Marx's Manifesto: Russia's Transformation from Serfdom to Industrialization

Karl Marx

Communism has always been present in society, and can be traced back to the very edge of history. Throughout centuries, if not millennia, countless historical figures, groups, and ideological texts, such as the Greek philosopher Plato and his “The Republic”, have provided, not only a voice for Communism, but for the poor as well. There is no greater example of this than Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel's “The Communist Manifesto”. Between the 17th and 19th century , Russia went through a huge transformation from serfdom, to the Mir system, and finally to industrialization. Marx’s revolutionary ideas helped to inspire the Russian people to revolt and propel themselves forward.
Friedrich Engels

The Communist Manifesto
After only its second ever assembly, The Communist League (formed in 1847, after a merger between the League of the Just and the small Communist Correspondence Committee of Bruxelles), mandated Karl Marx, its leader at the time, and Friedrich Engels to organize and write a manifesto that represented what their organization stood for; the product: The Communist Manifesto.
The Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, or more commonly known as the Communist Manifesto, was published on February 21st, 1848. In his manifesto, Marx discusses the necessity for a change, and calls for all “Working Men of All Countries” to unite. On top of this, Marx also gives an analysis of the problems directly and indirectly related to capitalism, as well as a way to end the exploitation of the Proletariat.
The Communist Manifesto consists of four main sections; they are: Bourgeois and Proletarians, Proletarians and Communists, Socialist and Communist Literature, and Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties.
In his first section, Bourgeois and Proletarians, Marx begins to introduce the classic struggle between the rich and the poor, or rather the Bourgeois and the Proletariat. As he continues, Marx explains how the Bourgeois continuously exploit their workers in order to turn a profit; as a result of this abuse, Marx foretells that a revolt against the upper-class is inevitable. However, while Marx states that a proletariat victory is assured, he also warns that as long as there are classes, the creation of a new Bourgeois class is also certain. Marx goes on further to explain that the only way to prevent the resurgence of capitalists is to eliminate social classes, altogether, through Communism.
In Proletarians and Communists, Marx's second section, he begins to compare and contrast the lower-most class of society with Communists; he begins by asking:
In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?”.
Marx maintains this line of questioning, as he continues, he begins to question the differences between the Communists and proletarians’ political views. Finally, Marx concludes that the two are practically one in the same, except for two minuet details; this can be clearly seen when he states:
The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”
Marx later reiterates this statement, in simpler words, and summarizes how the Communist is not an opposition to the proletariat, but rather an ally by saying:

The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat.”

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx

2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.”

Marx uses the next section of the Communist Manifesto to criticize other socialist ideologies and point of views such as: Reactionary Socialism (Feudal Socialism, Petty-Bourgeois Socialism, and German, or “True”, Socialism), Conservative, or Bourgeois, Socialism, and Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism. However, in the end, Marx does not only disagree with these other political views, but he also flat out discredits them for advocating reformism.
In the final section of the Communist Manifesto, entitled Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties, Marx reveals the similarities between the Communist's movements and the movements of other pro-proletarian parties’ throughout Europe. Marx declares his support for such groups, and spurs their Communist Revolutions onward:

“In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”

Communist symbol

The End of Serfdom

Alexander II
Alexander II, one of the many tsars from the Romanov dynasty, watched over Russia from 1855-1881. As the son of Nicolas I, Alexander II succeeded the throne immediately after the disastrous Crimean War; it was a time of great unrest. Not only was Russia left crippled by the war, but she also suffered a humiliating defeat, one which the people of Russia did not take lightly. Alexander II, sensing turmoil and hostility amongst the public, decided upon a series of seemingly radical reforms.
Russia, during Alexander II's reign, was one of last feudal countries in Europe. However, soon after the war, Alexander II and his close advisors realized that Russia's economy could not keep pace with industrialized nation, such as Britain. As a result of this, they decided that economic, along with numerous other reforms were a necessity, and that Russia's industrialization should begin immediately. While many of the suggested reforms were called for, such as the military and navy reforms, or the creation of a new judicial administration, others became highly controversial, particularly, the emancipation of Russia's serfs.
During the years leading up to Alexander II's rule, Russia's peasants were considered resources rather than citizens, and were traded with the land on which they worked; in other words, the serfs of Russia had absolutely no rights, and little hope for freedom. Nevertheless, this all changed on March 3rd, 1861, when the Emancipation Manifesto, finally, became law.
The Emancipation Manifesto, not only declared the liberation of all serfs on private estates, it also granted the peasants the status and rights of other Russian citizens. This new document was the official end of serfdom in Russia, and in the eyes of many historians, it was also the final chapter in feudal Europe’s history
The painting (above) is one of many in Alphonse Muca’s multi-piece masterpiece: The Slav Epic.

The Mir System
When serfdom was abolished in 1861, the Mir System was brought into play in Russia. Mir was a system of local self-government of peasant households who elected its own officials. They had a lot of control over their surrounding land, including fisheries, forests, and hunting grounds. Most importantly, they had full control of the areable (fertile) land. If a lot was vacant, they would distribute it amongst the various households depending on the amount of land the household already had. The Mir System is also often referred to as Obshchina, the Russian word for agricultural commune. Marx saw the commune system as a model of transition to communism. Under Obshchina each peasant household was allowed to cultivate one strip of land for each adult member in the home. This system was dominant in Russian peasant agriculture up until the revolution in 1917.

Russian Industrialization and the Proletariat
In the 1800’s, countries all aver Europe were going through rapid industrialization, but Russia was not amongst these. Because Russia was stuck as an agricultural country, it were falling behind economically.
In 1861, Russia was beginning to go through a period of political reform, this would also help to prepare Russia for industrialization. The serfs were freed in 1861, but freedom did not mean wealth. They were in need of money to pay their taxes. This meant that they were willing to work even for very little pay. This new abundance of labor made for huge economic growth. This was the birth of the proletariat class Marx believed would be the ones to take over.
In the 1870’s, a railway system was built that helped propel Russia forward. Iron and coal industry was booming and in high demand on order to build the new trains. With these railways, Russia was able to export their grain to western Europe. These western countries saw what was happening in Russia and wanted to invest, giving Russia much needed capital. With foreign investment, the coal, oil, textiles, and iron factories began popping up around Russia and the country finally made the transformation from serfdom into industrialization.

Newly built Russian railway

Thanks to all this heavy industry and railroad expansion, Russia had huge industrial and economic growth. Unfortunately, industrialization was not all good. It caused a lot of unrest amongst the working people. Conditions were harsh, hours were long, and wages were low. This was key for the workers to begin to form unions to protect their rights and was the platform for people like Leon Trotsky. The Russian people had jobs, but that didn’t mean that they were happy.
This rapid industrialization also led to what Marx called the “dictatorship of the proletariat” which was a dictatorship not of one individual over a society, but of one class ruling over another. Although Russia did go through industrialization, it was not as good as those of some of the other European countries, and this led to huge failure for Russia in World War 1.The people were ready for a revolution, and Marx’s ideas provided them with instructions on how to do it.


1) Explain how Marx'a ideas inspired revolutionary thinking in Russia:
Even nearly 70 years after its publication, Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto played a vital role in shaping, what was, modern day Communism in the former USSR. Marx and Engel’s thinking was an inspiration to many Russians aspiring to see their dear country rise among the world’s super powers. Marx’s idea of a classless society also appealed to the new lower class society created by the emancipation of serfdom. This new concept continued to gain momentum until it became a reality in 1917; the dawn of the Russian Revolution.


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