“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of Communism.” With this striking opening sentence, the manifesto connects with the incipient radical movement that inspired it. Marx and Friedrich Engels had participated in 1847 in the first international Congress of the League of the Just, which then changed its name to the Communist League. Marx and Engels were commissioned to prepare a statement of the aims and purposes of the movement, which became the manifesto. Within weeks, a series of revolutions had broken out in several European countries, but the Communist League was only a minor element in these developments.
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” This sentence, which begins the substantive part of the manifesto, is at the heart of Marxist doctrine. According to the authors, society is becoming polarized into the “bourgeoisie” and the “proletariat.” From its linguistic origins, the bourgeoisie are simply people who live in towns and cities. Marx and Engels co-opted this term and redefined it to mean “the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage-labor.” The bourgeoisie at the time was itse...
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...t of the muscle for the revolutions in Russia and China.
For many intellectuals, the most appealing feature of The Communist Manifesto has been its emphasis on social class and class conflict. However, polarization into two opposing classes did not occur — quite the contrary. Most people in developed economies identify as middle class, neither capitalists nor proletarians. Marx believed that the bourgeois ideology driving this sort of identification was doomed to self-destruct in the near future. The fact that it has only strengthened demonstrates either his incorrectness about class consciousness or his underestimation of the power of ideology. Social classes arise from many sources, moreover, including ethnic identity, religious affiliation, education, and occupation. Few people identify as a worker first and a member of a nation or religion or ethnic group second.
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