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Marx’s Manifesto: 170 Years Later

by / 0 Comments / 16/02/2017

The Communist Manifesto is the second biggest-selling book ever published … which is also, I admit, slightly ironic. It was first published in February 1847 and now, 170 years later, remains as relevant as it was when Marx and Engles first wrote it.

 

Regardless of what you might make of Marx and Communism’s disputed and often violent legacy; the Manifesto itself is still one of the most influential political texts of all time. I personally find it incredible that Marx, a man who lived in Victorian London, was able to, loosely anyway, predict things such as the 2008 economic crisis, globalisation, corporate monopoly and even the iPhone.

One of the most common misconceptions about Marx and his work is that he never laid out any real solid foundation for what, in his mind, a Marxist society would look like. His seminal work, Das Kapital, instead served as a highly-detailed critique of capitalism (or political economy) as opposed to a step-by-step guide on how to go about establishing some sort of communist utopia. Certainly, in the words of Robert L. Heilbroner: ‘[W]e turn to Marx … not because he is infallible, but because he is inescapable’.

Below, is the first section of the original Manifesto. If you would like to read it online in full, click here.

Manifesto of the Communist Party

A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.

Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?

Two things result from this fact:

I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power.

II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself.

To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in London and sketched the following manifesto, to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages.

Chapter I. Bourgeois and Proletarians

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

In the earlier epochs of history, we find almost everywhere a complicated arrangement of society into various orders, a manifold gradation of social rank. In ancient Rome we have patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves; in the Middle Ages, feudal lords, vassals, guild-masters, journeymen, apprentices, serfs; in almost all of these classes, again, subordinate gradations.

The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.

Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.

From the serfs of the Middle Ages sprang the chartered burghers of the earliest towns. From these burgesses the first elements of the bourgeoisie were developed.

The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.

The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolised by closed guilds, now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle class; division of labour between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labour in each single workshop.

Meantime the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even manufacturer no longer sufficed. Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionised industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, Modern Industry; the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.

Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in its turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.

We see, therefore, how the modern bourgeoisie is itself the product of a long course of development, of a series of revolutions in the modes of production and of exchange …

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Patrick Ireland is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, entrepreneur and the Creative Director at Shout Out UK. He has degrees in Politics and Filmmaking from both the University of Sheffield and the London Film School. He has directed a variety of short films – often of a political or social nature. Since 2015, he has overseen the creative direction of Shout Out UK’s multitude of different projects. Twitter: @PatrickWIreland