The Principles of Communism
"The Principles of Communism" summarizes commonly asked questions about communism.

What is Communism?

Communism refers to the conditions of liberation of the proletariat.

Who are the proletariat?

The proletariat is the social class that lives entirely from selling its labor. It does not draw profit from any kind of capital. They are the working class.

Have proletarians always existed?

No. While there has been poor and working class, there hasn't always been workers living under the conditions that they are today.

How did the proletariat originate?

The proletariat originated in the industrial revolution, as a result of expensive, powerful machinery that is owned by the capitalist class. Because only big companies could afford the purchase of such machinery, this change drove division between the capitalists and the propertyless working class.

What are the conditions of the sale of proletarian labor to the bourgeoisie?

Economic law dictates that the price of a commodity, on average, is always equal to its cost of production, therefore the price of labor is equal to the cost of production of labor. The price of labor consists of exactly what is needed to survive.

What working classes existed before the industrial revolution?

In antiquity, workers were the slaves of owners. In the Middle Ages, they were serfs of the land-owning nobility.

In what way do proletarians differ from slaves?

The slave is sold once and for all, but the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave is promised an existence (however miserable it may be) because of the master's interest, whereas the proletarian is property of the entire bourgeoisie class. The bourgeoisie buy proletarian labor when they have need of it - and so the proletarian are therefore offered no secure existence. The existence is assured only to the class as a whole.

The slave is outside competition while the proletarian is within it and experiences all of its variations. The slave counts as a thing, not a member of society; thus, the slave can have a better existence than the proletarian. The slave frees himself when he abolishes the relation of slavery and becomes a proletarian. The proletarian can only free himself by abolishing private property.

In what way do proletarians differ from serfs?

The serf possesses and uses an instrument of production, a piece of land, in exchange for which he gives up a part of his product or part of the services of his labor.

The proletarian works with the instruments of production of another, for the account of this other, in exchange for a wage.

The serf liberates himself in one of three ways: either he runs away to the city and there becomes a handicraftsman or he gives money to his lord and becomes a free tenant; or he overthrows his lord and himself becomes a property owner. In short, by one route or another, he gets into the owning class and enters into competition. The proletarian liberates himself by abolishing competition, private property, and all class differences.

What were the immediate consequences of the industrial revolution and of the division of society into bourgeoisie and proletariat?

The low prices of products brought about by machine labor destroyed, in all countries of the world, the old system of manufacture or industry based upon hand labor. Wherever this happened, the bourgeoisie took political power into its own hands and displaced the ruling classes.

The bourgeoisie annihilated the power of the nobility, by abolishing the entailment of estates – in other words, by making property subject to purchase and sale, thus doing away with the special privileges of the nobility. In their place, it put competition – that is, a state of society in which everyone has the right to enter into any branch of industry, the only obstacle being a lack of the necessary capital.

The introduction of free competition is thus public declaration that from now on the members of society are unequal only to the extent that their capitals are unequal, that capital is the decisive power, and that therefore the capitalists, the bourgeoisie, have become the first class in society.

The proletariat develops in step with the bourgeoisie. As the bourgeoisie grows in wealth, the proletariat grows in numbers, in proportion.

What were the further consequences of the industrial revolution?

Big industry created the means of endlessly expanding production by speeding it up and cutting its costs. With this, free competition assumed the most extreme forms, a multitude of capitalists invaded industry, and, in a short while, more was produced than was needed.

As a consequence, commodities could not be sold, and a commercial crisis broke out. Factories closed, their owners went bankrupt, and the workers were without bread. After a time, the superfluous products were sold, the factories began to operate again, wages rose, and gradually business got better than ever.

But it was not long before too many commodities were again produced and a new crisis broke out, only to follow the same course as its predecessor. Ever since the beginning of the 19th century, the condition of industry has constantly fluctuated between periods of prosperity and periods of crisis.

What follows from these periodic commercial crises?

Big industry in its earliest stage created free competition, and has now outgrown it. Competition and the individualistic organization of production have become a fetter which it must and will shatter.

Either big industry itself must be given up (which is an absolute impossibility) or else it makes unavoidably necessary an entirely new organization of society in which production is no longer directed by mutually competing individual industrialists but rather by the whole society operating according to a definite plan and taking account of the needs of all.

The limitless expansion of production brings a social order in which so much is produced that every member of society will be in a position to exercise and develop all his powers and faculties in complete freedom.

The very qualities of big industry which produce misery and crises are those which, in a different form of society, will abolish this misery and these catastrophic depressions.

We see with the greatest clarity:

  • All these problems are caused solely by a social order which no longer corresponds to the requirements of the real situation.
  • It is possible to do away with these evils altogether.

What will this new social order be like?

It will take the control of industry and of all branches of production out of the hands of mutually competing individuals. Instead it will institute a system in which all these branches of production are operated by society as a whole – according to a common plan, and with the participation of all members of society.

Since the management of industry by individuals relies on private property, and since competition is the manner in which the control of industry by private property owners expresses itself, it follows that private property cannot be separated from competition and the individual management of industry. Private property must, therefore, be abolished and in its place must come the common utilization of all instruments of production and the distribution of all products according to common agreement – in a word, what is called the communal ownership of goods.

