The Use of Persuasion in The Communist Manifesto

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Written in 1848, The Communist Manifesto is a foundational document of Communist ideology. The document describes the rise of the bourgeoisie as elite actors in the capitalist system while asserting that class struggle between the proletariat, or working class, and the bourgeoisie will lead to a worldwide Communist revolution. In the manifesto, authors Karl Marx and Friederich Engels share their critiques of the capitalist economic system with the expressed purpose of presenting the views of Communism. Yet, while the authors claim that their purpose is no to inform the public on Communism, The Communist Manifesto is dominated by a persuasive tone. By analyzing the text, it can be determined that the primary motive of the publication is not merely to present Communist ideas, but to persuade the public of the merits of Communist ideology. Utilizing effective methods of persuasion, Marx and Engels build a case for the merits of Communism by carefully selecting their audience, utilizing the rhetorical appeal of ethos and pathos, and establishing Communism as an inevitable historical trend. By combining these three persuasive techniques, Marx and Engels seek to persuade the reader to take part in the revolution for Communism.

In the introduction of The Communist Manifesto, authors Marx and Engels appear to be certain that Communism is a dominant force in Europe. Expressing this confidence, the authors open the text with the phrase, “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism” (14). As the authors claim, Communism was already a growing force in European politics before the publication of their work (14). Thus, the authors assert that the objective of their manifesto is to present an official publication of the view and aims of Communism (14). Yet, a closer examination of the text calls into question the authors’ confidence in the appeal of Communism.

The examination of the structure of Marx and Engels work reveals that outlining the viewpoint of Communists is a secondary goal of the authors. First, it can be noted that the authors do not describe the Communist ideology until the second section of their document. Rather, the authors discuss the history of the relationship between proletariats and the bourgeoisie. While it can be argued that it is necessary for the authors to provide historical context that establishes the significance of Communism to society, the shorter length of the section on the actual beliefs of Communists demonstrates that highlighting Communist views is of least importance to the authors. Further, while the document lists several aims of Communism, including the abolition of property, the reduction of income for the wealthy, and the adoption of centralization to facilitate the transition to Communism (25), a concrete blueprint for establishing Communism is missing. Thus, it can be determined that the motivation of the authors is not reflected by their expressed motive of simply educating the public on Communism.

The first step in examining the underlying persuasive goals of Marx and Engels is to evaluate their audience. The authors explicitly address their target audience when they write, “Working Men of All Countries, Unite!” in closing (34). The language selection of the authors further reveals their target audience. As the introduction notes, the manifesto was translated to the languages of English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish (14). The desire to translate the document into several modern languages demonstrates that the manifest was intended for a wide audience rather than an elite audience. Thus, it is unlikely that the manifesto was a writer to inform policymakers of Communism. Further, the authors make several efforts to praise their intended audience, writing, “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class” (20). Further, the authors are adamant that the lower-middle, small manufacturer, shopkeeper, and artisans are conservative and incapable of launching a revolution (20). The willingness of the authors to alienate these groups demonstrates that they are less interested in addressing non-proletariat segments of society. Through this focus on expanding the accessibility of his text for individuals who might lack the education to read the manifesto in a second language and his appeals to the superiority of the proletariat, it can be determined that Marx and Engels are addressing the working class directly.

The appeals to ethos and pathos in the manifesto demonstrate that the authors possess the objective of persuading their target audience, the proletariats, to embrace Communism. First, the authors appeal to the values of the proletariat by describing how the excesses associated with capitalism have eroded common values. For example, Marx and Engels note, “The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil and has reduced the family relation to mere money” (16). Further, they describe the economic systems replaced by the capitalist system as “old-established national industries” (16). These references serve the purpose of convincing the reader that the capitalist system conflicts with his or her values. Further, Marx and Engels seek to play upon the anger working-class individuals might possess toward the difficult working conditions they faced. Utilizing emotionally provocative language, the authors assert that industrialization replaced the “little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist” (18). Further, workers are described as “organized soldiers” and compared to slaves (18). The language effectively engages the reader by invoking an emotional response to the exploitative relationships that are inferred by these descriptions of capitalism.

Finally, the authors adopt a bandwagon appeal to persuade the reader to accept Communism. Though the authors’ reliance on persuasion suggests that they still believe that Communism needs to be defended in the public sphere, the authors assert that they are sure of the inevitability of Communism. In the introduction of the text, the authors assert, “Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power” (14). This claim is significant because it demonstrates the main message that the authors wish to communicate with the reader. Rather than simply explaining the tenets of Communism, the authors aim to support the assertion that Communism was presently a global force.

To strengthen the bandwagon appeal, the authors also portray Communism as an inevitable development in history. Marx and Engels discuss how modern bourgeoisie emerged when industrialism replaced feudalism (15). Further, Marx and Engels assert that the evolution of productive forces is the key factor that drives history (17). Thus, historical periods are marked by changes in economic systems and industrial technologies. Additionally, Marx and Engels expressed the view that protest to the current economic system has been slow because the introduction of wage labor created competitive environments that create competition and render the working class isolated from one another and ignorant of the forces that impact their economic well being (21). By discussing the historical inevitability of change, Marx and Engels attempt to convince the reader to recognize their own exploitation so that they will take part in the ongoing struggle against the elite economic class.

As the rhetorical choices adopted by Marx and Engels establish, both authors still attempted to persuade their readers of the merits of Communism. While the authors claim that their objective was merely to inform the reader on the beliefs and principles of Communism, a textual analysis reveals that the authors rely on methods of persuasive throughout the manifesto. By targeting proletariats, appealing to their values in condemning the bourgeoisie, and highlighting Communism and an inevitable trend in history, the authors demonstrate their hidden intention of increasing support among the general public for Communist ideology.

Work Cited

Marx, Karl, and Friederich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. Trans. Samuel Moore. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1848. Web. 5 Dec. 2013.