By Kate Coyne
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 1857

A manifesto for today

This article is over 20 years, 11 months old
A new edition of a classic should be at the heart of debates on the fight for a better world
Issue 1857

THERE HAS been an explosion of ideas and debate in the anti-capitalist and anti-war movements. People are hungry for answers, and words have been poured over the inequality, misery and war created by global capitalism and how to stop it. On the eve of a previous wave of protest, one which saw revolution spread across Europe, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote one of the most famous and influential political pamphlets of all time: The Communist Manifesto.

Although it was written over 150 years ago, it could have been written yesterday. The Manifesto examines the workings and consequences of capitalism, providing layer upon layer of analysis.

While it is densely packed it is compelling, accessible, and in parts, written in a near-poetic fashion. ‘All that is solid melts into air,’ is the way Marx and Engels describe the destructive forces of capitalism. Marx and Engels were writing in industrial capitalism’s infancy, when it was composed of only a very small proportion of the world (mainly Britain, and parts of Western Europe and North America).

They predicted its expansion because they saw that its very nature meant it had to keep growing in order to survive. ‘The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.’

The Manifesto describes how industries ‘no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe.’ The Communist Manifesto should be at the centre of the ongoing debate about globalisation today.

The socialist bookshop Bookmarks has launched a new edition of the pamphlet, with an introduction by Socialist Worker editor Chris Harman. While Marx and Engels write in a clear and concrete way, some of the terms they use are no longer in everyday usage so the new edition also contains an explanatory glossary.

But it is easy to grasp what Marx and Engels are saying when they talk about how the misery of the market spreads with capitalism using the ‘cheap prices of its commodities’ as its ‘heavy artillery’. This is exactly how industrialised economies have enslaved Third World countries today.

The Manifesto predicts the growing divide between rich and poor – of the grinding poverty of millions next to obscene overproduction. It describes how every human value is debased and turned into purely cash terms. Their analysis leads to a call for total upheaval of the present system -and points to how that can achieved.

The Manifesto describes how capitalism has created its own potential ‘grave-diggers’ – the working class, or proletarians in the language of the time. Capitalism concentrates workers, increasing communication between different groups, and educates them. Collectively, the working class has enormous power.

The Manifesto argues for change from below, for what is now known as revolutionary socialism and what was called communism in Marx’s time. This is why the title of the book is The Communist Manifesto and not The Socialist Manifesto.

And although it provides sharp criticism of other types of socialism, it is always forward looking. It condemns sectarianism and calls for socialists to ‘support every revolutionary movement against the existing and political order of things’.

Chris Harman ends his introduction by saying, ‘The Communist Manifesto is a text for today… In Seattle at the very end of the 20th century a new anti-capitalist movement was born. This remains a manifesto for it.’

Marx and Engels end with the call, ‘Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. ‘

The new edition of The Communist Manifesto is available for just £1 from Bookmarks – phone 020 7637 1848. You can also collect copies at the Bookmarks superstore at Marxism 2003 in just over a week’s time.

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