In 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto. How has this memorable writing influenced world history? A Brief History of Communist Thought.
On February 21, 1848, the German philosophers Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) published the Communist Manifesto. This writing has since served as the core of Marxist thought, in which history is seen as a step-by-step development towards the emergence of a communist organized state. Marx and Engels heralded an inevitable class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletarians, the ruling class, and the working class.
Through the emergence of a spontaneous workers’ revolt, this would eventually be won by the working class, after which a classless (communist) society would emerge. The overarching state would then disappear and make way for small self-regulating organs. However, until then, a highly centrally regulated state would have to take far-reaching leveling and socializing measures that ensured as much equality as possible.
The Father Of Communism.
Over the years, the Communist Manifesto has not only directed communist parties worldwide. The more moderate Social Democrats also regarded Marx as their ideological father for a long time. Marx’s importance for the Social Democrats is evident from the adoption in 1891 of a Marxist party program by Germany’s largest socialist party.
Partly influenced by the Russian communist Lenin (1870–1924), social-democratic support for the Communist Manifesto declined rapidly at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, the communists held on strongly to Marx and Engels.
For example, the Russian Marxist theorist Georgi Plekhanov (1856–1918) praised Marx for his economic and political ideas and elevated his philosophy to a comprehensive epistemology. Plekhanov was responsible for the spread of Marxism among the Russian intelligentsia, including Lenin.
However, the future leader of the Soviet Union went further than Marx and Engels in several areas. For example, he argued that the spontaneous workers’ uprising should initially be subordinate to the communist party.
The three Russian revolutions that would subsequently break out resulted in establishing the communist-led Soviet Union in 1917. The division between Social Democrats and Communists had already taken place by Lenin shortly after the First World War changed his party’s name to “Communist Party,” to show the distinction between the evolutionary and revolutionary tendencies within Marxism.
Lenin’s successor Joseph Stalin (1878–1953), had his own ideas about Marxism’s interpretation. After settling the ideological struggle between the two communist currents of the Bolsheviks (Stalin) and the Mensheviks ( Trotsky, 1879–1940) in his favor, a barbaric development of communism followed. Millions of peasants fell victim to Stalin’s massive collectivization plans. Many were deported or killed on the spot, and many supposed “counterrevolutionaries” within the Communist Party were unceremoniously disposed of.
Under Stalin’s rule, a true cult of worship of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and the leader himself started around the end of the 1920s. References to quotes from these ideologues legitimized all changes.
Stalin himself added that socialism could be built in one country (this in contrast to the Menshevik Trotsky, who was in favor of an international and permanent revolution), that the class struggle should intensify as the construction of socialism progressed and that before it would disappear definitively, the state would first develop to the maximum.
The Danger Of Red.
After the Second World War, communism quickly gained international weight. Eastern Europe provided Communist-style governments by the Soviet liberator. Countries such as China, North Korea, and Cuba were also under communist rule. The development of the atomic bomb by the Soviet Union in 1949 certainly contributed to communism’s growing international prestige.
In many Western countries, the ‘red danger’ was viewed with growing fear; in the United States, this resulted in a true communist witch hunt, McCarthyism.
As a core state of this growing communist influence on the world, the Soviet Union began a de-Stalinization campaign in 1956 under the leadership of new political leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971).
The horrors of the Stalin regime were condemned, widespread terror was a thing of the past, and relations with the capitalist states were strengthened in the wake of peaceful coexistence. This teaching stated that social systems should be able to coexist peacefully.
After the replacement of Khrushchev by Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982), it gradually became clear that Marx’s communist society seemed to be increasingly distant. The Soviet Union was therefore referred to as a ‘developed socialist society’ from 1971 onwards. The dreamed Marxist idea of self-government by the classless society members seemed further away than ever, as more and more power fell to the bureaucracies of the state.
When The Soviet Union Collapsed.
The end of the Soviet Union did not lead to the complete disappearance of communism as a political ideology from the face of the earth. However, its influence is small.
Only in a few states (Cuba, Laos, North Korea, Vietnam) are Marx and Engels (or part thereof) put into political practice. The best-known example of a completely communist organized state and the state where a derivative of communism is most strictly applied is orth Korea.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been communist since 1950 and has been using the so-called Juche Idee since the constitutional amendment of 1972. This concept is a creative application of Marxism-Leninism and has permeated all of North Korean society for decades. According to the Juche, man is central and is recognized as the sole master of himself and all of nature.
Inspired by this, according to the creative revolutionary practice of the former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung (1912–1994) and his son and successor Kim Jong Il (b. 1941), for the first time in its existence, humanity will acquire total independence in all aspects and thereby truly giving shape to paradise on earth.
However, North Korea has been ravaged by famines in recent years, and the nuclear program it is said to develop has a strong destabilizing effect on the region.
The upcoming superpower China has largely shaken off its true Marxist feathers over the past 25 years and is on the road to a socialist-capitalist state. At the legendary Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in December 1978, Congress finally broke with the Great Leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976). Under the leadership of party leader Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997), liberalization in the economic, cultural, and, to a limited extent, the political field came to a head that went further than ever before in the People’s Republic. After the bloody crackdowns in Tiananmen in 1989, this process came to a temporary halt.
Still, the thread of modernization was quickly picked up again under the influence of China’s strong economic growth from the early 1990s. In 2004, the constitution was amended on two important points: protecting private property and human rights were first enshrined in the constitution.
To End Communism.
The extent to which the changes are being complied with is, of course, questionable. Still, it certainly points to a changing attitude among the authorities and an increasing distance from communist ideology.
It is, therefore, clear that the influence of the Communist Manifesto is minimal today. Only several marginal political groups, such as the NCPN in the Netherlands, still use it as a principle program.
In his standard work on political currents, political scientist Van Putten calls communism a past phenomenon because it has very much discredited itself and has perished from its own perverting.