on 10 September 2006
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".
on 12 June 2004
Very smart of Bookmarks Publications to print a compact pamphlet-edition of the Communist Manifesto, allowing everyone to get hold of a handy copy for a very small fee. While the foreword is written by one of the Socialist Worker staff, hence it's somewhat (ok that's an understatement) biased, at least it dispenses with the usual hundereds of pages of commentary that frequently occupy publications of this 30-page document. Previously myself and others felt it was necessary to plough through these lengthy (and often misleading) introductions before reading the thing itself, and as a result people often give up before making it that far. It turns out you don't really need to do that as the thing largely speaks for itself; the style is usually quite clear and accessible and the parts that don't seem to make sense are usually the parts that refer to persons or parties of the time (i.e that are out of date).
As for the thing itself, I think I'll avoid saying anything too inflammatory in this review. I think that whether you agree with Marx or not, everyone should read this document (no excuse now it only costs a quid). A lot of people make vast sweeping statements about how Marx was completely wrong when they (and I don't mean everyone) in fact haven't even read the Communist Manifesto. If you can't even be bothered to read 30 pages of relatively easy reading then how can you talk about such things? In any case, Marx is in fact very misunderstood, which is only inevitable given how disagreeable his ideas (the ones he *did* have not the ones people wrongly associate with him) are to some people. You need to read this to understand what Marx was actually for, and what he in fact wasn't. To put it more blunty: no system that has in history been labelled 'Communist' can actually be said to have any real relation to what Marx proposed, but rather were hiding behind the label to cover up their wrongdoings.
That said, you don't get a very in-depth idea of what Marx stood for, it's more of an introduction to Marxism. A Socialist friend of mine has recommended going on to read The German Ideology then Capital, also by Marx, in order to find out more.
on 2 April 2014
Certainly worth a read, if only to gain an insight into the ideology behind Communism that preceded the 20th century. There are some obvious flaws with the concept of communism as depicted in the Manifesto but it's an interesting read nonetheless. All reviews on this book that have 1 star simply because it's a Communist book should be completely ignored. Anyone with half a brain will realise that to have a complete, justified opinion on politics, you should be aware of all of the major political stances, however extreme.
If you have not read this, read it now.
I do not agree with Marx but this book is indispensible to understanding the history of the 20th Century, you cannot reach into the mindset of many of the leading actors without tackling this book. There is a reason so many intelligent men and women saw within this book such a lot of truth and tried (in my view falsely) to apply it to their societies- this is a book which deserves to be read by any individual who thinks that they think. If you have read it and dismissed it or not read it you are not yet someone who has grappled with what the world is or might be. The thesis was when it was published provocative- it borrowed from Hegel, Rousseau and even for one of its most significant phrases Edmund Burke and retains features of Hegelian historical progression and Rousseauian account of the formation of civilised man- put together though it is a work of genius and deserves to be read now.
on 3 August 1999
Whilst the book is not written for the enjoyment of the reader it is written with purpose. This purpose was to formulate and summarise the ideas and ideals of the so called communist movement at the time. However, I believe if one reads the book they will have to concede that Marxs ideas of communism do not mirror those which were brought about by the revolutions of the Twentieth century. To blame Marx for these failed implications of an idealsitic system is to blame Nietzche for the attrocities of the Nazis. Both write with a positive intent and a posiitve message for mankind and neither deserve criticism for this. However, due to their unswerving belief in themselves and their often harsh / revolutionary ideas they were bound to attract it.
This book is as pertinent today as it was when it was written. The huge changes in the political scene, the growth of capitalistic society, the failed attempts at the implication of so called communism and the oversights the authors freely admitted do not retract from the message running through the text.
on 29 November 2015
As far as political doctrine goes, the Communist Manifesto is up there with the greats. Regardless of your own political inclination, it's a fascinating piece of literature and crucial in understand the history of political and sociological thought. Luckily for readers of all abilities, it's simply written, easy to understand, and incredibly short. I personally managed to read it all in around two hours, and I think others would be able to, too! It's very accessible and relatable even in the 21st century, and a great starting point for anyone who wishes to understand Marxism and socialism as core theories!
