Communist Manifesto Remembered-Part 1

Red Books Day : Communist Manifesto being reprinted in massive editions of lakhs of copies in India                                   

Communist Manifesto was formally launched once again across India on 21 February, 2020 named as Red Books Day. The first version of the Communist Manifesto, written by Marx ( 1818-1883) and Engels (1820-1895) in German, had its publication date as 21 February 1848. On the anniversary of the first Publication, on 21st February, 2020, a new Telugu edition has been launched with one lakh copies, a record in publishing history, by itself welcome. Five Leftist publishing Houses joined hands in this venture on the Red Books Day. The book is priced low at Rs.10. This year is being observed as the Centenary Year of Communist Movement in India.Indian Communist Party (ICP) was formed in Tashkent in 1920 as an emigre unit.

Simultaneously editions are being brought out also in Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali, and Hindi. The aim is to sell one lakh copies in each language, said a spokesperson of  Nava Telangana Publishing House, in a related function at Hyderabad.      

manifesto first edition

The first version of the book, written in German. Author Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, both of Germany. Publication date 21 February 1848.

The Communist Manifesto, originally known as the “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” was written by German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It was written as the Communist League’s programme on the instruction of its Second Congress (London, November 29-Decem- ber 8,1847),

The authors were aged just 29-30 when the historic, concise and classic work was drafted. It has been serving as a guiding principle,  for the Communist movement, notwithstanding its myriad variations, and has profoundly changed the world.

“ A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism” it begins with stirring prose. It in fact haunts the whole world, even if it looks exaggerated or far-fetched.

In late February 1848, the Manifesto was anonymously published by the Workers’ Educational Association (Kommunistischer Arbeiterbildungsverein) at Bishopsgate in the City of London. Written in German, the 23-page pamphlet was titled Manifest der kommunistischen Partei and had a dark-green cover. It was reprinted three times and serialised in the Deutsche Londoner Zeitung, a newspaper for German émigrés. On 4 March, one day after the serialisation in the Zeitung began, Marx was expelled by Belgian police. Two weeks later, around 20 March, a thousand copies of the Manifesto reached Paris, and from there to Germany in early April. In April–May the text was corrected for printing and punctuation mistakes; Marx and Engels would use this 30-page version as the basis for future editions of the Manifesto.

“Co-authored by Marx and Engels in 1848, the Communist Manifesto was published over one hundred times in 19 languages when the authors were still alive.

“ The Bible-like monumental work ” reported Xinhua years ago on July 09, 2001, almost 20 years ago, has been translated into more than 1,000 versions in over 200 languages, including 23 versions in Chinese.

A revival of interest in Marx and Marxist thought was recently reported in the West, in Britain, the birthplace of Marxism. Waterstones, a British book retailer, sold more than 30,000 copies of the Manifesto within a week in late February 2015, Xinhua reported. (2018-02-23)

Sales of the “Communist Manifesto” have soared ever since 2008, when the global financial crisis broke out, as have those of “Das Kapital,” Marx’s masterpiece of political economy, and the “Grundrisse,” which in English is the “Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy.”

Between 1871 and 1873, the Manifesto was published in over nine editions in six languages; in 1872 it was published in the United States for the first time, serialised in Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly of New York City.

Over the next forty years, as social-democratic parties rose across Europe and parts of the world, so did the publication of the Manifesto alongside them, in hundreds of editions in thirty languages.

Marx and Engels wrote a new preface for the 1882 Russian edition, translated by Georgi Plekhanov in Geneva. In it they wondered if Russia could directly become a communist society, or if she would become capitalist first like other European countries.

After Marx’s death in 1883, Engels alone provided the prefaces for five editions between 1888 and 1893. Among these is the 1888 English edition, translated by Samuel Moore and approved by Engels, who also provided notes throughout the text. It has been the standard English-language edition ever since. This English edition of 1888 was adopted for most subsequent editions worldwide.

Engels was the author of Principles of Communism, a brief, popular booklet published in 1847, one year before the Manifesto. It was in a Q&A format with 25 questions.

