Communist Manifesto

Communist Manifesto
   A pamphlet originally published in London in 1848 as a declaration of principles and objectives of the Communist League, a clandestine organization of expatriate German artisans and intellectuals. In 1847, the Communist League commissioned two new prominent members of the league, Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), to write a manifesto clearly stating its basic objectives and the underlying philosophy. Friedrich Engels first drafted Principles of Communism and handed it over to Karl Marx for revision. Drawing on Engels’s Principles, Marx produced the theoretical and literary masterpiece that the world now knows as the Communist Manifesto. Among all the documents of the socialist movement, it is the most widely read, talked about, and hotly debated document. Manifesto is a carefully written systematic statement of a radical philosophy that was used to change political, social, and economic life of common people and finally come to be known as Marxism.
   Although the Communist Manifesto was composed against the background of larger, long-term historical developments, it was written just before the outbreak of the 1848 revolution that swept across Europe - from France to Germany, Hungary, Italy, and beyond. In just a few weeks, one government after another fell. Although it cannot be said that the pamphlet played a major part in the events that followed, it is a product of that very specific time and that very specific revolutionary climate. In that historical fact lie both many of its strengths and some unresolved problems. The revolution, or revolutions, of 1848 took place in countries with diverse social, economic, and political conditions: from a relatively “developed” country like France, or parts of Germany such as the Rhineland, to “backward” areas like southern Italy or Transylvania. One thing they had in common, however, was that capitalism was not well advanced in any of them, and in some cases not at all. For all their differences, they all had predominantly rural populations. If the various continental revolutions had a common political program, it was not the overthrow of something like a capitalist system. It was rather the establishment of unified liberal or constitutional states with a degree of civil equality, inspired above all by the French Revolution. In some cases, like Hungary or Italy, the struggle for a more democratic state was closely linked with the fight for national autonomy. At any rate, when Marx and Engels wrote the Manifesto, they did not believe that a socialist revolution, or a proletarian revolution of any kind, was in the offing. They briefly hoped that the events, and the failures, of 1848 might lead to something more, some further longer term development, a “permanent revolution” that would push beyond the bourgeois republic to proletarian rule and finally socialism. Any reader of the Manifesto must be struck by the fact that the revolutionary hero of its eloquent narrative is the bourgeoisie. The revolutionary victories of the bourgeoisie were, of course, deeply contradictory for Marx and Engels, combining benefits and costs in equal measure. They hoped, and confidently expected, that the bourgeoisie’s conquests would eventually be overtaken by the triumph of the working class and socialism. But even while the Manifesto calls workers to arms and foresees their emergence as a truly revolutionary force, it tells the triumphal story of the bourgeoisie. The impact of the Manifesto was nevertheless remarkable. It has been translated into all the major languages and has remained an inspiration for generations of socialists.
   See also <>.
    Ehrenberg, J. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat: Marxism’s Theory of Socialist Democracy. London: Routledge, 1992;
    Labriola, Antonio. Essays on the Materialist Conception of History. Translated by Charles H. Kerr. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Co-operative, 1908;
    Tucker, Robert C., ed. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1978.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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