The Communist Manifesto opens with the famous words "The history of all hitherto societies has been the history of class struggles," and proceeds in the next 41 pages to single-mindedly elaborate this proposition (79). In section 1, "Bourgeois and Proletarians," Marx delineates his vision of history, focusing on the development and eventual destruction of the bourgeoisie, the dominant class of his day. Before the bourgeoisie rose to prominence, society was organized according to a feudal order run by aristocratic landowners and corporate guilds. With the discovery of America and the subsequent expansion of economic markets, a new class arose, a manufacturing class, which took control of international and domestic trade by producing goods more efficiently than the closed guilds. With their growing economic powers, this class began to gain political power, destroying the vestiges of the old feudal society which sought to restrict their ambition. According to Marx, the French Revolution was the most decisive instance of this form of bourgeois self-determination. Indeed, Marx thought bourgeois control so pervasive that he claimed that "the executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie" (82).
This bourgeois ascendancy has, though, created a new social class which labor in the new bourgeois industries. This class, the proletariat, "wage-laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live," are the necessary consequence of bourgeois modes of production (79). As bourgeois industries expand and increase their own capital, the ranks of the proletariat swell as other classes of society, artisans and small business owners, cannot compete with the bourgeois capitalists. Additionally, the development of bourgeois industries causes a proportional deterioration in the condition of the proletariat. This deterioration, which can be slowed but not stopped, creates within the proletariat a revolutionary element which will eventually destroy their bourgeois oppressors. As Marx says, "What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable" (94).
In Chapter 2, "Proletariats and Communists," Marx elaborates the social changes communists hope to effect on behalf of the proletariat. Marx notes firstly that the interests of communists do not differ from the interests of the proletariat as a class; they seek only to develop a class consciousness in the proletariat, a necessary condition of eventual proletariat emancipation. The primary objective of communists and the revolutionary proletariat is the abolition of private property, for it is this that keeps them enslaved. Bourgeois economics, i.e., capitalism, requires that the owners of the means of production compensate workers only enough to ensure their mere physical subsistence and reproduction. In other words, the existence of bourgeois property, or capital as Marx calls it, relies on its radically unequal distribution. The only way the proletariat can free itself from bourgeois exploitation is to abolish capitalism. In achieving this goal, the proletariat will destroy all remnants of bourgeois culture which act to perpetuate, if even implicitly, their misery. This includes family organization, religion, morality, jurisprudence, etc. Culture is but the result of specific material/economic conditions and has no life independent of these. The result of this struggle will be "an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the development of all" (104).
Chapter 3, "Socialist and Communist Literature," encompasses Marx's discussion of the relationship between his movement and previous or contemporaneous socialist movements. In this chapter he repudiates these other movements for not fully understanding the significance of the proletarian struggle. They all suffer from at least one of 3 problems: 1) They look to previous modes of social organization for a solution to present difficulties. 2) They deny the inherent class character of the existing conflict. 3) They do not recognize that violent revolution on the part of the proletariat is the only way to eradicate the conditions of oppression. Only the Marxist communists truly appreciate the historical movement in which the antagonism between the proletariat and bourgeois is the final act.
The final chapter, "Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Opposition Parties," announces the communist intention to "everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things" (120). The communist contribution to this ongoing revolutionary discourse will be the raising of the property question, for any revolutionary movement which does not address this question cannot successfully rescue people from oppression. As Marx thunders in conclusion, "Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!" (121).