Communist Manifesto Study Guide


The Communist Manifesto: Class 1

A. The Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx & Engels, Section I
B. Karl Marx by Engels
C. Principles of Communism, Engels, Questions 1-13

Discussion Questions:

  1. Section one of the Communist Manifesto begins with the statement, “The history of all hitherto existing society [That is all written history–footnote by Engels] is the history of class struggle.” Why did Marx and Engels say that this was the only adequate way to explain the history of human civilization?
  2. Did capitalist society always exist? How did it come into being? What are the main stages in the economic and political development of the bourgeoisie?
  3. The Communist Manifesto states, “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” How do the actions of the U.S. government demonstrate this?
  4. The Communist Manifesto says, “Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.” How and why does “Constant revolutionizing of production” occur under capitalism and what are its social and political consequences?
  5. How has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that will bring death to itself and “called into existence the men (and women) who are to wield these weapons?”
  6. What are the main stages of the social development of the working class and its struggle with the capitalist class?
  7. Why is the working class the only truly revolutionary class in capitalist society? Why is no other class capable of overthrowing capitalism and building a classless society? What about the lower middle classes or petty-bourgeoisie? Can it be an ally of the working class?
  8. What distinguishes the proletarian revolutionary movement from all previous historical movements?
  9. The Manifesto states, “”Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle.” Why is the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie only national in form but not in substance?
  10. Discuss the manifesto’s argument that the bourgeoisie is “unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence” to the majority of society. Has this statement been confirmed or refuted by the development of capitalism in the period since the Manifesto was written?


Class II


  1.  Preface to the 1872 German Edition of the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels
  2. The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels, Sections II & IV
  3. Principles of Communism by Engels, questions 14-24

Supplementary: “90 Years of the Communist Manifesto” by Leon Trotsky

  1. In the beginning of Section II, the Communist Manifesto says, “The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.” How is this reflected in the way the Manifesto is written, in its analysis, and in its political conclusions? How does this differ from utopian socialism?
  2. What distinguishes the Communists from other working class parties?
  3. At the beginning of Section IV, the Manifesto says, “The Communists fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class; but in the movement of the present, they also represent and take care of the future of that movement.” What does this mean?
  4. At the beginning of Section II, the Manifesto says that, “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” What does this mean? Does it mean the expropriation of personal property (homes, cars, TV sets, etc) or the private property of small farmers, shopkeepers, and other small business people?
  5. How does the Communist Manifesto answer the argument that the abolition of private property will mean the end of individuality and freedom? How does it deal with the argument that abolition of private property will remove the incentive to work, will lead to “universal laziness?”
  6. What does the Communist Manifesto say about the family and women?
  7. What does the Manifesto mean when it says that “working (people) have no country?”
  8. The Manifesto states: “United action, of the leading civilized countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.” Why is this? What about the experience of the Russian, Chinese, and Cuban revolutions?
  9. The Manifesto states: “The ruling ideas of each age have been the ideas of the ruling class.” Why is this? What is the source of revolutionary ideas?
  10. The Manifesto says that “the first step in the revolution of the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy.” Why is this? How does this view of democracy relate to the Communist Manifesto’s view of political power as “merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another”? What further step does the Manifesto propose be taken by the working class to abolish the capitalist social order?
  11. At the end of Section IV, the Manifesto says that the abolition of capitalism “can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”Does this mean that Marx and Engels advocated violence? Why does the abolition of capitalism require the use of force by the working class?
  12. In their preface to the 1872 German edition of the Manifesto, Marx and Engels say that the program of revolutionary measures listed at the end of Section II has “in some details become antiquated.” What is the key amendment that they thought needed to be made to this program?


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