Marx and Engels Write the Communist Manifesto Part 2

About the history of the Communist Manifesto, the biography of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the origins of the socialists economic idea.


THE Communist Manifesto

WHEN: 1848

Marx had belonged for some time to the League of the Just, a group of German refugees who had faced political persecution. At the 1st congress of this group, held in London in 1847, Marx and Engels got partial control, and it became the International Communist League. Needless to say, it had a Marxist viewpoint. In order to clarify what this "Marxist viewpoint" was, Marx and Engels wrote a document that was to influence millions all over the world--the Communist Manifesto.

It was published in 1848 in London as the Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, a pamphlet of only 40 pages. In it, Marx expounded his ideas, beginning with a brilliant appraisal of socio-economic conditions in Europe from the time of ancient slave civilizations. It is all the same, he said--there is always a ruling class and a subject class, the haves and have-nots, the upper and lower crust. Their names may change, but always it seems that one group owns the means of production and the other does the work. He predicted that when the forces of production cannot be utilized fully because of capitalistic private ownership, then the working classes will come to power. In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels called on the working classes to take such power, and they advocated "forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions." Marx softened this 25 years later by saying that England and the U.S. were countries "in which the workers may hope to secure their ends by peaceful means."

The Manifesto was not immediately successful. (However, by 1964, more than 1,000 editions in more than 100 languages had appeared; more than 14 million copies had been sold.) In that same year, 1848, revolution broke out in Paris, then in Germany. People were too busy manning the barricades to read inflammatory literature. It looked as though Marx's revolution was happening. Then gold was discovered in California, and the world got richer. With better economic conditions, uprisings stopped. Marx thought it was all over. Thrown out of Paris, Marx went to London with his wife, the daughter of an aristocrat, and his children. He lived there the rest of his life in near poverty. If it had not been for Engels, who continually sent him money, he might have starved to death. In 1851, he got work writing articles for the New York Tribune, but it didn't pay much, and when the Civil War broke out, the job ended. Marx spent most of his time in the reading room of the British Museum, a drafty, gloomy place, where he read voraciously.

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