The Communist Manifesto

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Class Outline, Study Questions and Glossary

Frederick Engels’ 1890 preface and text
Leon Trotsky’s 1937 introduction, Pathfinder 1970, 1987 and 1990 editions
Pathfinder edition 1974, 7th printing 1998

Class Outline

Session 1

A. Introductory Material and Prefaces

B. Read Prefaces in class

Reading assignment for next week:
Trotsky’s Introduction, especially first section, from beginning through
point 7, and second section through point 4.

Session 2

A. Manifesto Section I: Bourgeois and Proletarians

Reading Assignment for next week:
Section II of Manifesto
Review Trotsky’s Introduction, first section, points 8 through 12, and
second section points 5 through 7.

Session 3

A. Manifesto Section II: Proletarians and Communists

Reading Assignment for next week:
Sections III and IV of Manifesto
Review Trotsky’s Introduction, second section, from point 8 to the end.

Session 4

A. Manifesto Sections III: Socialist and Communist Literature, and IV:
Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing
Opposition Parties.

Study Questions


What was going on in European society at the time the Communist Manifesto was written?

What was the International Workingmen’s Association? Name one important gain of the International Workingmen’s Association.

According to Engels, why is the Communist Manifesto so important?

Why was the Communist Manifesto called “communist” and not “socialist” manifesto?

In your own words, state the key idea(s) in the passage that Engels attributes to Marx.

What was the main thing Engels says was learned from the experience of the Paris Commune (1872) which is not reflected in the Communist Manifesto?

Why didn’t Engels edit the Communist Manifesto in 1888?

What do you think is the main idea expressed in the Preamble?

Section I – Bourgeois and Proletarians

What are the two results of the class struggle from the historical perspective presented in
second paragraph?

What is the distinguishing character of bourgeois class antagonisms?

Where did the bourgeoisie come from?

Explain how the modern bourgeoisie is the product of a series of revolutions in modes of production and exchange.

How does the bourgeoisie in its ascendancy fulfill a revolutionary role?

What drives the bourgeoisies out into the world?

Explain how bourgeois development destroys national industry.

How does the bourgeoisie draw all nations, even the most “barbarian,” into civilization?

What did the bourgeois do to the relation between cities and towns?

How long had the bourgeoisie ruled at the time of the writing of the Communist Manifesto?

Explain in what way the bourgeoisie conjures up forces it cannot control or direct.

What form does the problem of bourgeois rule take? What happens in bourgeois society that shows there is a problem?

What is the essence of the crisis of overproduction? What causes the crisis?

Why aren’t capitalist crises smooth riding for workers?

How does the Communist Manifesto explain the payment of labor?

How does the Communist Manifesto explain the conditions of labor?

What draws women into the working class?

Explain what could be called the “double” exploitation of workers.

What are the two initial stages of proletarian resistance?

How does the development of industry affect the proletariat?

Why do unions arise?

What do Marx and Engels mean by “competition among workers?”

What can workers take advantage of by uniting?

How does the Communist Manifesto describe the besieging of the bourgeoisie?

Politically, what does the organization of the proletariat into a conscious class lead to?

Why does the bourgeoisie need and therefore try to pull the proletariat into its political arena? What is the consequence of this process?

What is the petit (petty) bourgeois class? Is it revolutionary? conservative? reactionary? Explain your answer.

Explain why “the proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation.”

What is the significance of the fact that the proletarian movement is the “movement of the immense majority”?

Why do Marx and Engels say that the bourgeoisie is no longer fit to rule society?

Why do Marx and Engels say that the development of modern industry causes the bourgeoisie to produce “its own gravediggers”? Why are its fall and the victory of the proletariat equally inevitable?

Section II—Proletarians and Communists

What distinguishes a communist program and goals in the workingclass movement?

Explain the antagonism between wage-labor and capital.

What is the key feature of capital?

What happens when capital becomes the property of all members of society?

Describe the communists’ aim to change about the appropriation of the product of wage-

What is the difference between the role of labor in bourgeois and communist society?

What lies at the root of the bourgeois conception of freedom?

What limit does communism put on the power of the individual?

Why is the intellectual and cultural vision of the bourgeoisie so limited?

What is the foundation of the bourgeois family?

Discuss the Communist Manifesto’s critique of the bourgeois “community of women.”

What changes consciousness?

Explain the concept of class antagonisms and describe its role in the history of all past

Define political power. What will happen when the proletariat achieves political power?

Why does the Communist Manifesto emphasize that united action in advanced countries
is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of labor?

Section III—Socialist and Communist Literature

Explain why Feudal Socialism is ineffective. What fundamental feature of social
development does it fail to grasp?

