Engels felt this exploitation of the poor was the basis for all social and political conflict.
The only way to end this conflict was through social-class revolution and the abolishment of private property. This belief, which has come to be known as Marxism, would be touted by Marx’s and Engels’ followers for years to come.Even more important, it would become the foundation for communism. Therefore, when studying the 1848 Communist Manifesto, we’re really exploring the hallmarks of communism, a political ideology based in the teachings of Marx, calling for collective ownership of property with wages based on skill and need, rather than the accumulation of personal wealth.
Now onto the meat of the manifesto. As previously stated, the Communist Manifesto explains the hallmarks of communism.
In it, Engels and Marx shared the belief that at the basis of all history and social conflict is the struggle between classes. The wealthier class, known as the bourgeoisie, were those who owned the means of production. In other words, they were the ones who profited from free trade and private property ownership. To help us remember, we’ll call them the ‘bourgeoisie businessmen.
‘ To Marx and Engels, the bourgeoisie made their money on the backs of the wage-earning poorer class, known as the proletariat, or to use some alliteration, those who were ‘property poor.’
In order to end this travesty of social justice, where the rich got richer while the poor got poorer, the Communist Manifesto declared that it is inevitable that the working-class proletariat will rise up in revolution against the property-owning bourgeoisie. However, unlike most revolutions where the rebels win and take over the wealth and political power of those ousted, the Communist Manifesto also declared that the victorious proletariat should abstain from this temptation.Instead, they must use their new power to abolish, not keep, all private property. This would completely level the playing field, therefore ridding society of the evils of social class. Only in doing this would conflict end and society stabilize. After all, if no one could claim they owned the means of production or business, there’d be no division between owner and worker.
Differences would disappear, and the spoils of industry could be divided equally among the people.
In the middle of the 19th century, a group of socialist reformers known as the Communist League convened in London to discuss the social inequality of the Industrial Revolution. In order to capture their beliefs, they charged Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to document them. What came from this was one of the most famous political ideologies and documents of all time: Marxism and the Communist Manifesto.In short, the Communist Manifesto called for the working-class proletariat to rise up against the wealthy of their day in revolution. These wealthy, known as the bourgeoisie, owned and ran the industries and businesses of society.
Due to this, the poor only got poorer, while the wealthy thrived indefinitely.In order to end this cycle, Marx and Engels declared that once revolution was won, the proletariat should seize the assets of the bourgeoisie. Rather than keeping these assets, they should abolish all private property ownership.
Then and only then will the evils of social class distinction be destroyed.
When this lesson is done, you should be able to:
- Understandthe reasons for the convention of the Communist League in London
- Identify the German philosophers who wrote the Communist Manifesto
- Describe the ‘war’ between the bourgeoisie and the proletariot
- Recall the desired outcome of such a war