Communist Manifesto as Reflection of Late Modernity

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If one is tasked with finding the most influential text of European modernity, then Karl Marx’s (1848) Communist Manifesto would be a top contender, if not a certain winner. The impact it had over the history of the 19th and 20th centuries is hard to overstate. Even today, though the communist ideology itself seems to be out of favor, the significance of this landmark text in terms of political science still remains undisputed. This begins the legitimate question of what enables such longevity and why the Communist Manifesto remains vital reading for a student of history and political science alike. The most likely answer is that it encapsulates the historical circumstances of late modernity and industrialization with excellent clarity. Manifesto lays the foundation for the conflict theory and attempts to answer the question of what distinguishes modernity from the previous eras, but, on some occasions, it also mistakes short-term historical for the long-term inevitability.

The implicit question underlying the entirety of the first chapter of the Communist Manifesto is what separates late modernity – that is, the 19th-century age of industrialization – from the preceding eras. According to Marx (1848), the modern age is characterized by the advance of industrial production spearheaded by the bourgeoisie. He goes out of his way to stress that, while there have been all sorts of ruling classes in the past, the bourgeoisie is different from them all because of the truly global nature of its enterprises and dominion. Marx (1848) points to colonization and expansion of markets over the entire planet. Unlike the ruling classes of before, the bourgeoisie creates globalization – or, as Marx (1848) calls it, “universal inter-dependence of nations” (para. 20). This is what leads Marx (1848) to his conclusion about the definitive difference between late modernity and all eras in the previous history: it is the first epoch when the crisis of over-production becomes possible. Communist Manifesto correctly identifies that, in the 19th century, economic expansion becomes its own goal for the first time and comes into conflict with the objective limitations of the existing market.

An insightful understanding of the ongoing industrialization and globalization is not the only way in which the Communist Manifesto reflects the historical reality of its time because it also pays thorough attention to political struggles. Social and political scientists rightfully consider Marx (1848) to be the founder of the conflict theory, and the Communist Manifesto is a prime example of his political and sociological reasoning. It outright begins with a blatant statement that “the history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles” (Marx, 1848, para. 1). The entirety of the first chapter covers the author’s perception of the ongoing political struggle, which he reduces to the dichotomy of bourgeoisie and proletariat. This emphasis on social conflict is hardly surprising considering the time when the Manifesto was written and published. The late 1840s were one of the most politically unstable periods in modern European history, with revolutions sweeping over the entire continent from France to Hungary. It makes the Manifesto is not only a timeless statement of a major sociological theory but also a representation of the immediate historical reality of the time when it was written.

Sometimes these immediate impressions of his time get the better of Marx (1848) and overshadow his ability to analyze the long-term historical process. In particular, it refers to his predictions of the fall of the bourgeoisie because it leads to the inescapable pauperization of the working class. The logic is straightforward: the bourgeoisie needs to compete in order to maintain and increase its profits, and, after the markets have already been expanded over the entire world, the competition becomes even bitterer. One of the ways to gain a competitive edge is to reduce the expenses on one’s workforce, which leads to the pauperization of the working class (Marx, 1848). The Manifesto refers to the very real poverty of the working class in the mid-19th-century but makes the mistake of assuming that “pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth” (Marx, 1848, para. 52). As the later events demonstrated, the development of capitalism led to the eventual improvement in the workers’ standard of living, not the perpetual pauperization. In this respect, the author seems to mistake the characteristic features of his own time for a long-term historical trend.

To summarize, the Communist Manifesto reflects a keen understanding of late modernity that is based on – and sometimes overshadowed by – the specific circumstances of the mid-19th century. Marx (1848) grasps industrialization and economic globalization as the definitive features that separate late modernity from all previous ages of modern history and points to overproduction crises as a sign of this change. Moreover, his stance on class struggle, which is rightfully hailed as a cornerstone of the conflict theory, bears a direct imprint of the revolutionary events of the late 1840s. So does his perspective on the pauperization of the working class – but, in this particular regard, Marx (1848) seems to mistake the specific circumstance of his time for a long-term historical trend.


Marx, K. (1848). The communist manifesto. Web.

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DemoEssays. "Communist Manifesto as Reflection of Late Modernity." February 25, 2023.