1848: The Communist Manifesto is an indispensable compass for the future of humanity

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"A spectre is haunting Europe: the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe has entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: the Pope and the Czar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police spies."


These opening lines of the Communist Manifesto, written exactly 150 years ago, are today more true than ever before. A century and a half after the Communist League adopted its famous declaration of war of the revolutionary proletariat against the capitalist system, the ruling class is still busy with the spectre of communism. The Pope, along with his Stalinist friend Fidel Castro, still crusades in defence of the God given right of the ruling class to live from the exploitation of wage labour. The Black Book of Communism, the latest monstrosity of the "French Radicals", falsely blaming marxism for the crimes of its Stalinist foe, is presently being translated into English, German and Italian[1]. As for the German police, mobilised as ever against revolutionary ideas, they are presently being officially granted, through an alteration of the bourgeois democratic constitution, the right to electronically survey and eavesdrop on the proletariat at anytime, anywhere[2].


1998, the year of the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto, represents in fact a new climax of the historical war of the propertied classes against communism. Still benefiting enormously from the collapse of the eastern European Stalinist regimes in 1989, which it presents as the "end of communism", and in the aftermath of the 80th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917 last year, the bourgeoisie is attaining new production records for anti-communist propaganda. One might have imagined that the question of the Communist Manifesto would have offered a new opportunity to intensify this propaganda.

The opposite is true. Despite the evident historical significance of the date January 1998 - alongside the bible, the Communist Manifesto is worldwide the most frequently published book of the 20th century - the bourgeoisie has chosen to almost completely ignore the anniversary of the first truly revolutionary communist programme of its class enemy. What is the reason for this sudden deafening silence?


On January 10 1998, the German bourgeoisie published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung a statement on the Communist Manifesto. After claiming that the workers of the east had "shaken off their chains of communism", and that the "dynamic flexibility" of capitalism will continue to overcome all crises, thereby disproving Marx, the statement concludes "A hundred and fifty years after the appearance of the Manifesto, we no longer have to fear any ghosts."


This article, hidden away on page 13 in the economics and stock exchange supplement, is a not very successful attempt of the ruling class to reassure itself. Alongside it, on the same page, there is one article on the terrible economic crisis in Asia, and another on the new German official post-war unemployment record of almost 4.5 million. The pages of the bourgeois press themselves disprove daily the alleged refutation of Marxism by history. In reality there is no document existing today which troubles the bourgeoisie more profoundly than the Communist Manifesto - for two reasons. Firstly because its demonstration of the temporary historical character of the capitalist mode of production, of the insoluble nature of its own internal contradictions, confirmed by present day reality, continues to haunt a deeply anxious ruling class. Secondly because the Manifesto, already at that time, was specifically written to dispel working class confusions about the nature of communism. From a present day point of view, it can be read as a modern denunciation of the lie that Stalinism had anything to do with socialism. But this lie is today one of the principle ideological cards of the ruling class against the proletariat.

For these two reasons, the bourgeoisie has a vital interest in avoiding any kind of publicity which could draw too much attention to the Communist Manifesto and what is actually written in this famous document. In particular, it wants nothing to be said or done which might make workers curious enough to go and read it themselves. Basing itself on the historic impact of the collapse of stalinism, the bourgeoisie will go on claiming that history has refuted marxism. But it will be careful to avoid any close public examination of the communist goal identified by marxism, or of the historical materialist method employed to that end. Since Stalin's bourgeois "socialism in one country" is refuted in advance by the Communist Manifesto, and since its claims to overcome the capitalist crisis have worn thin, it will go on as long as possible ignoring the overpowering argumentation of this document. It will feel safer combating the "spectre" of Stalin's bourgeois "socialism in one country" presented as the horrible "fulfilment" of marxism and the October Revolution.


For the proletariat, on the contrary, the Communist Manifesto is the compass towards the future of humanity, showing the way out of the lethal dead end in which decadent capitalism has trapped humanity.

The bourgeois "spectre of communism"

The Communist Manifesto was written at a decisive moment in the history of the class struggle. The moment when the class representing the communist project, the proletariat, began to constitute itself as an independent class in society. To the extent that the proletariat developed its own struggle for its conditions of existence, communism ceased to be an abstract ideal elaborated by utopian currents, to become the practical social movement leading to the abolition of class society, and the creation of an authentic human community. As such, the principle task of the Manifesto was the elaboration of the real nature of the communist goal of the class struggle, as well as the principle means to achieve that goal. This also explains the gigantic importance of the Manifesto today in face of the bourgeois denigrations of communism and the class struggle. A relevance which the bourgeoisie today seeks to hide.


Thus, it is today not generally realised what is meant by the famous opening reference of the Manifesto to the "spectre of communism". It meant that at the time - as today - not the communism of the proletariat, but the false and reactionary "communism" of other social layers, including that invented by the ruling classes, dominated public attention. It meant that the bourgeoisie, not daring to openly combat, and thus publicly recognise, the communist tendencies already existing within the proletarian class struggle itself, benefited from this confusion in order to combat the development of an autonomous working class struggle. "Where is the opposition which has not been accused of communism by its opponents in power?" asks the Manifesto. "Where the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of Communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?"

