The Communist Manifesto: An Informal Review

Was rereading The Communist Manifesto because it had been a couple of years, and I wanted to distract myself from a barrage of awful news in my corner of the world. Afterwards, I reflected on why it advocated for this or that policy, and thought about whether the platform would be sufficient in our times. I don’t have any major point to make here really. If you have any videos of baby animals being cute, that would be nice.

Just so I can mark this as an informal review: you should read it because it's good. Marx and Engels offer a succinct summary of history as class struggle, explain the different material interests underlying different notions of socialism (from bourgeois socialism to feudal socialism and more), and sketch out the Party's political platform. I'm focusing on the last bit, but just know that in general it's a worthwhile text to read or revisit. It's not just an introductory thing! Maybe it's not as concerned with a structural/immanent critique of capitalism, and I guess it's introductory in that sense, but as a political pamphlet it's great.

Board by Board!

Something important to note is that these policies are not the end goal of the Communist Party, but strategies according to which the Party can gradually socialize production (and distribution) in a centralized manner once they have attained political power. You are going to see Marx refer to rent, taxes, credit, and even capital. The thrust is that firms as social organs will take time to dismantle and socialize, and this can be done systematically in order to make them obsolete: suffocate firms until they cease to exist and their productive functions are served by society at large.

Keep in mind that this is not a reformist program since it involves overthrowing the bourgeois state and establishing a proletarian state in its place. You cannot get away with this program in a capitalist state. Nevertheless, shutting down firms overnight is neither feasible nor desirable from a social standpoint. I think one could make a comparison to Lenin's argument in State and Revolution that abolishing the state right after the revolution is nonsensical, and so is attempting to reform capitalism from the capitalist state. Likewise, it seems like the vision of the program below is to keep society functioning while transitioning into the communistic mode of production by forcefully centralizing production.

So let’s look at each plank of the original platform to understand their impact.

  1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes. One quick way to disenfranchise firms is to own the land they stand on, and deprive them of profit. Meanwhile, as society is still organized around capital, the expropriated profit can be allocated to public projects in a centralized manner.

  2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. This implies that the State is, for the time being, not an employer (contrary to what was tried in the USSR). Rather, people may be employed by firms for a time, but the State exerts political power in order to equalize living conditions. This seems to make more sense in a developed country, as opposed to a developing one, since there are firms that presently exist and employ much of society already (rather than there not being any firms, or if commodity production has not yet taken hold in a place).

  3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance. Think about generational wealth, especially in the United States where well-off white people inherit vast amounts of money or property, and the same cannot be said for black, indigenous, or immigrant families. Besides painlessly expropriating property from the dead, this is an equalizing measure for the living.

  4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels. The second part makes sense. Like, yeah, violent opposition (keep in mind, by property owners!) is a good reason to just go ahead and not play nice with them anymore. Emigrants? I guess it makes sense, like they’re not around to use it. Maybe it’s more specifically about people who leave due to the revolution? A little stumped.

  5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly. Capital, in my anti-capitalist State? More likely than you think! While the capitalist economy is operational, capital is the power to organize some of society’s production. It makes sense to centralize capital in one place, but then the key should be to phase out capital with social production rather than continue to valorize it.

  6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State. Hell yeah, trains! I think we are aware of how private firms have made communication and transport much less accessible and efficient. Communication especially has become much more important to our social organization since now we’re in the age of information. So, you know, why let firms compete over who gets to screw over customers the most?

  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. The first part is just like yeah we were getting that from the first six planks, and the second part is just a good if ambitious idea. Not an expert in agricultural science. Can’t speak to it.

  8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture. Centralize and socialize labor in order to attain higher degrees of productivity, meanwhile transforming labor into a responsibility of all members of society rather than a burden of those who can’t afford not to? Crazy talk! Preposterous! What about human nat–

  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. I have literally been thinking about this because I brought up the abolition of the city and countryside in passing, and my partner asked what Marx meant by that—especially since it’s kind of goofy to not expect there to be differences in population density in different areas due to their different carrying capacities. But I had a moment thinking about certain communities are foreclosed by society from having an equitable standard of living—black people, immigrants, people living in the countryside. Then it’s like, oh, duh! I’d imagine that if this was written in America rather than in Europe, the focus would not be on geography per se as much as on how society is stratified in terms of access to resources and livelihood (over here, obviously, along racial rather than just geographical lines). But it’s basically the same deal: why should country folk live differently than city folk? What is the difference between them as far as social organization and access goes?

