The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, was first published 170 years ago. Ever since its publication, this first great programmatic work of scientific socialism has been and remains the indispensable guide for the working class of the whole world in its struggle to overthrow the capitalist system and build a new socialist society free from all forms of exploitation.
The Communist Manifesto was written on the eve of the revolutions of 1848 that shook many countries of Europe. These revolutions were leading to the overthrow of the rule of the feudal forces and establishing the rule of the bourgeoisie. The working class fought in these revolutions, alongside of the bourgeoisie against the feudal forces. Those were times when the working class was just beginning to emerge as a class fighting for its own independent class aims.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were active participants in these revolutionary struggles. In those conditions, the Communist League, an international association of workers, commissioned Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, at the Congress held in London in November 1847, to write a detailed theoretical and practical programme for the Communist Party. Thus the Manifesto of the Communist Party was born.
Through the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels expounded the world view of the communists, the most advanced contingent of the working class. They showed that just like feudal system was being overthrown and replaced by the capitalist system, the capitalist system would be overthrown and replaced by communism — a classless society free from all forms of exploitation. They showed that it was the working class which had the historic mission of being the harbinger of this new society.
Marx and Engels traced the historical evolution of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Society as a whole was more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other – one, the bourgeoisie, the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of production; the other, the proletariat, the class of modern wage labourers who have no means of production of their own. Marx and Engels pointed out “In proportion as the bourgeoisie, that is capital is developed, in the same proportion is the proletariat, the modern working class developed — a class of labourers who live only so long as they find work, and who find work only so long as their labour increases capital.”
Marx and Engels showed that the fundamental contradiction inherent in the capitalist system is the contradiction between the increasingly socialized nature of production and the private appropriation of the fruits of production. The capitalist system is based on maximizing the extraction of surplus value from the labour of workers. This inevitably leads to recurring crises of overproduction. The market is flooded with goods, but the working class and toiling masses are too impoverished to purchase them. Faced with unsold goods in the market, the bourgeoisie cuts back production. Workers are laid off. Productive forces are destroyed. Capitalists try to get out of the crisis by using advances in technology, increasing the degree of exploitation of workers, and expanding their markets. This creates the conditions for the next crisis of overproduction, even more severe than the previous one.
The periodic crises of the capitalist system show very clearly that capitalist relations have become a roadblock to social progress. Human society can advance only through the resolution of this fundamental contradiction of capitalism. The private ownership of the means of production must be replaced by social ownership. Society must be reorganized on a socialist basis. From fulfilling the greed of capitalists for maximum profits, the aim of production must become fulfilling the ever growing needs of society as a whole.
Marx and Engels point out that the bourgeoisie has produced its own grave diggers, the proletariat.
Tracing the history of development of human society since the dissolution of primitive classless society, the Communist Manifesto shows that all history has been a history of class struggles, of struggles between exploited and exploiting, between dominated and dominating classes at various stages of social evolution. Just as earlier social systems in history had been replaced by more advanced social systems representing new productive forces, capitalism too would eventually give way to a higher social system.
The Communist Manifesto brings out a special feature of the proletarian movement for emancipation. All previous historical movements were movements of minority classes and which resulted in new exploiting classes and new forms of exploitation. The proletarian movement for emancipation from capitalism is “the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority”. The proletariat cannot emancipate itself without at the same time emancipating the whole of society from all forms of exploitation and oppression.
Karl Marx wrote, in a letter to J. Weydemeyer in March 1852
“…And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society…”
Marx and Engels brought out clearly the relation between communists and the working class movement. The Communist Party is part of the working class, its most conscious and organized detachment, its vanguard. Communists work for the victory of the proletarian revolution in their own country and support the same struggle all over the world. The Communists, they said:
“…have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.
“They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement.
“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only:
1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.
2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”
Marx and Engels closely followed the development of the struggle of the working class. In March 1871, the revolutionary proletariat of Paris established the Paris Commune. Even though the Commune lasted only two months, before it was overthrown through a bloody counter revolution, Marx and Engels considered that it had very important lessons for the communists and the working class in the struggle against capital, because it was for the first time in history that the working class held political power. On the basis of the experience of the Paris Commune, Marx and Engels pointed out in the Preface to the German Edition of the Communist Manifesto of 1872, that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the readymade state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.” In other words, the bourgeois state has to be destroyed in the course of the revolution and replaced by a new state of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Basing themselves on the theory of scientific socialism elaborated by Marx and Engels, the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin organized the working class of Russia to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie and to set up the first socialist state in the world. In every country where communists have sought to organize the working class for revolution and socialism, they have been guided by the principles and world view so powerfully outlined in The Communist Manifesto. No other written work has had such a powerful impact on the destiny of the modern world.
The imperialist bourgeoisie carries out incessant propaganda against the doctrine of communism. They portray the teachings of Marx and Engels as outdated and not applicable to the present day world. Their aim is to prolong the life of the man eating capitalist imperialist system by preventing the working class from being armed with the revolutionary theory that would guide it in the struggle to overthrow capitalism and build a new socialist society. However, all the developments that have taken place in the world in the past 170 years only confirm and reconfirm the teachings of the Communist Manifesto. Human society can and must advance from the present stage of capitalism to socialism in order to open the path to progress. It is the historical mission of the working class to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie and build the new socialist society. It is the task of the communist party, as the vanguard of the working class, to organize the working class and make it conscious of its mission.
The Communist Manifesto illuminates the path for us Indian communists, in our work of organising the working class and making it conscious of its historic mission.