Explain the position of the petty bourgeoisie in the development of Capitalism. Why does
the Communist Manifesto label petty bourgeois socialism as reactionary and utopian?

How did the German or “True” socialists distort the ideas of French socialism?

Explain why critical utopian socialists fail to grasp the class antagonisms which are the fundamental feature of social development.

Why did utopian socialists ultimately assume a reactionary role?

Section IV – Position of Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition

What must communists never lose sight of infighting for the attainment of immediate aims alongside other opposition parties and political groupings?


Barbarism—(dictionary) a cultural period more complex than primitive savagery but less sophisticated than advanced civilization. (Marxist) the period during which man learns to breed domestic animals and to practice agriculture, and acquires methods of increasing the supply of natural products by human activity. No pejorative connotation of these words was intended by Marx and Engels. (Anthropological) food production period

Bourgeoisie—the capitalist class; persons whose revenues are derived from the ownership of functioning means of production, or of that amount of money which can acquire such means of production

Civilization—(dictionary) a relatively high level of cultural and technological development; specifically, the stage of cultural development at which writing and the keeping of records is attained. (Marxist) the stage of development in society at which the division of labor, the exchange between individuals arising from it, and the commodity production which combines them both, come to their full growth and revolutionize the whole of previous society

Class—a group of persons related in a specific manner to the mode of production; thus a group of persons who are related to means of production as owners are called the capitalist class; persons who sell their labor-power for their means of subsistence and sell it in the process of production are termed the working-class or the proletariat

Class struggle—the economic conflict of classes for surplus value; the primary struggle under capitalism is between workers who sell labor-power and capitalists who buy it, either as to hours of labor, intensity of labor, class organization, or conditions of labor

Crisis—a period in which means of production are produced in far smaller quantities than in a previous period, and in which unemployment also prevails to a much greater extent and in which wages or conditions of labor are worsened. Its effect in the sphere of circulation is the sharp reduction of sales of consumption goods and a diminution of their production. It is characterized by declining prices. In the financial superstructure, it leads to restrictions and defaults of credits, repudiation of commercial and financial obligations, and subsequent bankruptcies

Cycle—the alternate epochs in which the capitalists accumulate at an increasing rate and those of crisis. Cycles usually begin with a slow recovery from a previous crisis, at first uncertain and unevenly distributed, and end with extremely high accumulation, a more generalized activity and high unemployment. Their lengths are uneven, but cycles tend to be completed in less time as the tendential rate of profits to go lower manifests itself increasingly.

Dialectic—the property whereby any object or relation in motion is changed in character by that very motion. Changes may be either qualitative or quantitative; qualitative changes can originate by a change in the quantity of the object of which it is an attribute, and quantitative changes can be induced by an altered quality in the object of which it expresses weight or substance. At a given point, every quality and quantity must become the opposite of what it was previously. That point is not to be determined always in the same, nor is it always a unit of an ordered series. This concept is used by not economists other than the Marxian.

Epigone—an imitative follower; an inferior imitator of a creative thinker or artist

Historical Materialism—the theory that modes of production are decisive for the economic structure of society, and that this economic structure conditions significant historical events

Idealism—a theory that ultimate reality lies in a realm transcending phenomena; a theory that the essential nature of reality lies in consciousness or reason

Indefeasible—not able to be annulled

Industry proper—production by power machinery

Lumpen proletariat—the de-classed, belonging to no class, not owning means of production, but not selling (or perhaps not able to sell) their labor power either; if this group becomes very large and desperate, it can form the “shock troops” of fascism

Manufacture—utilization of cooperative forms of production with the use of only hand-manipulated machines, as against power machines (a distinction made only by Marx)

Petty bourgeoisie—small business owners and the self-employed, who own their own labor power, but also have interests separate from the big bourgeoisie (taxed disproportionately, struggle for existence)

Philistine—crass prosaic, often priggish individual guided by material rather than intellectual or artistic values

Primitive period/Savagery—(dictionary) of or relating to the earliest age or period, primeval. (Marxist) the period in which man’s appropriation of products in their natural stage predominates. No pejorative connotation of these words was intended by Marx and Engels. (Anthropological) food gathering period.

Proletariat—members of the working class, who are sellers of labor power and have no effective means of self-employment.

Sectarian—dedicated to one’s political group over and above the interests of the working class as a whole; organizationally competitive against other political groups over and above the principle of solidarity among workers and their organizations

Unconscionable—not restrained by conscience, unscrupulous; excessive or unreasonable

Vicissitude—natural change or mutation visible in nature or in human affairs

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