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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars for the intro alone
This review relates to the Penguin Classics version which comes with an "Introduction" by Gareth Stedman Jones. I put "Introduction" in quotes because it is about 180 pages long, whereas the pamphlet it is introducing is about 30 pages.

If you are interested in reading the Communist Manifesto, it's well worth getting this one, rather than saving yourself a few...
Published on 10 Sep 2006 by R. Brightwell

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Theory in Conjunction with Greed and Need
A few weeks ago, in a crowd of approximately twelve thousand people, a woman stood up and began to chant the American gospel hymn When the Saints go Marching In. She replaced the aforementioned `saints' with `reds' and, to my surprise, my fellow audience members cheerfully joined in. Merely a few days after this episode I was watching people storm luxurious townhouses,...
Published on 24 Aug 2012 by JoeBB02


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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five stars for the intro alone, 10 Sep 2006
By 
R. Brightwell (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This review relates to the Penguin Classics version which comes with an "Introduction" by Gareth Stedman Jones. I put "Introduction" in quotes because it is about 180 pages long, whereas the pamphlet it is introducing is about 30 pages.

If you are interested in reading the Communist Manifesto, it's well worth getting this one, rather than saving yourself a few quid on an edition which just contains the Manifesto itself. Without putting this book in its historical context, you're likely to find yourself thinking "so what?!". The intro is academic and dense at times, but well worth the effort.

The most enlightening aspect of the manifesto itself, for me, is what is NOT in it, rather than what is. There isn't a description of how a communist society should look, for starters. The story of this book is the story of a pamphlet written for a specific time and place, which became an iconic work when it was seized on by the Soviets for reasons of political expediency. I'm sure if Marx and Engels knew what they would turn this book into, they would have written it very differently. No wonder Marx is quoted as saying "I am not a Marxist".
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A manifesto of great historical significance, 11 Feb 2011
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Derek Jones - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
It merits five stars because of its importance, though it is not the best introduction to Marxist theory. A key element is the materialist conception of history, also called historical materialism and dialectical materialism. This views history as the inevitable progress from primitive communism to feudalism to capitalism and finally modern communism. The theory sees economics as the key shaper of historical events. In Marxism the all-important economic structure, or "foundation", of society determines the "superstructure" of ideas, morals, religion, social and political institutions etc. In its extreme form historical materialism is completely deterministic and in this form it is open to serious objections, but though Marx and Engels probably did not do enough to disown the determinism of their followers, it is clear they meant something less. Later Engels was to write that historical materialism "is in the last resort decisive in the production and reproduction of actual life...the economic condition is the basis but the various elements of the superstructure...exert an influence of the historical struggles, and in many instances determine their form."

Marx's historical materialism operates via the class struggle. "class" is used in the sense of an economic group defined by its position in the process of production: slave/master, serf/feudal lord, worker/capitalist. According to Marx, whenever private ownership of the means of production exists there is class conflict over the division of the fruits of production. The Manifesto claims that what is new in the capitalist era is that classes have been reduced to just two, because small employers and self-employed craftsmen were being driven into the ranks of the proletariat and exploitation worsens:
"The bourgeoisie...has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his `natural superiors', and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man naked self-interest, than callous cash payment...for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation."

What, then, of the inevitable collapse of capitalism? The key element is the theory of the surplus value of labour, by which Marx meant that labour is not paid the full value of its product - the difference between the wage and the value of the workers' labour being profit. Hence capitalism is based on exploitation. On this flimsy edifice an entire structure is built. The nature of capitalism means constant competition with wages driven down to subsistence level and when they can fall no further capitalists turn to machines, which create a "reserve army of the unemployed". Wages become so low that not all the good produced can be purchased. This leads to trade cycles of booms and slumps and ever-deepening crises. The constant competition also means that over time the number of firms is reduced to a few large firms, which is an inherent contradiction (a word much loved by Marxists) within capitalism. Not surprisingly, think Marx and Engels, all this breeds alienation among the proletariat. Eventually revolution in the most advanced capitalist states will overthrow the bourgeoisie and usher in a classless society. All political authority will disappear, for only administrative functions will remain in "an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all", with equal access to culture and education in a society in which all willingly embrace the principle of "From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs."