In fact, the abolition of private property is the shortest and most significant way to characterize the revolution in the whole social order which has been made necessary by the development of industry – and for this reason it is rightly advanced by communists as their main demand.

Was not the abolition of private property possible at an earlier time?

No. Every change in the social order, every revolution in property relations, is the necessary consequence of the creation of new forces of production which no longer fit into the old property relations. Private property has not always existed.

It is clear that, up to now, the forces of production have never been developed to the point where enough could be developed for all, and that private property has become a fetter and a barrier in relation to the further development of the forces of production.

Will the peaceful abolition of private property be possible?

It would be desirable if this could happen, and the communists would be the last to oppose it. We know only too well that all conspiracies are not only useless, but harmful. We know all too well that revolutions are not made intentionally and arbitrarily, but that, everywhere and always, they have been the necessary consequence of conditions which were independent of the will and direction of individual parties and entire classes.

But they also see that the development of the proletariat in nearly all civilized countries has been violently suppressed, and that in this way the opponents of communism have been working toward a revolution with all their strength. If the oppressed proletariat is finally driven to revolution, then we will defend the interests of the proletarians with deeds as we now defend them with words.

Will it be possible for private property to be abolished at one stroke?

No. In all probability, the proletarian revolution will transform existing society gradually and will be able to abolish private property only when the means of production are available in sufficient quantity.

What will be the course of this revolution?

Above all, it will establish a democratic constitution, and through this, the direct or indirect dominance of the proletariat. Democracy would be wholly valueless to the proletariat if it were not immediately used as a means for putting through measures directed against private property and ensuring the livelihood of the proletariat. The main measures, emerging as the necessary result of existing relations, are outlined here.

It is impossible to carry out all these measures at once. However, one will always bring others in its wake. Once the first radical attack on private property has been launched, the proletariat will find itself forced to go ever further, to concentrate increasingly in the hands of the state all capital, all agriculture, all transport, all trade. All the foregoing measures are directed to this end; and they will become practicable and feasible, capable of producing their centralizing effects to precisely the degree that the proletariat, through its labor, multiplies the country’s productive forces.

Finally, when all capital, all production, all exchange have been brought together in the hands of the nation, private property will disappear of its own accord, money will become superfluous, and production will so expand and man so change that society will be able to slough off whatever of its old economic habits may remain.

Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone?

No. By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others.

Further, it has coordinated the social development of the civilized countries to such an extent that, in all of them, bourgeoisie and proletariat have become the decisive classes, and the struggle between them the great struggle of the day. It follows that the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries.

It will develop in each of these countries more or less rapidly, according as one country or the other has a more developed industry, greater wealth, a more significant mass of productive forces. It will have a powerful impact on the other countries of the world, and will radically alter the course of development which they have followed up to now, while greatly stepping up its pace.

It is a universal revolution and will, accordingly, have a universal range.

What will be the consequences of the ultimate disappearance of private property?

Society will take all forces of production and means of commerce out of the hands of private capitalists and will manage them in accordance with a plan based on the availability of resources and the needs of the whole society.

There will be no more crises. Overproduction will reach beyond the elementary requirements of society to assure the satisfaction of the needs of all. This development of industry will make available to society a sufficient mass of products to satisfy the needs of everyone.

The existence of classes originated in the division of labor, and the division of labor (and classes themselves) will completely disappear. People will no longer develop one of their faculties at the expense of all others; they will no longer know only one branch of production as a whole.

The difference between city and country will disappear. The management of agriculture and industry by the same people rather than by two different classes of people is a necessary condition of communist association. The current dispersal of the agricultural population on the land, alongside the crowding of the industrial population into cities, is a condition which corresponds to an undeveloped state of both agriculture and industry. It serves as an obstacle to further development.

The general cooperation of all members of society for the purpose of planned exploitation of the forces of production, the expansion of production to the point where it will satisfy the needs of all, will result in the abolition of a situation in which the needs of some are satisfied at the expense of the needs of others.

What will be the influence of communist society on the family?

Communist society will transform romantic and sexual relations into a purely private matter which concerns only the persons involved and which society has no occasion to intervene. It can do this since it does away with private property and educates children on a communal basis, and in this way removes the two bases of traditional marriage: the dependence rooted in private property and of the children on the parents.

What will be the attitude of communism to existing nationalities?

The nationalities of the peoples associating themselves in accordance with the principle of community will be compelled to mingle with each other as a result of this association and thereby to dissolve themselves, just as the various estate and class distinctions must disappear through the abolition of their basis, private property.

What will be its attitude to existing religions?

All religions so far have been the expression of historical stages of development of individual peoples or groups of peoples. Communism is the stage of historical development which makes all existing religions superfluous and brings about their disappearance.

How do communists differ from socialists?

Socialists are divided into three categories.

  1. Reactionary socialists: This category concludes that feudal and patriarchal society must be restored because it was free of such evils. In one way or another, all their proposals are directed to this end.
  2. Bourgeoisie socialists: These propose mere welfare measures while others come forward with grandiose systems of reform.
  3. Democratic socialists: These favor some of the same measures the communists advocate, not as part of the transition to communism, however, but as measures which they believe will be sufficient to abolish the misery and evils of present-day society.