If the workers want to have means of production (land or factories) they can:

  • Put money together and buy/build them, step by step. That's how the Amish or the Mennonites are building and growing their egalitarian communities for example
  • Taking over the land and the factories owned by the rich, using force or even violence.

What was the vision of Karl Marx for the workers to become the owners of their work places? Did he support the second option?

  • 2
    Does liberating factories necessitate force? Generally owners and shareholders do not attend the premises, so workers could peacefully disobey managers by not relinquishing up possession of their outputs. It is owners that depend on the threat of (state) force, to expel particular workers, seize produce, or generally enforce abstract proprietary claims.
    – benjimin
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 0:00
  • It doesn't seem plausible that workers could just peacefully occupy a factory and the state lets them. The state will take it back eventually, by force. I think doing it successfully necessitates force.
    – Nick S
    Commented May 21 at 21:49

4 Answers 4


Both Marx and Engels considered class struggle as a tool to overthrow the capitalists. This struggle can be achieved in various ways from minor (strikes) to major (civil wars).

Marx analysed how new classes have become ruling classes throughout history, by violently overthrowing older classes (ex. in French revolution, where Capitalists overthrew the old Feudal lords). This process will inevitably lead, according to Marx, to the final revolution, where the oppressed class in all history (workers, farmers, etc. the proletariat) will overthrow the ruling class, implement the dictatorship of the proletariat and gradually abolish class inequities, leading to a classless society.

The different momenta of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.

Karl Marx. Capital Volume One, Chapter Thirty-One: Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist

However, in how the proletariat should strategize its revolution, Marx & Engels did not deny a peaceful revolution, when this is possible.

Will the peaceful abolition of private property be possible?

It would be desirable if this could happen, and the communists would certainly be the last to oppose it. Communists know only too well that all conspiracies are not only useless, but even harmful. They 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 wholly 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 communists will defend the interests of the proletarians with deeds as we now defend them with words.

Frederick Engels 1847 The Principles of Communism

You know that the institutions, mores, and traditions of various countries must be taken into consideration, and we do not deny that there are countries -- such as America, England, and if I were more familiar with your institutions, I would perhaps also add Holland -- where the workers can attain their goal by peaceful means. This being the case, we must also recognize the fact that in most countries on the Continent the lever of our revolution must be force; it is force to which we must some day appeal in order to erect the rule of labor.

The International Working Men's Association, 1872 La Liberté Speech

  • 1
    All the three answers are fantastic - I would accept all of them. I accepted this one because it's more informative for my own interests. Thank you all!
    – Joe Jobs
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 23:34
  • Would Karl Marx would have been satisfied by the idea that in US the "workers can attain their goal by peaceful means". After all, american workers are relatively very rich compared to workers in other countries.
    – user4951
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 3:30

Marx was primarily a philosopher and economist who analyzed the existing capitalist system, not a revolutionary. His focus was not so much on how a communist society might look or how one might be achieved (others such as Lenin, Trotsky, or Luxemburg focused more on that).

He was not opposed to militant action though, and does reference class struggle and the concept of revolutions positively. Your first bullet point would not fit his theories about the capitalist system.

The Communist Manifest for example ends with a call to action:

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 Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

Marx was also a supporter of the paris commune and the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat. "dictatorship" is easy to misunderstand here, but the linked wikipedia page has a good overview and further comments by Marx supporting revolutionary actions (such as criticizing the revisionist, non-revolutionary approach of the gotha program).

  • My first bullet point is about building a communist system, step by step, in a non-violent manner. Maybe you mean "communist system" instead "capitalist system"?
    – Joe Jobs
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 16:04
  • 1
    @JoeJobs No, my point was that I know of no writing by Marx which would suggest that the proletariat can just buy the means of production from the bourgeoisie; that idea doesn't really fit into Marx's analysis of the capitalist system (which suggests that capital accumulates and extracts surplus value from the proletariat; they don't have the means to purchase the means of production, which is why they are the proletariat; those that do have those means, but can't participate in capitalist exploitation would be the petite bourgeoisie, but they are in no way seen as a step towards communism).
    – tim
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 17:01
  • I see thanks. In that case I find his idea highly unrealistic, since in general the workers could save a few coins. Not all of them lived in dreadful conditions. My ancestors were workers but they could support their family where the woman was not employed (housewife) and they could save money to buy a house and some other things. The Mennonites were oppressed for centuries yet they managed to build their communities step by step and even to prosper.
    – Joe Jobs
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 19:28


Consider this line from the Communist Manifesto

In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie, lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.

To Marx and the other Communists, the history of society was a history of the struggle of class with class. He repeatedly uses the language of "struggle", "battle", "overthrow". He goes on to say:

The first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy.

The overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat would necessarily violent, since the bourgeoisie would not give up their position freely. Marx finally notes:

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 Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

Working men of all countries, unite!


Karl Marx believed specifically in the violent overthrow of the capitalist system. He openly declared in an interview that there can be no democratic process to communism. He believed democracy would be stopped by the capitalist class before it could simply take from them everything they own.

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