The Communist Manifesto Introduction
by Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx

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Introduction

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.

Textual History

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...

(The entire section is 1,312 words.)