A vivid description of the intellectual and political ferment of nineteenth-century Europe, Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto is one of history's most important documents.
This powerful call to arms in the name of social change is presented in a beautifully illustrated hardback edition, and includes an introduction describing the pamphlet's enduring relevance to the tumultuous landscape of modern politics.
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INTRODUCTION: THE MANIFESTO OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY FOR US
An idea whose time has come again
The importance of The Manifesto of the Communist Party nearly 200 years after it was written is surprising. It didn't begin as a powerful statement by important people. Published in 1848, the Manifesto came about after a conspiratorial London group called the League of the Just contacted Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who had formed a network of Communist Correspondence Committees. The Central Committee of the League of the Just convinced Marx and Engels to join them in a new, more open, Communist League. The League would publish Marx's and Engels' critical communist ideas in a public statement of the League's doctrine. Marx and Engels agreed, but Marx delayed finishing the text. The Central Committee had to harass him to get the manuscript, threatening to take 'further measures' against him if he didn't deliver. Even then, the text didn't carry out the assignment: Marx produced not a manifesto specific to the League but something more, a broader statement of how communists see the world. He even changed the name, delivering not The Communist Manifesto but The Manifesto of the Communist Party, a party which didn't actually exist. In the first published version, neither the name of the group commissioning the manifesto nor those of its authors appeared on its cover. A manuscript handed in late, with no author, sponsored by no one, in the name of a non-existent party, changed the world.
The event that most profoundly registers this change is the 1917 Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks, the more militant faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), led a movement of workers, soldiers and peasants in overthrowing tsarism and establishing the world's first socialist workers' republic. Just as the Manifesto predicted, the oppressed overthrew the oppressors. The class struggle at the basis of history once again resulted in the revolutionary reconstitution of society. The working class seized political power. After the revolution, the RSDLP changed its name to the Communist Party, occupying the space opened up by the Manifesto. This re-issue of The Communist Manifesto one hundred years after this revolutionary event pushes us to occupy this space again and take the perspective of revolution.
Is this a perspective we can take now? The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. For some, this means the time of revolution has passed. They claim that capitalism and democracy won. Capitalism and democracy, blended together and practically the same, proved themselves to be better, preferable, more efficient. Communism doesn't work, we are told, handed the end of the USSR as evidence, as if history is always and forever the endless repetition of the same. Instead of revolution, we should direct our energies toward incremental changes. We should work for capitalism with a human face. We can't change the world, but we can focus on ourselves, on the self-transformation that comes from self-work, self-love, self-care. We can even resist, carving out little moments of freedom when we spit on the burger before serving it with a smile. But, the defenders of the status quo insist, there is no need here and now for socialists, much less critical communists who 'everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.'
Don't believe it. The uprisings, demonstrations, occupations and revolts of the first decades of the twenty-first century indicate that capitalist democracy claimed victory too soon. These days the failure of the system into which capitalism and democracy have converged is clear. Dramatic increases in economic inequality have convinced millions of people across the globe of the inability of capitalism to meet basic needs for food, housing, health, clean water and education. Planetary warming, mass extinctions, sea level rise and desertification point to the capitalist system's threat to life on earth. Corporations, financial institutions and international organisations and agreements block the people from political arenas that claim to be democratic, pushing those who want to be heard onto online networks and into the streets. One hundred years since the Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace, political movements across the globe are taking the perspective of revolution. A new generation is returning to communism. It is an idea whose time has come again.
The communist revolutionary Nadezhda Krupskaya said that for her husband, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, 'the teachings of Marx were a guide to action'. Yet more than ten years before the Russian Revolution, the head of the German Social Democratic Party, Karl Kautsky, suggested that the Manifesto was obsolete. Kautsky admitted that the Manifesto's principles and method were correct. Yet he used those principles and method to argue that much of the Manifesto's description of bourgeois society no longer applied. The political and economic conditions of Western Europe pointed to evolution not revolution. Kautsky admitted things were different in Russia. For Russian socialists, the Manifesto remained 'the best and most reliable guide', 'a compass upon the stormy ocean of the proletarian class struggle'.
