Anniversary of the Communist Manifesto
February 22, 1848
The Manifesto of the Communist Party
February 22 marks the anniversary of the publication of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto, written in 1848 by Karl Marx and his life-long friend and follower Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto became the most read and sought after pamphlet in the world. To this day, the attitude towards this pamphlet distinguishes those who are revolutionary because they use Marxism as a guide to action, from those who are hidebound and dogmatic and have another aim.
Karl Marx was first and foremost a revolutionist. His discoveries of the general law of motion of society and nature, dialectical and historical materialism, and the specific law of the capitalist mode of production, the theory of surplus value, were worked out and presented to the world with the certain knowledge that without revolutionary theory there could be no revolutionary movement.
As a revolutionist, right from his earliest activities as a young man in the 1840s, Marx was involved in the practical solution of the problems of revolution. He carried out the most energetic ideological and polemical struggles and engaged in theoretical work to push forward the revolutionary movement.
Being revolutionists, Marx and Engels broke with bourgeois ideology right from the beginning. As their revolutionary work developed, along with it developed their ideology and theory. They paid first-rate attention to the practical movement of the working class bringing forth ideology and theory to serve the revolutionary movement according to the concrete conditions of the time. They did not derive ideas out of ideas. On the contrary, they pushed forward revolutionary practice and brought forth ideas to serve it.
Today, on a new historical basis, as was the case during the time of Marx, it is crucial to pay close attention to practice. Revolutionary practice is the starting point of ideas and not the other way around. Just as it was at the time of Karl Marx, so it is necessary at the present to develop revolutionary practice by starting from the present, by starting from life as it is. It must be fully appreciated that ideas for accelerating the revolutionary movement can be found only in the revolutionary practice of the contemporary world.
There are all sorts of people who call themselves followers of Marx. The worst are those who have learned some Marxism by rote and go around presenting themselves as Marxists. There are those, their closest allies, who put together a program by taking up things from books and demand that the working class follow them.
Even after the bourgeoisie and world reaction has declared the end of communism, there are still those who grudgingly concede that communism is theoretically sound. But their aim is to tell the working class that there is no system which it can establish in practice that will be the condition for its complete emancipation. However, the very logic of development disproves this view. It is true that the world of Marx and the world as it is today are not the same. Even though the same laws of development as discovered by Marx operate today, they appear differently in real life and have to be discovered and rediscovered from that real life.
All the modern developments have proven Marx and Marxism right. All those who wish to be revolutionists have to follow Marxism as a guide in their practice. The Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), basing itself on the discoveries of Karl Marx, has brought forth Contemporary Marxist-Leninist Thought from the present conditions, in the same manner that Marx did at his time within his conditions. We owe the contemporary achievements in theory to the pioneering work of Marx, for without his previous theoretical contributions, the contemporary work would not be possible.
What we hold in the highest esteem on the anniversary of the publication of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels is that they revolutionized the thinking of human beings. All great revolutionary changes leading to the final overthrow of class society will be attributed to their name and work.
V.I. Lenin in his essay Certain Features of the Historical Development of Marxism writes:
Our doctrine – said Engels, referring to himself and his famous friend – is not a dogma, but a guide to action. This classical statement stresses with remarkable force and expressiveness that aspect of Marxism which is very often being lost sight of. And by losing sight of it, we turn Marxism into something one-sided, distorted and lifeless; we deprive it of its life blood; we undermine its basic theoretical foundations – dialectics, the doctrine of historical development, all-embracing and full of contradictions; we undermine its connection with the definite practical tasks of the epoch, which may change with every new turn of history.
When Lenin wrote those words in 1910, 15 years after the death of Frederick Engels, he brought to the fore one of the greatest problems of the revolution, the relationship of proletarian philosophic conscience with the concrete tasks of the proletarian revolution within a particular time and space. Proletarian philosophic conscience develops while bourgeois philosophic conscience degenerates. The two are in an inverse relationship; the advance of one is the retreat of the other. The “definite practical tasks of the epoch … change with every new turn of history” and bring forth the requirement of a change and development in the proletarian philosophic conscience as well.
Today, the world needs the massive human productive powers and modern human relations and general intelligence those productive powers create to favour the peoples of the world. Either the productive powers are liberated from the narrow confines of the old civil society or we will continue to have terrible destructive forces unleashed against us and the world, as we see happening today.
From the perspective of the Old, the attitude is to destroy the productive powers through crises and war. Karl Marx called them universal wars of mass destruction and famine. We see today whole nations and people facing obliteration.
