The Communist Manifesto



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The Manifesto of the Communist Party was first published in London in February 1848. It is one of the most impactful and widely-read documents of the past two centuries. The historian A. J. P. Taylor has referred to it as a "holy book," arguing that because of it, "everyone thinks differently about politics and society." Friedrich Engels is often been credited with composing the first text which led to The Communist Manifesto. In July 1847, Engels was elected into the Communist League, where he was assigned to draft a doctrine. His work would become the Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith. The draft contained almost two dozen questions, the posing of which steeled the ideology of both Engels himself and his friend Karl Marx. In October 1847, Engels prepared a second draft for the Communist League under the title The Principles of Communism. The text would not be published until 1914, though it provided the intellectual framework for The Manifesto. When Marx was commissioned by the Communist League, to produce an opus of his own, The Communist Manifesto, he worked off of the foundation built by Engels, fusing it together with his own ideals to create the work we know today.

The names of both Engels and Karl Marx appear on the cover page alongside the "persistent assumption of joint-authorship", in the preface introduction to the 1883 German edition of the Manifesto, Engels writes that the Manifesto was "essentially Marx's work" and that "the basic thought... belongs solely and exclusively to Marx." After Marx's death, Engels elaborated, saying

I cannot deny that both before and during my forty years' collaboration with Marx I had a certain independent share in laying the foundations of the theory, but the greater part of its leading basic principles belongs to Marx....Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented. Without him the theory would not be by far what it is today. It therefore rightly bears his name.

Despite Engels's professions of modesty, he made major contributions to the Manifesto, including the suggestion to abandon "the form of a catechism and entitle it The Communist Manifesto." Moreover, Engels was physically in Brussels with Marx for the writing of the Manifesto. There is no clear indication of what contributions to the final writing were Engels’s, and it is generally agreed on that the Manifest’s rhetorical style is more in line with that of Marx than Engels. Marx and Engels also collaborated to write two other books together, The Holy Family (1845) and The German Ideology (1846). For simplicity, I will only refer to Marx when referencing the author.

The Communist Manifesto has four sections. In the first section, it discusses the Communists' theory of history and the relationship between proletarians and bourgeoisie. The second section explains the relationship between the Communists and the proletarians. The third section addresses the flaws in other, previous socialist literature. The final section discusses the relationship between the Communists and other parties.

The Communist Manifesto reflects an effort to explain not just the aspirations of Communism, but also the intellectual principals fundamental to the movement. Marx argues that class struggles, or the exploitation of one class of people by another, have been the motivating force behind every historical development. According to Marx, class relationships are defined by an era's means of production. However, over time these relationships begin to breakdown, as the developing forces of production cease to be compatible. When this happens, there is a revolution, which forges a new class to emerge, which then becomes the ruling class. This cycle represents the "march of history", as driven by larger economic forces.

Marx goes on to explain that the modern industrial society is characterized by class conflict between the bourgeoisie and proletariat, but describes, the productive forces of capitalism as quickly ceasing to be compatible, and the exploitative relationship is rapidly deteriorating. Thus, the proletariat is on the cusp of a revolution. However, Marx predicts that this revolution will be of a different strain than all those previous, as previous revolutions simply modified property to be more favorable to the new ruling class. This time, by the nature of their class, the members of the proletariat have no way of adopting property. Therefore, by obtaining control they will be forced to destroy the entire concept of, and actual ownership of private property, and classes themselves will cease to exist.

The Manifesto argues that this progress is inescapable, and that capitalism itself is fundamentally unstable. The Communists aim to endorse this revolution, and will advance the parties and associations that are moving history towards what Marx pontificates, its natural conclusion, as the elimination of social classes cannot come about through simple reforms or tweaks in government. Rather, a revolution is required.

