Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels can be called one of the most well-known people in modern history. They are known to be the philosophers, economists, and creators of the theory about the society's organization and mechanisms of its development. The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848, and since that time, it became an inspiration for a great number of outstanding political leaders like Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and many others.
It is necessary to describe the parts of the intellectual heritage of Marks and Engels in order to understand the view of the world history they presented in The Communist Manifesto. The philosophical part introduces the ideas of dialectical and historical materialism. In the economical part, the idea of the surplus-value is described. The third and, perhaps, the main part of Marxism features the idea of the class structure in the capitalistic society. This class stratification is closely connected with the notion of the war of classes that has to lead to the dictatorship of the proletarians and, thus, the creation of the new society, where there will be no classes and private property.
The dialectical materialism is about the laws of development of nature, human and society. According to this theory, opposites are the main power in development. The desire to come over these opposites is the main characteristic of the form. This materialistic philosophical school is called dialectic because the key issue in all the processes in the world is the conflict of opposites. The first law proposed by Marx and Engels is the law of the unity and conflict of opposites. The Eastern philosophers in China knew this principle thousands of years ago and described it as the opposite of the women's and the men's symbols, yin and yang. Though, the Western philosophical thought came to the understanding of this concept only in the 19th century.
The next postulate of the dialectical materialism is the law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative ones. It describes the consequences of the conflict of opposites. With time, changes in the system become numerous and even though in the beginning they do not alter the entire system, when there are too many changes, the system adjusts to them. This law is evident in the examples from history when the oppressed class of proletarians and servants were tired of the current state of things, and so they started the revolutions.
The last law of dialectical materialism is the negation of the negation. It shows the way the system changes its quality after the quantitative changes happen. First, the system negates its previous state, and then it negates the previous negation. In the end, the system summarizes the best issues from the two states and becomes better. These notions were taken from the philosophy of Hegel, who called these three states of the development of the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. After the system goes through this cycle, the synthesis becomes the thesis itself, and the development process is repeated. This scheme can be seen throughout world history. The whole nations and the countries were going through the same stages of development, reforms, and revolutions, and the peace times were changed by the war periods. All of them were the evident examples of the conflict of oppositions that make social change for better.
While the dialectical materialism is about the theory of evolution in general, the historical materialism is the investigation into the development of the specific object, namely, human society. According to historical materialism, the most important thing in any society is the way it produces material wealth. That supposes the analysis of the productive forces and relations of people, members of this society, who work to produce all those goods and consume them. According to the classification proposed by Marx and Engels, people are divided into two classes: the workers, or the proletarians, and the bourgeois, or the owners of factories, where the proletarians work.
Marx considers the combination of society's productive forces and relations on the working place to be the basis of the system. Everything else, like the combination of political, legal, cultural and religious institutions of society, and the ideas they promote, is referred to the superstructure of the society.
The productive forces are constantly developing because it is necessary to satisfy the needs of people for material wealth. With the time, the productive forces develop to the extent when the existing relations at the work stop meeting the proletarians' requirements. At that moment, the existing relations in social change to fit the current economic development. This is the way the superstructure of the society and the whole historical tradition is changed according to the ideas of Marx and Engels.
The process of changing the social system can be evolutionary or revolutionary, depending on whether this change takes place gradually or not. When the changes of superstructure and the transition to the new social relations occur through the revolution, it is mostly always led by those groups of the society that suffer the most from the current state of the superstructure. That is why they are more than other members of society interested in the revolution. In other words, the driving force of the revolution is the laboring class, who works hard on the plants and lives in poverty. They are directly engaged in the production of goods that are valuable to the majority in the country.
Marx and Engels in their theoretical works paid much attention to the question, what exactly the mechanism of exploitation of the proletarians by the bourgeois in their epoch is. Marx introduced the concept of surplus-value to answer this question. When Marx and Engels created their theory, the working conditions on the European market of that time were harsh.
The exploitation of the proletarians was never-ending and uncontrolled, turning the life of the workers into the battle for surviving in the jungles. People had to work in factories for at least 12 hours. The work of the minors was also actively used. People who worked in dangerous places where there was a high risk of losing an arm or a leg as a result of a minor mistake were not receiving any satisfaction. They were working at their own risk – their employers gave no insurances.
The wages were so low that the proletarians lived below the poverty line. It pushed the women from working-class families to sell themselves so that they were able to feed their children. In general, the lives of the workers in big industrial cities of Western Europe was a nightmare, and there was no possible way out of a difficult situation. Marx and Engels claimed for the following things in The Communist Manifesto:
Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form and combination of education with industrial production. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes. Abolition of all right of inheritance. Equal liability of all to labor. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country. (Marx, Engels, Gasper. 2005)
It is obvious that the works of famous French Socialists, like Fourier, Saint - Simon, and others, were very popular among the proletarians. The socialists wrote that the existing system was terrible and needed to be replaced by a more just society, where there will be no division of into the classes, and as the result, there will be no exploitation. Even though the notion of exploitation was known before the publication of the works of Marx and Engels, the philosophers finally explained the notion of exploitation from the economical point of view. The results of the works of Marks and Engels are still relevant today.
Marks and Engels write that alienation is one of the major problems that are caused by the exploitation of the working class. The alienation is the process of separation of people from the results of their work (the work can be understood as any social activity). People become weaker, they start losing the connection with the real world, and it becomes easier to rule over them. As a result, people become strangers in the world they live in. It is necessary to note that the problem of the alienation was the popular theme in the European philosophy before the appearance of the dialectical and historical marxism. However, Marx and Engels provided a thorough analysis of this problem and described possible ways out of it with far-reaching practical implications. That is why the names of Marx and Engels are known to everyone, and their ideas do not lose popularity nowadays.
