Book of the Month, November 2023 – The Communist Manifesto

Cover of The Communist Manifesto, reviewed by Maggie Shaw

For November’s Book of the Month I have chosen The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The version I read was the English translation published by Penguin in 2004 in their book series Great Ideas. This seminal work was first published in London in 1848, having been commissioned by the Communist League, and yet, though it is 175 years old and very much a document of its time, it is still relevant today.

This critique of capitalism was born of the economic conditions in Britain from 1837 to 1848, a period known as the “hungry” 1840s. It was strongly influenced by Engels’ own practical experience of capitalism in his family’s cotton firm in Manchester, and includes in condensed form his previous published work, The Condition of the Working Class is England (1845), a scathing indictment of early industrial capitalism.

The strength of The Communist Manifesto lies in its analysis of capitalist economics as a division between those who own the means of production (supported by a middle class), and those who can only live by the efforts of their labour. Its descriptions of that division helped popularised the terms proletariat and bourgeoisie in common language. Its final clarion call helped to stir up the working classes in several European countries with the rallying cries:

Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose by their chains. They have a world to win.

Working men of all countries, Unite!

I bought this book as background reading while writing my latest novel, which is set in three different cultures including a Communist one. I found the historical analysis of capitalism in the first chapter very illuminating. However, the later chapters and the prefaces to later editions also published in this volume, were more of historical interest only as they explored the resistance movements in Europe following the publication of the original manifesto.

As we experience again the ugly face of capitalism in this country and globally, with poverty and destitution not seen in such a scale in our own communities for a long time, maybe it is time for workers to take up that rallying call again. As extreme capitalism takes too much money out of the economy for most people to survive, it runs the risk of causing the re-emergence of extreme communism, thereby leading to its own downfall.

So there we have it, November’s Book of the Month! Be sure to check back in December as I’ll be revealing another must read.

Maggie x


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