  10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production. I think we have actually attained two out of three of these things because they are like so obviously beneficial. I imagine this was especially so back then before public schools were widespread or even existed, such that having access to school (and economic mobility) was a privilege of the higher class. Although public school is certainly good, I wonder if this treatment is not somewhat outdated. Children in lower class communities do not have access to the same quality of education as children in higher class communities, and it seems like the goalposts of education are being increasingly shifted by firms as higher degrees of education become more common. A reorganization of education should be in order, especially one that does not take for granted education’s role as a gatekeeper of social mobility.

Generally speaking, I think this is not a bad platform at all. Although its planks are on a pretty high level of abstraction, they seem like actionable strategies to transform society and relieve many people of the social injustices they experience due to their class, geographical location, and (by extension of these things) race.

At the same time, due to the progress of capitalism as well as our current political climate, I think some extra planks would do well in order to target new antagonisms and stressors. This is just me spitballing, by the way; it’s not meant to suggest my words are on the same level as Marx’s, as much as to point out potential gaps that have become more apparent as our society has developed and that I hope would be addressed.

  1. Centralization of the healthcare industry in the hands of the State. Our healthcare system fucking sucks and the mega-firms that control the industry do not even pretend to care. This should be as great as a priority for immediate socialization as communication and transport, especially with how much medical technology has advanced and how many people depend on it.

  2. Socialization of domestic labor and the abolition of the difference between the economic and domestic spheres of labor. I think that we’ve actually had progress in socializing childcare and other tasks since Angela Davis first wrote about it being a necessity to liberate women from household labor. However, as Davis pointed out then, it is still a class privilege or significant expense to afford quality childcare (even as working parents are left with no other option). Socializing domestic labor is central to freeing women from patriarchal familial structures, and also to ensuring more equitable livelihood in general.

  3. Entitlement to privacy with what concerns individuals’ medical welfare, personal relationships, and bodily autonomy from the eyes of the State. The reactionary movement in the United States is currently targeting abortion and gender-affirming treatment as wedge issues. As we know, it’s a favorite strategy of the national and petite bourgeoisie to latch onto traditional values in order to grasp at a past degree of social power which they are quickly losing. If not all that’s solid melts into air, it needs to go on the stovetop.

  4. Reparations for black, indigenous, and immigrant communities; abolition of social stratification between communities along racial, ethnic, religious, or geographical lines. This is something I mentioned with regards to plank #9 in the original platform, about the abolition of the difference between the city and the countryside. Indeed, as discussed, many of the original planks necessarily target the economic status of systematically oppressed communities (in terms of access to resources, generational wealth, et cetera). Nothing wrong with broadening the scope, although still many of these differences are ultimately projected onto geography anyway (like how your zip code is the greatest determinant of your health, life expectancy, and economic status).

  5. Protection for minority communities from reactionary elements. Thinking about sundown towns on one hand, and also thinking about a certain city in Texas where they banned abortion by popular vote and became a “sanctuary city for the unborn”. I think some people fetishize democracy as an end in itself, not realizing that there are places where one could get democratically murdered if the people there had their way. Such communities pose an all-too-real danger to those they victimize, and the marketplace of ideas will not save anyone from systematic and/or violent chauvinism.

  6. Centralization of energy production in the hands of the State; systematic reduction of industrial energy use; switch to clean energy. Just a thought. This is actually a pretty urgent issue that thankfully has been worked on internationally, but not so well here. Just a thought.

Those are my thoughts about it all. I just needed to distract myself from feeling terrified for my and others’ futures. What can you do, I guess? Read Marx and pretend it’s all according to plan!


  1. No joke, literally as of last night I was intending to read through a handful of 20th century Manifestos in the near future, including Communist Manifesto and also Surrealism, Futurism, and Dada. It's unfortunate how many of these 20th century Modernist ideas or thinkers ended up being fascists and antisemites but here we are.

