The Communist Manifesto

Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation ...
Who can deny that this is an apt description of modern society? We live in a world where production is becoming increasingly ‘global’, where the so-called ‘free market’ dominates and where massive transnational corporations daily make decisions which affect the lives of millions.

At the stroke of a computer key, huge sums of money are moved around the world. Factories are shut down in Britain while investment is directed overseas, where wages are lower and conditions worse. Workers are told that they risk pricing themselves out of jobs. Hard-won gains are sacrificed so that companies can remain ‘profitable’ in the ‘global marketplace’.

Yet the quotation above is not recent. It comes from a small pamphlet by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels which was largely ignored at the time of its publication in 1848 but which went on to inspire millions. Today the Manifesto of the Communist Party is still as vibrant and incisive as the day when it was written. Even commentators in the capitalist press have occasionally been forced to recognise its continued significance.

The last 150 years have witnessed stupendous growth in a relatively small number of capitalist companies. Already, by the end of the nineteenth century, huge banking and industrial monopolies had come to dominate the economies of the major European powers. Indeed, in that imperialist era, the competition for control of natural resources and for new markets led to demands for redivision of the world - and thereby, tragically, to the 1914-18 war.

Nowadays, household names like Shell, Ford, Coca-Cola and Microsoft are massive transnational corporations, operating world-wide. Their annual turnovers exceed the gross domestic products of many small countries. They exercise enormous economic – and therefore political – power. Yet, just as in Marx and Engels’ day, they cannot abolish economic crisis, war, hunger, poverty and unemployment. Governments may attempt to fine-tune the capitalist economy, but the basic problems will not go away.

In 1848 there were no ‘models’ for communist society, however imperfect. Marx and Engels could only sketch a general framework, based on their scientific analysis of human history. Subsequently, and under the impact of later developments, the understanding of ‘communism’ has been developed and enriched. Yet, even today, the Manifesto presents a brilliant insight into the society of the future.

Revolutions swept Europe in 1848. But the working class in the various countries was generally too small, and insufficiently conscious of the role it could play, so most of the revolutions miscarried, without even widening democracy. It was only in 1871, following France’s defeat in the war with Prussia, that the Paris working class rose in arms and was able to establish its own revolutionary government. The Paris Commune lasted for 10 weeks before being drowned in blood by the French and Prussian ruling classes. Yet, during that brief period, it showed how a society under working class leadership could operate.

The western media and politicians have worked very hard to portray the Soviet and Eastern European communist experience as an ‘aberration’. They claim that it was doomed to fail from the outset and that there is no alternative to ‘free market’ (i.e. monopoly) capitalism.

They conveniently forget that capitalism fails more than one billion people every day – the poor, the starving, the homeless and the illiterate. It relegates the overwhelming majority of women to a second-class status, and fosters racism, homophobia, anti- Semitism and religious bigotry. It seeks continually to weaken the power of organised labour.