Communist Manifesto


Initial publication and obscurity, 1848–72

In late February 1848, the Manifesto was anonymously published by the Workers' Educational Association (Communistischer Arbeiterbildungsverein) at Bishopsgate in the City of London. Written in German, the 23-page pamphlet was titled Manifest der kommunistischen Partei and had a dark-green cover. It was reprinted three times and serialised in the Deutsche Londoner Zeitung, a newspaper for German émigrés. On 4 March, one day after the serialisation in the Zeitung began, Marx was expelled by Belgian police. Two weeks later, around 20 March, a thousand copies of the Manifesto reached Paris, and from there to Germany in early April. In April–May the text was corrected for printing and punctuation mistakes; Marx and Engels would use this 30-page version as the basis for future editions of the Manifesto.

Although the Manifesto's prelude announced that it was "to be published in the English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish languages", the initial printings were only in German. Polish and Danish translations soon followed the German original in London, and by the end of 1848, a Swedish translation was published with a new title—The Voice of Communism: Declaration of the Communist Party. In June–November 1850 the Manifesto of the Communist Party was published in English for the first time when George Julian Harney serialised Helen Macfarlane's translation in his Chartist magazine The Red Republican. (Her version begins, "A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe. We are haunted by a ghost, the ghost of Communism.")[4] For her translation, the Lancashire-based Macfarlane probably consulted Engels, who had abandoned his own English translation half way. Harney's introduction revealed the Manifesto's hitherto-anonymous authors' identities for the first time.

Soon after the Manifesto was published, Paris erupted in revolution to overthrow King Louis Philippe. The Manifesto played no role in this; a French translation was not published in Paris until just before the working-class June Days Uprising was crushed. Its influence in the Europe-wide revolutions of 1848 was restricted to Germany, where the Cologne-based Communist League and its newspaper Neue Rheinische Zeitung, edited by Marx, played an important role. Within a year of its establishment, in May 1849, the Zeitung was suppressed; Marx was expelled from Germany and had to seek lifelong refuge in London. In 1851, members of the Communist League's central board were arrested by the Prussian police. At their trial in Cologne 18 months later in late 1852 they were sentenced to 3–6 years' imprisonment. For Engels, the revolution was "forced into the background by the reaction that began with the defeat of the Paris workers in June 1848, and was finally excommunicated 'by law' in the conviction of the Cologne Communists in November 1852".

After the defeat of the 1848 revolutions the Manifesto fell into obscurity, where it remained throughout the 1850s and 1860s. Hobsbawm says that by November 1850 the Manifesto "had become sufficiently scarce for Marx to think it worth reprinting section III ... in the last issue of his [short-lived] London magazine". Over the next two decades only a few new editions were published; these include an (unauthorised and occasionally inaccurate) 1869 Russian translation by Mikhail Bakunin in Geneva and an 1866 edition in Berlin—the first time the Manifesto was published in Germany. According to Hobsbawm, "By the middle 1860s virtually nothing that Marx had written in the past was any longer in print." However John Cowell-Stepney did publish an abridged version in the Social Economist in August/September 1869,[5] in time for the Basle Congress.

Rise, 1872–1917

In the early 1870s, the Manifesto and its authors experienced a revival in fortunes. Hobsbawm identifies three reasons for this. The first is the leadership role Marx played in the International Workingmen's Association (aka the First International). Secondly, Marx also came into much prominence among socialists—and equal notoriety among the authorities—for his support of the Paris Commune of 1871, elucidated in The Civil War in France. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly in the popularisation of the Manifesto, was the treason trial of German Social Democratic Party (SPD) leaders. During the trial prosecutors read the Manifesto out loud as evidence; this meant that the pamphlet could legally be published in Germany. Thus in 1872 Marx and Engels rushed out a new German-language edition, writing a preface that identified that several portions that became outdated in the quarter century since its original publication. This edition was also the first time the title was shortened to The Communist Manifesto (Das Kommunistische Manifest), and it became the bedrock the authors based future editions upon. Between 1871 and 1873, the Manifesto was published in over nine editions in six languages; in 1872 it was published in the United States for the first time, serialised in Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly of New York City. However, by the mid 1870s the Communist Manifesto remained Marx and Engels' only work to be even moderately well-known.