From the perspective of the New, a way has to be found to look at the massive human productive forces and the human relations and general intelligence they create and channel them to serve the interests of the people.
When Karl Marx and Frederick Engels began the fight against their “former philosophic conscience,” the occasion marked the beginning of their organized struggle with the bourgeoisie. This included “self-clarification” but no solipsism. The “settling of scores” was to create a “new philosophic conscience,” which can also be called a “proletarian philosophic conscience.” This was not a matter of individual conscience but one of class conscience. Reproduced here is an extensive quote from Karl Marx’s Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, which succinctly presents Marx and Engels’ views on the necessity “to settle accounts with our erstwhile philosophical conscience”:
The first work which I undertook for a solution of the doubts which assailed me was a critical review of the Hegelian philosophy of right, a work the introduction to which appeared in 1844 in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, published in Paris. My investigation led to the result that legal relations as well as forms of state are to be grasped neither from themselves nor from the so-called general development of the human mind, but rather have their roots in the material conditions of life, the sum total of which Hegel, following the example of the Englishmen and Frenchmen of the 18th century, combines under the name of “civil society,” that, however, the anatomy of civil society is to be sought in political economy. The investigation of the latter, which I began in Paris, I continued in Brussels, whither I had emigrated in consequence of an expulsion order of M. Guizot.
The general result at which I arrived and which, once won, served as a guiding thread for my studies, can be briefly formulated as follows: In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.
At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation, the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations, a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.
Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.
In broad outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism, but of one arising from the social conditions of life of the individuals; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of the antagonism. This social formation brings, therefore, the prehistory of human society to a close.
Frederick Engels, with whom since the appearance of his brilliant sketch on the criticism of the economic categories (in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher) I maintained a constant exchange of ideas by correspondence, had by another road (compare his The Condition of the Working Class in England) arrived at the same result as I, and when in the spring of 1845 he also settled in Brussels, we resolved to work out in common the opposition of our view to the ideological view of German philosophy, in fact, to settle accounts with our erstwhile philosophical conscience. The resolve was carried out in the form of a criticism of post-Hegelian philosophy. The manuscript, two large octavo volumes, had long reached its place of publication in Westphalia when we received the news that altered circumstances did not allow of its being printed. We abandoned the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice all the more willingly as we had achieved our main purpose – self-clarification.
Of the scattered works in which we put our views before the public at that time, now from one aspect, now from another, I will mention only the Manifesto of the Communist Party, jointly written by Engels and myself, and Discours sur le libre-échange published by me. The decisive points of our view were first scientifically, although only polemically, indicated in my work published in 1847 and directed against Proudhon: Misère de la Philosophie, etc. A dissertation written in German on Wage Labour, in which I put together my lectures on this subject delivered in the Brussels German Workers’ Society, was interrupted, while being printed, by the February Revolution and my consequent forcible removal from Belgium.
The editing of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1848 and 1849, and the subsequent events, interrupted my economic studies, which could only be resumed in the year 1850 in London. The enormous material for the history of political economy which is accumulated in the British Museum, the favourable vantage point afforded by London for the observation of bourgeois society, and finally the new stage of development upon which the latter appeared to have entered with the discovery of gold in California and Australia, determined me to begin afresh from the very beginning and to work through the new material critically. These studies led partly of themselves into apparently quite remote subjects on which I had to dwell for a shorter or longer period. Especially, however, was the time at my disposal curtailed by the imperative necessity of earning my living. My contributions, during eight years now, to the first English-American newspaper, the New York Tribune, compelled an extraordinary scattering of my studies, since I occupy myself with newspaper correspondence proper only in exceptional cases. However, articles on striking economic events in England and on the Continent constituted so considerable a part of my contributions that I was compelled to make myself familiar with practical details, which lie outside the sphere of the actual science of political economy.
This sketch of the course of my studies in the sphere of political economy is intended only to show that my views, however they may be judged and however little they coincide with the interested prejudices of the ruling classes, are the result of conscientious investigation lasting many years. But at the entrance of science, as at the entrance to hell, the demand must be posted:
Qui si convien lasciare ogni sospetto; Ogni vilta convien che qui sia morta.
(Here all mistrust must be abandoned; And here must perish every craven thought).
Marx created a new world outlook or proletarian philosophic conscience in the course of settling scores with the “former philosophic conscience” of society. An urgent need has arisen to settle scores once again with the bourgeois philosophic conscience.
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