What about for us? Does it make sense to think that a text that the leading German socialist thought was outdated 60 years after its publication can provide us with a guide to action? The answer is yes – now more than ever.
The fundamental premise of The Communist Manifesto is that economic production and circulation and the social organisation that follows from it are the basis of the politics and ideas characteristic of a particular epoch. From the perspective of political action, this means that those who are interested in revolutionary change have to begin with an understanding of the economy.
The Manifesto describes the world of nineteenth-century capitalism, what Marx refers to as the epoch of the bourgeoisie (although Engels is listed as co-author, he credited Marx for the basic ideas). Arising out of – and thereby destroying – feudal property relations, the bourgeoisie revolutionised production. 'The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonization 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.' Markets grew. Rising demand and competition pushed the development of Modern Industry. Colossal productive forces were unleashed and with them a need for ceaseless expansion. The constant revolutionising of the instruments of production came to characterise the era. Past values and practices gave way before the value of exchange.
Bourgeois society is chaotic and contradictory. Modern Industry requires armies of workers who need wages to survive, a proletariat. The more developed, complex and specialised industry becomes, the more mind-numbing and repulsive the conditions of labour: the worker 'becomes an appendage of the machine'. Livelihood, even life, is made 'more and more precarious'. The enrichment of the bourgeoisie is accompanied by the pauperisation of the proletariat: the same competition that induces the capitalist to cut wages, compels the worker to accept the reduction. Overproduction generates crises such that production becomes destruction. Crises are endemic.
The Manifesto's description of capitalist society is more accurate today than it was when it was written. The world in the twenty-first century is entirely subsumed by capitalism. The capitalist system is global. Competition, crises and precarity condition the lives of and futures of everyone on earth. No one escapes – although some have accumulated enough capital to allow them better to weather the storm than others. As of 2016, the world's richest 62 people owned as much wealth as half the world's population combined.
Unlike the time of steam engines and telegraphs, contemporary capitalism relies on global telecommunications networks. From the complex logistics that support a trade system built on the concentration of industrial production in special economic zones, to the automation and informatisation of productive processes that standardise and accelerate production while decreasing the need for human labour-power, to the high-speed networks enabling algorithmic trading, hedging and arbitrage in financial markets, to the new capacity for capital to capture the activities through which we reproduce our social lives, capitalism today has become communicative.
In communicative capitalism, capitalist productivity depends on the expropriation and exploitation of communicative processes. Communication serves capital, whether in affective forms of care for producers and consumers, the mobilisation of sharing and expression as instruments for 'human relations' in the workplace, or the contributions to ubiquitous media circuits that provide ever more data and metadata that can be stored, mined and sold. Capitalism has subsumed communication such that communication does not provide a critical outside. In the digital networks of communicative capitalism, each communicative utterance or contribution adds something to the communicative flow. Whether a post is a lie doesn't matter. Whether an article is ill-conceived is unimportant. What matters is simply that something was expressed, that a comment was made, that an image was liked and shared. Even something well-argued, true and important to a matter of real concern rarely or barely registers because the stream of contributions is endless, constant. Something else that is true and important will not just appear tomorrow but is appearing at the same time, in the same feed, making the same demands for attention. As contributions to circuits of information and affect, then, the content of our utterances is unimportant.
As the over-production of words and images intensifies and accelerates, the two merge into memes and emojis. Words are counted in word clouds, measured by number of times repeated rather than considered for what they might mean. People circulate images, unsure as to how ideas expressed in words will be interpreted or received. The decline in a capacity to transmit meaning, to symbolise beyond a limited discourse or immediate, local context, characterises communication's reconfiguration into a primarily economic form. Critique becomes indistinguishable from endorsement as the adage 'there's no such thing as bad publicity' comes to characterise all mediated interactions – at least someone was paying attention. The channels through which we communicate reward number, getting us to believe through our practices that more is better, that popularity is the standard of value. Communicative interactions thereby take on the dynamics and attributes of markets and jettison their critical capacity.
