Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Communist Manifesto

As long as I couldn't settle down to read anything, I thought I might as well read the Communist Manifesto.  It's short, it's been on my TBR pile for a long time, and why not?

The Manifesto was written in German by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 to explain the aims of the Communist Party and distance it from other revolutionary movements of the time.  1848 was a volatile year.  In France, the Orleans monarchy gave way to the Second Republic; in England, Chartists rioted but made no headway; Denmark put limits on its monarchy; and all sorts of unrest was going on all over the world.  (That said, my edition gives the text from 1888 edited and with additional notes from Engles.)

Luckily, my little copy had some explanatory information which outlined Marxist theory and history.  Even though I know the basics of Marxism, I had a hard time making sense of the actual Manifesto.  Quite a bit of it is dedicated to explaining how other 19th-century revolutionary groups--mostly various flavors of Socialism--are completely wrong.  Other parts review history from the Communist point of view, and I must say it's the first time in my whole life that I've seen the rise of the middle class (in the medieval era) described as a bad thing.  But I often found it difficult to understand quite what the authors were driving at.

The points, as far as I can tell, were:
  1. Property must be abolished.
  2. The middle and upper classes (the dreaded bourgeoisie) are pretty much always bad and must be abolished.
  3. The proletariat must rise up and take control of the state with a violent revolution.  This is inevitable, but we need to hurry it up, but the proletariat must be ready or it will fail.
  4. (Implied) We will eventually form a state with no money and no property where everything works.

I suppose really I ought to read Das Kapital in order to understand what they were talking about, but it's apparently 3 volumes long--a daunting prospect.

I got really tired of the word bourgeois. 


My copy of the book dates from 1955, and is part of a series of very cheap paperback classics.  It's blue, not red!  I even found a picture of it, and here it is.  I have 3 or 4 books from this series that I picked up in used bookstores.

2 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

As someone interested in history as well as political and economic philosophy I really need to read this. I also believe that it is important to read viewpoints that we obviously disagree with. It is great that you are giving this obvious difficult work a try. Have you read Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations". Obviously that is in many ways the other side of the coin. I have not gotten to that one either.

Jean said...

No, I've never read Smith, but I need to! I have gotten much more interested in economic philosophy over the past several years and there are many books on it that I want to read.

The Manifesto doesn't have a difficult reading level, and it's pretty short, but I found it hard to find the real points of what they were saying--it seemed kind of diffuse and confusing, but that's probably partly because of all the bits refuting 19C groups we've never heard of. And they say these very strange things without explaining them at all, because they assume you already know what they're talking about, which I didn't. Maybe if there was a Cliff Notes version of Das Kapital it would help...