Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels – The Communist Manifesto

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The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, arose in a period of increasing polarisation of society through industrialisation and globalisation in which capitalism expanded. In a period where the working classes were heavily exploited a turn to communism seems, in hindsight, a more respectable response than it does now. However, many of the problems Marx and Engels saw in capitalism haven’t come to pass like its ” need of a constantly expanding market” and apparent inability to support the proletariat.[1]  The social welfare in modern western states now were rather unforeseeable in the capitalist states the authors critique.

It is a short book with a single message summarised in the final sentence, “WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!”.[2] It also sketches a timeline of society, from feudal to capitalist by a bourgeois revolution which then polarises society, increasing the strength and number of the proletariat. Following this, Marx and Engels predicted a proletariat revolution that would introduce socialist and communist ideals, the pinnacle of human society. The incredibly emotive and powerful language that the plea for revolution takes goes some way to explaining why the book is so famous, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”.[3]The Communist movement could be seen as a necessary catalyst for the introduction of socialist ideas into capitalist states that has produced the large welfare systems we now enjoy in the Western World. From this perspective the book is incredibly significant. It rallies the abused peoples from all over the world, indiscriminate of race, colour or gender, a progressive stance to take in the nineteenth century. For this it deserves some recognition.

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However some statements Marx and Engels make strike me as untrue such as “the working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got”.[4] One can see what they mean, that the people at the bottom are not allowed to enjoy the culture of those at the top of their country and so are, in fact, very similar to those at the bottom of every country. But it is wrong to believe that a working class culture unique to each country had not already developed. Traditions, language and religion do not necessitate any economic exchange and are thus prone to shaping, moulding and proliferation by every rung of society.

What Marx and Engels predicted as the pitfalls of capitalism such as rampant unemployment, it’s unsustainable nature in a finite market and it’s development at the expense of working people never surfaced in the modern world. Indeed it has been the self-declared socialist states that have fallen into nadirs like Cuba, North Korea, China, Vietnam and, of course, the Soviet Union. The authors have produced contextually appropriate but fundamentally incorrect evaluations of Communism and Capitalism. The Communist Manifesto will, however, continue to be a well-thumbed text due to its historical significance beyond simply being an ideological reference point for those on one side of the political spectrum.

[1] Marx, K., & Engels, F., The Communist Manifesto trans by S. Moore (Penguin Books, 1888), p. 7.

[2] Ibid., p. 52.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., p. 30.

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