Other names for 'communicative capitalism' are information society, knowledge economy and cognitive capitalism. They designate the same formation, but each highlights something different. 'Information' points to content, although hardware, software and circulation are implied. 'Knowledge' points to combinations of content and skill (know-how and know-that). 'Cognitive' suggests a narrow range of mental operations, a new use of brain power. It is linked to the idea of 'immaterial labour', which has been criticised for ignoring physical labour, embodiment and environmental impacts. 'Communicative' underscores the relation of contemporary networked capitalism to democracy. In communicative capitalism, capitalism merges with democracy, eliminating democracy's capacity to designate a critical gap within the social field. Instead of the means by which the people collectively determine their common lives and work, the practices of free speech, criticism and discussion reinforce capitalism. Television and print blur into social media, where scandal and outrage circulate more easily than policy analyses or careful arguments. Everyday communicative exchanges – proliferating in social media – take on the same forms: memes, lists, emojis, reaction gifs and teasers.
Communicative capitalism is that capitalist system in which democratic practices and ideals of inclusion and participation merge with, enable and accelerate capitalist winner-take-all dynamics of circulation, aggregation, dispossession and accumulation. In the words of the Manifesto, our 'very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of [our] bourgeois production and bourgeois property'. Linguistic, affective and unconscious being together, flows and processes constitutive not just of being human but of broader relationality and belonging, are co-opted for capitalist production. Our basic communicative activities are enclosed in circuits as raw materials for capital accumulation. Our Facebook updates and Google searches, as well as the GPS locations signalled by our mobile phones and the steps, calories and heart rates monitored by our apps, provide data that is stored, mined and sold. Communication serves as a primary means for capitalist expropriation and exploitation.
When capitalism subsumes basic communicative activities, most of us can't avoid producing for capitalism. The concept of 'circuits of exploitation' helps explain why as it draws out the paid, precarious and unpaid labour that global communication networks link together. Consider the smartphone. It is produced by factory labour, is a tool for multiple types of paid as well as precarious labour, and provides a key means through which content provided by unpaid communicative labour is generated, circulated, stored and mined. The circuit of exploitation around the smartphone links activities that take place continents apart: the extractive mining that provides the phone's raw materials, the enormous factories in which the phones are assembled, and the sleek corporate campuses where the phones are designed. Further nodes in the circuit include mobile work – work that relies on smartphones as tools for making connections and supplying content, support work – such as sales, tech-support, call centres and programming – and the work of social reproduction – communicative activities through which we build lives together with friends and family. A final node in the circuit of exploitation is e-waste, the seemingly endless mountains of outdated equipment piling up in dumps and landfills. The smartphone, then, lets us see how such radically different activities as mining, texting, sharing on social media and using apps for rides and deliveries are processes in the circuit through which capitalism intensifies competition and extracts value.
The computer scientist Jaron Lanier writes, 'We've decided not to pay most people for performing the new roles that are valuable in relation to the latest technologies. Ordinary people "share," while elite network presences generate unprecedented fortunes.' Facebook illustrates Lanier's point. Facebook has over a billion active users. We make it in common, but it does not belong to us. Critics of Facebook tend to focus on issues like bullying, addiction and, more seriously, surveillance and threats to privacy. They take the form of massive social media for granted and focus on the content, the use. By ignoring the form, they neglect how social media manifests the fact that production is always production for others. Whether affect or information, production in social media is reflexive, a production of relations. In social media, the co-operation of different individuals appears as what it is, the productive force that arises out of our combined and multiplied efforts. Rather than congealed within a commodity form that renders relations between people as relations between things, the social substance manifests itself in a clear, visceral way on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, in all massively popular social media.
The production of the social substance that we see in Facebook and Twitter is not for itself – someone else owns it. There are a billion users and one billionaire. Facebook is explicit about this. The website declares: 'Our product development philosophy centers on continuous innovation in creating products that are social by design, which means they place people and their social interactions at the core of the product experience.' Because of property relations that allow a common product to be owned by a single person (or a corporation which, in US law, is a person), producing social relations does not enable producers to procure means of life, means of subsistence. You can't eat your friends. With social media the production of social relations is for someone else, the capitalist. We are alienated from our means of socialising even as we are completely immersed in them. The more immersed we are, the more alienated insofar as there are more hits and clicks and page views to be tracked, auctioned, sold and put back to capitalist use. On social media, alienation is less a subjective experience than it is an objective process.
