An introduction to one of the most influential political works ever written.
The Communist Manifesto is one of the most influential political works ever written, Its authors, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, completed it in 1848 with a title in its original German of Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, the Communist lays clear the prospects for political change in Europe and the ways in which Communists should act so as to bring about that change. From its opening line (‘There is a spectre haunting Europe – the spectre of Communism’) to its conclusion (‘The proletarian have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite.”), its style is striking and elegant and much given to being quoted by those interested in the cause of Communism.
The content of the Manifesto includes the analysis of history of Europe from the distant past to the present cast in the light of class struggle. It identifies the working classes (‘proletariat’), which are considered to be led by the urban industrialized working class, as the central focus of political change throughout history – which is an idea that greatly influenced Lenin, who saw the ‘Vanguard of Communism’ as this class together with the leadership of the Communist Party. It was the destiny of this vanguard, according to the Manifesto, to lead the abolition of private property and to be raised up to the position of the ruling class. Lenin believed that the Communist Party was worthy to take up its crucial destiny because only the party could be claimed to have proper understanding of the systematic and scientific basis of Communism, that it was committed to ending the capitalist system and was determined not just to achieve political power but to do so in a way that would lead to revolution no matter what it would take, including the possibility of violent change.
It is easy and very tempting for people who use hindsight to deride the Communist Manifesto as being wholly deluded and inevitably leading to the injustices and unfreedoms meted out to citizens of Communist-controlled states. However, it should also be remembered that a great deal of the analysis in the Manifesto is accurate in identifying the causes of the misery suffered by so many millions of the working poor in Europe – Engels had established his reputation and his political understanding by the thorough research that informed his best-known individual work “The Condition of the Working-Class in England’ (Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England) (1845). It is also true that it was the coming together of people of previously downtrodden classes that brought about the previously unimaginable freedoms of universal emancipation and freedom of association, freedoms which are still denied billions of people around the world.