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The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (Books 2007, 19)

I should have reviewed this for ‘Blog a Penguin Classic’, since I got it free from them on the condition that I would. Sadly, I took so long to finish both the reading and the reviewing, that by the time I tried to post the review, my opportunity to do so had expired. Which seems like a strange thing for Penguin to do, but I suppose they want to be able to offer it to someone else.

Alas. But anyone, here (and in rather more than the 1000 characters that Penguin were allowing) are my thoughts.

While I did read all of the _Manifesto_ itself, more than half of this volume is academic apparatus: introduction, notes, and so on; which I referred to when necessary, and dipped into otherwise, but didn’t read in full. Engels’s prefaces to the various editions of the _Manifesto_ start on page 191, and the actual text itself doesn’t start until page 218. It finishes on 258, so the whole is quite short.

Despite that, it took me quite a while to read (and considerably longer to write this review). It’s not the sort of thing that you can settle down into for a cosy read (not for me, at least).

Reading it now, in the zero-years of the 21st century, it’s hard to get a sense of how important, how dramatic a document it was when it was published in 1872. Much, if not all, of the content is familar just through general knowledge — always assuming you take an interest in politics, at least.

But I did learn one important thing. Quite a startling fact, really.

I had always believed that communism as a way of running a country had never truly been tried. The countries that we refer to as “communist” — the Soviet Union being the prime example — had been misnamed fascist dictatorships, however benign the intent of the revolutionaries that had initiated them. It seemed to me that communism was an ideal that could still, conceivably, be attained; but that no country had really moved in that direction.

I was wrong.

It’s clear from the _Manifesto_ that Marx saw terror and repression as a necessary part of the process of revolution (annoyingly, I can’t at the moment find the relevant quote to back that up). If he could have seen the Soviet Union, he would, I suspect, only say that it had got stuck on the way to communism, not that it had never been on that road.

Though I don’t imagine he would have approved of Stalin.

The other slightly odd thing is the apparent high regard for “feudalism”: The change from that is towards the growth of business, of capital, it’s true; but surely the workers, the proletariat, were in no better a position under feudalism, with rich individual landowners, than under capitalism, with businesses taking the same role.