The Communist Manifesto, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx
The Communist Manifesto Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx
The following entry presents criticism of Engels and Marx's political pamphlet, Manifest der kommunistischen Partei (1848; The Communist Manifesto). See also, Friedrich Engels Criticism.
Early in 1848, two young German intellectuals set forth their plan for proletarian revolution against the prevailing socio-economic forces in Europe, which in their eyes were corrupt. Manifest der kommunistischen Partei (The Communist Manifesto), the slim volume outlining their plan, has been described as the most influential secular document in world history, ranked behind only such religious works as the Bible and the Koran for the impact it has had on world events. Indeed, it has been characterized as the Socialist movement's “holy” book. Calling for workers of the world to unite, The Communist Manifesto examines the oppression felt by the working class in Europe, analyzes the unequal distribution of wealth under the capitalist system, and provides a vision for a new way of life, wherein the proletariat fights for and wins economic and social equality with the ruling bourgeois class. With the Russian Revolution in the early part of the twentieth century, The Communist Manifesto was catapulted from being an important philosophical text to being the framework for a new nation. Communism and the Soviet Union, both of which have their birth in this text, went on to become globally polarizing forces. The Cold War can be considered a result, in large part, of the diametrically opposed socio-economic philosophies held by the communist East and the capitalist West. While the late twentieth century saw the Soviet Union crumble, leaving capitalism seemingly the victor, the socialist plan sparked by The Communist Manifesto nevertheless remains a strong influence on the world's political and philosophical thought, and The Communist Manifesto itself is assured an eminent place in the history of human experience, both for the revolutionary philosophy it presents and for the way it changed the face of nation-building.
The first step to understanding the The Communist Manifesto is to understand its authors. Karl Marx, who is generally considered the primary author of both the text and the philosophy that has come to bear his name, was born in Germany in 1818. He received a university education, studying law and then philosophy. Shortly after he received his degree, his anti-bourgeois sentiment growing, he realized he could not participate in the German education system. He turned to journalism—a pursuit that would help support him for the rest of his life. In this capacity he began developing his revolutionary ideas, until he was forced out of Germany in 1843. For the next several years his involvement with revolutionary, anti-capitalist organizations increased and he continued to develop his theories by studying economic science and pursuing literary study. In 1844 he met Friedrich Engels. Engels grew up in the same area of Germany as Marx, and came from a similar class and educational experience. Sent by his father to England to represent the family in its textile business, Engels observed first-hand the exploitation of textile workers, and the injustice of the industrial capitalist system. Independently, both men published critical works that questioned the existing European socio-economic system, but upon their meeting in 1844, they found in each other not only a lifelong friendship, but an intellectual partnership that would take them both to new philosophical heights. Their friendship and intellectual partnership led them to discuss all of their intellectual projects together; their mutual influence was so great that it is difficult for critics to determine where in their joint works Engels' thought ends and Marx's begins. In The Communist Manifesto the authors put forth a theory of history, an analysis of capitalism, and an outline for socialism. Their call for proletarian revolution was met with interest from other disaffected bourgeois intellectuals, hope from the increasingly mobilized working class, and fear from the supporters of the existing system. The manifesto was quickly translated and published in most European languages. It gave birth to modern Socialism, and helped change the world order; it was espoused by revolutionaries across Europe, and saw its greatest victory in 1918 with the Russian Revolution. Marx and Engels continued to hone and develop their socialist theories, and both went on to publish prolifically on the subject. Numerous essays, lectures, and articles picked up where The Communist Manifesto left off. The authors revised its preface liberally as it went through multiple editions, and they saw world changes resulting from the manifesto's influence. While the specifics of their proletarian revolution were to change as the social, economic and political climates changed, Marx and Engels always maintained the accuracy of the ideas put forth in The Communist Manifesto. Upon its fortieth anniversary, Engels decided that the preface could no longer be revised, as the text was then an historical document and needed to be preserved as such. Theories of socialism and communism continued to evolve, but the The Communist Manifesto was a finalized text. It went through no further revisions at the hands of its authors, but its influence did not lessen, as the Socialist and Communist movements of the twentieth century held to its ideals and built new societies from its revolutionary plan.