Already in 1848, to a certain extent, it was this fake "spectre of communism" at the centre of public controversy which made it particularly difficult for the young proletariat to realise that communism, far from being something separate from and opposed to its daily class struggle, is nothing but the very nature, the historic meaning, and the final goal of that struggle. That, as the Manifesto wrote: "The theoretical conceptions of communism ... are but the general expression of real conditions of an existing class struggle, of an historic movement unfolding before our very eyes."


Herein lies the dramatic actuality of the Communist Manifesto. One and a half centuries ago, just as today, it shows the way forward by cutting through the anti-proletarian distortions of the nature of communism. In face of entirely new historical phenomena - mass unemployment and mass pauperisation in industrialised Britain, the shaking of a still semi-feudal Europe by periodic trade crises, the international spread of mass revolutionary discontent on the eve of 1848 - the most conscious sectors of the working class were already groping towards a clearer understanding that, by creating a new class of dispossessed producers, internationally bound together in associated labour by modern industry, capitalism had created its own potential grave diggers. The first major collective workers' strikes in France and elsewhere, the appearance of a first proletarian political mass movement in Britain (Chartism), and the socialist programmatic efforts above all of German workers' organisations (from Weitling to the Communist League) expressed these advances. But to establish the proletarian movement on a solid class basis, it was above all necessary to throw light on the communist goal of that movement, and thus consciously combat the "socialism" of all other classes. The clarification of this question was urgent since Europe in 1848 stood on the verge of revolutionary movements which, in France, were to reach their summit with the first head on, mass confrontation between bourgeoisie and proletariat.

This is why the Communist Manifesto devotes a whole chapter to exposing the reactionary character of non-proletarian socialism. These included in particular the very expressions of dominant classes directly opposed to the working class:


- Feudal Socialism partly aimed at mobilising the workers behind the reactionary resistance of the nobility against the bourgeoisie;
- Bourgeois Socialism, the expression of a "part of the bourgeoisie in search of remedies for social anomalies, in order to consolidate bourgeois society ".


It was thus first and foremost in order to combat these "spectres of communism" that the Communist Manifesto was written. As the foreword declares: "It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a Manifesto of the party itself."

The essential elements of this exposition were the materialist conception of history, and the classless communist society destined to replace capitalism. It is the brilliant solution of this historic task which makes the Manifesto today the indispensable point of departure of the proletarian struggle against the bourgeois ideological rubbish left behind by the Stalinist counter-revolution. The Communist Manifesto, far from being the out dated product of a past age, was far ahead of its time in 1848. At the time of its publication, it mistakenly believed the demise of capitalism arid the victory of the proletarian revolution to be close at hand. It is not until the 20th century that the realisation of the revolutionary vision of marxism is placed on the agenda of history. Reading it today, one has the impression that it has only just been written: so precise are its formulations of the contradictions of present day bourgeois society, and of their necessary resolution through the proletarian class struggle. This almost overpowering actuality is the proof that it is the genuine emanation of a truly revolutionary class carrying the future of humanity in its hands, equipped with an at once gigantic and realistic long term vision of human history.

The Manifesto: an invaluable weapon against Stalinism

Of course it would be wrong to compare the naive feudal and bourgeois "socialism" of 1848 with the Stalinist counter-revolution of the 1930s, which in the name of marxism destroyed the first victorious proletarian revolution in history, physically liquidated the communist working class vanguard, and subjected the proletariat to the most barbarous capitalist exploitation. Nevertheless, the Communist Manifesto already uncovered the common denominator of the "socialism" of exploiting classes. What Marx and Engels wrote about "conservative or bourgeois socialism" at the time applies fully to 20th century Stalinism.


"Under transformation of the material conditions of life, this socialism does not at all understand the abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, which is only possible through revolutionary means, but only the realisation of administrative reforms on the basis of those very bourgeois productive relations, reforms which, consequently do not at all change the relation between wage labour and capital, but at best reduce for the bourgeoisie the price of its rule and simplify the state budget."


Stalinism proclaimed that despite the persistence of what it called "socialist" wage labour, the product of this labour belonged to the producing class, since the personal exploitation by individual capitalists had been replaced by state ownership. The Manifesto, as if in reply, asks "Does wage labour, the labour of the proletarian, create property for him?" and replies: "Certainly not. It creates capital, in other words the property which exploits wage labour, and which can only increase on condition that it produces still more wage labour, in order to exploit it anew. Property in its present form moves within the opposition between capital and wage labour ...To be a capitalist is to occupy not only a purely personal, but above all a social position in production. Capital is a collective product: it cannot be brought into motion except through the common activity of many members, and even in the last analysis of all the members of society. Capital is therefore not a personal power; it is a social power."

