Communist Manifesto 165 years old today February 21, 2013Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Communism.
How will the Manifesto strike the reader who comes to it today for the first time? The new reader can hardly fail to be swept away by the passionate conviction, the concentrated brevity, the intellectual and stylistic force, of this astonishing pamphlet. It is written, as though in a single creative burst, in lapidary sentences almost naturally transforming themselves into the memorable aphorisms which have become known far beyond the world of political debate: from the opening ‘A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of Communism’ to the final ‘The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.’ Equally uncommon in nineteenth-century German writing: it is written in short, apodictic paragraphs, mainly of one to five lines — in only five cases, out of more than two hundred, of fifteen or more lines. Whatever else it is, The Communist Manifesto as political rhetoric has an almost biblical force. In short, it is impossible to deny its compelling power as literature.
But then, the Manifesto — and this is not the least of its remarkable qualities — is a document which envisaged failure. It hoped that the outcome of capitalist development would be ‘A revolutionary reconstitution of society at large’ but, as we have already seen, it did not exclude the alternative: ‘common ruin’. Many years later, another Marxian rephrased this as the choice between socialism and barbarity. Which of these will prevail is a question which the twenty-first century must be left to answer.