Ellan Read

sometimes witty book reviews

The Communist Manifesto

the communist maifesto

Year/place of publication: 1848, London
Found: Clearance shelf in uni campus bookstore
Pages/read time: 418 pages with annotations, 89 without. Three days.


Don’t be intimidated by this text. Just because the authors Frederich Engels and Karl Marx unleashed 150 years of political turmoil with it’s publication doesn’t mean that you should be intimidated. Ok, maybe just a little.

The Communist Manifesto itself is a summary of Engels’ and Marx’s theory of the class struggle and the imminent demise of capitalism in favour of the ‘superior’ socialist structure. Crucial to the duo’s theory is the place of capitalism. Rather than being an alternative to socialism, capitalism is supposedly an essential but brief period that societies must go through before ‘evolving’ into the socialist ideal.  The edition pictured above (Penguin, 2002) had me all set up for an intense and preponderous read. I was going to spend the next month – so I thought – delving into the great mysteries of this hugely influential text. But when I realised that most of my 418 page book was footnotes, I began to calm down. The Manifesto itself was first published as a pamphlet aimed at a working-class readership.* Which was exactly the point.

So why was I so intimidated by this comparatively little text? History.

From our modern viewpoint, the last 150 years of Communist ideology would suggest that The Communist Manifesto was something mind-blowingly magnificent, powerfully written and expertly delivered. It is not. In being a simple, accessible text, this unremarkable work of penmanship served its purpose extremely well. What reading this work taught me was the true source of Communist power – the people (yes, I felt dumb when that clicked). Unlike the legendary texts of similarly fervent followings (e.g. the Bible), this work is not a rule book for followers. It doesn’t punish those who might get it a bit wrong, it’s not too difficult to interpret and the language is so sterile that direct quotations can mostly be used today without any awkwardness (i.e. you can’t do this with the Bible because of the inherently sexist/heteronormative language it’s written in).**

Though some passages do use quite circumlocutive language, for the most part this text is very approachable. Whatever your political persuasion, this is an important text to be familiar with which and not something to be intimidated by. Plus, wicked amounts of bragging points if you actually read it.

Reading suggestion: Don’t read the annotations.


*Interestingly, though first published in London, the Manifesto was originally printed in German. An English translation did not appear for almost another year.
** I am not anti-religion, just anti-archaic-quotations

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