A good read for anyone of any political leaning.
on 24 May 2009
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.
on 11 June 2015
Penguin classics published Marx and Engels "Communist manifesto" with a rather long introduction. This edition of the same book is much more compact.
I first came across Marx during Sociology class at secondary school and I remember being mesmerized by the Communist approach to class struggle. It's clear that with the occupy Wall Street movement and the financial crisis of 2008 that Capitalism isn't working for most people in society. What Marx and Engels manage to do is come up with a fairer alternative.
The idea that this book would still be relevant in 2015 should come as no surprise to hardened leftists but even for those who don't agree with Socialism or Communism, one has to admire the genuine disgust at the class divide pointed out in this book.
Wage equalization is only a small part of Communism and what this book does is provide a system of governance that would be beneficial for 99% of people in our society.
Capitalism isn't working!
on 9 January 2002
Hmmm...where does one start? At the beginning, I suppose, just as Marx tried to when he wrote The Communist Manifesto in the mid-c19, just before the 1848 Revolutions which shook Europe.
Needless to say, Marx (and Engels, his life-long collaborator), were socialists, but had their own distinct 'brand' of the ideology, preferring a revolutionary path to a socialist society rather than the earlier evolutionary socialist thinkers like Owen and Fourier, whom Marx referred to as 'Utopians', working on the basis that the liberal/bourgeois leaders of society would not allow the working-classes to destroy them with their own tools, i.e via parliamentary and democratic routes. Marx believed a revolution was needed to overthrow the bourgeoisie, just as the bourgeoisie had overthrown the previous 'old order', the aristocracy and monarchies, pushed out in England in the c17 and France in the c18, which in turn had overcome the slavery-based mode of production before this. Which is where the beginning came in...
Socialists essentially believe that all humans are necessarily inherently good, but that society corrupted them, to become the greedy blighters that we are today. Marx, then, although believing that in prehistory we were all originally communistic in a primitive sense, says that scarcety and hunger provoked some humans to attack and subjugate others, thus leading to slavery, which in turn was succeeded by serfdom, and so on. This is the interesting bit. Marx, subscribing to the Hegelian ideal of the 'dialectic', though putting it in a historically materialistic context, says that we will not stop having revolutions until we have achieved the fifth historical stage (of communism), as there will be no 'material' conflict left in society. So, in slavery, it was Slave-owner vs. Slave; under serfdom, it was Land-owner vs. Serf, and under capitalism, it is Bourgeoisie vs. Proletariat (those that own the 'means of production', i.e the factories, against those that have to sell their labour to live, i.e wage-slaves). As under communism the mode of production will be held in common, nobody can claim to be economically opressed. And in a nutshell, there you have it. There is more, a lot more, in this small book, and it's surprising how this piece of literature, little more than a leaflet, has played such a huge role in world history since its publication in 1847/8, when Marx was commissioned by the Communist Pary in London to create a manifesto for their group.
I'm no Marxist, nor a socialist in general, but as someone who takes a great interest in history, philosophy and politics (and economics), this book is essential reading, and I've read The Communist Manifesto twice, which leads me on to my next point...
I have read both the Penguin and the Oxford versions, and although they are the same price and include most of the prefaces to the different editions of the book in the different European countries where it was published in the c19, the introductions are totally different, though equally valuble to students of Philosophy/History/Politics, although I would personally give Penguin the edge. In the Oxford edition, it's by David McLellan, who has done other bits and bobs on other works by Marx, and tends to document Marx and his life and times, as well as the importance of the text. On the other hand, and if you are a Politics student, the introduction by A.J.P Taylor in the Penguin edition examines the text in much more depth and is much more critical that the passive McLellan. Also, Taylor was a celebrated historian, and although I'm sure Mr McLellan is just as respectable, Taylor would look better as a quote on those essays!
So, to sum up: it's not a bad read, even if you don't agree with it, and it's extremely thought-provoking, especially when read in its own context, although I would possibly consider giving the Penguin edition an extra star for its more analytical approach in the introduction. Not bad.
on 25 April 2016
Great value for money...i had a copy of the Manifesto about twenty years ago but had to sell it in a moment of student poverty. So I decided to finally replace it and am delighted. Brand new copy for basically the price of postage...happy, very happy