the materialist conception of history
[Communist Manifesto, summary, quotes, extracts]
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The Communist Manifesto
summary and quotations

  In May 1839 some five hundred insurrectionists led by Auguste Blanqui, in the revolutionary socialist tradition of Babeuf and Buonarotti, seized control of the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris. Blanqui and his associates were subsequently forcefully overcome and the survivors were subjected to diverse punishments.

  A number of German exiles living in the Paris area were involved in a socialist-idealist group known as the "League of the Just" that had had some links with Blanqui and this insurrection. Following the events of May 1839 some of the members of the "League of the Just" settled in London where they established a "German Workers Educational Society". 
  When Karl Marx was visiting the emerging industrial city of Manchester, and England, in 1845 he was introduced to the League of the Just by his friend Friedrich Engels. 
  In June 1847 the League expressed a willingness to amalgamate itself with a brussels based Communist Correspondence Committee. Marx would only endorse such an amalgamation however if the League of the Just became more avowedly Communist and adopted the name "Communist League". 

  Engels became centrally involved in the task of developing some sort of aspirational programme outline for the League. He seemed to make little headway for several months. He, and the League, wanted something that was both communist and motivating, and what he came up with originally seemed trite and dull. 
  In late November 1847 the second congress of the Communist League was convened, (in the upstairs rooms of a London pub), both Marx and Engels attended this congress which was intellectually dominated by Karl Marx.
  As a result of Marx' intervention this second congress, in the early days of December, committed itself to a revolutionary programme that would involve the overthrow of the bougeoise and the establishment of a society without classes and without private property.
  Marx and Engels were entrusted with the task of preparing an aspirational Manifesto that was in line with the decisions of the second congress.

  Marx returned to his then home in Brussels but did not apply himself to the formulation of the Manifesto until threatened with disciplinary measures by the Central Committee of the Communist League in late January 1848.
  The Central Committee gave Marx only a very few days to come up with the desired Communist Manifesto.
  Marx was frequently known, in his journalism and other writing, to work into the night and, faced with the Central Committee's ultimatum, produced a draft Manifesto for submission to the Central Committee in London by the earlier days of February 1848.
  The Manifesto appeared, in the German Language, as the Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, set in a gothic font style, in late February 1848.

  Within weeks a protracted spate of revolution broke out in Europe - it was not however related to the publication of the Communist Manifesto but, against a background of food scarcity and economic doldrums, was more attributable to the impatience of the French with their "liberal " monarch Louis Phillipe. France sneezed and Europe caught cold - 1848 was to be a year of revolutions and there was most widespread socio-political unrest over the ensuing eighteen or so months. 

  The first English translation of the Communist Manifesto, (by Helen MacFarlane), appeared in November 1850 in the "Red Republican" a limited circulation publication issued by the ex-Chartist George Julian Harney.

  Some brief extracts from the Communist Manifesto appeared in the autumn of 1851, and accompanied by warnings and disclaimers, in the London Times.

  Marxism caught hold in Germany and in France far moreso than in England. Whilst there were some translations published in the United States of America after 1851 the first enduring English language translation - that by Samuel Moore - appeared in 1888.

  Engels gave his endorsement to this translation.

   Marx had been interred in Highgate cemetery five years previously!!!

  Where MacFarlane's translation begins "A frightful hobgoblin stalks through Europe" Moore's begins "A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism". 

A brief summary of
the Communist Manifesto

  Marx was persuaded that the world should take the notion of the materialist conception of history (a.k.a. historical materialism / dialectical materialism) very seriously indeed.
  He held that society can, and will, change when the material conditions are in place to precipitate this change. He accepted that society changed in a series of shifts. An existing form of society would be challenged by another more viable form of society to produce a new phase of society. This phase would then become open to fresh challenges and to similar change itself.

  Marx held that there were initial phases of society that showed deficiencies and which gave rise to adapted forms of society. The early settlements eventually proved lacking and gave way to feudalism. Feudalism was itself displaced by a bougeoise phase of social organisation. From the increasing deficiencies and internal contradictions of bougeoise society it was inevitable that Communism would arise.
  Thus the materialist conception of history sees a close interplay between the forms of society that are possible, or likely, or indeed "inevitable" and the material basis of society.


