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The Communist Manifesto

(June 1930)

First Published: R.G. (Reg. Groves), The Communist Manifesto, Book Reviews, Labour Monthly, June 1930, pp.382-384.
Editing, proofing & HTML markup: Ted Crawford and D. Walters in 2009 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.
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The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
With an introduction and explanatory notes by D. Riazanov
Martin Lawrence, 6s.

Eighty years ago, George Julian Harney, the Chartist leader, published in his Red Republican the Communist Manifesto. The English workers had by then left behind the stormy days of Chartism and were emerging out into the comparatively peaceful period that followed. The Manifesto was introduced to the readers of the Red Republican in the following words:–

The following Manifesto, which has since been adopted by all fractions of the German Communists, was drawn up in the German language in January 1848 by Citizens Charles Marx and Frederic Engels. It was immediately printed in London in the German language and published a few days before the outbreak of the revolution of February. The turmoil consequent upon that great event made it impossible to carry out at that time the intention of translating it into all the languages of civilised Europe.

The English reader will be enabled by the following excellent translation of this important document to judge of the plans and principles of the most advanced Party of the German revolutionists.

Thus was the Communist Manifesto introduced to the British working class. Most revolutionaries of the time failed to understand it fully, or to see clearly its tremendous implications. As Engels wrote many years afterwards: “‘Proletarians of all Lands, Unite!’ Few were the voices to respond when we launched these words into the world.”

When, writing this in 1890, on the first May Day mobilisation of the workers of the world, Engels pointed to the tremendous strides forward made by the movement since the year 1848: “the spectacle we are now witnessing,” he wrote, “will make the capitalists and landowners of all lands realise that to-day the proletarians of all lands are in very truth united.”

To-day, if Engels were alive, what could he not add! One-sixth of the world’s surface ruled by the proletariat: in the rest of the world the Communist International leading the revolutionary struggles of the working class.

To describe the Communist Manifesto as an historical document would be true but hopelessly inadequate. For this work of the two founders of scientific socialism lives and breathes to-day with the same fire, the same conviction as it did in the stormy days of 1848. To-day, its analysis of the tendencies of capitalism, so often “disproved,” so often “refuted,” is rapidly proving to be true: and the role of the working class presented so vividly and clearly in the Manifesto, when it was neither clear nor obvious, is now fulfilled in revolutionary action by the proletariat throughout the world.

To appreciate fully the genius of the authors of the Manifesto it is necessary to know the period in which the Manifesto was written and the outlook and theory of the working-class movement of that time. To read the sentimental speeches and writings of many of the socialists of those days with their appeals to “love” and to “justice”: to read the dull utopian writings and lectures of the Owenites, and then to turn to this vivid challenging document is to measure to a greater degree than was possible before the real power and wide vision of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. To such an understanding of the period of the Manifesto and of the genius of its authors all students will be helped by the work of Professor Riazanov.

The book begins with a history by Riazanov of the Communist League, which gives a detailed picture of the revolutionary movement of the time. There is the Manifesto itself and a number of valuable appendices. Over two hundred pages are devoted to descriptions of almost forgotten movements, to obscure phrases, to economic terms, and to biographical notes on men of the period, then widely known, now forgotten.

The student will probably find the appendices the most useful part of the book. They include an article by Engels on the revolutionary movements of 1847, and the prefaces by Engels to five of the editions of the Communist Manifesto. These contain valuable observations on the international working-class movement and on the movement of the particular countries for which editions were prepared. Riazanov also includes Principles of Communism – Engels’ suggested draft of the Manifesto – interesting not only in itself but as an indication of the part played by Engels in the drawing up of the Manifesto; the “Trial Number” of the Communist Journal of September 1847; the rules and constitution of the Communist League, and the demands of the Communist Party of Germany. The importance and interest of the Rules and Constitution of the Communist League can be seen from Article one, which reads:–

The aim of the League is the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the establishment of the rule of the proletariat, the abolition of the bourgeois social order founded upon class antagonisms, and the inauguration of a new social order wherein there shall be neither classes nor private property.

The form of organisation and of the discipline revealed in these rules is not only extremely interesting to students, but is useful to all who are part of, or interested in, the revolutionary movement of to-day.

From this bare outline of the contents of the book it will be seen that this book is by far the most thorough and useful book on the Communist Manifesto available. It has faults, inaccurate dates, insufficient explanation on some points, – indeed the author points out that it is not the complete commentary on the Manifesto that he hopes at some time to write, and explains why it is not so complete as he would desire – but these faults are incidental and do not detract to any great extent from the value of the book.

An understanding of the struggles of to-day is impossible without an understanding of revolutionary theory. We have our theoretical weapon, our key to clearer understanding of revolutionary theory, in the Communist Manifesto. In helping us to a fuller understanding of this great work Professor Riazanov has done a great service to the revolutionary working class.

To students of revolutionary theory, of the period in which this Manifesto was written, and to all actively working for the “rule of the proletariat,” this book is indispensable.


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Last updated: 11 March 2010