Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

The Manifesto of the Communist Party

The Manifesto of the Communist Party was drafted as its party program by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in Brussels at the order of the second congress of the League of Communists (December 2-8, 1847) and was first published by the order of the central authority of the league in the German language in an anonymous booklet of twenty three printed pages in London at the end of February 1848, just prior to the outbreak of the French February revolution. The Manifesto marked the end of a year-long discussion within the League of the Just about the objectives and methods of proletarian emancipation and implied the conclusion of its transformation into the League of Communists. In Marxist literature this publication, which marked a milestone in the theoretical evolution of Marx and Engels and reflected the crucial principles of their world view in a relatively self-contained and complete form, is held to be the birth certificate of scientific socialism, which was fundamentally distinct from utopian socialism. Brought into its final version by Marx, it undoubtedly was the most brilliant and widely read writing of Marx and Engels; thanks to its down-to-earth analysis of society with its concise and cogent portrayal of a humanizing-liberating perspective for workers and the urgent demands for a revolutionary transformation of society. It was the most effective and most widely read publication of the modern working-class movement.

The Manifesto was subdivided into four sections. Starting from the thesis that past history was a history of class struggles which have always ended either "in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes," the authors in the comprehensive first section outlined the historical genesis of modern capitalist society on the basis of economic processes; they assigned the "most revolutionary part" to the bourgeoisie in its efforts to transform productive forces and social and political relations. Then they described the emergence of the social counterpart of bourgeoisie derived from the internal processes of development and the contradictions of bourgeoisie society. The proletariat developed from the ruin of the middle classes; by conflicts and controversy it formed an independently acting class in its battles with the bourgeoisie. They assigned it the historic task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie, establishing its own rule and, with the elimination of its own conditions of subsistence, liquidating all kinds of class rule and creating a classless society.

The second section, under the heading "Proletarians and Communists" provided Marx and Engels's initial concept of the party. The section started from the assumption that communists "have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole." With their theoretical "understanding (of) the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletariat movement" Marx and Engels characterized the role of communists as the "most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country that section that pushes forward all others," without raising any special claims on the kind of model "according to which they want to form the proletarian movement." This section, apart from a detailed polemics countering attacks on communism, included a definition of the political and social aims of the working-class movement: "Formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the rule of bourgeoisie" and "raising the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy" for the purpose of abolishing bourgeoisie property and for the creation of an "association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all." Then a ten-point program was proposed for the introduction of a "working-class revolution."

The third section contained a detailed criticism of the different streams of the pre-Marxist utopian socialism, such as the "Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism." Historical explanations were based on the undeveloped social conditions: a reflection of the feudal-aristocratic, bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie classes on the deep-seated social contradictions of the emerging bourgeoisie society and on the "basis of the "underdeveloped state of the proletariat, such as...the lack of material conditions for its liberation." In the opinion of Marx and Engels the utopians were principally reactionary, because they improved only the existing social relations, but did not eliminate them, or "Critical Utopian Socialism and Communism," despite all the positive criticism on the capitalist system, were morally motivated or based on natural right in a future society, instead of substantiating the historical need of a society free of exploitation. The fourth and shortest section not only defined the "position of the Communists in relation to the various existing opposition parties" in France, Switzerland, Poland and Germany, but also delineated the general line of policy and tactics to be expected in the revolution: "Support for every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things," with emphasis on the "property question" as the "leading question of the movement" and, for this purpose, the active participation in the "union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries," but at the same time the strict observance and vigorous awareness of the "hostile opposition between bourgeoisie and proletariat" in order to be able to immediately take up the struggle against the bourgeoisie after the overthrow of the reactionary nobility class. The Manifesto concluded with the internationalist battle-cry "Working Men of All Countries, Unite!" adopted by the I. International Working Men's Association and carried by the first congress of the League of Communists (June 1847) as the motto of the party.

The Communist Manifesto, taken back to Germany in March and April 1848 by the returning members if the league, exerted no massive influence during the revolution. In the year of the revolution it had gone through two editions of several thousand copies and was published in partially in newspapers, so it was discussed in workers' associations. It provided the basis for the reorganization of the League of Communists between 1849 and 1852 and even after the league's dissolution it remained the most important source for communication and understanding among members of the league. The Manifesto stated that it would be published in English, French, German, Italian, Flemish, and Danish languages. The first translation was in Swedish in 1848; it was followed in 1850 by a partial translation into English in which, as in the reprint of the third section in the last volume of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung - Politisch-ökonomische Revue, the names of Marx and Engels were for the first time mentioned as the authors of the book. In 1869 a Russian translation and in 1872 a French translation were published. Only with the development of proletarian mass parties in several countries was it possible for the Manifesto to reach its great impact in the last third of the 19th century. With some thousand copies printed up to 1871, the new edition by the Zurich edition of the Sozialdemokrat reached twenty thousand. In 1890 Engels described the Manifesto as the "most widely distributed, the most international product of the entire socialist literature." Since then it has been published in some thousand editions and in more than a hundred languages.
Walter Schmidt


Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party.

Bert Andreas, ed. Gründungsdokumente des Bundes der Kommunisten Hamburg 1969.

Bert Andreas. Le Manifest Communiste des Marx et Engels: Histoire et Bibliographie 1848 - 1918. Milan, 1963.

Rolf Dlubek, Editha Nagl and Inge Werchan "Zur Wirkungsgeschichte des Kommunistischen Manifests in der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung" Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, 1973 II 197-228; 1974, II, 225-259.

Martin Hundt Wie das "Manifest" entstand Berlin 1985.

Table of Contributors   Table of Contents   Return to Encyclopedia Home Page

JGC revised this file (< /TT>) on September 9,2004.

Please E-mail comments or suggestions to

© 1999, 2004