Objections to all this include asking what does "in the last resort" actually mean in the materialist conception of history. As for the class struggle, capitalism has not seen society divided into just two classes, and the proletariat has not sunk into the pitiful state predicted. Marx failed to see that the new industrial technology might create new ruling managerial elite - a possibility already discussed by Saint Simon and Comte. Revolutions have not taken place in the most advanced countries, and most historians regard the "communist revolutions" in backward countries as coup d'états rather than revolutions - and not even "communist". However, there is much of interest and value in Marx and Engels. For example, after Marx historians began to re-evaluate the history of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries with the economic tools fashioned by Marx. Some Marxists believe that the revolutions have merely been delayed and will come to pass. I am not of that persuasion.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The introduction alone is worth your money, 1 Aug 2008
This review is from: The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I will leave others to debate the relative merits of the actual Manifesto and say a couple of words about the introduction because the product description - criminally - doesn't seem to mention it. Gareth Stedman-Jones' introduction is a book in itself, longer than the Manifesto and an excellent and absolutely compelling introduction to the intellectual and historical context. By framing the intellectual debates of the Young Hegelians and others in a rich historical narrative Stedman-Jones makes them positively fascinating! He tells the story of the life of the young Karl Marx and describes his interactions with the intellectuals of the time, showing that Marx borrowed pretty much every element of his early (more philsophical) work from those around him but that his particular genius was to combine them all in such original formations. He even throws in a bit of completely original research about why Marx shied away from making his call for socialism a moral imperative (it was radical egoist Stirner's influence apparently). Its a hell of a lot of knowledge crammed into a very small space in a fascinating and readable manner and will double your appreciation and understanding of the Manifesto itself. All in all: if your trying to work out which edition to buy - get this one for the intro!
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A warning - read with care!, 24 May 2009
This review is from: The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The Communist Manifesto is one of those tricky documents that needs to be read with care and without projecting onto it the many common but confused ideas that circulate about it.

Among Marx's output, it is particularly difficult work to interpret. Marx was both a theoretical writer and a practical politician. The Manifesto, like any manifesto was written with an immediate political purpose in mind, (one which is now only of historical interest), but it also contains a bold and influential statement of Marx's developing theoretical position. The Manifesto can only be understood if these two different aspects of its writing can be distinguished.

To give an example: there is a crucial passage towards the end of the work where Marx comments on the role of the state after the revolution. Different interpretations of this passage have given rise to very different 'Marxist' theories. Some commentators have taken Marx to mean that a state apparatus is essential to communism, others that the state remains necessary during an extended transition period towards the new society, but will eventually disappear under communism. Yet others argue that this is no more than a practical political proposal made at a particular moment in time and has no fundamental theoretical importance. This view is supported by a later preface to the work by Engels.

Personally, I cannot see how this passage can be read as anything other than a practical means of managing the transition between capitalism and communism/socialism. (Marx himself used these two terms interchangeably). For Marx, communism is a democratic, stateless society. He deals with this point in another work, The German Ideology. The length of any transition period between capitalism and communism, or even whether a transition period is necessary, will therefore depend on historical conditions at the time of the revolution, particularly economic ones.

In practice, this passage is usually interpreted in terms of whatever left-wing/socialist/communist political orthodoxies are going around at the time.

The general tendency is still to read Marx through Leninist and post-Leninist (Stalinist, Trotskyist) spectacles. (One reviewer, here, even tries to discredit Marx by quoting Trotsky.) It is worth remembering that for Leninists, Marx represents a stage in the development of socialist theory which Lenin critiqued and corrected. For non-Leninists, the very considerable differences between the two writers are crucial and fundamental. How you understand Marx is therefore likely to depend on whether you think Lenin's contribution was a necessary development of Marx's thought or a disastrous contradiction of it. The result of all this is that it is often very difficult now to read Marx in his own terms. (It is surprising how many people seem unaware that Marx died over thirty years before the Russian Revolution.)

