In the eighth of our series exploring the books of Penguin’s Great Ideas Collection, Sophie Kingham reviews Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ groundbreaking work ‘The Communist Manifesto’, originally published in 1848.
“The history of all hitherto society is the history of class struggles”.
In today’s society, where working men are calling for higher taxes for the rich, where MP’s are thought to be out of touch with the lower classes, where those with money can exploit those without, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is just as relevant as it was when first published, written at a time when France, Germany, Italy, and many other countries were on the edge of political revolutions.
Recognised as one of the most influential political manuscripts, Marx and Engels often use long-winded, complex sentences, like so many other writers do in this Great Ideas Collection, to convey ideas of working class society and their fight against those with money and power. These long-winded sentences can make for difficult reading with the amount of information and details used, but are broken up periodically with short, pithy sentences that are powerful and evocative – an attempt to encourage a revolution among the struggling working class.
The bourgeois society (the middle-class), according to Mark and Engels, establish “new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle” in order to keep the proletarian (working class) society from bettering themselves. Throughout history, there has always been this constant battle between the bourgeois and the proletariat;
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journey man, 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
This class struggle is ongoing; it is suggested that there is a constant cycle of the working class uprising to overthrow the middle and upper classes and bring equality and better lives to everyone, before things resort back to the old order over time.
Communists are the political party that represent the working class, “they have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.” Marx and Engels discuss the relationship of conscious communists to the rest of the working class;
The communists are distinguished from other working class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.
They are fighting for every proletariat, not just one cross section; they are an organised party aiming for the abolition of the “exploitation of the many by the few”, and are defended in this manifesto from various objections, such as the claim that a communist society will have no incentive to work, meaning that labour will not be performed.
Marx and Engels list several demands that need to happen for a stateless and classless society, based on the aims of the communists, before discussing the literature of communism and other socialist parties, taking into account several sub-sections of these parties, such as reactionary, conservative, petty bourgeois and German or ‘true’ socialism. This particular publication also contains the prefaces to the German, Russian, English, Polish and Italian editions of the book, all encouraging the workers of the world to unite!