Excerpted from "The Communist Manifesto"
Copyright © 2017 Pluto Press.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
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Table of ContentsContents
MANIFESTO OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY 4
I. BOURGEOIS AND PROLETARIANS 5
II. PROLETARIANS AND COMMUNISTS 14
III. SOCIALIST AND COMMUNIST LITERATURE 21
1. REACTIONARY SOCIALISM 21
2. CONSERVATIVE, OR BOURGEOIS, SOCIALISM 25
3. CRITICAL-UTOPIAN SOCIALISM AND COMMUNISM 26
IV. POSITION OF THE COMMUNISTS IN RELATION TO THE VARIOUS EXISTING OPPOSITION PARTIES 28
What People are Saying About This
"the greatest charter of our movement." Rosa Luxemburg "an integral and systematic exposition of [Marx's] doctrine ... the best to this day." Lenin "laid the foundation for modern socialism." Karl Kautsky
Reading Group Guide
For much of the twentieth century, The Communist Manifesto was accepted as doctrine by those living under Communist rule as well as by those caught up in the fervor of revolutionary political activity, while others considered it a piece of propaganda of interest mainly to scholars of political history and international relations. But the Manifesto is really an extended set of provocative answers to questions about Communism, which emerged in the 1840s as a new vision of history and the nature of humans as historical beings, determined in all aspects by the material conditions of society. And as a work that places so much importance on the connection between ideas and artifacts and their historical moment, it has its own history.
In June 1848, less than six months after the Manifesto's first publication, Marx advocated shelving the document and disbanding the Communist League, which had requested in late 1847 that Marx and Engels write the Manifesto. After the widespread and unsuccessful revolutionary activity across Europe earlier in the year, it was already clear to Marx that the immediacy of the program outlined in the Manifesto could not well serve the political and social conditions of the times. Over the next twenty years, the Manifesto was largely disregarded. In the 1870s, with Marx prominent in the international socialist movement, the Manifesto came to be honored more as a document of symbolic historic significance than as a viable plan of action. By then, the vehement call to revolution in the Manifesto had been superseded by the move to accommodate different class interests within and through existing political structures, best exemplified by the flourishing of labor unions and reform legislation.
The Manifesto did not achieve canonical status as the essential informing document of the world Communist revolution until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia and the rise of Lenin. Treated for decades as a piece of writing imbedded in an era long past, the Manifesto came to be regarded as a perennial outline of political direction. Like sacred scripture, it engendered a body of orthodox interpretation, carefully constructed to fit to the changing world scene what were considered its universal propositions.
But what of the intrinsic qualities of the Manifesto? What assures that it will be read and discussed regardless of political circumstances? In part 2, Marx and Engels assert, "The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes" (p. 234-235). Marx and Engels, it would seem, intended the Manifesto not only to make clear to the world the political positions and views of Communists, in order to dispel the specter of misconception, but to also describe the causes and directions of historical change as manifested through the clear-eyed view of Communists.
In brief form, the Manifesto presents nothing less than a unified theory of historical dynamics, with class struggle as the central motive and all manifestations of politics and culture, including art and literature, derived from the prevailing system of material production. This gives way to an almost exuberant characterization of capitalist productive achievement that still holds our attention as a completely recognizable portrait of the relentless drive of modern industry and trade. Set against capitalism's wonders is the human cost of being subject to a system that drains personal incentive, wears out the body and mind, and results in profound alienation from the value of one's productive activities. The plight of the proletariat forces us to consider the harrowing condition of humanity stripped of all comforting illusions: "...man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind" (p. 223).
But Marx and Engels ultimately are concerned with the advent of a world in which the conditions of life will be uniformly benign and in which human relations will be in some way improved. What would be the moral basis of such a world? Marx and Engels claim that "Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis" (p. 242). In the end, readers of the Manifesto must confront a paradox that arises whenever we conceive of the individual as largely determined by circumstances. For the Manifesto is both a prediction of an inevitable course of history and a rallying cry to act in a certain way for the purpose of bringing about change and improvement. How to act autonomously in a world determined by forces more powerful than the individual is a timeless question.
