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The Communist Manifesto
"A SPECTRE is haunting Europe..." With these famous words Marx and Engels began what is probably the single most famous work of scientific socialism. When they wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848, trade unions and workers' parties were in their infancy, and the millions-strong Communist parties laying claim to the manifesto's legacy were virtually unimaginable.
It was published in order to show to the world what socialist ideas really were, and to challenge the slander and lies aimed at them. Today these ideas are as alive as ever, and as feared and as nightmarish to the ruling class as they were 158 years ago.
The ruling class attempts to lay at Marx's feet the crimes carried out in the name of 'communism' by Stalin in Russia and the various regimes and 'communist' parties around the world. We are taught from an early age in schools that this is 'communism'. Just an honest glance through the Manifesto, and any works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, would show that Stalinism is a complete perversion of their ideas by the ruling clique who eventually gained control of the Russian state.
The language used in some parts of the Manifesto now seems more suited to lecture halls than to picket lines, but get past that and you find a wealth of ideas and analysis that could have been written today.
Everyone engaged in struggles or questioning the way the world works, stands to gain by reading the Manifesto. And for those who are active in the struggle for socialism it can stand being read and reread, with different issues that face us now highlighting different ideas outlined in this pamphlet.
The manifesto describes the evolution of capitalism, from its infancy through to capitalism in 1848, and the processes of globalisation: "...it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst... it creates a world after its own image."
With McDonalds, Starbucks and huge multinational banks and companies everywhere from Sao Paulo to Moscow, Marx was describing the world that we live in today. The social effects of this dominance, shaping a world for exploitation, are also still continuing.
A recent UN report said that by 2007, there will be more people living in urban areas than the countryside. A recent article in the Guardian, entitled: "Rich get even richer in third world", cited a 21% increase in people worth over $1 million in South Korea, a 17% rise in India, and similar figures around the 'developing' world. But this growth in wealthy individuals is against the background of mass poverty and huge and ever-growing slums, the daily reality for millions.
Some of the biggest, ongoing struggles in England and Wales today are understood more easily through the eyes of the Manifesto. After a historical period when the working-class movement won big concessions from the ruling class, in particular the economic boom of the 1950s and 1960s, we now see huge attacks being proposed and implemented.
On pension rights, for instance, the bosses aim to extend the number of years that we end up working. Internationally, workers are seeing huge attacks on their standards of living. These are carried out without much consideration of the consequences by the world's ruling classes, who have felt relatively unchallenged for a decade or so now. They assume their vast wealth can let them trample over anyone in their rush for even more cash.
However Marx and Engels point out: "Capital is... a social power... Only by the united action of many members, nay, in the last resort, only by the united action of all members of society, can it be set in motion".
It is this power that is challenged when groups of workers take strike action. This is the key, revolutionary, idea that struggles over conditions teach us - that the power of the wealthy can be challenged, and in fact their power only exists whilst we act in the rich, ruling class's interests.
Marx and Engels thought that the revolutions of 1848 would be the beginnings of international socialism. Their manifesto was written to further and help guide this movement. Although there were mass movements across Europe during that year, they clearly did not result in socialism. Whilst this shows that some parts of the manifesto are outdated, it means that the main lessons of the manifesto are even more pressing to learn and to act on.
The Communist Manifesto and the further writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky and other Marxists, based on the lessons of nearly 160 years of workers' struggle, and building on the Manifesto's basic ideas, are essential to study now. They show us how we can understand and analyse society today, but the Manifesto is also a call to action, today more vital than ever.
The closing lines' rallying call echo through the ages: "The workers of the world have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of the world unite!"
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Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 of Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto £7.00
The Communist Manifesto Now. Socialist Register 1998. Editors Leo Panitch and Colin Leys £12.95
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