Divided into four parts, The Communist Manifesto begins with a theory of world history based on class struggles, and provides an explanation of the abuse of the working class by the bourgeoisie. The evils perpetrated upon the working class—the proletariat—are enumerated, and the injustice of the capitalist economic system, whereby a few get rich off the labor of many, is outlined. In the second section of The Communist Manifesto the virtues of communism are portrayed. Marx and Engels anticipate and refute the objections of the bourgeoisie and demonstrate the benefits to be gained by all through communism. The third and fourth chapters deal largely with contemporary social movements, whose inadequacies are outlined. While support for these groups is given, the ultimate virtue of the plan put forth in the previous sections is maintained. Throughout the entire manifesto, the workers of the world are called to unite and throw off the oppression of bourgeois capitalist society, so that after the proletarian revolution, a new society based on equality—economic, social, and political—could be built.
Since the time of its initial publication, The Communist Manifesto has sparked a wide range of reactions, from early intellectual and revolutionary enthusiasm, to vicious condemnation, to fervent adherence to its philosophy. For millions of people The Communist Manifesto has served as an essential text, greatly affecting their ways of life. It has influenced nation-building, affected social and economic policies, and played a very important role in world politics as nations drew alliances during the Cold War. Vast amounts of commentary have been produced by both pro-communist and anti-communist scholars and critics. Marx and Engels themselves contributed to the debates through their numerous revisions of the preface to The Communist Manifesto. Upon the text's seventy-fifth anniversary, Algernon Lee explored the European influences on Marx and Engels as they were formulating their ideas. With The Communist Manifesto's one hundredth birthday, Paul M. Sweezy and Leo Huberman reexamined the text's history and its international significance. Some critics have explored the authors' own lives and education in an effort to elucidate The Communist Manifesto. Others have detected a wide and diverse range of influences on the work, including Romanticism, French materialist philosophy, millenarianism, Darwinism, and gothic melodrama. Rhetorical analyses of the text have been conducted, as have economic, political, cultural, and philosophical readings. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union The Communist Manifesto has increasingly been examined as an historical document, as the product of a particular historical moment. As one of the most important secular documents in human history, however, The Communist Manifesto remains assured of its place in the literary canon, and the philosophy it espouses retains a certain force in contemporary social, economic, and political thought.
“Briefe aus dem Wuppertal” [“Letters from Wuppertal”] (essays) 1839; published in Telegraph für Deutschland
*Schelling und die Offenbarung: Kritik des neuesten Reaktionsversuchs gegen die freie Philosophie (essay) 1842
Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England [The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844] (essay) 1845
*Po und Rhein (essay) 1859
*Savoyen, Nizza und der Rhein (essays) 1860
Essays Addressed to Volunteers (essays) 1861
Der deutsche Bauernkrieg [The Peasant War in Germany] (essay) 1870
†Herr Eugen Dürhings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft: Philosophie; Politische Oekonomie; Sozialismus [Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science; or Anti-Dühring] (essays) 1878
Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus von der Utopie zur Wissenschaft [Socialism, Utopian and Scientific] (essay) 1882
Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats [The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State] (essay) 1884
Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der klassischen deutschen Philosophie [Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy] (essay) 1888
‡Revolution and Counter-Revolution (essays) 1896...
(The entire section is 396 words.)
SOURCE: Lee, Algernon. “Essentials of Marx: General Introduction.” In The Essentials of Marx, pp. 1-24. New York: Vanguard Press, 1926.
[In the following excerpt, Lee discusses the political climate in Europe at the time Marx and Engels were solidifying their theories on economics and class, and maintains that they were influenced by French materialist philosophers, the German philosopher Hegel, and the British economists. Lee finds that the authors of the Communist Manifesto recognized three burgeoning movements—the struggle for political democracy, the trade union movement, and the appearance of underground revolutionary societies—all of which were filtered into their fluid conceptualization of Socialism, Communism, and Marxism.]
In the field of social history all beginnings are relative. Back of whatever we may call the date of origin of any institution or movement lie the conditions and tendencies out of which it grew. With this qualification, 1848 may be counted as the birth-year of modern Socialism, and the issuance of the Communist Manifesto as the first step in the development of a new social force which, challenging all the accepted ideas, assailing all the established institutions, threatening all the vested interests of aristocratic and of capitalist society, boldly set itself the task of putting an end to the exploitation of man by man and of building from the bottom up...