ABOUT KARL MARX AND FRIEDRICH ENGELS
Karl Marx was born in 1818 to a professional family in Prussia with liberal political leanings, which, at that time, were likely to attract police surveillance. After a vigorous academic career at the University of Berlin, where he was influenced by the historical doctrines of the philosopher Hegel, Marx became editor of a radical newspaper in Cologne, which was soon suppressed. He then left with his new wife for Paris, where he began to meet with Communist organizations of French and German workers and formulate his socialist views.
Friedrich Engels, born in 1820, came from a family of affluent industrialists and quickly developed a capacity for leading a double life. While successfully tending to family business interests as manager of and partner in textile factories in Germany, and later in Manchester, England, he pursued his involvement in revolutionary politics through writing and meeting with radical workers' groups. In 1844, he published his classic study of the social ravages of industrialized society, The Condition of the Working Class in England.
Marx and Engels began their lifelong partnership to establish what has become known as Marxist Communism during a ten-day visit in Paris in 1844. Marx once remarked that their enemies used the singular verb when speaking of "Marx-Engels." However, though joined by their mutual commitment to the cause of revolutionary socialism, they were very different in temperament and background. Engels was brisk and lighthearted, with all the social refinements of a bourgeois gentleman, while Marx was the stereotype of the ponderous scholar—slow, careful, and somber. Though he lived in London for thirty-four years, Marx never learned to speak English fluently; Engels was fluent in more than a dozen languages.
In 1847, Engels helped organize the Communist League in London; the following year, he and Marx drafted a statement of principles for this group, Manifesto of the Communist Party. By this time, Marx had moved to Brussels after a series of expulsions from France and Germany. After the unsuccessful European revolutions of 1848, which occurred immediately after the publication of the Manifesto, Marx returned to Germany to edit a newspaper. When this failed, he settled permanently in London in 1849. Earning very little from his writing and dependent on the generosity of Engels, Marx pursued his studies in economic and social history in the library at the British Museum. During fourteen years of isolation from politics, he began to write a series of books on economic theory. The culmination of these writings was his greatest work, Capital, for which Engels provided essential information about business practices and industrial operations.
With the founding of the International Working Men's Association in 1864, Marx emerged from obscurity to be a leading spirit in the movement to unite workers across political boundaries, one of the goals professed sixteen years earlier in theManifesto. After the Paris Commune was crushed in 1870, Marx became an internationally known figure, declaring, "Its martyrs are enshrined forever in the great heart of the working class." After Marx's death in 1883, Engels used his considerable social and writing skills and persuasive abilities to popularize their mutual views. Until his death in 1895, he was generally regarded as the foremost authority on the body of economic and social theory known as Marxism.
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843) and Hard Times (1854)
The popular Christmas story can be read in light of what is referred to in the Manifesto as "conservative, or bourgeois, socialism"—the attempt to ameliorate the misery of the working class through charitable works. Published soon after theManifesto, Hard Times portrays the conditions in mid-nineteenth-century industrial England that provoked Marx and Engels's critique of capitalism.
V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (1917)
The chief architect of the Russian Revolution draws on the work of Marx and Engels to substantiate the imminent seizing of power and establishing of a proletarian dictatorship.
Karl Marx, Capital (1867)
This work elucidates the revolutionary implications of the capitalist system of production and argues that its demise is an inevitable consequence of its own development.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)
This signal work of social philosophy includes a searching critique of Marx's theory of historical inevitability, arguing that it contains principles antithetical to the values of modern, liberal democracies.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755)
This essay speculates that the establishment of private property underlies civil society and is the root cause of all social inequalities and class differences. Rousseau's sentiments fed the fervor of revolutionaries and socialists, including Marx and Engels, for a century.
Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906)
In graphic detail, this novel of social realism depicts the brutalizing effects of industrial production on the lives of workers in the Chicago stockyards. Like the Manifesto, it conveys the impressive efficiency of capitalism while deploring its human cost.