Some extracts from
The Communist Manifesto

  The Communist Manifesto begins thus:-

A spectre is haunting Europe -- the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies. 

Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries? 

Two things result from this fact: 

I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power. 

II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of communism with a manifesto of the party itself. 

To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London and sketched the following manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages.

I Bourgeois and Proletarians

  ...The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones... 

  ...Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinctive feature. It has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes facing each other - bourgeoisie and proletariat...

  (Marx was prepared to give credit to the bougeoise "phase" of society for many and immense achievements):- 

  The bougeoise, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.

  The bourgeoise, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriachal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors", and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment". It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, and the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms has set up that single, unconscionable freedom - Free Trade...

  ...The bourgeoise ... has been the first to show what man's activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts and Gothic cathedrals ... 

  ...The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society... one word, the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder ... 

  ...A similar movement is going on before our own eyes. Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past, the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule. It is enough to mention the commercial crises that, by their periodical return, put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity - the epidemic of over-production...

  ...Owing to the extensive use of machinery, and to the division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him...

  ...The increasing improvement of machinery, ever more rapidly developing, makes their livelihood more and more precarious; the collisions between individual workmen and individual bourgeois take more and more the character of collisions between two classes. Thereupon, the workers begin to form combinations (trade unions) against the bourgeois; they club together in order to keep up the rate of wages; they found permanent associations in order to make provision beforehand for these occasional revolts. Here and there, the contest breaks out into riots. 
  Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lie not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers... 

  Finally, in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the progress of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands. Just as, therefore, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole. 
  Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a genuinely revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product... 

  ...All the preceding classes that got the upper hand sought to fortify their already acquired status by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation. 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. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property. 
  All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air. 
  Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie...

  ...The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage labour. Wage labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable. 


II Proletarians and Communists

  In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole? The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. 
  They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. 
  They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement. 
  The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 
  1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 
  (2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole. 
  The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement. 
  The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat... 

  ...the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property. 
  We Communists have been reproached with the desire of abolishing the right of personally acquiring property as the fruit of a man's own labour, which property is alleged to be the groundwork of all personal freedom, activity and independence. 
  Hard-won, self-acquired, self-earned property! Do you mean the property of petty artisan and of the small peasant, a form of property that preceded the bourgeois form? There is no need to abolish that; the development of industry has to a great extent already destroyed it, and is still destroying it daily... 

  ...The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, 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; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible. 
  Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionizing the mode of production. 
  These measures will, of course, be different in different countries. Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be pretty generally applicable. 
  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes. 
  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. 
  3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance. 
  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels. 
  5. Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly. 
  6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in he hands of the state. 
  7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan. 
  8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture. 
  9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country. 
  10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc. 
  When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class. 
  In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all... 

  The closing words of this Manifesto being :-

  ...In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. 
  In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time. 
  Finally, they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries. 
  The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. 


We strongly recommend:

Europe in 1848 : A seed-plot of History?

In relation to the European Revolutions of 1848 the historian Eric Hobsbawm has written:

"There have been plenty of greater revolutions in the history of the modern world, and certainly plenty of more successful ones. Yet there has been none which spread more rapidly and widely, running like a bushfire across frontiers, countries and even oceans."

In 1806 the Habsburg Emperor, who held the "Holy Roman" Imperial title and exercised direct dynastic authority over many lands stretching from Poland to the Mediterranean, was hard-pressed by the activities of Napoleon Bonaparte, and accepted the termination of the Holy Roman Empire (due to sweeping reforms instituted by Napoleon in western parts of Germanic Europe), and adopted the title of Emperor of Austria.
By late spring 1848, the Habsburg Empire looked like a hopeless case: the monarchy's northern Italian possessions in revolt, invaded by a Piedmontese army and largely cleared of Austrian troops; three different "national" governments in Vienna, Budapest and Zagreb each claiming sovereign authority; Polish, Romanian, Slovenian, Serb, Czech, and Slovak national movements aspiring to a similar sovereign status; a mentally incompetent monarch and his court in flight from the capital to the provinces; a state treasury completely bare.
Jonathan Sperber, The European Revolutions, 1848-1851, p. 203

In February 1948, the British historian Lewis Namier delivered a lecture commemorating the centennial of the European Revolutions of 1848.