(The entire section is 7762 words.)
SOURCE: Selsam, Howard. “The Ethics of the Communist Manifesto.” In A Centenary of Marxism, edited by Samuel Bernstein and the editors of Science and Society, pp. 22-32. New York: Science and Society, Inc., 1948.
[In the following essay, Selsam examines the ethical basis of The Communist Manifesto and the moral questions it raises. He also explores how the text passes judgment on capitalism, calling for its end, while at the same time eulogizing it as a good system that once worked.]
One hundred years is a nicely rounded period in terms of which to pass judgment on a doctrine or a document, to evaluate or re-evaluate it. How does it stand the test of timeq Can it be used today or is it only of antiquarian interestq Of the Communist Manifesto we can also ask: Has its ethics been repudiated or confirmedq Has the world acquired a new ethic which supersedes that of the Manifestoq How has the century that has passed illuminated the ethical issues it raisedq Can the bourgeois world today avoid, as it tries to evade, the moral judgment pronounced on it by Marx and Engelsq
But the question can be raised as to whether the Communist Manifesto is a moral document, whether it embodies an ethic in the sense of an all-embracing system of morality. It plainly does not if one seeks an explicit system of fully developed premises from which a body of...
(The entire section is 5187 words.)
SOURCE: Sweezy, Paul M., and Leo Huberman. “The Communist Manifesto after 100 Years.” In The Communist Manifesto. Principles of Communism. “The Communist Manifesto” after 100 Years, edited by Paul M. Sweezy and Leo Huberman, pp. 87-113. New York: Modern Reader Paperbacks, 1968.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1949, Sweezy and Huberman provide an overview of the history of socialism and discuss the Communist Manifesto in terms of historical materialism, class struggle, the nature of capitalism, the inevitability of socialism, and the road to socialism.]
THE HISTORICAL IMPORTANCE OF THE MANIFESTO
What gives the Manifesto its unique importance? In order to answer this question it is necessary to see clearly its place in the history of socialism.
Despite a frequently encountered opinion to the contrary, there was no socialism in ancient or medieval times. There were movements and doctrines of social reform which were radical in the sense that they sought greater equality or even complete community of consumer goods, but none even approached the modern socialist conception of a society in which the means of production are publicly owned and managed. This is, of course, not surprising. Production actually took place on a primitive level in scattered workshops and agricultural strips—conditions under which public...
(The entire section is 8585 words.)
SOURCE: Randall, Francis B. “Introduction: Marx the Romantic.” In The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, translated by Samuel Moore, edited by Joseph Katz, pp. 8-41. New York: Washington Square Press, 1964.
[In the following excerpt, originally written in 1963, Randall explores the Romantic influences on both Marx and The Communist Manifesto, with special focus on Marx's experience and a close reading of the first two chapters of the Manifesto.]
Early in 1848 there were no communist states in the world and no revolutionary governments of any sort. There was no Communist party in our sense and no revolutionary organizations or even trade unions of any size. A few countries of northwest Europe and a few areas of the United States were industrializing rapidly, but there was no city in the world—even London—much bigger than two million people, and no state—even Great Britain—in which a majority of the people did not live in the country and farm for a living. Every country in the world—except the Americas and Switzerland—was a monarchy of some sort, and in most of them the king, emperor, tsar, or sultan ruled absolutely and without any formal check. Even in free America there were millions of slaves, and even in free Great Britain most men were too poor to qualify for the vote. No woman in the civilized world—save possibly Queen Victoria—was fully and legally...
(The entire section is 5717 words.)
SOURCE: Bosmajian, Haig A. “A Rhetorical Approach to the Communist Manifesto.” In Karl Marx: “The Communist Manifesto,” edited by Frederic L. Bender, pp. 189-99. New York: Peter Lang, 1988.
[In the following excerpt, originally published in 1963-64, Bosmajian looks at some of Marx's literary influences and provides an analysis of the rhetorical style of the Communist Manifesto.]