In 1932 (Great Depression period) the American and British Communist Parties printed several hundred thousand copies of a cheap edition for “probably the largest mass edition ever issued in English”.

Secondly the work entered political-science syllabuses in universities, which would only expand after the Second World War. For its centenary in 1948, its publication was no longer the exclusive domain of Marxists and academicians; general publishers too printed the Manifesto in large numbers. “In short, it was no longer only a classic Marxist document”, Hobsbawm noted, “it had become a political classic tout court”.

The manuscript of the book is registered in the Memory of the World Programme, of the UNESCO, together with the volume I of The Capital by Karl Marx in June 2013.

Marxism is NOT a dogma, but is a Guide to Action, said Engels.   Lenin and Mao reiterated the same, even while they enriched and elaborated it further, drawing from experiences of Russian and Chinese revolutions. Thus developed Marxism-Leninism-Mao’s Thought, drawing from rich experiences of Russia and China, apart from others’ contributions.    

Seeking Truth from Facts is the kernel of Marxism, clarified Mao, and Deng reiterated it.Thus a basis was laid to counter dogmatism and ossified thinking, as CPC had put it.

With the publication of the document, written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, in February 1848, Marxism emerged “as if a lightning cut through dark sky,” said an article published by Xinhua News Agency.

A commentary published in People’s Daily, the Communist Party of China (CPC) flagship newspaper, had compared the Communist Manifesto to “a glorious dawn in human spiritual history” and “a spiritual home for communists.”

“One hundred and seventy years after the “Communist Manifesto” was first published in February 1848, it is still being recognized today by many people in Britain and other Western countries as a relevant tool to analyze capitalism’s shortcomings and human development path,” reported Xinhua on February 23, 2018.

Historical Background : Eric Hobsbawm

Even before the Russian Revolution of 1917 it had been issued in several hundred editions in some thirty languages, including three editions in Japanese and one in Chinese, wrote, Eric Hobsbawm (1917–2012), a British Marxist and internationally and highly accepted universal historian.

The following extract is taken from the manuscript of Eric Hobsbawm’s opening address to the international conference organised on the 150th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto and held at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris in 1998. He is particularly known for his four-volume work on the European capitalist history of the “long 19th century” and “short 20th century” as well as his reflections on “invented traditions” and his studies on workers. The Communist Manifesto in Perspective was its title.

Although both Marx and Engels prepared drafts, and the document clearly represents the joint views of both, the final text was almost certainly written by Marx after a stiff reminder by the Executive, for Marx, then as later, found it hard to complete his texts except under the pressure of a firm deadline. The virtual absence of early drafts might suggest that it was written rapidly. The resulting document of twenty-three pages , entitled Manifesto of the Communist Party (more generally known since 1872 as The Communist Manifesto), was published in February 1848 and printed in the office of the Workers’ Educational Association (better known as the Communistischcr Arbeiterbildungsverein, which survived until 1914), at 46 Liverpool Street in the City of London.

In 1998 we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the publication of this small pamphlet, which is almost certainly by far the most influential single piece of political writing since the French Revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen. …Nobody would have predicted a remarkable future for the Manifesto in the 1850s and early 1860s….By the mid-1860s virtually nothing that Marx had written in the past was any longer in print.

Marx’s prominence in the International Working Men’s Association (the so-called “First International”, 1864-72) and the emergence, in Germany, of two important working-class parties, both founded by former members of the Communist League who held him in high esteem, led to a revival of interest in the Manifesto, as in his other writings. In particular, his eloquent defence of the Paris Commune of 1871 (commonly known as The Civil War in France) gave him considerable popularity in the press as a dangerous leader of international subversion, feared by governments.

More specifically, the treason trial of the German Social-Democratic leaders, Wilhelm Liebknecht, August Bebel and Adolf Hepner in March 1872 gave the document unexpected publicity. The prosecution read the text of the Manifesto into the court record, and thus gave the Social-Democrats their first chance of publishing it legally, and in a large print run, as part of the court proceedings.

