61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
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".
84 of 91 people found the following review helpful
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parts that don't seem to make sense are usually the parts that refer to persons or parties of the time (i.e that are out of date).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.
61 of 67 people found the following review helpful
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.
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2012
The Communist Manifesto is an extraordinary and succinct statement of leftwing political intention, stemming from the theory of Socialism and Communism as espoused by both Karl Marx (1818-83), and his academic companion (and friend), Friedrich Engels (1820-95). It is presented here as a volume in the Oxford World's Classics series, and as such represents a very important document in world political history. It was written in German and became known by the title 'Das Kommunistische Manifest' - or 'The Communist Manifesto', although its original title is 'Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei' - or 'Manifesto of the Communist Party'. This publication is edited by the British academic David McLellan - Professor of Political Theory - at the University of Kent.
The paperback (2008) edition contains 68 numbered pages and contains an extensive Introduction, the main text, and 7 separate Prefaces, each Preface appearing in various editions over the years;
Introduction (By David McLellan)
Notes on the Text
A Chronology of The Communist Manifesto
The Communist Manifesto - Main Text
Preface - German Edition - 1872, Marx & Engels
Preface - Russian Edition - 1882, Marx & Engels
Preface - German Edition - 1883, Engels
Preface - English Edition - 1888, Engels
Preface - German Edition - 1890, Engels (with reference to Marx & Engels 1882)
Preface - Polish Edition - 1892, Engels
Preface - Italian Edition - 1893, Engels
Karl Marx composed this text between December, 1847 and January, 1848. The work is a blend of German philosophy, French socialism, and British classical economic theory. It was written at the request of the Communist League based in London. It was published in London in February 1948 - in German - and in English in 1850. Friedrich Engels had assisted Marx through his work on earlier drafts, and through his advice regarding style and content - although Engels later claimed that the work was entirely a product of Marx himself. The many Prefaces included in this edition trace the development and popularity of this text as it spreads through Europe and into Russia.
The Manifesto exposes the corruption and blatant exploitation that is implicit within the Capitalist economic system. Marx states that through the Industrialisation process, an exploited working-class (the Proletarian) is being structured and trained (through the mechanisation of the factory experience), and that this (oppressed) disciplined body of men and women, will eventually develop an awareness (class consciousness) about their situation, and rise-up as one body, and thus take the power away from the Capitalist masters, the 'Bourgeoisie'. Marx (and Engels) view this process of Proletarian development as being both politically and economically conditioned and historically inevitable. Marx posits that this formally exploited class will create a society that is diametrically opposed to the Capitalist system that created them, and as a consequence, create a fair world based upon sharing and mutual support. This society is termed both 'Socialist' and 'Communist'. A superb edition of a classic historical text.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2014
Marx is a true philosopher and genius, he outlines the principles of communism very clearly in the Manifesto. It is a constant debate between the bourgeois way and the communist way, although it is obviously leaned completely towards communism.
Marx was a talented writer and this is reflected in the manifesto, not a word is wasted and it is written in such beautiful wording. It is interesting to read his principles of communism and then to study how overs have interpreted them and created there own versions of communism, e.g Maoism, Starlinism. Each time the communist ideas stray further from the original principles outlined in the manifesto so excellently by Marx. There were hundreds of Manifestos written in 1888 it says something about this one seen as it is still been read avidly by many today.
If you have any interests in communism then you must read this, let Marxism live on.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 September 2012
I think this is the shortest and most concise statement of Marx's thought. All the elments are there, the economic, political, technological and historical.It is also I think, one of his most readable pieces... if not the most. This work alone shows Marx is still the most eloquent and accurate critic of 'capitalism'. Unfortunately for Marx his grand theory turns out to be only half the story. He never managed to read Freud's 'The Id and the Ego' (how could he)!
Alas for Karl, it turns out that the world's poor and oppressed are not dreaming of liberty, equality, fraternity and socialism, but rather of being rich, famouse and 23 forever. KM was always railing against various utopias, although he managed to invent one himself. Anyway, read both the mentioned books. Briliant but incompatible... a bit like general relativity and quantum theory.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 September 2013
I'm not a total commy now. However I have developed some anti-capitalist sentiment which I think I will carry with me. It's brilliantly unabridged. This is the entire Manifesto, it really is one the most important literary works of history. You definately look at social class in a totally different way. It does repeat the words "Bourgeoisie" and "Proletariat" a lot, almost like a subliminal message. Despite this you can't hide from what the work highlights about the downfalls of capitalism. I believe there is a better system to live by other than money and commerce, we just haven't invented it yet and yes I see the irony in that I purchased this book with capital. But it holds itself to be self evident that capitalism is oppressive and corrupt in it's foundation!
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
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.