Recently, I've been reading the works of Marx and Engels to understand the meaning of Historical Materialism; as I inclusively believe in a form of Collective Determinism of ideas ( not physical or revolutionary actions, nor individual ) enforced in all hitherto of the society to certain classes, although I do not certainly acknowledge if I can objectify my beliefs as Historical Materialism.

While reading the chapter two of the Communist Manifesto, I faced this phrase:

"But, " it will be said, "Religious, Moral, Philosophical, juridical ideas, etc. have indeed been modified in the course of historical development. Religion, Morality, Philosophy, Politics, Law, constantly survived this exchange"

My point of interest is the second segment of this saying:

  1. What does the author mean by this?
  2. Does the author want to indicate that politics are not affected by Historical Materialism, or that they are themselves the cause of it?
  • 3
    This really belongs to the philosophy community. I personally would suggest not to start learning Marx by reading Marx himself (ok, the Manifesto is a must, but not beyond that) - one has to understand the context in which these ideas were developed and how they have been applied. Too many people ignore this and unconsciously nitpick whatever seems to agree with their modern liberal ideas - hence the proliferation of self-proclaimed Communists in the west, who hardly would be recognized as such by Marx or his direct followers.
    – Morisco
    Commented May 17 at 13:28

1 Answer 1


That chapter seems to be largely a fictional disputation, between common objections to communism and their responds to that. So your quote is an objection to their previous point that the new ideals will rid themselves of the old ones and that for example Christianity got rid of the old gods and that liberalism and it's religious freedom are more of an expression of the free market (of ideas) than of Christianity.

Upon which he lets his straw man interject: "But what about religion, moral and law which slightly modified, but essentially persisted over time?".

So in other words:

"there are eternal truths and communism is just wanting to do away with all the good stuff not even offering to replace it with something better!"

To which he responds with:

What does this accusation reduce itself to? The history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonisms, antagonisms that assumed different forms at different epochs. But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms.

Essentially arguing that, yeah it is expected that some social and moral features do persist, but not because they are eternal truth worth keeping, but because they are a result of class antagonism and of the exploitation of one class by another class. Which he argues is what it's all coming down to. So he argues yes communism would rid itself of those because it would end class antagonism, as the working class would win and be able to develop a society that rests upon working people and which reduced their workload so much that they are able to work to live rather than live to work. So there is no need to subjugate another class to do the work, hence no class antagonism.

And without class antagonism there's no need to for these institutions bread by a society under class antagonism. Like if there are no particularly powerful people, there's no longer a need for a morality not to mistreat the downtrodden, because there are no downtrodden anymore and the people could speak for themselves instead.

Now the earliest version of that is almost 200 years old, in his lifetime he found out that many of his demands already became out of date and his idea of progress through class antagonism might have been too naive in accepting the narrative of the liberal revolutionaries as fact and too little reflective of the actual conditions. So you might take these claims within their time and with some grain of salt. Though seeing that section as a conversation or dispute might help you make some sense of at least what they are saying.

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