Over the next forty years, as social-democratic parties rose across Europe and parts of the world, so did the publication of the Manifesto alongside them, in hundreds of editions in thirty languages. Marx and Engels wrote a new preface for the 1882 Russian edition, translated by Georgi Plekhanov in Geneva. In it they wondered if Russia could directly become a communist society, or if she would become capitalist first like other European countries. After Marx's death in 1883, Engels alone provided the prefaces for five editions between 1888 and 1893. Among these is the 1888 English edition, translated by Samuel Moore and approved by Engels, who also provided notes throughout the text. It has been the standard English-language edition ever since.

The principal region of its influence, in terms of editions published, was in the "central belt of Europe", from Russia in the east to France in the west. In comparison, the pamphlet had little impact on politics in southwest and southeast Europe, and moderate presence in the north. Outside Europe, Chinese and Japanese translations were published, as were Spanish editions in Latin America. This uneven geographical spread in the Manifesto's popularity reflected the development of socialist movements in a particular region as well as the popularity of Marxist variety of socialism there. There was not always a strong correlation between a social-democratic party's strength and the Manifesto's popularity in that country. For instance, the German SPD printed only a few thousand copies of the Communist Manifesto every year, but a few hundred thousand copies of the Erfurt Programme. Further, the mass-based social-democratic parties of the Second International did not require their rank and file to be well-versed in theory; Marxist works such as the Manifesto or Das Kapital were read primarily by party theoreticians. On the other hand, small, dedicated militant parties and Marxist sects in the West took pride in knowing the theory; Hobsbawm says "This was the milieu in which 'the clearness of a comrade could be gauged invariably from the number of earmarks on his Manifesto'".

Ubiquity, 1917–present

Following the October Revolution of 1917 that swept the Vladimir Lenin-led Bolsheviks to power in Russia, the world's first socialist state was founded explicitly along Marxist lines. The Soviet Union, which Bolshevik Russia would become a part of, was a one-party state under the rule of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Unlike their mass-based counterparts of the Second International, the CPSU and other Leninist parties like it in the Third International expected their members to know the classic works of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Further, party leaders were expected to base their policy decisions on Marxist-Leninist ideology. Therefore works such as the Manifesto were required reading for the party rank-and-file.

Therefore the widespread dissemination of Marx and Engels' works became an important policy objective; backed by a sovereign state, the CPSU had relatively inexhaustible resources for this purpose. Works by Marx, Engels, and Lenin were published on a very large scale, and cheap editions of their works were available in several languages across the world. These publications were either shorter writings or they were compendia such as the various editions of Marx and Engels' Selected Works, or their Collected Works. This affected the destiny of the Manifesto in several ways. Firstly, in terms of circulation; in 1932 the American and British Communist Parties printed several hundred thousand copies of a cheap edition for "probably the largest mass edition ever issued in English". Secondly the work entered political-science syllabuses in universities, which would only expand after the Second World War. For its centenary in 1948, its publication was no longer the exclusive domain of Marxists and academicians; general publishers too printed the Manifesto in large numbers. "In short, it was no longer only a classic Marxist document," Hobsbawm noted, "it had become a political classic tout court."

Even after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in the 1990s, the Communist Manifesto remains ubiquitous; Hobsbawm says that "In states without censorship, almost certainly anyone within reach of a good bookshop, and certainly anyone within reach of a good library, not to mention the internet, can have access to it." The 150th anniversary once again brought a deluge of attention in the press and the academia, as well as new editions of the book fronted by introductions to the text by academics. One of these, The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition by Verso, was touted by a critic in the London Review of Books as being a "stylish red-ribboned edition of the work. It is designed as a sweet keepsake, an exquisite collector's item. In Manhattan, a prominent Fifth Avenue store put copies of this choice new edition in the hands of shop-window mannequins, displayed in come-hither poses and fashionable décolletage."

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