    Also, I'm sure I will at some point conflate or misuse certain terms if I have not done so already, acknowledging in advance, please grant me some leeway lol or else this won't be very productive, but feel free to correct or clarify.

    I appreciate the way you make a point of acknowledging how one can leverage the systems in place, while still being radical. There's an unfortunate disingenuousness of especially white male left-leaning centrists or institutional leftists to overstate this fact, but I do agree it's important. I often frame it as being like parallel tracks; you need to be simultaneously fixing the system in place, while also designing the next one, and this is not just a sum but an interaction; the leverage that one buys you empowers you for the other, they feedback on each other.

    I am generally skeptical of political "ideology" in general, as opposed to treating governments or political institutions as systems, and recognizing things like socialism or capitalism as tools, but it does seem like in general Marx thinks more in terms of systems than many other political ideologues. I don't feel like we've yet come to any ideal political system, although a moderately optimistic and good-faith version of socialism seems better than what we currently have. But I suspect there are still some critical ideas that haven't been conceived yet, that hopefully will be conceived at some point this century (hopefully sooner than later...), that hopefully will radically change our way of thinking about everything. But until then, this sounds like a step up.

    1. "I appreciate the way you make a point of acknowledging how one can leverage the systems in place, while still being radical. There's an unfortunate disingenuousness of especially white male left-leaning centrists or institutional leftists to overstate this fact, but I do agree it's important."

      Any chance you feel like elaborating? I'm a white male communist and I always have this sense that my social status sort of herds me in certain directions and keeps me from recognizing differing points of view. Like as an example I like to refer to scientific sources and sometimes it's hard to remember that modern science (and medicine) are largely based on white dude assumptions.

    2. I'm a cis hetero etc. etc. boring white male machine learning engineer, so I suppose I'm not the best person to ask haha.

      This is kind of an aside but to your last point, the idea of "White Science" is no less absurd to me than when the Nazis talked about "Jewish Science". A linear regression model is a linear regression model regardless of who crunches the numbers.

      But, like with anything, systemic bias can always affect how we use or interpret these things.

      For instance, I reject the medical model of disability, but that doesn't mean I deny the efficacy of vaccines (or other medicines, on a situational basis). There are theoretical and empirical questions at multiple levels, but the rejection of the medical model per se does not also necessarily entail a rejection of empirical methodology, biochemistry, etc.

      This, while not directly related to the main point I was making, still demonstrates in a roundabout way what I was trying to say though, in answer to your question.

      One can acknowledge how various institutions of the modern world are rooted in inequality, the pursuit of capital or power, etc., while also acknowledging that the concepts, methods, technologies, etc. of those institutions may still hold true, and may be able to be decoupled from those institutions, and may still provide enormous value for society as a whole.

    3. I don't know if I'd go so far as to call science "white science", just that a lot of assumptions (especially in medicine) that are built into science come from white dudes. Like... even as recently as the late 2010s studies came out showing that our "pain scales" are sort of centered around white folks, and women of color during childbirth regularly receive less attentiveness and response to their pain levels.

      And yes, your point about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater is valid. But it's kind of why I asked - I'm not always great at identifying when I'm making an assumption based on people like me being the "default".

      I don't know. I spend more time than is probably healthy examining why I believe certain things and trying to see if I can trace it to something other than empirical data. There's a reason I see a therapist, ha!

    4. Wrt your first paragraph, I don't think we're disagreeing.

      Like with your pain scale example, it was probably through statistical analysis that they were able to effectively measure and quantify that systemic bias (in other words, to model it), but it was also probably through the acknowledgement of the concerns of people of color that the question of whether pain scales were systemically biased was asked in the first place.

      For the second/third, I don't think an ideal answer exists haha. Be aware of cognitive biases, be data literate, expose yourself to different perspectives, be willing to challenge your preconceived notions, etc., but I doubt I'm saying anything new to you.

  2. "I think some people fetishize democracy as an end in itself, not realizing that there are places where one could get democratically murdered if the people there had their way." Well put!
    Similar to Maxcan, I'm in the process of reading up on some of these issues. It's Marx in my case as I'm gearing up to run a steampunk RPG. I love where gaming is taking me.


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