Marx and Engels Publish Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The most important document in the history of socialism, The Communist Manifesto synthesized socialist theory of its time and anticipated the revolutions that were about to sweep Europe.

Summary of Event

On the eve of a period of revolutionary activity in Europe, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published a short tract that would become the most famous document in the history of the socialist movement. First published in late February, 1848, and originally titled Manifesto of the Communist Party, the 11,500-word pamphlet drew on political, economic, historical, and philosophical studies to depict capitalism’s rise and projected fall. Whereas most of the economists of that period failed to understand how a capitalist system worked, Marx was able to show the significance of the role of capitalism after the power of bourgeois owners was centralized during the 1830’s. Marx and Engels used their pamphlet to call for workers to unite in overthrowing the capitalist system in revolution. The themes of their manifesto blended together to produce a dramatic and logical document that was easy to comprehend. Marx, Karl [p]Marx, Karl;The Communist Manifesto[Communist Manifesto] Engels, Friedrich [p]Engels, Friedrich;The Communist Manifesto[Communist Manifesto] Communist Manifesto, The (Marx and Engels) Socialism;Communist Manifesto, The (Marx and Engels) Philosophy;Karl Marx[Marx] Marxism [kw]Marx and Engels Publish The Communist Manifesto (Feb., 1848) [kw]Engels Publish The Communist Manifesto, Marx and (Feb., 1848) [kw]Publish The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels (Feb., 1848) [kw]Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels Publish The (Feb., 1848) [kw]Manifesto, Marx and Engels Publish The Communist (Feb., 1848) Marx, Karl [p]Marx, Karl;The Communist Manifesto[Communist Manifesto] Engels, Friedrich [p]Engels, Friedrich;The Communist Manifesto[Communist Manifesto] Communist Manifesto, The (Marx and Engels) Socialism;Communist Manifesto, The (Marx and Engels) Philosophy;Karl Marx[Marx] Marxism [g]Germany;Feb., 1848: Marx and Engels Publish The Communist Manifesto[2580] [g]Belgium;Feb., 1848: Marx and Engels Publish The Communist Manifesto[2580] [c]Philosophy;Feb., 1848: Marx and Engels Publish The Communist Manifesto[2580] [c]Economics;Feb., 1848: Marx and Engels Publish The Communist Manifesto[2580] [c]Social issues and reform;Feb., 1848: Marx and Engels Publish TheCommunist Manifesto[2580] Marx, Jenny

Prior to the sixteenth century, the concept of socialism as a coherent political doctrine was unknown. It was not until Thomas More More, Thomas wrote Utopia Utopia (More) (1516) that the first socialist ideology formed. More’s writings were more personal than universal, and a true social movement did not begin to form until the nineteenth century, when socialism was introduced as an important public issue and it entered into the realm of European politics. However, the socialism of that era lacked definition and was merely a collection of thoughts and opinions without a system. As it fanned out into different groups, each sect had its own individual slant on socialism, one that favored an artisan outlook. It was not until the writing of The Communist Manifesto that modern socialism began to take shape.

Marx had helped to organize the Communist League after he was expelled from Paris in 1845. In 1847, the league authorized him to draft a party program. Marx had studied law and was a scholar and a specialist in philosophy but asked Engels to assist him in writing the document. Marx’s wife, Jenny Marx, Jenny , helped to copy documents and acted as her husband’s secretary. Engels, who lived in London, and Marx, who lived in Brussels, had to consult at long distance on the project; thus, it took some time to complete what would become The Communist Manifesto. More than likely, Marx was the primary author of the manifesto, into which he incorporated the thoughts and ideas that he and Engels shared. According to Engels himself, however, Marx was the originator of the idea of class struggle and the role of the proletariat.

The manifesto contained a ten-point program of communism and was divided into four parts, into which were woven historical, prophetic, moralistic, and revolutionary elements. The first part was historical and told of the rise of the ruling bourgeois class and of the creation of the proletariat, or the working class. Arguing that economics played the most important role in history, the manifesto divided history into three stages: slavery, feudalism, and capitalism. Although the word “capitalism” itself was not used, Marx and Engels traced the rise of the capitalist economy. Class struggles between those groups that owned and those that worked had always been a part of postliterate history, and these struggles would continue until the working class seized power and overthrew the capitalist system.

Karl Marx.

(Library of Congress)

The Communist Manifesto described the dire situation and explained that the ruling classes were turning the lives of proletariats into ordeals of poverty and alienation. Capitalists had turned workers into merchandise. Workers had no value if they could not find work, and their labor only made profits for the bourgeois owners. Industrialization and a need to keep increasing production in order to make money would further alienate workers as the class in power expanded its interests worldwide. New mechanization would be put in place to speed this production, and workers would be displaced in the social order. Workers therefore needed to prepare themselves for the inevitable class struggle of revolution. The role of revolutionary leaders would go to the communist workers because they were the most advanced of the proletariat.

