The Publication of the Communist Party Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
- 21st February 1848 -
From two very different backgrounds two men became close friends and collaborators on a project that would change world politics for ever and turn upside down the history of many nations. Their meeting was like a chemical reaction and the fall out was nuclear in its extent.
Karl Marx, born on 5th May 1818 in Trier, Western Germany, was the son of a Jewish lawyer. He went on to study law in Bonn and Berlin and in 1841 was awarded a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Jena. Two years later he briefly edited a newspaper in Cologne before moving, with his wife, Jenny, to Paris, which was a hotbed of political radicalism. It was here that he first met Engels. When his actions and ideas were investigated he moved his family to Brussels, which had a more liberal regime.
Friedrich Engels was born two years later on 28th November 1820, the son of a wealthy German cotton-producing industrialist. After dropping out of school he was sent by his father to help run one of his mills in Manchester. Whilst here he was horrified at the poverty of the area and wrote a book called ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’. He was also introduced to key members of the Chartist movement whose aim was to gain political rights and influence for the working classes in England. Its name comes from the 6 point People’s Charter which looked at giving the vote to all men over the age of 21, secret ballots, annual elections, no property qualification and payment for MPs. In 1844 he then contributed articles to a journal in Paris called Annalstat. This journal was edited by none other than Karl Marx himself. The more they met the more they realised that their views coincided completely – particularly on capitalism. They were kindred spirits both looking for a way to bring their ideas to a wider audience. Their skills combined well too. Marx was superb at dealing with complex theoretical concepts whilst Engels had the ability to write for a mass audience.
In January 1846 the two set up the Communist Correspondence Committee to link socialist leaders across Europe. This led to a conference in London where the Communist League was formed. Here it was decided that the aims of the group “Were the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the domination of the proletariat, abolition of the old bourgeois society based on class antagonisms and the establishment of a new society without classes and without private property”. A first draft of the Communist Party Manifesto was written by Engels and then Marx wrote a revised, 12,000 word, pamphlet based on this in just six weeks. This work summarised the forthcoming revolution and the nature of the communist society that would be established. It was first published in Brussels on 21st February 1848.
The work explained that class struggles are the motivating force behind all historical developments and that class relationships are defined by an era’s means of production. These refer to the physical, non-human inputs used for the production of economic value, such as facilities, machinery, tools, infrastructure and natural capital. These relationships cease to be compatible which leads to revolution and a new ruling class.
In a modern industrialist society the conflict is between bourgeoisie (the middle class from the old French word ‘bourgeois’ meaning a citizen of a town) and the proletariat (wage earners whose value is their ability to work). The productive forces of capitalism are ceasing to be compatible between the two as one is exploiting the other. Thus the proletariat will lead a revolution. However this will not simply reallocate property when they get control but will destroy all private ownership thus making classes disappear. Capitalism, it is argued, is naturally unstable and its downfall is inevitable but the elimination of social classes cannot come about through reforms or changes in the government. It needs a revolution.
The pamphlet is produced in four sections. The first covers Communist theory of history and the relationship between the bourgeois and the proletariat. The second section explains the relationship between the Communists and the proletariat. The third addresses flaws in other socialist literature and the fourth, and final, section examines the relationship between Communists and other parties.
The two men continued to collaborate although Marx moved to London in 1849 where he stayed for the rest of his life. He lived much of the remainder of his life in poverty, financially supported by Engels who donated the royalties from his book about the condition of the working classes in England to him. Marx went on to produce the first volume of another seminal work called “Das Kapital” sometimes known as the bible of the working classes. He was kept in funds by Engels who had returned to Germany to work for his father to ensure that Marx could continue to write. Engels sent postal orders to him in £1 and £5 denominations and cut them in half sending each of them in separate envelopes. They kept in constant touch writing to each other on average once every other day. Marx died in 1883 and he is buried in Highgate Cemetery in London.
Engels continued to work on Marx’s writings and in 1885 produced the second volume of ‘Das Kapital’ and then a third in 1894. The irony of using money earned from a wealthy industrialist to write these works is not lost. However whatever your political views and colour no one can underestimate quite what an impact their writings were to have across the globe.