The ideas of Marxism described in The Communist Manifesto have led to the decades of discussions, attempts to implement the theory in reality that ended with failures (the USSR) and victories (China). Even now, the minds of progressive people are disturbed by the ideas from the work of Marx and Engels. Harman writes about The Communist Manifesto in the following way:
There is still a compulsive quality to its prose as it provides insight after insight into the society in which we live, where it comes from and where it is going to. It is still able to explain, as mainstream economists and sociologists cannot, today's world of recurrent wars and repeated economic crises, of hunger for hundreds of millions on the one hand and "overproduction" on the other. There are passages that could have come from the most recent writings on globalization. (Harman, 2010)
It is possible to agree with the point of view, expressed by Harman that the ideas of Marx and Engels are of great urgency nowadays. Millions of people in the world are living in poverty and have no possibilities to change the situation. According to the Marxist theory, countries of the “third world” were not always that poor. They had wealth before the capitalists came and took everything away from them. From this perspective, the proletarians from the poorest countries have the moral right to make a revolution and take the money from the rich.
Even though the idea to distribute the goods equally among all people is good, it might lead to tragic results. First, it gives people a false explanation of who is to blame for their problems. It often leads to aggression towards the countries that are wealthier and can be an explanation of the phenomenon of terrorism, which is one of the most urgent problems in international politics. For example, the level of welfare in the countries of the Middle East is generally not very high. Many countries are poor and destroyed by civil wars. The external enemy can become a reason for the pessimistic economic situation in their native state, and it might cause aggression.
The terrorists usually come from the countries of the Third World. They fight for their religion and for the sake of Allah. However, it is possible to assume that the existence of a powerful, wealthy country, like the United States, which tries to show the Arab world the way they should live, is a simple explanation of the reasons why the countries where the terrorists come from are extremely poor. Their striped outside enemy comes to their homes, kills their families and talks about democracy. In reality, those people do not need democracy; they need normal conditions to survive.
It is dubious whether it is necessary for the wealthy American nation to give monetary support for the developing countries with a potential terroristic menace, just like it needs to be according to the Marxist point of view. It seems that this action might be viewed as offensive and will not give any positive results. However, certain attempts to make people more equal in their possibilities might be an efficient way of preventing terroristic attacks. The situation with the terroristic menace, the poverty in the Arab world, and the wealth of the United States is a bright example of the never-ending Marxist conflict of the opposites. It leads to combats, revolutions, and renovations that will be changed by the new revolutions in the nearest future, and it is the only way for social development.
Chris Brazier in the book The No-Nonsense Guide to World History (2006) features certain ideas, expressed in The Communist Manifesto. He writes that world history does not consist only of the deeds of the heroes, who killed thousands of people, and the wars between the countries. It also consists of ordinary people, their problems and resolutions they made to increase their level of life. Brazier mentions the revolt in ancient Rome when 6 thousand slaves raised against Sparta and were assassinated. He also writes about the proletarian revolutions in China and in the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. The No-Nonsense Guide to World History features an interesting idea that every empire needs to remember that its end is inevitable. It is the result of natural progression when the oppressed rise and fight for a better life. This cycle of a never-ending revolution will continue until the human civilization will become conscious enough for equality and communism.
John Crossan in his work Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (2009) also features the ideas that are similar to the ideas of Marx and Engels. Crossan's interpretation of Jesus can be described as the ideologist of proletarian revolutions. He was trying to popularize the ideas of egalitarianism among the ancient peasants and the radical methods of achieving social equality.
The ideas expressed in The Communist Manifesto were quite popular among the presidents of the United States because they promoted equality, which is the key concept in the democratic country. For example, Jefferson considered democracy to be the way society can express itself and progress. He was claiming for free and obligatory education for all men and promoted the ideas of multiculturalism. Jefferson said that it is impossible to create a free nation without education because ignorant people can be nothing but slaves.
Another American President, Lincoln, partly liberated the slaves in the United States with the Emancipation Proclamation after the Civil War. After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, approximately 6 million black Americans started moving from the South of the country to the North. The Northern states were more urbanized, as compared with the rural Southern part of the US, and the attitude to colored minorities was better there at the beginning of the Great Migration. There, African Americans managed to get paid jobs, and it became a substantial step towards equality in the history of the United States.
The Eastern political leaders were also actively using the ideas, declared in The Communist Manifesto. For example, Mohandas Gandhi was the leader of the nonviolent movement for civil rights in India and its independence from Great Britain. He wrote: “The devotion of such titans of spirit as Lenin to an Ideal must bear fruit. The nobility of his selflessness will be an example through centuries to come, and his Ideal will reach perfection”.
There is another famous political leader who supported the ideas of Marx and Engels and even put them into practice in the People's Republic of China. He took the Marxist ideas as the basis and created his own philosophical approach known as Mao Zedong Thought or Maoism. Even though he is considered to be the father of the nation, who fought for equal rights for everyone in his country, he is often accused of being a dictator and of the mass assassination of his political opponents.
There are both many advantages and disadvantages in The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. From one point of view, it explains the desire of the working class to live better and the unwillingness of the capitalists to give money to the proletarians. It also shows the way out of this problem, proclaiming the proletarian revolution that is the developing power of the society and appears because of the conflict of opposites according to the ideas of the dialectical materialism. Marx and Engels claimed for equal rights for everyone in the country, wanted to overcome poverty and give an opportunity to get an education to everyone regardless of his/her social status. All these issues are extremely important in terms of building a democratic society. However, problems of the inequality in modern society need to be solved peacefully via changes in legislation, without revolutions, combats, and deaths.