As it was clear that a document published before the 1848 Revolution might need some updating and explanatory commentary, Marx and Engels produced the first of the series of prefaces which have since usually accompanied new editions of the Manifesto. For several reasons the preface could not be widely distributed at the time, but in fact the 1872 edition (based on the 1866 edition) became the foundation of all subsequent editions. Meanwhile, between 1871 and 1873, at least nine editions of the Manifesto appeared in six languages. In the lifetime of the founders they were: (l) Preface to the (second) German edition, 1872; (2) Preface to the (second) Russian edition (the first Russian translation, by Bakunin, had appeared in 1869, understandably without Marx’s and Engels blessing); (3) Preface to the (third) German edition, 1883; (4) Preface to the English edition, 1888; (5) Preface to the (fourth) German edition, 1890; (6) Preface to the Polish edition, 1892; and (7) Preface “To Italian Readers”, 1893.

russian stamp

Russian stamp marking the Centenary of the Manifesto

Over the next forty years the Manifesto conquered the world, carried forward by the rise of the new (socialist) labour parties, in which the Marxist influence rapidly increased in the 1880s. None of these chose to be known as a Communist Party until the Russian Bolsheviks returned to the original title after the October Revolution, but the title Manifesto of the Communist Party remained unchanged. Even before the Russian Revolution of 1917 it had been issued in several hundred editions in some thirty languages, including three editions in Japanese and one in Chinese. Nevertheless, its main region of influence was the central belt of Europe, stretching from France in the West to Russia in the East. Not surprisingly, the largest number of editions were in the Russian language (70) plus 35 more in the languages of the Tsarist Empire – 11 in Polish, 2 in Yiddish, 6 in Finnish, 5 in Ukrainian, 4 in Georgian, 2 in Armenian. There were 55 editions in German plus, for the Habsburg Empire, another 9 in Hungarian and 8 in Czech (but only 3 in Croat and one each in Slovak and Slovene), 34 in English (covering the USA also, where the first translation appeared in 1871), 26 in French and 11 in Italian – not until 1889. Its impact in southwestern Europe was small – 6 editions in Spanish (including the Latin American ones); one in Portuguese. So was its impact in southeastern Europe (7 editions in Hungarian, 4 in Serb, 4 in Romanian, and a single edition in Ladino). Northern Europe was moderately well represented, with 6 editions in Danish, 5 in Swedish and 2 in Norwegian.

This uneven geographical distribution did not only reflect the uneven presence of the socialist movement, and of Marx’s own influence, as distinct from other revolutionary ideologies such as anarchism….

In short, the readers of the Manifesto, though they were part of the new and rising socialist labour parties and movements, were almost certainly not a representative sample of their membership. They were men and women with a special interest in the theory that underlay such movements. This is probably still the case.

This situation changed after the October Revolution – at all events, in the Communist Parties… Following Lenin, all leaders were now supposed to be important theorists, since all political decisions were justified on grounds of Marxist analysis – or, more probably, by reference to the textual authority of “the classics”: Marx, Engels, Lenin and, in due course, Stalin. The publication and popular distribution of Marx’s and Engels’s texts therefore became far more central to the movement than they had been in the days of the Second International…

The Communist Manifesto benefited from this new situation. Its circulation undoubtedly grew. The cheap edition published in 1942 by the official publishing houses of the American and British Communist Parties in “hundreds of thousands” of copies has been described as “probably the largest mass edition ever issued in English”. Its title was no longer a historical survival, but now linked it directly to the current politics. Since a major state now claimed to represent Marxist ideology, the Manifesto’s standing as a text in political science was reinforced, and it accordingly entered the teaching programme of universities, destined to expand rapidly after the Second World War, where the Marxism of intellectual readers was to find its most enthusiastic public in the 1960s and 1970s…

Although the Cold War had begun in the year of its centenary the Manifesto was no longer published simply by communist or other Marxist editors, but in large editions by non-political publishers (see photo below) with introductions by prominent academics. In short, it was no longer only a classic Marxist document; it had become a political classic… It is to remind ourselves that the Manifesto still has plenty to say to the world on the eve of the twenty-first century. (Eric Hobsbawm.)

