The Communist Manifesto

'A handbook for every class-conscious worker'

Finn Geaney, (Dublin Trades Council Executive - personal capacity)
Militant, March 1988

140 years have passed since Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto. Throughout Europe at that time governments were tottering. The rich and privileged classes were losing their hold. They could no longer rule in the old way. Workers were becoming organised. Strikes and demonstrations had been taking place in the cities. Revolt was spreading in the rural areas. Oppressed nations and nationalities were rising p. 'A spectre is haunting Europe', wrote Marx and Engels in anticipation of the coming storm. In 1848 revolutions broke out in France, Italy, Germany, Austria and Hungary. The Communist Manifesto explained what attitude should be adopted by socialists and the organised working class in these developments.

Marx and Engels explained how socialism could be achieved. But they were not the first to speak about socialism. Ideas about equality and the vision of a world where all material goods would be shared and used for the common good reach way back into early history. In 240BC a Greek writer, Iamboulos, described a 'Fortunate Isle' where people lived in 'ideal communism', sharing everything. Some of the early Christian congregations had many similarities to socialistic organisations.

But socialism as a movement did not take flesh until classes began to develop in capitalist society. As far back as the English Civil War in the middle of the 17th century, socialism had begun to take shape as a social movement involving workers and poor peasants. The Diggers were a small group in England who in the 1660's attempted to practice a type of primitive communism. The Levellers ten years earlier, constituted a movement of independent farmers who had begun to make contact with town craftsmen and the wage-earning masses. Other movements of a similar nature developed in France towards the end of the 18th century.

In the 19th century, socialists began to play a significant role in the political life of the advanced European countries. Many approaches were being advocated. The Englishman Robert Owen tried to run his mills in New Lanark as a workers' co-operative and involved the workers and their families in a communal form of society.

The Irish socialist William Thompson went beyond that idea to an understanding of the source of profit and the exploitation of labour along the lines that Marx later developed. There were many others, Fourier and St Simon who held an idealistic view of how socialism would come about.

All the basic ideas of Marxism are contained in the Communist Manifesto. In capitalist society new wealth is created by the labour of workers. The system is beset by recurring crises. A stable capitalist society is not possible because within it is a continuing struggle between classes. The State, through its various arms in the judiciary, the army, the police and the civil service, is in the last analysis but a committee for managing the affairs of the capitalists.

Society developed from slave owning through feudalism to capitalism because of the accumulation of new wealth and the struggles of oppressed classes. Socialists of all countries should bring out the 'common interests' of all workers 'independently of all nationality'. The middle class become impoverished as they are squeezed out by big business, and more and more their interests become tied up with those of the workers.

'Every class struggle is a political struggle', they wrote. The so-called 'non-political' strike is a nonsense.

Even the basic demands of the Communist Manifesto are as relevant toady as they were 140 years ago. Tax the wealthy. Nationalise the banks, communications and transport. Extend state owned industries into new areas of production. Work for all. Free education for all.

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote of the varieties of political thought which were described as socialism. There are rich people who like to help the poor; middle class individuals who want to return to a system of subsistence living in small communities; and trade union and community leaders who wish to set up a network of co-operatives to compete with big business. But only a scientific approach to socialism can be successful.

The working class, though its own organisations, using its own strength, will achieve socialism. The Communist Manifesto is in the words of Lenin, 'a handbook for every class-conscious worker'.

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