At this date, it is unnecessary to explain the continuing concern with a short pamphlet published nearly a century and a half ago. Page for page, no other publication in our time has rivaled the historical impact of the Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
The oft-repeated statement that the Manifesto gained no attention whatever when it first came off the press is, as we shall see, inaccurate.
But it is certainly true that, decade by decade, the significance of the Manifesto increased both in quantity and extension, until now it blankets most of the globe. The number of books and essays which, in whole or part, devote long discussions and evaluations to the views of the Manifesto—for or against—is enough to fill this book from cover to cover in a mere listing. But this book is not one of them. It is, logically, anterior to all of them for the following reason.
Before you can discuss the views in the Manifesto, you have to know what it says; and this is not quite as simple a requirement as it may seem. Firstly, there is the language problem, if you do not read German; and if you do, there are still some questions about textual changes in the German editions from 1848 on. Secondly, there are problems with any writing from the first half of the 19th century, for some German words were still altering in meaning (as in the case of Idiotismus). Thirdly, the language of politics was changing even more rapidly and extensively—for example, the word “democracy”—and the language of socialism was in process of being born; and this was the case in all national tongues. Fourthly, the authors of the Manifesto were writing for their contemporaneous public, who could be expected to know, say, who Guizot was; but this allusion, like many others, has dimmed out today even for more or less educated readers.
Above all, there are the problems that cluster about the “Authorized English Translation,” which is the English version you have undoubtedly read.
The new English version presented in the second section of this book follows the text of the first edition of 1848. The Authorized English Translation of 1888 (the A.E.T.) was made from what was then the latest German edition, published in 1883, or perhaps from the 1872 edition (which amounts to the same thing for translation purposes). Our Annotations—presented in the third section—will not only be concerned with the differences between the A.E.T. and the first edition, but also with the differences among the various German editions. It will also be necessary from time to time to refer to the other translations—in English and French—for which Marx and Engels bore some responsibility.
A necessary introduction to our subject is the history of the Communist Manifesto as a publication—the publication which has had the liveliest impact of any that ever came out of a bindery.
Books or essays dealing with the Manifesto are usually, in reality, essays on Marx and Marxism in general; but this is not our purpose. You will not find here a summary of Marx’s, or Marx’s and Engels’, theoretical and political development or relations to the early socialist movement, or of the ideological themes in the Manifesto. Such material, of course, is a necessary introduction, and for the purpose I would recommend a substantial biography of Marx, say, David McLellan’s. The present work assumes that the reader already has some acquaintance with the basic facts.
This caveat applies to essays on the Manifesto such as E. H. Carr’s in his
Studies in Revolution, A. Labriola’s in his Essays in the Materialistic
Conception of History, Sweezy and Huberman’s “The Communist Manifesto After
100 Years” in an edition of the Manifesto itself, or H. J. Laski’s
much-reprinted article. (You should be warned, however, against a consumer fraud
titled The History of the Communist Manifesto by V. Adoratsky, New York, 1938.)
Naturally, I do not mean to derogate the enterprise of discussing Marx’s ideas
via an inquiry into the Manifesto. But the present project is something else. *
Nor will we duplicate another type of book: the documentary collection on the Manifesto’s background. There are two that deserve notice. The older one is a volume titled The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, edited with an introduction and notes by D. Ryazanov (London, 1930). This is still of some interest for its section of “Explanatory Notes” and its Appendixes (documents). We will return to it in the last chapter. Newer is a collection titled Birth of the Communist Manifesto, with an introduction, notes and translations by Dirk J. Struik (New York, 1971). This is very useful.
But there is only a single work that explores the history of the Manifesto as a publication, and I must emphasize it because it provides much of the factual framework of this book. It provides a great deal of raw material for what we are calling a “close-up history” of the Manifesto. If you are a camera, you need a broad focus to see the sweep of the sociohistorical forces in whose context the Manifesto was produced; you need a somewhat narrower one to focus in on the development of the two authors themselves in the context of the early socialist movement. And we must narrow the focus considerably more in order to follow the vicissitudes of the Manifesto as a published document, on the background of all the preceding.
The factual detail for this enterprise is supplied by Bert Andréas’ outstanding work of scholarship, Le Manifeste Communiste de Marx et Engels. Histoire et Bibliographie 1848-1918 (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1963).
This notable work seems to have largely escaped the attention of researchers in socialist history or Marx studies: one seldom encounters substantial use of its material, even in the scholarly literature. Part of the reason must be its form. It consists of bibliographical entries and tables, drily informative, and approximately as readable as a telephone directory; it does not offer a narrative account. The story of the Manifesto’s adventures in the world has to be mined and quarried from its pages.
While Andréas’ work provides much of the framework, I have also utilized a number of other sources, including the annotation of the Marx-Engels Werke (MEW), the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, and other basic editions of the Marx-Engels works; added political background information and interpretation, wherever necessary; and reorganized and rearranged the whole into a connected account. The result is a history of the Manifesto for which Andréas cannot be held responsible; all interpretations and opinions are naturally my own.
Because Andréas is such a reliable guide in general, I have not dared to depart from his conclusions without warning the reader; and so in a few cases where I have differed with his interpretations, I have noted and explained the issues. For that matter, I have done this also with other sources which are so important that, when they do make an error, it is necessary to note it: the MEW annotation, for example. Instead of page references to Andréas’ entries, I usually give his entry numbers; for example: A#100 means his item No. 100.