If you are interested in approaching Marx's thought seriously or have to study it on a college course (not always the same thing), I'd suggest that as far as possible you should avoid reading commentators until you have formed your own view. Commentary on Marx always comes with a political agenda of one sort or another and is very often unreliable. The old introduction to the Penguin edition by A J P Taylor was extremely unhelpful precisely because it failed to analyse Marx's words in their own context, and interpreted them, instead, in the light of subsequent political events - which is exactly what historians are supposed not to do. It also concentrated exactly on those elements in the Manifesto which Engels said should not be given undue emphasis. The new introduction by Gareth Stedman Jones is for the most part scholarly in its approach and deals largely with what Marx actually wrote. It also contains one or two very useful insights into Marx's notion of alienation. Unfortunately, GSJ has a left-wing axe to grind, which is to blame Lenin's failure to establish Communism in Russia on Marx's supposed lack of realism (for which opinion he offers no very good supporting arguments as far as I can see.). I've reviewed this new introduction in the comments section below (the fifth one down).

It is often worth while taking the views of college lecturers with a pinch of salt. I've sat through whole lectures in which every statement about the Communist Manifesto was either factually or textually incorrect.

If you aim to read The Manifesto casually or out of curiosity, then you are not going to want to get bogged down in fine points and political sqabbles. Go with the flow; it is an easy enough read and has a great energy about it, at least in its early parts. The later parts are less engaging and show signs of hasty writing - Marx was under a lot of pressure to finish it.

If you are reading The Manifesto to conirm your own prejudices and bolster your own political beliefs (and, let's be frank, we all do this kind of thing) then whatever those presumptions are (pro or anti) a quick, slick reading will give you all the ammunition you need. It is not difficult to find isolated quotes in the Manifesto to support almost any conception of Marx you like: from facist monster to democratic saint.

But if you are serious about wanting to understand Marx, and are willing to consider the implications of his work, then the Manifesto can begin to open up a fascinatingly different way of seeing human society - whatever view you ultimately take of it. To fully understand The Communist Manifesto, though, you have to read it in both its historical context and in the context of Marx's writings as a whole. Only in the light of other writings do some of the more problematic parts of the Manifesto come clear. Marx was a very honest and conscientious thinker and as he gathered new evidence and developed new perspectives his views changed. What he says in The Manifesto, for example is significantly different in detail and approach to what he was saying thirty years later.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Theory in Conjunction with Greed and Need, 24 Aug 2012
By 
JoeBB02 (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
A few weeks ago, in a crowd of approximately twelve thousand people, a woman stood up and began to chant the American gospel hymn When the Saints go Marching In. She replaced the aforementioned `saints' with `reds' and, to my surprise, my fellow audience members cheerfully joined in. Merely a few days after this episode I was watching people storm luxurious townhouses, killing or detaining their inhabitants, and then proceeding to loot the contents. The perpetrators formed a "People's Government" - with a single person at the head ("some animals are more equal that others,") - and conducted show trials for the members of the nobility that were lucky enough not to be killed in the initial rampage (their fate was also the death penalty). Was this all just one massive coincidence?

Surprisingly, I was in the United Kingdom during both surges. And, unsurprisingly, these events were not linked, I am not privy to information you are not and our beloved nation has not just gone through a revolution. The first occurred in Stratford during an Olympic Hockey match at the spectacular Riverbank Arena - Great Britain were wearing red - and the latter is drawn from a few scenes of Christopher Nolan's latest instalment of the Batman trilogy: The Dark Knight Rises which I watched in North Yorkshire. Whilst I am unconvinced that the British supporter knew of the historical connotations of her version, I cannot (and shall not) plead such ignorance for Nolan. The front man of the revolution that takes place in Gotham City, Bane, uses Communist rhetoric numerous times throughout the film and you could be forgiven for thinking you are watching Red Scare filmography from the Cold War.