Late in February, 1848, an octavo pamphlet of thirty pages published by a German printer in London at 46 Liverpool Street, Bishopsgate, appeared for the first time with a title page which read, in part: “Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei. … Prolertarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch.” The ideas expressed in this Manifest had been presented, for the most part, previously in speeches, books, and pamphlets by predecessors and contemporaries of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In fact, Marx and Engels, in their own writings, had previously presented the ideas that finally made up the Communist Manifesto. However, of the many “socialist-communist” tracts written during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was the Communist Manifesto which survived to be translated into almost one hundred different languages.
Why has it been the Manifesto which has survived to influence so many people in so many lands during the past one hundred years when other...
(The entire section is 4807 words.)
SOURCE: Laski, Harold J. Introduction to The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, pp. 3-105. New York: Pantheon Books, 1967.
[In the following excerpt, Laski provides brief character studies of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and presents a section-by-section analysis of the Communist Manifesto. The critic acknowledges that the Manifesto is an immensely important document because it pulls from an enormous body of thought and writing to lay out a concise logical whole that goes beyond thought and philosophy to offer a revolutionary plan for the workers of the world.]
The Communist Manifesto was published in February, 1848. Of its two authors, Karl Marx was then in his thirtieth, and Friedrich Engels in his twenty-eighth, year. Both had already not only a wide acquaintance with the literature of socialism, but intimate relations with most sections of the socialist agitation in Western Europe. They had been close friends for four years; each of them had published books and articles that are landmarks in the history of socialist doctrine. Marx had already had a stormy career as a journalist and social philosopher; he was already sufficiently a thorn in the side of reactionary governments to have been a refugee in both Paris and Brussels. Engels, his military service over, and his conversion to socialism completed after he had accepted the...
(The entire section is 16417 words.)
SOURCE: Prawer, S. S. “World Literature and Class Conflict.” In Karl Marx and World Literature, pp. 138-149. London: Oxford University Press, 1976.
[In the following excerpt, Prawer details the literary devices and references present in the Communist Manifesto, while also examining the origins and intentions of the work.]
National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures there arises a world literature.
(MEW [Werke] IV, 466)
‘The combination of scientific analysis with moral judgment’, Bottomore and Rubel have said, ‘is by no means uncommon in the field of social studies. Marx is unusual, and his work is exceptionally interesting, because, unlike any other major social thinker, he was the recognized leader, and subsequently the prophet, of an organized political movement.’1 The document, however, which was to do more than any other to ensure such recognition, the Manifesto of the Communist Party,2 went almost unnoticed when it first appeared in London in February 1848. Composed jointly by Marx and Engels at the invitation of the Communist League, this manifesto is pervaded from the very start by what may justifiably be called ‘literary’ imagery: metaphors,...
(The entire section is 4249 words.)
SOURCE: Davidson, Rondel V. “Reform versus Revolution: Victor Considérant and the Communist Manifesto.” In Karl Marx: “The Communist Manifesto,” edited by Frederic L. Bender, pp. 93-104. New York: Peter Lang, 1988.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1977, Davidson examines the influence Victor-Prosper Considérant's Manifest de la démocratie pacifique (1843) had on Marx and Engels' philosophy and their subsequent writing of the Communist Manifesto. The critic considers arguments that the Communist Manifesto is a mere translation of Considérant's work, and demonstrates where the two works are similar and where they are fundamentally different.]
Despite voluminous publications relating to the development of Marxism, the specific origins of the Communist Manifesto remain subject to scholarly debate. One of the most important and unresolved controversies deals with the relationship between Marx and Engels' publication of 1848 and the French Fourierist, Victor-Prosper Considérant's Manifeste de la démocratie pacifique, originally published in 1843 as the introduction to his newspaper, Démocratie pacifique, and reissued in book form under the title, Principes du socialisme, Manifeste de la démocratie au XIXe siècle, in 1847. What little scholarship has been produced on this subject is extremely polemical, superficial and...
(The entire section is 5420 words.)
SOURCE: Hodges, Donald Clark. “Conclusion: Assessing the Manifesto.” In The Literate Communist: 150 Years of “The Communist Manifesto,” pp. 185-98. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.
[In the following excerpt, Hodges looks at the Communist Manifesto's literary and religious tradition, and its importance to Russia in the late nineteenth century. He also follows its influence into the twentieth century as it affected the Russian revolution, the rise of Soviet power, and the subsequent fall of the Communist bloc.]
