The Manifesto of the Communist Party begins: "A spectre is Haunting Europe – the spectre of Communism." As the anti-capitalist movement grows around the world, this spectre, or ghost, is once again rising, only a decade after the fall of the so-called "Communist" countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Young people in particular are asking – what is the alternative to capitalism? The Manifesto of the Communist Party, written by Marx and Engels, summarises the basic ideas of Marxism and remains an inspiration today.
This Introduction very briefly looks at some of the most fundamental themes of the Manifesto. It attempts to address questions which have arisen in the course of modern struggles against capitalism, and against the oppression and the brutal wars which inevitably arise from capitalism.
It attempts to provide answers to some frequently asked questions about the Marxist ideas proclaimed in the Manifesto.
Where quotes have links in this Introduction they link to their place in the text of the Manifesto. Click on the quotes in the Manifesto to return to your place in the Introduction, or use the back arrow on your browser.
The Communist Manifesto was published on the eve of a great revolutionary turmoil that spread through Europe in 1848. It was written 70 years before the Russian Revolution in 1917 first overturned capitalism. It preceded by 100 years the 1949 Chinese Revolution and the spread of so-called Communism to Eastern Europe – indeed to half the entire globe.
Revolution arose in Paris in 1848, only a few days after the publication of the Manifesto, spreading in a massive wave throughout Europe. Marx and Engels, (aged 29 and 27 respectively) played their part in this revolution, and not just through written agitation. Marx had written "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." (Theses on Feuerback.) When revolution arose, they participated to the full.
But Marx and Engels rejected the anarchist method of the terrorist bomb, and the conspiratorial methods of some contemporary revolutionary groups seeking to carry out a coup. They discovered the special role that the working class (here called the "proletariat") was destined to play in overthrowing capitalism.
They worked continuously to bring their ideas to the most politically advanced members of the working class. For Marx and Engels, the proclamation of the Communist Manifesto had to be intimately linked to the struggles of the working class. They sought out the "most extreme, chiefly proletarian" secret revolutionary league -- the ‘League of the Just.’ From 1843 onwards, Engels explains that he and Marx kept up:
They convinced the League of their ideas in 1847, and immediately joined. The League changed its name to the Communist League. Marx founded a branch of the Communist League in Brussels, Engels attended the three Paris branches, and Marx and Engels were commissioned to draw up the Communist Manifesto, to proclaim these ideas to the world.
This introduction mainly discusses the first chapter. The following chapters, raising demands and criticising political trends current in 1848, while they still act as a guide to the method of Marxism, in practical terms were contingent on the historical conditions of the time.
Some phrases in this famous English translation have become antiquated. For instance, the phrase "Working Men of all countries, unite!" today translates as "Workers of the world unite!"