Communist Manifesto

Communist Manifesto Study Guide

In 1846 Karl Marx was exiled from Paris on account of his radical politics. He moved to Belgium where he attempted to assemble a ragtag group of exiled German artisans into an unified political organization, the German Working Men's Association. Marx, aware of the presence of similar organizations in England, called these groups together for a meeting in the winter of 1847. Under Marx's influence this assemblage of working-class parties took the name "The Communist League," discussing their grievances with capitalism and potential methods of response. While most of the delegates to this conference advocated universal brotherhood as a solution to their economic problems, Marx preached the fiery rhetoric of class warfare, explaining to the mesmerized workers that revolution was not only the sole answer to their difficulties but was indeed inevitable. The League, completely taken with Marx, commissioned him to write a statement of their collective principles, a statement which became The Communist Manifesto.

After the conference, Marx returned to Brussels, carrying with him a declaration of socialism penned by two delegates, the lone copy of The Communist Journal, the publication of the London branch of the Communist League, and a statement of principles written by Engels. Although Marx followed Engel's principles very closely, the Manifesto is entirely of his own hand. Marx wrote furiously, but just barely made the deadline the League had set for him. The Manifesto was published in February 1848 and quickly published so as to fan the flames of revolution which smoldered on the Continent. When revolution broke out in Germany in March 1848, Marx traveled to the Rhineland to put his theory into practice. When this revolution was suppressed, Marx fled to London and the Communist League disbanded, the Manifesto its only legacy to the world.

The Manifesto has lived a long and illustrious life. While it was hardly noticed amongst the crowded field of pamphlets and treatises published in 1848, it has had a more profound effect on the intellectual and political history of the world than any single work in the past 150 years. It has inspired the communist political systems which ruled nearly half the world's population at its height and defined the chief ideological conflict of the second half of the twentieth century, altering even those countries which stood firmly against communism, e.g. Western European and American Welfare States. Intellectually, Marx's work has profoundly influenced nearly every field of study from the humanities to the social sciences to the natural sciences. It is hard to imagine an area of serious human inquiry which Marxism has not touched.

But even in the enormous body of work related to Marxism, The Manifesto is undoubtedly unique. Even at its short length (only 23 pages at its first printing), it the only full exposition of his program that Marx wrote. And while Marx developed his views throughout his career, he never departed far from the original principles outlined therein. The Manifesto is, without a doubt, Marx's most enduring literary legacy, setting in motion a movement which has, although not in exactly the way Marx predicted, radically changed the world. As Marx famously asserted in his Theses on Feuerbach, "The philosophers have interpreted the world in many ways. What matters is changing it." No one has epitomized this as much as he.