The Communist Manifesto’s Greatest Hits

The winter of 1847-1848, just like this last one, was a winter of acceleration. The US took a huge step in fulfilling its Manifest Destiny by annexing half of Mexico and effectively doubling in size. James W. Marshall found gold in a river in Coloma, triggering the California Gold Rush which transformed the 1000-resident settlement of San Francisco into a city of 25,000 inhabitants coming from the five continents. In Europe, meanwhile, the streets were ripe for revolution, and Louis Philippe I, le Roi Citoyen, was spending his last days as King of the French.

In London, the League of Communists had commissioned two bourgeois Germans, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, to devise a long-term strategy for their clandestine organization. The result, published on February 21st, 1848, was a 23 pages long essay with dark green covers, written in German. Its title was Manifesto of the Communist Party, also known as The Communist Manifesto. The only surviving page of the manuscript is stored in the Memory of the World Register, a UNESCO archive dedicated to preserving documents symbolic of the historical heritage of the peoples of the world. In this collection, the Germans are currently represented by twenty-one documents, including said page. This reflects the importance given by Humanity to the short pamphlet, as it puts the Manifesto at the level of the first Bible printed by Gutenberg, in 1452, and the motor car patent of Carl Benz, from 1886.

Today’s post will focus on two of the Manifesto’s predictions, which stand out for their accuracy: Capitalism is global, and Communists are its ruling class. A particularly shining example of this is the People’s Republic of China leadership as the world’s first economic power: a Capitalist State governed by the Communist Party for more than 70 years. It should not be a surprise to anyone, then, that to celebrate the bicentennial of Karl Marx’s birth in 2018, the Chinese government delivered to the citizens of Trier, his birthplace in Germany, a statue of the philosopher. The monument, sculpted in North Korean proportions, was inaugurated in a previous act by Jean-Claude Juncker, who was at the moment President of the European Commission.

The combined praise of Marx from both capitalists and communists is the heartwarming echo of the lifetime friendship that united two men: Karl Marx himself, and textile industrialist Friedrich Engels. It is convenient to remember that, despite being a professional revolutionary, Marx was the brother-in-law of Ferdinand von Westphalen (1799-1876), Minister of Interior of the Prussian government, with whom he always stayed in friendly terms. Marx was also the cousin of Frederik Philips, who founded the multinational electronics corporation Philips with his two sons Anton and Gerard. These family relations, of course, do not explain anything by themselves. I’m just pointing them out as a metaphor of the strong historical synergies between capitalists and communists, and because they paint an interesting picture of the family, social and intellectual environment of the founders of Communism.

Perhaps Engels words in the Preface of the Manifesto’s 1893 Italian edition will be better to make our case clear: “The men who suppressed the Revolution of 1848 were, nevertheless, its testamentary executors in spite of themselves. (…) The Revolution of 1848 (…) paved the way, prepared the ground for the latter [workers’ revolution]. (…) The Manifesto does full justice to the revolutionary part played by capitalism in the past”. This statement is not ironic. The communists’ intent was to succeed the capitalists in their war against the bourgeois regime. The bourgeois had served their purpose as creators of a proletarian class, and now they were to let the communists take the lead. For Marx and Engels, there’s little doubt that few forces are more corrosive for bourgeois rule than Capitalism’s acceleration tendencies. In reaching the telos of the Revolution, capitalists and communists have been rowing together, serving the same dialectic (accelerative) process. The authors of the Manifesto assert that Communists like themselves are the most qualified group to assume the role of leaders in the international revolutionary movement. They are the only ones who know how to lead on the proletarians, the social class destined to fight directly against the bourgeoisie and ensure its destruction so that something new can be built in its place.

Those suspicious of ideological motives as the sole articulators of conflict might see a generational element intertwined with the communist revolution. The Bourgeois State which the young communists wanted to destroy was the society which had reaped the benefits of the French Revolution and the overthrowing of Absolutism. They are the memetic equivalent of the people born in the pastel-toned prosperity of the 50s, the sons of the Greatest Generation who fought World War Two. Those born after the Napoleonic Wars had their own revolutions from 1830 to 1848. Boomers fought in Vietnam and ended totalitarian regimes, too. But those struggles are long gone and, even if the young can appreciate their motives, it doesn’t make sense to dwell on them any more. They have received their reward in full (Mt 6: 2). The fight is somewhere else now. To the Spring of Nations revolutionary’s ramblings about liberal civic nationalism, the young communist answers curtly: “Ok, boomer”.

This article is part of a series centered around the Communist Manifesto. The following installment is available here.