Book Review: The Communist Manifesto

This month, I’m reading a collection of explicitly political works. Hopefully each of them will touch on different political treatises, so if you don’t like one of them, stick around for another.

The Book

The Communist Manifesto reading 2021

The Communist Manifesto
Author: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
1888
Project Gutenberg Link

What red-blooded American hasn’t heard of this… red… um…

What true American hasn’t lambasted this Pinko, commie book!? Every one of us, down to the smallest child and up to the eldest living in our nation, have been instilled with the lessons of the Cold War and the evils of COMMUNISM.

So, if pure, raw capitalism didn’t win you over last week, you’re invited to feast your traitorous eyes on this review.

NSA please don’t put me on a list.

4/5 Discoball Snowcones

4 Discoball Snowcones

Review: As Reading Material

This was an extremely short read – I think one could carry this in a pocket if they wanted! While other manifestos and political premises are also short, this one is (especially for the time it was published) powerful and well-written. The first section, especially, has very persuasive language in the English version.

The section about communist history and comparison of different types of communism was a bit drier. I had to try a little harder when I didn’t recognize the names of early French communists and socialists, but it added to the pamphlet in a more academic way than a persuasive one. It showed thought rather than feeling, which offset much of the strong emotions in the rest of the book, but it also seemed slapdash and an intentional fling to make an argument that their treatise was logical as well as good-feeling. So I liked the front end better.

Review: As a Political Treatise

I am fairly familiar with 19th century developments. Politically, historically, militarily, and scientifically, the 19th century was a time of surprisingly rapid change. Though science is advancing quickly now, that quick, forward progress is expected rather than a surprise. By the time Marx and Engels wrote the Manifesto, opinions on growth and human progress were undergoing mammoth shifts.

As such, I found it great that the book included information about both proletariat vs. monarchy in addition to the well-known proletariat vs. bourgeousie conflict. Though the Marxists were in an era of monarchs, they saw the tide turning toward the bourgeois and assumed their eventual, inevitable enemy.

Also interesting were two movements simultaneous with communism and that have gained more traction: feminism and decolonialism. The manifesto acknowledged the status of women and addressed the stripping of colonies’ wealth as bad. I was interested to see the authors look – even with just a glimpse – outside their own hegemony.

The biggest issue, to me, was the lack of positive suggestions for how a proletarian government would work. The pamphlet had very persuasive fear mongering about what was bad, but it was unclear on the form of an alternative. It thus seemed that it could be equally likely the authors were men trying to gain power as much as men trying to spread wealth more fairly.

Review: Cultural Importance

Communism isn’t present in the form we knew it best in the 20th century – the USSR – but this book is still very much alive in current political movements. Socialism, which has evolved from a less-violent branch of communist thought, appears in many political parties of several nations.

Though modern movements almost all reject the bloody revolution, the idea of security for all penetrates many factions (sure, you Maoists out there might believe in the bloody uprising, but then again the Iron Rice Bowl worked out well, huh?). Some of the more emotionally pleasant pieces of the Communist Manifesto are showing up in the left-leaning parties, but in America – of course – even the good ideas from the manifesto are lost behind the label of our greatest enemy: COMMUNISM.

A great book to read if you’re interested in politics or the 19th century. Not interesting for those seeking fantasy, though.

Next week:

Whew, that was a close one! Now, onward to absolute dictatorship and monarchism with Machiavelli’s The Prince!

16 thoughts on “Book Review: The Communist Manifesto

  1. trentpmcd says:

    But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
    You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow…
    Sorry, my inner John Lennon came out, but yeah, we don’t talk about “When the Revolution happens” like it is foregone conclusion the way they did in the 60s and 70s.. Which is for the better!
    I read The Prince many years ago and was surprised since everyone knows the meaning of “Machiavellian”. I’m curious to see your take.

      • trentpmcd says:

        The other thing, if I remember correctly (it has been many years!) is that people seem to call it out as an instruction manual, while I read it as an observation of how these leaders are behaving, and his observations are not always kind…

      • H.R.R. Gorman says:

        I almost see it as a sort of analysis of leadership and what Machiavelli thought was working. I actually don’t think you can follow his “instructions” without knowing more about your own situation – just as most of the leaders he looked at may have performed differently had they been in different situations.

        I also think I just didn’t have enough background in Italian history. Probably never will, haha.

  2. Peter Martuneac says:

    I had two problems with the Communist Manifesto. One, which you mentioned, was the lack of proposed alternatives. Marx and Engels are great at pointing out where things are going wrong, but that’s the easy part. As for real, actionable changes, not so much. Two, several times while reading it I felt like I was reading an angsty, 90’s kid’s Buzzfeed article about how great everything used to be (even if it really wasn’t all that great). “Hey, remember back when everything was worse? Wasn’t that so much better?”

    • H.R.R. Gorman says:

      You are *so right* with that second one. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the angstiness, and all I detected was “the feels” in that first half. But in retrospect, I think you’re right.

  3. robertawrites235681907 says:

    An interesting review, H. Your point about men trying to gain power is well made. I tend to believe this is the truth behind all political regimes which is why they never work. The pure intention is sullied by human greed. This point is made in 1984 by George Orwell and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

  4. D. Wallace Peach says:

    So interesting, HRR. I should read this (especially since its short!). I hate the way terms like Communism and Socialism (and Capitalism) get tossed around without the “tossers” really understanding the terms. My guess is that all three have some excellent ideas as well as pitfalls. Honestly, anything us humans come up with can be wrecked by people with unscrupulous goals and the ability to close their eyes to their own hypocrisy. Sigh. Thanks for the tantalizing review.

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