Study Guide for Marx and Engels

Revised: March 26, 2004

Instructor: Jan Garrett

From the Preface to Marx's Critique of Political Economy (1859)

In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations which are indispensable and independent of their will; . . . the sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society--the real foundation, on which rise legal and political superstructures and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.

At a certain stage of their development, the material forces of production in society come into conflict with the existing relations of production, or--what is but a legal expression for the same thing--with the property relations within which they had been at work. From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into fetters. Then comes the period of the social revolution. . . . No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed, and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society.

Study Questions on the Preceding Passage

1. What is the "foundation" (basis) of society? the superstructure? Which determines which? Explain. Where do philosophies come from?

2. What brings about a social revolution?

Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto (1847)

For the text, go to The Communist Manifesto, drop down to the bottom of the Index page, find the Word Document version and save it to your hard drive. Then use your WORD program to print out the first 21 pages.

Below are study questions keyed to the pages in the WORD document version.

Study Questions on Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto

1. How do Marx and Engels describe all of history? (3)

2. How do fights between oppressor and oppressed end? (3)

3. Where has modern bourgeois society come from? How does the "feudal system of industry" differ from manufacture? what supplants manufacture? (3-4)

4. In what ways does the authors praise capitalism or the bourgeoisie? (5-7)

5. What brought about destruction of the feudal property relations? (7)

6. What problems has capitalism created, according to Marx and Engels, which might justify its replacement? (7-9)

7. Do the authors believe workers can win reforms short of the complete destruction of capitalism? In what does the "real fruit" of their battles lie? (10)

8. How, according to Marx and Engels, does the "proletarian movement" differ from earlier revolutionary movements? (11)

9. How does the bourgeoisie "produce its own gravediggers"? (12)

10. What is the immediate aim of the "Communists"? (13)

Note: These "Communists" are a relatively small group of Western European workers and a few middle-class intellectuals who identify with them. This Manifesto was written 70 years before Lenin's faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party took power in Russia and changed its name to the Communist Party.)
11. What do the theoretical conclusions of the "Communists" express? (13)

12. What is the distinctive feature of "Communism"? (14)

13. What reproach is often made at the "Communists"? (14)

The next several pages are organized around a series of charges, most of them thought scandalous by persons unsympathetic to the "Communists." Rather than explicitly say something like "This charge is false: most of us Communists do not really advocate this or, at least, not entirely in the way the critics mean it," Marx and Engels typically turn the charge against their bourgeois opponents, as if to say, "We don't have to do what you charge us with; your system has already done it."

Generally, the "Communists" are vague about the classless society toward which their efforts ultimately aim. When asked about this, Marxists have often said that the details must be left to the people of the classless future who will work them out in a radically different situation.

14. How do Marx and Engels respond to this charge? (14-15)

15. The opponents of "Communism" charge it with advocating abolition of individuality and freedom. By "freedom," what is meant, according to the authors? (15)

16. Why do the authors say that "private property is already done away with for nine tenths of the population"? (15)

17. What do the opponents of "Communism" mean by "individual"? (16)

18. Of what does "Communism" deprive a man? (16)

19. How do the authors respond to the charge that universal laziness will follow the abolition of private property? (16)

20. How do the authors respond to the charge that the Communists will destroy culture? (16)

21. How do the authors characterize the jurisprudence of their time? (16)

22. How do the authors respond to the charge that the "Communists" advocate abolition of the family? Abolition of home education? Community of women? (17-18)

23. How do the authors respond to the charge that the "Communists" desire to abolish countries and nationality? (18)

24. What does the history of ideas prove? (19)

25. To what do the ideas of religious liberty and freedom of conscience "merely g[i]ve expression"? (19)

26. How do the authors explain the apparent persistence of certain "eternal truths" from one era of human society to the next? (19)

Is there anything paradoxical about this? What ideas about which one might expect Marx and Engels to care are they apparently explaining away? (This move is closely associated with their method of "historical materialism.")
27. When the proletariat "win[s] the battle of democracy," what will it do? (20)
Note: Since the proletariat is the vast majority of the population, theoretically, all it needs to do to win this battle is to organize itself around a common program that expresses its common interests.

28. What do the authors anticipate "in the course of development" (after the proletariat has pursue the measures previously mentioned)? (21)

29. What happens then to the public power? Explain. What we there be instead of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms? (21)