The reason I begin with my recent travels is because throughout reading The Communist Manifesto several friends of mine have enquired as to why I desired to read such an "out of date" book. My reply was always: "Out of date to whom?" My previous points aside, Marx and Engels' original work is still current and the effects are far-reaching and ongoing. Currently the earth has less than ten nations that overtly title their system of government as communist - the most well known of this depleted bloc of revolutionaries being China. Yet, since the economic crises that hit the western world China has consistently moved up the in monetary ladder and will very shortly be able to title itself as a superpower and, likely, the only superpower. Modern day China has without a doubt moved away from the communism espoused by Marx and Engels, however. `Practical' communism, (or the form we have come to associate with existing and previous regimes) is composed of a dictatorial structure - the parallels between China and the USSR are many in skeletal terms. For example, the previous governments had been widely disliked, and after seizing power both went through a brutish period of oppression before "appeasing" its people by allowing elections (note that I did not say democratic elections). To the layman it would appear that China has survived past the period of appeasement because it has managed to procure and more importantly maintain a trade relationship with the west, and it has kept its `iron fist'. Nonetheless, the contrast between `Practical' and `Pure' is staggering, and the question has to be asked: "how far can one digress from the initial model and still retain its title?"
On a recent trip to China, BBC correspondent Jeremy Paxman noted how in every restaurant he went to party members had their own separate dining room - a society based on "the worship of wealth," he called it. An ever growing financial gap between the rich and poor, non-existent parity, consumerism at is paramount, a nation that rioted when Apple did not stock enough of the new iPhone; hence, extremist capitalism? Yes, but - and this is a rather large but - it is capitalism with a communistic front. A collectivisation of the farms still exits, workforces are maximised to their full potential, and all talk of revolution is quashed instantly (just compare search results from Google on its American and Chinese counterparts for "Tiananmen Square"). Practical communism and pure communism are separate and distinguishable, but is that because pure communism is an unattainable, utopian ideal?

Yes. The directions given by the manifesto are openly contradictory in places. Cambridge Professor Gareth Steadman Jones does all the work for you in this edition, pointing out where one policy could not possibly fit with another in Marx and Engels' repertoire. That is not to say it should be thrown out, however, it does have merit. Had the manifesto never been written think of all those people, inspired by this utopian ideal, which we would be deprived of. To name a few: Graham Greene, Tim Mason (the Marxist school of history would be lost), C. L. R. James, Jessica Mitford and Christopher Hitchens. And this is probably the way it should be read. Whilst humanity is not able to decipher between the best of the theory (e.g. socialised medicine! Who would not want that?!) and the worst, then for humanity's sake it is best used as a stepping stone in political theory. A catalyst of inspiration.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless, 1 May 2011
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This review is from: The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Very relevant. If you want to have a good think about society and our values today, this can still kick-start lots of thought and debate.
BrianW
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good Edition, 2 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I give it 4 stars not for the content of the Manifesto itself but for the great introduction by Gareth Stedman Jones.

I mostly wanted to read the book because of it's historical significance and out of curiosity. This edition was a good choice.

I recommend it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Few so called socialists can claim they have read this., 21 Jun 2013
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This review is from: The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The manifesto itself takes up just a few pages, I have asked several local politicians and of course our MP questions regarding the manifesto, only to realise from their answers that they have never read it. Why ? Engels and Marx charge the reader with their philosophy deemed applicable to Germany, France and England in the early 1800's. To the uninitiated, It is just that, a philosophy doomed to the annuls of history. Perhaps the 'uninitiated' should read the manifesto with one eye on what's happening in Britain today.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read, 30 Mar 2013
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This review is from: The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I ordered the book because I like philosophy and like to read different theories. This book which was written in the 19th century and is a fantastic read and should be a must for anyone reading politics or reading social science. Dr Marx gives a real Insite on human nature and the struggle between the working man and ruling classes.It shows how an idea can become reality when apposing forces are joined and pushed to breaking point. A really good read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime, commendable, misleading, important., 26 Jun 2012
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This review is from: The Communist Manifesto (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Even if the idea of communism repulses you I would highly recommend this book as an important historical text that sparked off modern socialism. It is also very well written and almost poetic. The first time I read it I became utterly sucked into the communist ideal and Marx's criticism of capitalism. Perhaps as I have matured these now seem a little too narrow and idealistic, but its a powerful notion nonetheless.
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