Essential to understanding human society...

Sep 26, 2005
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Powerful, gripping, at times universal, helps gain and understanding of society

Cons:Long winded, rough, overly specific, at times even childish

The Bottom Line: Everyone should read it. Just be preapared to skim more than a few long winded pages.

In the whole course of Human History, only a few books of political and economic thought can be said to have been truly influential. Plato's Republic, Hobbe's Leviathan, Locke's Treatises…all of these books in one war or another have fundamentally altered the way we think and act in government, for better or for worse. And, like any work that so changes the way we live, these books have inspired every emotion from positive enlightenment and thought, to radical hatred and war.

I start this review by mentioning this, because compared to the trouble this little book caused, the endless wars of Absolute Monarchs (in response to Hobbes), and beheadings by Republican Fanatics (Locke), are a little drop in the bucket. Communism, at it's peak, held sway over more people than any other governmental system in history. The fires that this little book lit have led to millions of death, totalitarian regimes, brutal massacres and on and on and on. So, what is the appeal of this book? Why is it that billions of people around the world stood up and tried to create the world this book promised?

Let me say, first off, that I am a leftie. Indeed, I am left wing as only a Canadian can be. Some parts of this political theory I agree with whole heatedly. Others frighten the wits out of me. But I will try to judge this book based mainly on it's presentation of it's views and the thought it inspires, not on my own views.

Much of this book today, has no real relevance. It starts off with several long prefaces to each edition of the Manifesto published. This prefaces are addressed to "The People of Germany", or the "People of England", and basically state how Communism differs from the various parties in each of those locales. It is not really very interesting, nor does it have much relevance today, when most of these parties are gone.

But then the book begins in truth and you start to get interested. It starts off with a call to arms.

"A spectre is haunting Europe -- the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries? "

This is the opening that Marx and Engels use to begin divulging their political theories. They call upon all those who agree with them to rise up, and take the world that they feel the people deserve. If it was to be through violence, indeed, that was inevitable. A utopia would always require blood.

Basically, they saw all of history as a struggle between classes. There was the poor, working class, oppressed by the upper classes. These were the proletariats, and they make up the vast majority of people in the world. Then, there is the bourgeois. These are the factory owners, the landowners, the nobles, the rich and everyone else. The bourgeois oppressed the proletariats for their profit, making them work hard hours and do tough labor, and then paying them only what they wanted, not what they could afford.

Marx and Engels said that this oppression had been going on since the dawn of time, starting with Kings and Nobles, and now ending up with Factory Owners and big business men. They argued that the rich and wellborn would never stop their oppression. Tyrants don't grow tired of tyranny. So they said that eventually the working class would rise up justly and overthrow the rich to create a utopian society, where everyone was equal and happy.

They lay down the way this society would work very clearly, in a long list of requirements. First, a Dictatorship of Communist leaders, must be set up in order to oversee the transformation of the state into a Communist Society. The chief elements of this society would be, in no particular order

1: Distribution of bourgeois wealth equally amongst all the people of the state.

2: Centralization of people's credit in state banks

3: Strict atheism

4: Free education for all children

5: No child labor

6: Progressive taxation. Taxes would be high, but would be used to make things for the benefit of all. Hospitals, schools, universities etc

7: Abolition of individual property. All land would belong to the state and would, and would be shared by all people

8: No rights of inheritance. Those who didn't earn the money, wont get it unearned

9: Equal obligation of all to work. People would hopefully be able to work in a job of their choice. After all "each according to his ability"

10: Equal distribution of people across the country

11: Government controls all transportation and communication

These points basically summarize all of Marx and Engel's arguments and theories. The rest of the book is basically a long, poorly written rant about various things, going into specific abuses in various countries.

Much of this book is very thought provoking. Personally, I agree with many of the ideas it lays down. But much of it is also just a long, mean spirited attack on various peoples and organizations, such as specific parties that Marx doesn't like, various countries that are ruled by particular lords. And it also tries to explain the difference between Communism and Socialism, claiming they are not the same things at all. This part of the book isn't all that interesting. It loses a lot of the timeless and broad thinking that is so prevalent in much of it, and reads like it was written by some tired old fella, complaining about how the neighbors are dumber than he is. About half of the book is that way, and nothing really relevant comes of it.

A lot of the theories it espouses are also related around specific countries and places, and thus no longer apply today. Technology or politics has taken away a lot of ground for Marx's arguments. He could not have foreseen, for instance, how global technology would make the world, thus making it impossible to control all transportation in and out of the country. Also, many of the ideals he espouses have been achieved without the need for a bloody revolution. Free education for example is fixed in most western countries, and is becoming more common around the world. Child labor is on the decline, and though we still have a long way to go, we are getting there. Indeed, if you want to be really upfront about it, you could argue that many western countries (ie Sweden, Denmark, Germany, etc) have achieved all the benefits of a left wing style society ( free education, free healthcare, racial and religious tolerance, relative financial equality), while still remaining prosperous and democratic. Even in my own country, we have free health care (God forbid it ever go away) etc, and have a spot on the G8, all the while remaining democratic and free.

But there is timelessness about many of the ideas expressed in this work. Workers all around the world are still being oppressed, in countries like Zambia and Brazil, where the gap between rich and poor is very high. Even in our Western Society's, workers at Mcdonalds, Wal Mart, K-Mart etc, will make less than $10 an hour, while CEO's and stockholders will make billions. Doesn't the worker, who drives the company, deserve to be paid a little more respect than that? And something about his words also gives him appeal. Marx defied racial and religious differences and said "Workers of the WORLD unite!" There is a great appeal in that and one finds it hard reading this work not to be moved.

Communism may seem like an ideal to us, gone horribly, horribly sour by the Greed and lust for power of those who led revolutions (ie Stalin, Mao, Fidel). Or it may seem like a mad theory to begin with, one that was destined to go horribly, horribly wrong. But, reading this book, one cannot deny it's power and the way it makes us think. But at the same time, it can be stuffy, boring, longwinded, and even childish.

I think everyone should read this, agree with it or not. Just be prepared to skim more than a few pages.

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