Karl Marx is a man whose name invokes strong emotions in people, ranging from cautious curiosity to outright loathing for the political theory that he introduced to the world. This German- born political and economic philosopher wrote many books in his day, but his most famous was the "Communist Manifesto", published in 1848. Marx wrote this short book to explain his convictions regarding economic, political, and social thought and to explain his strong convictions and complete confidence that Communism was, indeed, the wave of the future.
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Basic Contents of This Book:
This 96- page paperback book is divided into eight sections:
1. Preface to the German Edition of 1872
2. Preface to the Russian Edition of 1882
3. Preface to the German Edition of 1883
4. Preface to the German Edition of 1890
5. Preface to the English Edition of 1888
6. Manifesto of the Communist Party
7. Selected Bibliography
The introduction of this book, written by Martin Malia, is quite lengthy relative to the rest of the book. It covers 30 pages and it provides some important historical background information, to prepare the reader for the Manifesto itself, at the book's end. Malia explains the political, economic, and social conditions in Europe at this time in history. He elaborates on exactly what made Marx so convinced that a socialist revolution was the only way to deal with widening social- class inequities.
In the "preface" sections, Malia has included the introductory sections that were included in the original publications of the Communist Manifesto, back in the 1800's. The German preface of 1872 and the Russian preface of 1882 were both written by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. The other three prefaces were composed solely by Engels. Each preface contains similar propaganda. Marx and Engels make a few brief comments on the successes that Communism had acheived at the time of each publication. They try to emphasize the point, as strongly as possible, that Communist revolutions are going to sweep the world, taking all the world's people under the wings of socialism.
Karl Marx's Core Philosophies:
Next, the book gets to the most important part of all: the actual manifesto of Communism. Marx begins his political discussion by talking about the unending class struggle between the Bourgeois and the Proletarian forces. By "borgeois", Marx is referring to the modern capitalists and owners of production. By "proletarian", he is referring to the working class of laborers. According to Marx, this class struggle has been, and will always be, an integral part of history. And it's only a matter of time until the working classes unite and overthrow the owners of production, thereby establishing a Communistic system of government where wealth would be equally distributed and class divisions would no longer exist.
Marx goes on and explains the relationships between the proletarians and the communist and he spells out what he feels are the primary features of a Communistic form of government. The important factors are:
1. Abolition of private property
2. A heavily progressive or graduated income tax
3. Abolition of all right to inheritence
4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels
5. A centralized, national bank with monopoly government control
6. Centralized government control of all means of communication and transportation
7. Extension of factories and means of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands; and improvement of the soil in accordance with a common plan
8. Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equal distribution of the population over the country
10. Free education for all children in public schools; abolition of child labor in its present form; combination of education with industrial production
Marx felt that, once these changes were implemented, there would no longer be any class antagonism. Everyone would live in peace and harmony, equally sharing in the economic benefits of industry and social welfare.
Marx completes his manifesto by talking about different types of socialism, such as feudal socialism; petty- bourgeois socialism; German (or "true") socialism; conservative (or bourgeois) socialism; and critical- utopian socialism and communism. He explains the subtle differences in each system, and points out specific nations (at the time) that were already experiencing a move toward one of these types of socialism, based on the type that was most suitable for that particular country.
The Manifesto ends with Marx triumphantly calling for Communist sympathizers all over the world to no longer conceal their views. The ends can only be attained through forcible overthrow of existing governments. Marx completes his writing with the following quote:
"Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite"!
I could go on and on about the political, economic, and social theory that is presented in this book, but I won't bother. There's not really enough room here for all of the debate that a book of this significance can easily generate.
Marx's core belief was that all people would be better off if there was no class structure and if all wealth was redistributed to ensure that those in need would get what was necessary to sustain themselves. More than anything, Marx called for the abolition of private property as the first step toward realizing this goal. With all property in public hands, Marx reasoned, there would be no reason for one group of the citizenry to feel superior to any other.
This view, like most of those presented by Marx, is essentially flawed. Without property rights and individual ownership, there is no reason to maintain or care about anything. Instead of working toward the common good, a society consisting exclusively of publically- owned property, more often than not, will do virtually nothing to improve and protect the property. This has been proven over and over again, in countries where Communist governments have attempted to achieve the great utopia of a worker's nation.
The idea that certain things like education will be "free" is absurd. There is no such thing as a free lunch, whether it be education, welfare, or anything else. The money has to be taken from someone or something, and then redistributed to the schools, social welfare system, etc.
Marx was a revolutionary, and he felt that the use of force was the only way to achieve these goals. He envisioned a world- wide transformation where Communist uprisings would spread around the world. Slowly, but surely, the entire planet would become a bastion of Communism. For a while, it looked like some of his thinking was becoming reality. At its peak, Communism controlled about 35 percent of the world's population.
But now, most of the world has come to realize that Communism's great promises cannot come true. Many of the former Communist nations have ended their respective regimes in favor of market economies. The standard of living in these Communist countries was far lower than in the capitalistic countries. The economic theory that Marx espoused was essentially flawed because individuals do not exert their efforts for the common good, when forced to do so. Without any personal gain to anticipate, an individual will perform the absolute least possible amount of work necessary.
This edition was written as a sesquicentennial (150 year) anniversary issue. The writing, both by Malia and Marx & Engel, isn't always easy to comprehend. The translation isn't the best, and I often found myself re-reading a paragraph or two, in order to fully understand what message the writers were trying to convey.
It would be very easy to dismiss this book entirely, considering that Karl Marx's predictions, his economic philosophy, his political theory, etc., have all been proven false. It would be easy to just give it a one- star rating for its lack of accurate insight into the future.
But I think this book deserves as least a little more respect than that. It is, after all, a very influential book and it does voice some important political and social concerns from the 1800's.
Taken in the context of its time, the Communist Manifesto makes a little more sense. It doesn't have much practical use today, but it still might be interesting to those who enjoy books about political thought and who are not afraid to venture "outside of the box" by reading a book that was written by a man who many consider to be evil and loathesome.
If you're intrigued by political philosophy, then you might really enjoy this book. I found it a little redundant and outdated for the modern world. But I'm glad that I at least gave it a fair chance by reading about Karl Marx, the man who introduced the world to Communism.
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