New Historian

The Manifesto of the Communist Party

Karl Marx

<![CDATA[The Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is a hugely influential and inflammatory book. It is fascinating because it is both a product of the time in which it was created, but also a book that would go on to significantly direct the path of history. The analysis of society, economics and culture the book offers has been refined into a distinct form of historiography, which can tell us as much today as it told its original audience in 1848. Marx and Engels were the leaders of the Communist League, a German Revolutionary Group. The Manifesto was written with the intention of being the defining statement of the group. In reality, it came to take on a much greater significance, creating a framework and critique used by a host of revolutionaries. Europe had been volatile and unstable for much of the nineteenth century. The events of the French Revolution had started a revolutionary fervour that was yet to be extinguished, although the targets of protest were changing. 1789 had been an attack on monarchies and aristocracy, a revolution focused on the disproportionate power invested in individuals. In the nineteenth century attention was turning to the very institutions and mechanisms of society. By the summer of 1848, just a few months after the Manifesto was published, revolutionary groups and the urban poor had set up barricades in a host of European capitals in protest against political and economic oppression. The target was capitalism itself, the system that was believed to breed inequality. Marx and Engels' success was in articulating exactly what was being protested against. The Manifesto was a call to arms for socialist groups around Europe, containing the famous line 'Workers of the world unite'. More importantly, it was an analysis of history and society. The book describes how the capitalist world was divided into two classes; the bourgeoisie who controlled the means of production and the workers who had to sell their labour. An analysis of the alienating effect of labour in capitalist society is described, explaining how humans were deprived of a sense of value and self worth. Perhaps most importantly, the Manifesto reveals Marx's idea of Historic Materialism. This is the theory that each period of history is organised around the need to meet material needs. Marx argued that history was a succession of different modes of production. The progression of epochs was created as antagonisms arose between groups in each system, and modes of production became obsolete. It is difficult to separate the Manifesto from its context. It is easy to just place it in with the unrest of 1848, and view it as a product of the time. Indeed, much of the evidence and examples used by the authors seems irrelevant or obsolete now. The book is also heavily associated with the controversial communist regimes of the later twentieth century, such as the Soviet Union. The methods Marx uses to analyse politics and history are perhaps the most important thing to take from the book. Whole schools of literary criticism and historical analysis have been heavily influenced by his approach. The Manifesto is valuable as both a fascinating document from a volatile time in European history, and a framework for a distinct approach to academic studies. During a time of frequent economic peaks and recessions, the modes of analysis it deploys can still be applied to offer an insight into how the world works.

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Manifesto of the Communist Party
by Karl Marx

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