Below is the cover page of the Manifesto, of the Penguin Classics edition.


And, consequently, Marx was the best hated and most calumniated man of his time. Governments, both absolutist and republican, deported him from their territories. Bourgeois, whether conservative or ultra-democratic, vied with one another in heaping slanders upon him. All this he brushed aside as though it were a cobweb, ignoring it, answering only when extreme necessity compelled him. And he died beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow workers — from the mines of Siberia to California, in all parts of Europe and America — and I make bold to say that, though he may have had many opponents, he had hardly one personal enemy. His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work.  (Frederick Engels’ Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx Highgate Cemetery, London. March 17, 1883)

All this never meant Marx or his work was infallible. Nor immutable. It needed to be adapted, applied, updated and interpreted to suit different conditions of time, space and context.


Manifesto:Western capitalism vs socialism

Such is the impact of Marx and the Manifesto that even Western capitalism, more so the so-called social democracies, have been influenced by them.  Now we see again Trump’s complaint against socialism. He urged his supporters in Kentucky, last November, “ to reject Democrats’ extremism and socialism”.

John Kenneth Galbraith (October 15, 1908 – April 29, 2006), also known as Ken Galbraith, US diplomat and statesman, was was one of the most widely read economists, 1950s through the 1970s, in the USA. See his views: 

In The Affluent Society (1958) Galbraith’s dominant theme was that production for private affluence brought public squalor. His The New Industrial State (1967) explained why our system produced such an overabundance of dog food and male deodorants and such a shortage of decent housing, medical care and breathable air. In Economics and the Public Purpose, his new book, Galbraith develops his theory as to why the interests of the technostructure and the interests of most Americans are not the same and concludes that we need “a new socialism” in the United States. Because the “market system” has abundant supply, little control over prices, and a self-exploiting labor force, its terms of trade vis-a-vis the “planning system” adverse.”…

What Galbraith offers here is a set of basic propositions for changing the balance of power in the American economy and a variety of implementing proposals. His basic idea is to socialize parts of the economy in order to insure the survival of capitalism in the rest. His point is a simple one. “The new socialism is not ideological; it is compelled by circumstance.” Those industries which provide basic human necessities, such as shelter, health services and local transportation, cannot function in the “market system,” and they have failed to be absorbed into the “planning system.” These .industries must pass into public ownership not because they are strong but because they are weak. Many such activities have already been taken over piecemeal by various local, state and Federal agencies. Such socialism, Galbraith argues, must now be seen as “a necessary and wholly normal feature of the system,” as in Sweden, Japan, Switzerland and other capitalist countries. The brand of socialism that rescues failing industries such as the Penn Central has not driven businessmen to the barricades in Europe and is not likely to do so here. Indeed, more and more industrialists now seem to agree with their Marxist critics that the expansion of the public sector is critical to the survival of capitalism.

But Galbraith goes further. He repeats his argument for nationalizing defense contractors who do more than 50 per cent of their business with the Government. To call military socialism by its right name would no doubt make things neater, but it is hard to see how this proposal would break the power of the national security bureaucracies to distort the United States economy.

In a brief passage Galbraith suggests but does not develop, a more radical form of socialism —the conversion of all “fully mature corporations” (those that have “completed the euthanasia of stockholder power”) into “fully public corporations.” He even suggests that General Motors and General. Electric, whether managed by company men or civil servants, might not be the last word in the evolution of human organization.

His list of reforms to bring greater equality into the American system – tax reforms, minimum income, price controls, governmental support of the market system, encouragement of unions, etc. – are for the most part sensible.

(from Galbraith’s General Theory of Reform, a Review article in the New York Times).  (, Sept. 16, 1973)

(The author is political observer and has contributed to

See also : Communist Manifesto Remembered : Part-2 –10 suggested measures of socialism : China’s socialism



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