The Manifesto of Marx and Engels begins with the balance sheet of historical evolution at the threshold of the crucial year 1848. A new balance sheet is called for today.
Lucien Laurat, Le Manifeste communiste de 1848 et le monde d'adjourd'hui (1948)
How has the Manifesto stood the test of time? As Engels proudly observed, “the history of the Manifesto reflects, to a great extent, the history of the modern working class movement.” Besides hope for the toiling masses—albeit a false hope—he believed that it had opened their eyes to the reality underlying the surface of modern society. Would that it were so!
Looking backward, one is struck by two sides to the Manifesto's ledger. On one side, it appealed to workers and intellectuals alike, as the...
(The entire section is 5986 words.)
SOURCE: Ahmad, Aijaz. “The Communist Manifesto in Its Own Time, And in Ours.” In A World to Win: Essays on the “The Communist Manifesto,” edited by Prakash Karat, pp. 14-47. New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 1999.
[In the following essay, Ahmad looks at the Communist Manifesto as both Marx's first mature work and a transitional text in the development of his philosophy. The critic also examines the Manifesto's conception of the bourgeoisie and the Marxist perspective on the laws of history.]
It is said that the Bible and the Quran are the only two books that have been printed in more editions and disseminated more widely than The Communist Manifesto. This brief and terse text thus has a pre-eminent position in the entire history of secular literature. Some sense of the breadth of its influence can be gauged from the fact that some 544 editions are known to have been published in 35 languages—all of them European languages, one might add—even prior to the Bolshevik Revolution; there must have been during that same period other editions which are not known, and infinitely greater number of editions were to be published, in very many more languages, European and non-European, after the Revolution of 1917. It is worth emphasizing, furthermore, that, unlike the two religious books that are said to have had a wider circulation, the Manifesto is barely one hundred...
(The entire section is 13154 words.)
SOURCE: Habib, Irfan. “The Reading of History in the Communist Manifesto.” In A World to Win: Essays on the “The Communist Manifesto,” edited by Prakash Karat, pp. 48-67. New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 1999.
[In the following essay, Habib considers the primary goal of the Communist Manifesto to have been the formulation of a concise text that contextualized history and took thought in a new direction by solidifying and then disseminating the ideas that would lead to revolution. However, the critic explains, the text and its theories evolved with time, and this evolution should be kept in mind by subsequent students of Socialism and The Communist Manifesto.]
Set to draft The Communist Manifesto for publication early in 1848, Marx and Engels were called upon to give a popular form to their understanding of philosophy, history, economics and politics, and to frame a practical programme on this basis. The effort was at once both summation and creation: summation of principles that they had come to grasp both independently and together in the preceding five years, and creation to deal with lacunae that to be filled up. The task was brilliantly performed making the Manifesto undoubtedly the most important single document in the annals of the Communist movement. There is no need of special justification, therefore, to analyse its contents with exceptional care.
(The entire section is 6465 words.)
Bender, Frederic L. “Historical and Theoretical Backgrounds of the Communist Manifesto.” In Karl Marx: “The Communist Manifesto,” edited by Frederic L. Bender, pp. 1-39. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1988.
Analyzes the historical and theoretical influences on The Communist Manifesto.
Hobsbawm, Eric. Introduction to The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, pp. 1-29. London: Verso, 1998.
Provides an overview of The Communist Manifesto, the events surrounding its creation, and the social and political movements it inspired.
Hodges, Donald Clark. “Introduction: Understanding the Manifesto.” In his The Literate Communist: 150 Years of the “Communist Manifesto,” pp. 1-14. New York: Peter Lang, 1999.
Examines The Communist Manifesto's history and its influence on Russian and Soviet Communism, and considers whether Soviet Marxism self-destructed as a result of its “communist legacy” or as a result of its Marxist component.
Karat, Prakash. Introduction to A World to Win: Essays on “The Communist Manifesto,” edited by Prakash Karat, pp. 1-13. New Delhi: LeftWord Press, 1999.
Provides an overview of the history of The Communist Manifesto upon its one hundred fiftieth...
(The entire section is 419 words.)