One such revolution occurred in 1917. The 1917 Russian Revolution was really a series of revolutions, which pulled apart the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (SFSR). The Emperor was forced to step down and the old regime was replaced by a provisional government during the first revolution in February of 1917. The following October saw a second revolution, where the Provisional Government was removed and replaced with a Bolshevik (Communist) government. This would prove to be the first time that the ideals of Manifesto would actually be put to the test in a real and meaningful way.

The February Revolution centered on Petrograd (St. Petersburg). From the disarray, members of the Imperial Parliament, or Duma, assumed control of Russia, and formed the Russian Provisional Government. Believing that Army leadership did not have the means to quash the revolution, Nicholas II abdicated, making him the last Emperor of Russia.

The Soviets (workers' councils) controlled by the more radical socialist factions, initially permitted the Provisional Government to rule, but insisted on the privilege of influence over the government and authority over various militias. The context of heavy military setbacks during World War I (1914–18), left much of the Russian army in a state of mutiny.

What ensued was a period of dual power, during which the Provisional Government held the power of the state, while the socialist lead national network of Soviets, held sway over the political left and the lower classes. During this tumultuous period there was an abundance of uprisings, protests, strikes and mutinies, and many strikes. With the Provisional Government opting to continue waging war with Germany, the Bolsheviks and other socialist, antiwar factions lobbied to put a stop to the violence. Workers militias under Bolshevik control became the Red Guards (it would later be known as the Red Army) and the Bolsheviks exerted considerable control.

In the October Revolution the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin and the workers' Soviets, deposed the Provisional Government in Petrograd. The Bolsheviks put themselves in charge of various government agencies, took control of the countryside, and established an emergency commission known as the Cheka to put down dissent. The Bolshevik leaders signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918, ending Russia’s participation in World War I.

A civil war burst forth between the "Red" (Bolshevik), and "White" (anti-Bolshevik) factions, and would continue for several years. The Bolsheviks would ultimately be victorious, and in this way, the Revolution paved the way for the dawn of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1922. While many notable historical events occurred in Moscow and St. Petersburg, there was also another visible movement happening in cities throughout the state, among national minorities throughout the empire and in the rural areas, where peasants were taking over and redistributing the land.



A basic theory of property, common to many Russian peasants, was that land should belong to the workers who toil for it. Peasant life and culture was constantly changing. Change was facilitated by the physical movement of peasant villagers migrating to and from industrial and urban environments, but also by the diffusion of city culture into the village via material goods, media, and word of mouth.

The workers discontent was well founded, as overcrowded housing with unsanitary conditions, long hours at work (60-72 hours per week), the threat injury, illness or worse from the poor standards of safety and sanitary, harsh discipline, and inadequate wages. At the same time, from the peasant perspective, urban industrial life was beneficial and preferable, living in cities, workers encountered material goods they had never seen while in the village. Moreover, living in cities exposed them to new ideas on the social and political order. Acquiring new skills gave workers a sense of dignity and confidence, while amplifying quality of life expectations.

While rural agrarian peasants had been emancipated from serfdom in 1861, they still harbored resentment for having to make redemption payments to the state, and demanded communal ownership of the land they worked. The failure of Sergei Witte’s land reforms served to further harden these issues. Peasant disturbances and sometimes full revolts occurred, with the only goal being to secure ownership of their land. 1.5% of the Russian population owned 25% of the land.

The hurried industrialization of urban Russia had resulted in urban overcrowding - a 1904 survey found that an average of sixteen people shared each apartment in St. Petersburg, with six people per room - and poor industrial working conditions. Between 1890 and 1910, the population of the capital of St. Petersburg nearly doubled, growing from from 1,033,600 to 1,905,600, and Moscow experienced similar growth. This created a new proletariat and given the overcrowded nature of their living conditions made protests and strikes much more logistically possible than in previous times. There was no running water. Piles of human waste were allowed to build up and fester. The horrific conditions compounded the situation, as the number of strikes and incidents of public disorder increased in the run up to the revolution.


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