The Principles of Communism and How They Work

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Communist Manifesto" by Karl Marx. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What are the principles of Communism? What do they mean and how would they work in a Communist society?

The principles of Communism revolve mainly around taking wealth and power from the bourgeoisie class and giving it to the Proletariat, the working people.

Read more about the principles of Communism and what they mean.

The Principles of Communism: The Path Forward

The principles of Communism rely on the fact that the Bourgeoisie control land and wealth that they did not earn, and instead got off the labor of workers, or the Proletariat. Communists believe that giving power to the laborers and abolishing the systems of wealth held by the Bourgeoisie creates a more equal society. The principles of Marxism rely on the idea of giving the Proletariat power.

Once the Proletariat have acquired political power, they’ll take the following ten measures. (Some of the measures along this path are unsustainable but unavoidable. Problems will iron themselves out naturally.) These are the principles of communism and the steps that would make a Communist society possible.

  1. Abolish the ownership of land and put all land to public use. This will eliminate oppression and class conflict.
  2. Create a progressive or graduated income tax. This will spread wealth more equally among all members of the population and eliminate classes.
  3. Abolish inheritance. This will eliminate wealth being held by a few instead of distributed among everyone.
  4. Take away the property of emigrants and rebels. Emigrants who are living abroad and left possessions behind obviously aren’t currently using them, so they can be better used by the general population. Rebels who oppose the Proletariat also shouldn’t be allowed to have property.
  5. Create a national bank using state capital. Private banks simply hold money. A national bank could use money to improve social conditions.
  6. Put the state in charge of communication and transportation. If the state controls these things, rather than an oppressor, everyone will have access to them.
  7. Expand and improve the state’s control of infrastructure and land. Currently, people aren’t making good use of resources. The state can allocate resources in a way that most benefits everyone.
  8. Require everyone to work and require working conditions to be decent. This will result in everyone contributing to society.
  9. Decentralize jobs from cities by combining agriculture and manufacturing. This will reduce geographic inequity and make better use of resources.
  10. Abolish child labor, create public schools, and give all children free education. This will improve the lives of children.

(Shortform note: We’ve added explanations of each measure, based on widely-held interpretations.)

Political power only exists to allow one class to oppress another. The Proletariat will only briefly be the ruling class. After the above measures have been carried out and all class distinctions fade, political power will cease to exist. 

Responses to Criticism

The critics of Communist beliefs, such as the Bourgeoisie, don’t have a lot of ground to stand on when they address the principles of Communism. Communists can address all of their criticisms, particularly the ones about abolishment. Many of the things communists want to “abolish” have already been abolished—by the Bourgeoisie—for the majority of the population. For example, the only people who have private property are the 10% of the population that makes up the Bourgeoisie.

Here are some criticisms of Communist beliefs and how Communists respond using the principles of Marxism.

  • Communism encourages universal laziness. If abolishing private property led to universal laziness, everyone would already be lazy, because wage-earners make up most of the population and don’t have any private property. 
  • Communism destroys culture. The Bourgeoisie have already destroyed the culture of the working class by viewing people as commodities.
  • Communism attacks freedom. The Communists oppose free trade because it leads to the exploitation of workers. They don’t oppose freedom in general.
  • Communism destroys family structures. Again, the Bourgeoisie has already destroyed the family structure. Proletariat children are exploited and forced to work.
  • Communism erases national borders. The Proletariat doesn’t have a country anymore—they’re not people, they’re commodities—so it’s impossible to abolish something that doesn’t exist. The Proletariat is international and the main differences between people are class distinctions. Conflicts between countries will die out as conflicts between classes die out.
  • Communism upheaves the educational system. The Communists didn’t invent schools or the idea that society should have a hand in education. The Communists simply want school to be available to everyone, not just the Bourgeoisie.
  • Communism makes women collective property. This criticism is rooted in misdefinition of the principles of Marxism. The Communists do want all property and tools to be common, but unlike Bourgeoisie men, Communists don’t consider women to be tools or property. In fact, the Bourgeoisie have done more to create a “community of women” than the Communists ever will—Bourgeoisie men regularly visit prostitutes and sleep with each other’s wives.
  • Communist beliefs destroys religion. Religion’s ideas and values normally change and evolve over time. Communism isn’t changing anything that isn’t already editable.

Now that you know and understand the principles of Communism, you can think about Communist ideas and arguments regarding this ideology.

The Principles of Communism and How They Work

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Karl Marx's "The Communist Manifesto" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Communist Manifesto summary:

  • How the oppressors and the oppressed have been in conflict for all of human history
  • How the communists planned to overthrow the ruling class and put in place a fairer system for all
  • Five key criticisms of Communism, and how Communists respond

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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