The Congress of the Communist League held in London in November 1847 had commissioned Marx and Engels to write a ‘detailed theoretical and practical programme for the Party’. Accordingly Marx and Engels drafted the Communist Manifesto in January 1848, the first German edition of which came out just a few weeks before revolution broke out in France on 24 February, 1848.
In view of the massive growth of modern industry and the concomitant expansion and development of working class party organisations, and especially in the light of the experience of the 1871 Paris Commune, a quarter century after the publication of the Manifesto, Marx and Engels felt that the programme had become dated in some of its details. They said the programme outlined at the end of the second chapter would have been written quite differently. The critique of socialist literature was also incomplete in the sense that it did not cover the period beyond 1847. Most of the parties described in the Manifesto had also become extinct by then. And the sea change in political situation had also rendered much of the comments about the relations of communists with other opposition parties considerably outdated.
The Communist Manifesto has now completed 150 years. These 150 years witnessed major periods of crisis in global capitalism, the quest for control over the world market led to two world wars among bourgeois states, socialist revolutions became victorious leading to the rise of socialist states, yet in the last decade of the twentieth century it was capitalism which prevailed over socialism in the global contention between the two (socialism and capitalism).
A unipolar world, a new world economic order, the break-neck speed of globalisation, the all-out domination of multinational corporations, the scientific and technological revolution and the more recent information revolution reducing the whole world to a single village – such are the principal features of the present age. Rifts in the international solidarity of the working class, the rise of ethnic, feminist and environmentalist movements, the philosophy of post-modernism – all these are questioning the very relevance of Marxism and the communist movement.
When the communist movement across the world finds itself at the crossroads, Marxist intellectuals are once again returning to a renewed study of Marxist classics to find directions for an answer to today’s questions. Indeed, it has become imperative for every progressive individual to revisit the Communist Manifesto and study it afresh.
According to the Communist Manifesto, “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
Further on, we find, “In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production.”
And then “The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. ... In one word, it creates a world after its own image. ... Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.”
The informed reader can see in these lines a living picture of today’s globalisation.
The picture of internationalism of the working people drawn by Marx and Engels in contrast to this globalisation of capital clearly underlines the complex interrelationship between national and international circumstances as between classes and nations: “The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word. ...
“In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another will be put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be put an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.”
The Manifesto had clearly stated that “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” Even in its most liberal and broadest form of parliamentary democracy, the modern state can essentially be nothing else. The socialist state, in contrast, champions real democracy for the common people. In spite of this if the bourgeoisie has succeeded in projecting the defeat of socialism as the victory of democracy, we will surely have to deeply investigate the reason.
In the wake of the experience of the Paris Commune (1871) in which the proletariat had controlled political power for full two months, Marx had drawn the important conclusion that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” (The Civil War in France).
Lenin, in his debate with Kautsky in his all-important work “The State and Revolution”, raises the crucial question as to whether the old state machinery will continue after revolution or be smashed. Citing the aforementioned inference drawn by Marx, Lenin answers this question categorically: the old state machinery will have to be smashed because the bourgeois state rests on the very basis of alienation of the people from state power.
According to Lenin, democracy in a capitalist society is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist ex-ploitation, the majority of the population is denied participation in public and political life.
In clear contrast to Kautsky who limits the political struggles of the proletariat to the goal of securing parliamentary majority and establishing parliamentary control over the state machinery, Lenin advocates a representative assembly of the proletariat which will be a working body, executive and legislative at the same time, where the electorate will enjoy the right to recall and representatives will have to work and take responsibility for implementing the laws they have legislated, will have to test their impact in real life and will have to be accountable directly to the electorate.
“[T]he mass of the population”, emphasised Lenin, “will rise to taking an independent part, not only in voting and elections, but also in the everyday administration of the state. Under socialism all will govern in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing.” (The State and Revolution)
According to Lenin the Paris Commune was one such organisation and after the Russian revolution, the Soviets had also emerged as similar organisations. Regarding the state Lenin goes so far as to say that in the first phase of the communist society, the socialist state itself is a remnant of the bourgeois state: “The state withers away insofar as there are no longer any capitalists, any classes, and consequently, no class can be suppressed. But the state has not yet completely withered away, since there still remains the safeguarding of “bourgeois law”, which sanctifies actual inequality. For the state to wither away completely, complete communism is necessary.”
This is why “In its first phase, or first stage, communism cannot as yet be fully mature economically and entirely free from traditions or vestiges of capitalism. Hence the interesting phenomenon that communism in its first phase retains “the narrow horizon of bourgeois law”. Of course, bourgeois law in regard to the distribution of consumer goods inevitably pre-supposes the existence of the bourgeois state, for law is nothing without an apparatus capable of enforcing the observance of the rules of law.
“It follows that under communism there remains for a time not only bourgeois law, but even the bourgeois state, without the bourgeoisie!” (The State and Revolution) Since the days of the Paris Commune to the Soviet and Chinese Revolutions, we have seen several experiments with proletarian state power. The Cultural Revolution in China witnessed vibrant debates on the nature and form of proletarian state power. The setbacks suffered by socialism in recent years have further intensified these debates.
While Social Democracy accepts parliamentary democracy as the ultimate limit of democracy, anarchism ends up negating democracy itself by its primitive negation of parliamentary democracy. The basic challenge facing Marxists today is to explore the broadest form of proletarian democracy beyond the limits of parliamentary democracy so that the defeat of world capitalism in the coming century is seen as the victory of not just socialism but also democracy.
Many changes could possibly be made in the Communist Manifesto in the light of the questions arising from the experiences of the last 150 years of the international communist movement, but as Marx and Engels wrote in the preface to the 1872 German edition, “the Manifesto has become a historical document which we have no longer any right to alter”. Indeed, nobody has this right today, especially because the general principles delineated in this document, remain by and large as true as they were 150 years ago. The practical implementation of these principles will however depend on the historical circumstances of a given country and time.
1. Comrade VM wrote this for a Hindi edition of the Communist Manifesto published by Samkaleen Prakashan, Patna, in November 1998.
and industry in general
has always shown itself
in the destruction of forests
that has been done
for their conservation
insignificant in comparison.”
- Capital, Vol. 2