The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

January 13, 2011 at 22:58 (Book Reviews, Highly Rated Books, Philosophy, Politics) (, , , , )


It is difficult to comment on the Manifesto without also passing judgement upon the system it recommends. It is scarcely possible to enjoy reading Marx and to remain impartial to his beliefs and philosophy. While his methods have been tried and found wanting (or have not been given an honest chance at all, or are not worth trying, as each politically opinionated reader might decide), his manifesto rattles crazily with the pendulum’s swing, from deceptively and dishonestly simplistic all the way to impossibly complex.

As a sloganeering document, Marx and Engels do cram this work with all sorts of quotable vox populi fluff. It is easy to stand in a crowd and bellow, “Workers of the world, unite!” – or in a speech blast the axiom that “In a bourgeois society the past dominates the present; in a Communist society, the present dominates the past.” It is less easy to rattle off the difference between all the different and assorted socialisms that filled the Europe of the nineteenth century, and why each one is doomed to failure, unless it converts to true Communism.

That this book has something valuable (or at the very least, of readily debatable value!) to say in a modern world goes without saying, just as it is plain that Plato or Hobbes have something of use to the modern political scientist. It is also plain that Marx’s world, and the creatures and systems depicted therein, is just as foreign to a modern reader as Plato’s or Hobbes’. No use, then, in applying directly any of the principals or directions to a modern world, for this book is as stuck in its own time as any a book ever was. No use in using this book as it was plainly intended, as a clarion call to the workers to rise up and overcome – for neither the proletariat nor the bourgeoisie that Marx knew still exist. But as a historical text, and one which clearly paints in all sorts of shades of red the socio-political and economic structures of the mid nineteenth century, this book is an enduring treasure.


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