This fundamental understanding of the Manifesto, that the juridical replacement of individual capitalists by state ownership in no way - contrary to the Stalinist lies - alters the capitalist nature of the exploitation of wage labour, is formulated even more explicitly by Engels in Anti-Duhring:


"But the transformation, either into joint-stock companies, or into state ownership, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces (...) The modem state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of the productive forces, the more it actually becomes the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers - proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head."

But it is above all by defining the fundamental difference between capitalism and communism that the Manifesto reveals clearly the bourgeois character of the former Stalinist countries:


"In bourgeois society living labour is merely a means of multiplying accumulated labour. In communist society, accumulated labour is but the means towards the enlargement, enrichment and embellishment of the existence of the worker. In bourgeois society, the past dominates the present; in communist society the present dominates the past."


This is why the industrialisation successes of Stalinism in Russia in the 1930's at the expense of a savage reduction in the living conditions of the workers is the best proof of the bourgeois nature of this regime. The development of the productive forces to the detriment of the consumption power of the producers is the historic task of capitalism. Humanity had to go through this inferno of capital accumulation in order that the material preconditions for a classless society could be created. Socialism, on the contrary, and each and every real step towards that goal, is characterised first and foremost by the quantitative and qualitative growth in consumption, in particular of foodstuffs, clothing and housing. This is why the Manifesto identified the relative and absolute pauperisation of the proletariat as the main characteristic of capitalism, which becomes "incapable of ruling, because it is incapable of securing the existence of its slaves within their slavery, because it is obliged to let it sink to the point of having to feed it instead of being fed by it. Society can no longer live under its domination."

And this in a double sense: because impoverishment drives the proletariat to revolution; and because this mass impoverishment means that the extension of capitalist markets cannot keep pace with the extension of capitalist production. The result: the mode of production rebels against the mode of exchange; the productive forces rebel against a mode of production which they have outgrown; the proletariat rebels against the bourgeoisie; living labour against the rule of dead labour. The future of humanity affirms itself against the domination of the present by the past.

The Manifesto: the marxist demolition of "socialism in one country"

Capitalism has indeed created the preconditions of classless society, giving humanity for the first time the possibility of overcoming the struggle for survival, of man against man, by producing an abundance of the principal means of subsistence and human culture. It is for this reason alone that the Manifesto sings the praises of the revolutionary role of bourgeois society. But these preconditions - in particular the world market and the world proletariat itself - only exist on a world scale. The highest form of capitalist competition (itself but the modem version of the age old struggle of man against man for survival under the rule of scarcity) is the economic and military struggle for survival between bourgeois nation states. This is why the overcoming of capitalist competition, and the establishment of a truly collective human society, is only possible through the overcoming of the nation state, through a world proletarian revolution. The proletariat alone can assume this task since, as the Manifesto declares, "the workers have no country." The rule of the proletariat, we are told, will make national demarcations and antagonisms between peoples disappear more and more. "Its common action, at least in the civilised countries, is one of the first conditions of its emancipation."


Already before the Manifesto, in Principles of Communism Engels answered the question if the socialist revolution can be restricted to one country, as follows:

"No. Big industry already through the creation of the world market has placed all the peoples of the earth, and particularly the most civilised ones, in such an intercourse with one another, that each nation is dependent on what happens to the others (...) The communist revolution will therefore be no mere national affair, it will be a revolution incorporating simultaneously all the civilised countries i.e. at least England, America, France and Germany."


Here we have the final deadly blow of the Manifesto against the bourgeois ideology of the Stalinist counter-revolution: the so-called theory of socialism in one country, The Communist Manifesto was the compass guiding the world revolutionary wave of 1917-23. It was the glorious slogan of the Manifesto "workers of the world, unite!" which guided the Russian proletariat and the Bolsheviks in 1917 in their heroic struggle against the imperialist war 01 the capitalist fatherlands, in the proletariats seizure of power to begin the world revolution. It was the Communist Manifesto which formed the point of reference of the famous programmatic speech of Rosa Luxemburg at the founding congress of the KPD, at the heart of the German revolution, and of the founding Congress of the Communist International 1919. It was equally the uncompromising proletarian internationalism of the Manifesto, of the whole Marxist tradition, which inspired Trotsky in his struggle against "socialism in one country", which inspired the Communist Left in its over half a century of struggle against the Stalinist counter-revolution.

The Communist Left honours the Manifesto of the Communist Party of 1848 today, not as a leftover from a distant past, but as a powerful weapon against the lie that stalinism was socialism, and as an indispensable guide towards the necessary revolutionary future of humanity.



[1] Le livre noir du communisme: crimes, terreur, repression.

[2] The so-called "grosse Lauschangriff" (great eavesdropping attack) of the German bourgeoisie, allegedly aimed against organised crimes, but which specifies 50 different offences, including different forms of subversion, as its target.