The Third International after Lenin

Friday, February 21, 2014

166 years of the Communist Manifesto

‘Communist Manifesto’ speaks to workers today

(Books of the Month column)
Below is an excerpt from a 1937 introduction to the Communist Manifesto by Leon Trotsky. The introduction by the Bolshevik leader noted then, as remains the case today, the freshness and relevance of the Manifesto’s most important sections. Pathfinder’s Spanish-language edition of this founding programmatic document of the modern communist movement is one of its Books of the Month for August. Copyright © 1992 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.


It is hard to believe that the centennial of the Manifesto of the Communist Party is only ten years away! This pamphlet, displaying greater genius than any other in world literature, astounds us even today by its freshness. Its most important sections appear to have been written yesterday. Assuredly the young authors (Marx was twenty-nine, Engels twenty-seven) were able to look further into the future than anyone before them, and perhaps than anyone since them.

Already in their joint preface to the edition of 1872, Marx and Engels declared that despite the fact that certain secondary passages in the Manifesto were antiquated, they felt that they no longer had any right to alter the original text inasmuch as the Manifesto had already become a historical document, during the intervening period of twenty-five years. Sixty-five additional years have elapsed since that time. Isolated passages in the Manifesto have receded still further into the past. We shall try to establish succinctly in this preface both those ideas in the Manifesto which retain their full force today and those which require important alteration or amplification.

1. The materialist conception of history discovered by Marx only a short while before and applied with consummate skill in the Manifesto, has completely withstood the test of events and the blows of hostile criticism. It constitutes today one of the most precious instruments of human thought. All other interpretations of the historical process have lost all scientific meaning. We can state with certainty that it is impossible in our time to be not only a revolutionary militant but even a literate observer in politics without assimilating the materialist interpretation of history.

2. The first chapter of the Manifesto opens with the following words: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” This postulate, the most important conclusion drawn from the materialist interpretation of history, immediately became an issue in the class struggle. Especially venomous attacks were directed by reactionary hypocrites, liberal doctrinaires, and idealistic democrats against the theory which replaced “common welfare,” “national unity” and “eternal moral truths” as the driving force by the struggle of material interests. They were later joined by recruits from the ranks of the labor movement itself, by the so-called revisionists, i.e., the proponents of reviewing (“revising”) Marxism in the spirit of class collaboration and class conciliation. Finally in our own time, the same path has been followed in practice by the contemptible epigones of the Communist International (the “Stalinists”): the policy of the so-called People's Front flows wholly from the denial of the laws of the class struggle. Meanwhile, it is precisely the epoch of imperialism, bringing all social contradictions to the point of highest tension, which gives to the Communist Manifesto its supreme theoretical triumph.

3. The anatomy of capitalism, as a specific stage in the economic development of society, was given by Marx in its finished form in Capital (1867). But already in the Communist Manifesto the main lines of the future analysis are firmly sketched: the payment for labor power as equivalent to the cost of its reproduction; the appropriation of surplus value by the capitalists; competition as the basic law of social relations; the ruination of intermediate classes, i.e., the urban petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry; the concentration of wealth in the hands of an ever diminishing number of property owners at the one pole, and the numerical growth of the proletariat at the other; the preparation of the material and political preconditions for the socialist regime.

4. The proposition in the Manifesto condemning the tendency of capitalism to lower the living standards of the workers, and even to transform them into paupers, had been subjected to a heavy barrage. Parsons, professors, ministers, journalists, social democratic theoreticians, and trade union leaders came to the front against the so-called theory of impoverishment. They invariably discovered signs of growing prosperity among the toilers, palming off the labor aristocracy as the proletariat or taking a fleeting tendency as permanent. Meanwhile, even the development of the mightiest capitalism in the world, namely U.S. capitalism, has transformed millions of workers into paupers who are maintained at the expense of federal, municipal, or private charity.

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