The Widespread Appeal of the Communist Manifesto Essay

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx’s power lies in his ability to write with a style that could appeal to the radical extremes of society. His political theory, complex language, and intricate vocabulary lead his writing to popularity among the educated politicians and scholars, while the dramatic tone and globalist call to arms aroused the interest of the working classes across Europe. These scholars were a small part of the bourgeoisie he wrote about, and similarly the workers his writing appealed to were indistinguishable from the proletariat he described.

In the books introduction, Engels, one of the manifesto’s co-authors, defines the bourgeoisie as the class of the capitalist who controls means of production in society. Likewise, he considers the proletariat to be the working majority, which sells its labor to support a system it has no control over (7). Marx, on the other hand, works to apply moral judgments to these two classes, allowing for him to write on more than just a class struggle. His bourgeoisie is exploitative, manipulative, and inherently evil, while he sees the proletariat as the masses destined to rule itself (10, 17) .

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The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, was one of the most influential texts of the 19th century. In brief, it outlines how all of human development has been forms of class struggles, first with the feudal lord and peasant, and in later years the bourgeoisie and proletariat. According to Marx, the final stage of the development of society is rebellion of the working class. It is inevitable that the laborers will come to rule themselves and overthrow the capitalists. Capitalism is heavily attacked by Marx; he describes the system as exploitative, cruel, unjust, and therefore destined to be overthrown.

Through the manifesto, Marx works to call the workers together to gain control of their future, as he believes they must. The Communist Manifesto was only part of Marx’s quest to promote socialism. He also attended and gave lectures, participated in conventions, and wrote other books about the communist revolution and the evils of capitalism. His oral work especially taught him to speak to the masses; he learned to speak to his audience and persuade people to support his cause.

This clearly influenced his writing, numerous passages are written with a dramatic tone clearly inspired by oratory presentation. The work of Karl Marx had consequences felt across the globe: The Russian Revolution, Cold War, Communist movement in China, and countless other periods of history were all a direct result of the rise of communism. Marx served as the voice of the Communist Party, and through The Communist Manifesto declared the Party’s intentions to rebuild society. The following passage well illustrates the type of language he used to convey his ideas to the scholarly elite.

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. Here, he uses several linguistic techniques to cause for the passage to come across as more sophisticated and advanced. One of these is repetition, with the “immense majority” and the strata of society being mentioned several times, providing a sense of symmetry to their respective sentences.

Calling the upper classes the superincumbent strata maintains an elitist tone meant to impress scholars more than simply calling them the higher portions or something similar. Marx uses a similar technique to distinguish Communism from other forms of Socialism. He claims that abolishing bourgeois property defines communism because “modern bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of the system of producing and appropriating products, that is based on class antagonisms, on the exploitation of the many by the few” (21).

This bold claim is laid out in a single long sentence, with numerous clauses simply stuck onto the end. Rather than write loquaciously here, Marx chose to use complexity to appeal to the scholars. He frequently writes this way when trying to appeal to a more educated audience, slipping only into a spoken style when giving orders or trying to draw in the peasantry. The Communist Manifesto alternates between two styles and tones, one set to appeal to those in power or authority, and one to appeal to those he believe must actually rise up against capitalism.

His attempt to appeal to the masses is evident from the first line of the manifesto, “A specter is haunting Europe – the specter of Communism. ” He is not trying to make any deep statements about political theory or impress with his writing, he is simply setting a dramatic tone. This opening line reads like a line from a fantasy, not a scholarly text. It uses a harsh metaphor followed by a dramatic pause to draw in the reader, whomever it may be. From the very beginning, he has managed to make clear that his manifesto will not be above the comprehension of a literate urban peasant.

This line, like many others, served to captivate the majority and draw them in, and to enhance the sense of importance surrounding the events he describes. A similar effect is used in the manifesto’s last line: “WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE! ” (41). The capitalization for emphasis and the pause before the imperative both heighten the sense of urgency and stir up the industrial workers; this cry is not an attempt to provoke the scholars but rather a call out to the working masses to support his cause.

Because of the diversity of his writings, there is still not a single interpretation of his philosophy that is generally accepted. According to Wikipedia, “There are endless interpretations of the ‘philosophy of Marx,’ from the interior of the Marxist movement as well as in its exterior. ” Marx wrote to many audiences, separated along socioeconomic, geographic, political, and temporal lines, and each of these audiences has interpreted his writings differently. Marxist and non-Marxist, one Marxist and another, peasant and landowner, and peasant and landowner all could read the manifesto and take away a slightly different message.

The image above exemplifies how Marx’s ideas were adapted by different cultures, with Marx making the “V-Sign” popularized across the world but especially in post WWII America. Marx’s desire to end warfare and religion appealed to those of all nations, even Americans who came to loathe communism during the cold war. William Gavin describes several of the ways which people have been appealed to by Marx. He describes, for example, how Berman feels that The Communist Manifesto in fact praises the Bourgeoisie.

Although Marx does initially applaud the Bourgeoisie’s overthrow of the feudal system, the rest of the manifesto fails to maintain this tone. He spends the majority of the book describing why Capitalism must not continue, so although seeing him as praising the Bourgeoisie is one possible viewpoint, it is also a highly questionable one. One of the most heavily debated phrases used by Marx is the description of an ideal society as a “dictatorship of the proletariat. ” Throughout history, there has always been certain resentment to the idea of dictatorship.

As Michael Sorkin, states, many Marxists drew on this statement and saw it to mean much more than what Marx originally intended. Marx desired that the “Workers state would ‘wither away,’ leaving no oppressive institutions to mediate among people” (602). He did not desire an absolute ruler as is sometimes believed, he wanted for there to be no government at all. Although it is a corruption, the common misinterpretation of the word “dictatorship” nonetheless shows the many ways one can interpret the manifesto. In his writing, Karl Marx managed to appeal to both extremes of society.

The urban workers were so engrossed in his ideas that a successful communist revolution was staged in Russia, yet even today scholars study The Communist Manifesto as a literary masterpiece. His ability to impress both the workers necessary to stage a revolution and the intellectuals needed to interpret and spread his political philosophy allowed Marx’s beliefs to spread virally, and eventually to reshape the modern world.

Works Cited

Marx, Karl. “Communist Manifesto. ” 1888. Ed. Martin Puchner. New York, Barnes & Noble Classics Series, 2005. Print. Marx, Karl. “Communist Manifesto. 1888. Ed. Mortimer Adler and Peter Wolff. An Introduction to the Great Books and a Liberal Education. Chicago, Encyclopaedia Brittanica Inc. 1959. Print. Sorkin, Michael “Reds. ” An Incomplete Education. Ed Judy Jones and William Wilson. New York: Random House, 1995. 600. Print. “The Communist Manifesto. ” Wikipedia. Internet. 17 May 2010. Gavin, William. “Text vs. Context: Irony and ‘The Communist Manifesto. ’” Studies in Soviet Thought, Vol. 37, No. 4. (1989): 275-285. Jstor. Google Image. Web. 17 May 2010. http://www. stanford. edu/group/ccr/blog/2010/03/.