Marx and Engels also refuted the existing ideas of socialist thought and moved from the utopian to scientific socialism. The scientific method, Marx and Engels wrote, explained the implications of capitalism. The formulation of this transition to scientific socialism had begun for the pair during the early 1840’s, and they had spent many intense sessions working out their theories. The Communist Manifesto also clarified the meaning of communism and its relationship to other radical democratic movements.

The Communist Manifesto predicted that revolution would begin in the most civilized countries of western and central Europe and argued that Germany was most likely to set the initial stage of this drama. The coming revolution was likely to be a national movement at first, and they called for “united action” on the part of civilized countries to crush the counterrevolutionary forces. As the countries gained force, they would be prepared to join together in an international organization. Marx and Engels’s predictions of coming revolution proved partly true. During the same year that their manifesto was published, working men staged revolts in countries throughout Europe.

On February 22, 1848, French students and laborers began demonstrating in Paris. Their actions prompted other such revolutions Revolutions of 1848;and Karl Marx[Marx] all over Europe. In Brussels, Marx spent money he had inherited from his father’s estate to secure weapons to arm Belgian rioters. Marx and his wife, Jenny, were arrested and then expelled from the country. They fled to Paris, but Marx was forced to leave France in 1849 because of his political views. Marx and his family then moved to London, where he spent the rest of his life.

After 1848, Marx spent most of his time clarifying his theories on capitalism. In 1867, he again collaborated with Engels in writing Das Kapital Kapital, Das (Marx) (English translation, 1886), which was a critique on the modern economic system and an extension of The Communist Manifesto. Only one volume appeared at the time, but Engels later published two additional volumes after Marx died.

Marx saw society not in religious or metaphysical terms but realistically. The world was a place that humankind could improve. He devoted his life to putting his thoughts and philosophies onto paper, but his writing never earned him enough money to live on easily. Most of the time he and his family lived in relative poverty and had to rely on the generosity of others, especially Engels, a successful textile manufacturer, to support them.

Significance

In 1864, the first communist party was formed as the International Working Men’s Association International Working Men’s Association[International Working Mens Association] ; however, it was soon split by factionalism. A second organization that adopted Marxism was founded in 1889 and gained strength in industrialized nations before it was terminated during World War I. A Third International was founded by the Russian socialist leader V. I. Lenin Lenin, Vladimir Ilich following the war.

Meanwhile, The Communist Manifesto appeared to lose much of its importance until the Paris Commune Paris Commune (1871) of 1871 highlighted the movements of the struggles of European workers. The rise of a second wave of industrialization exemplified Marx and Engels’s ideologies. Class bitterness rose between the proletariat and bourgeoisie as economic depression increased and businesses began to create monopolies. With its reprinting in 1872, The Communist Manifesto entered a new phase and became the foundation for the spread of the modern Social Democratic movement. Since that time, the document has been printed in hundreds of languages and appeared in thousands of editions.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bender, Frederic L., ed. Karl Marx: “The Communist Manifesto.” New York: W. W. Norton, 1988. Concise edition of The Communist Manifesto includes the various prefaces and complete text of the manifesto and offers interpretive accounts of the work by historians.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carver, Terrell. Engels: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Concise overview of Engels’s life and thought that explores the roots of Engels’s materialistic interpretation of history and explains how that interpretation influenced Marxist theory and practice.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lee, Wendy Lynn. On Marx. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2001. Brief overview of Marx’s philosophy for students. Covers Marx’s thoughts on human nature, labor and alienation, dialectics, and other subjects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rockmore, Tom. Marx After Marxism: The Philosophy of Karl Marx. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2002. Attempt to interpret Marx’s philosophy from an apolitical perspective, without the ideology that dominated many previous analyses.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schmitt, Richard. Introduction to Marx and Engels: A Critical Reconstruction. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1987. Broad study of the philosophies of the authors of The Communist Manifesto.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Steger, Manfred B., and Terrell Carver, eds. Engels After Marx. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999. Collection of essays examining Engels’s legacy after the death of Marx and after the decline of Marxism. Essayists define the significance of Engels’s contributions to philosophy, science, political economy, history, and socialist politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Struik, Dirk J., ed. Birth of “The Communist Manifesto.” New York: International Publishers, 1971. In addition to the prefaces and full text of the manifesto, the book provides a good view into the work’s historical significance.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wood, Allen W. Karl Marx. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2004. New edition of an extended essay that explores Marx’s ideas from a philosophical perspective.

Hegel Publishes The Phenomenology of Spirit

Ricardo Identifies Seven Key Economic Principles

Schopenhauer Publishes The World as Will and Idea

Young Germany Movement

Blanc Publishes The Organization of Labour

Prussian Revolution of 1848

First International Is Founded

Marx Publishes Das Kapital

Bakunin Founds the Social Democratic Alliance

Fabian Society Is Founded

Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party Is Formed

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