Communist Manifesto and Rerum Novarum

Published 13 Mar 2017

The Communist Manifesto of celebrated political and economic philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels which was first published on February 21, 1848, and the Rerum Novarum which is a catholic encyclical which was issued on May 16, 1891 by Pope Leo XIII are two documents that approach a particular issue in two very different ways. This paper compares and contrasts these works in aspects of the circumstances of their creation, the issues that they tackle, and how each work approaches such relevant issues.

The Communist Manifesto was published in Germany as the guiding principles of communist thought. During this time, laborers from many industries were being oppressed by the bourgeois, who are defined by Marx as those who own the means of production. There was a lot of industrialization going on during this era and there were evidently employers who were taking advantage of their workers. A similar situation was observed in the release of Pope Leo XII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum. During the time of its release which was 42 years after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, there were many laborers who were dissatisfied with their employers and some were taking violent measures as suggested by the Communist Manifesto.

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Thus, it can be considered that the Rerum Novarum was released not just to address the labor issues that common laborers were facing at that time but also to directly contradict the work of Karl Marx. Both works tackle the issue on the rights of the common laborer to the just fruits of his or her labors. In the Communist Manifesto, it was discussed that all laborers deserved an equal share of the production output and that the means of production should be owned by no one except by the population as a whole. The Rerum Novarum also acknowledged “the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class” (Par. 3) and its discussion was about the rights and responsibilities both of the working class and of those who hold the means of production. One clear distinction between the two documents is how each characterizes the relationship between the laborer and the capitalist. In the Communist Manifesto, the two are portrayed as sworn enemies that have natural tendencies to go to war with one another. It discusses that whenever the bourgeois is able to get an advantage over the working class, it always employs that advantage regardless of its repercussions on the living conditions of the laborer. Hence, the capitalists are portrayed as an evil that exploits laborers whenever possible. On the other hand, Pope Leo XII’s encyclical treats laborers and capitalists as partners.

It explains that it is a “great mistake” to accept that one class is hostile against the other and calls this notion “irrational” and in “direct contrary” of the truth (Par. 19). Because of this fundamental difference, the approach of each of the documents in solving the problems of laborers are also very different. Since the suffering that the laborers face are blamed on the existence of the capitalists, Marx and Engels’ work claims that the inevitable solution is a violent revolution of laborers against their masters. The Communist Manifesto envisions a world where no single person owns any of the means of production but rather all citizens are laborers working for equal shares of the fruits of production. Violent acts are rejected by the Rerum Novarum and instead it encourages the creation of labor unions and regular dialogues between laborers and capitalists in addressing their respective concerns.

Clearly, the two documents aim to solve the same problem but intend to do so in different ways. While the Communist Manifesto intends believes that laborers should overthrow capitalists in order to realize a better future for themselves, the Rerum Novarum believes that peaceful dialogue and formation of labor organizations in the correct answer and rejects the suggestions of the manifesto.

Works Cited

  • Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich. The Communist Manifesto. February 21, 1848.
  • Pope Leo XII. Rerum Novarum. May 15, 1981. Pope Encyclicals Online.
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