In this lecture Namier presented facts about the historical developments, themes, and events evident in 1848 and reached the conclusion that:
"1848 remains a seed-plot of history. It crystallized ideas and projected the pattern of things to come; it determined the course of the following century."

We are pleased to make available a series of informative pages about the highly significant and, we would venture to suggest, the prodigiously historically instructive European Revolutions of 1848:

1 The European Revolutions of 1848 begin
A broad outline of the background to the onset of the turmoils and a consideration of some of the early events in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest and Prague.

2 The French Revolution of 1848
A particular focus on France - as an Austrian foreign minister said "When France sneezes Europe catches a cold".

3 The "Italian" Revolution of 1848
A "liberal" Papacy after 1846 helps allow the embers of an "Italian" national aspiration to rekindle across the Italian Peninsula.

4 The Revolution of 1848 in the German Lands and central Europe
"Germany" had a movement for a single parliament in 1848 and many central European would-be "nations" attempted to promote a distinct existence for their "nationality".

5 The European Revolutions - reactionary aftermath 1848-1849
Some instances of social and political extremism allow previously pro-reform liberal elements to join conservative elements in supporting the return of traditional authority. Such nationalities living within the Habsburg Empire as the Czechs, Croats, Slovaks, Serbs and Roumanians, find it more credible to look to the Emperor, rather than to the democratised assemblies recently established in Vienna and in Budapest as a result of populist aspiration, for the future protection of their nationality.
The Austrian Emperor and many Kings and Dukes regain political powers. Louis Napoleon, (who was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), was elected as President in France offering social stability at home but ultimately followed policies which resulted in dramatic changes to the wider European structure of states and their sovereignty.
The events of 1848-1849 arose from the strong emergence into the Socio-Politico-Economic History of nineteenth-century Europe of populist forces such as Liberalism, Constitutionalism, Nationalism and Socialism.
These populist forces were promoted by various interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic Empires and Kingdoms of Europe, often challenging the continuance of dynastic authority and governance and proving to be competitive, in that popular aspirations expressed by some interest groups often proved unpalatable to other interest groups within and between the pre-existing dynastic states of Europe.

Radical socialist reformers sought justice for the "disinherited" classes, the peasants and the factory workers, while more moderate political reformers were concerned with protecting and increasing the influence of the middle classes, the bourgeoisie and the professional groups. The radicals in general favoured a republican form of government while many moderates were prepared to accept constitutional monarchy as a satisfactory substitute …
… Many of the revolutionaries, especially in the German Confederation and Italy, wanted to transform their homeland into a strong and united country, but their aims contradicted the nationalist aspirations of minority groups.
From the opening chapter to "Revolution and Reaction 1848-1852" by Geoffrey Brunn

Middle class liberals, who had favoured constitutional rather than dynastic governance, were amongst the first of the previously pro-reform aspirational groups to return to supporting dynastic authority when it became plain that other populist interest groups favoured wider extensions of democracy than they themselves wished to see adopted.
Rural dwellers were often largely satisfied with reforms to systems of land tenure and the reduction of obligations to provide assistance, through labour-services, to their landlords. Once such reforms were put in place in the Austrian Empire, country dwellers, although often relatively materially poor, tended accept the suppression of urban radicalism and the re-establishment of dynastic authorities.
All in all a "united front" failed to become established amongst those seeking reform and gradually proved possible for dynastic authorities to re-assert themselves often with the aid of their pre-revolutionary military forces.

The historian A. J. P. Taylor later referred to the events of 1848 as being "a turning-point when history failed to turn" nevertheless "The Future" was put on notice that such populist-aspirational forces were capable of making pressing claims in relation to Socio-Politico-Economic developments.

Introductory quotations
Communist Manifesto
Spirituality & the wider world

Understanding the Past and Present. Why is the World the way it is today?
The Importance of History. Why do we study History? Why is History important? Quotations

Start of
The Communist Manifesto
summary - quotations