Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Review: The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Communist Manifesto This is the eighth book I (randomly) picked to read out of the Penguin Great Ideas Series. It's number 13 in the list and part of series one (the red series).

I felt a bit daring reading 'The Communist Manifesto'. I was reading it on the train at one point and someone asked me if I was one!! I'm not, but I did actually enjoy the book. Firstly, even though it is about 160 years old, the society described was recognisable (unlike, for example, the society described in The Social Contract). Perhaps it was because this book was written after the industrial revolution, which was obviously a period that radically changed things. Much of the writing seems very reasonable and logical, but I always had the idea in the back in my mind that, however well communism might work in an ideal society, humans are just not ideal. I think the developments in communism since this was written demonstrate this.

The manifesto itself is pretty short, just over 50 pages, with the rest of the book devoted to prefaces from editions and then another essay by Karl Marx. The prefaces were actually really great, spanning from 1872 to 1893 (after Marx's death), and covering editions printed in England, Germany, Poland, Russia, Italy, France and more. They essentially provided a commentary of how communism evolved over those years. It was particularly interesting to read prefaces commenting on the changes in Russia. Engels and Marx were really hopeful that events in Russia would provide momentum for communism to spread across Europe. With hindsight we know this didn't happen - and also know that communism did not even persist in the USSR.

I have to say, though, I really should have left it at that. After the manifesto and the prefaces comes 'The Eighteenth Brumiare of Louis Bonaparte', an essay by Karl Marx. I read this the whole way through - to took *aaages* - far longer than reading the rest and to this day I have no idea of what it's about. Ok, I know it's about France and it has stuff about peasants and the aristocracy and Louis Bonaparte (who, if I'd read this wiki page first, I'd know was Napoleon I's uncle). I'll leave it at that...

No comments: