A Note: Read Oxford "Very Short Introductions" as a Way of Studying for the Econ 105 Exam...

Yes, the Communist Manifesto Is Worth Reading. Why Do You Ask?

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As you get ready to study for the final exam in Econ 105, let me make a suggestion: rather than going back over the (long and sometimes difficult) large selections from Capital assigned in the course syllabus, take a look at something else Marx wrote (with his BFF Friedrich Engels)—the Communist Manifesto. I recommend the Manifesto itself; an article by George Boyer (that I commissioned) on its historical context; the MEIA's brief sketch of the Communist League, the organization for which the Manifeso was written; and British economist Eric Hobsbawm's introduction to the 150-year-anniversary reprinting of the Manifesto. These pieces are all quick and lively, and they go back over the intellectual terrain and context of Capital and of Marx's ideas from a somewhat different ankle—thus making them excellent things to read as part of your studying process:

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848): Manifesto of the Communist Party https://delong.typepad.com/files/manifesto.pdf...

Marx/Engels Internet Archive: The Communist League https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/communist-league/index.htm...

George Boyer (1998): The Historical Background of the Communist Manifesto https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.12.4.151...

Eric Hobsbawm (1998): The Communist Manifesto in Perspective https://www.transform-network.net/en/publications/yearbook/overview/article/journal-112012/the-communist-manifesto-in-perspective/: 'It is, of course, a document written for a particular moment in history. Some of it became obsolete almost immediately.... More of it became obsolete as the time separating the readers from the date of writing lengthened. Guizot and Metternich have long retired.... The Tsar (though not the Pope) no longer exists...

...The “materialist conception of history” which underlay this analysis had already found its mature formulation in the mid-1840s.... In this respect the Manifesto was already a defining document of Marxism. It embodied the historical vision, though its general outline remained to be filled in by fuller analysis.

How will the Manifesto strike the reader who comes to it for the first time in 1998? 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....

What will undoubtedly also strike the contemporary reader is the Manifesto’s remarkable diagnosis of the revolutionary character and impact of “bourgeois society”. The point is not simply that Marx recognised and proclaimed the extraordinary achievements and dynamism of a society he detested, to the surprise of more than one later defender of capitalism against the red menace. It is that the world transformed by capitalism which he described in 1848, in passages of dark, laconic eloquence, is recognisably the world in which we live 150 years later....

Two things give the Manifesto its force. The first is its vision... that this mode of production was not permanent, stable, “the end of history”, but a temporary phase.... The second is its recognition of the... bourgeoisie... [and its] miracles ascribed to it in the Manifesto.... In 1850 the world produced no more than 71,000 tons of steel (almost 70 per cent of it in Britain) and had built less than 24,000 miles of railroads (two-thirds of these in Britain and the USA). Historians have had no difficulty in showing that even in Britain the Industrial Revolution (a term specifically used by Engels from 1844 on) had hardly created an industrial or even a predominantly urban country before the 1850s. Marx and Engels did not describe the world as it had already been transformed by capitalism in 1848; they predicted how it was logically destined to be transformed by it. We now live in a world in which this transformation has largely taken place, even though readers of the Manifesto in the third millennium of the Western calendar will no doubt observe that it has advanced even further since 1998...


#books #history #historyofeconomicthought #2019-11-23

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