The Communist Manifesto
By Roger Spalding, History Review 2000
Roger Spalding introduces one of the most important publications in modern world history. The Communist Manifesto was a product of the social, economic and political turmoil that characterised Europe before 1850. Both of its authors, Marx and Engels, were touched by elements of this turmoil. Karl Marx, born in 1818, came from the Rhineland, an area occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. During this period the French abolished feudal restrictions, introduced religious toleration and secularised the state. Many, like Marx’s father, benefited from this liberal regime. When, after Napoleon’s defeat, the Rhineland passed under Prussian control, Hirschel Marx, Karl’s father, abandoned Judaism for Christianity to retain the right to practise as a lawyer. Friedrich Engels, born in 1820, came from a family of German industrialists: he had, therefore, first-hand knowledge of the effects of rapid industrialisation. In 1842 Engels moved to Manchester to work at the family cotton mill. This took him to the heart of the world’s first industrial nation. Origins of the Manifesto
Like many young Germans, Marx and Engels were profoundly influenced by the German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831). Confronted by the upheavals of the French Revolution, he developed a theory of history that explained change. This was Hegel’s dialectic. Throughout history, he argued, there was an interaction of ideas (the dialectic) that led to change. This was expressed as a thesis (original idea) conflicting with an antithesis (new idea) to produce a third idea, a synthesis, different from either thesis or antithesis. A concrete example of this process was his belief that the conflict between the absolute freedom of post-revolutionary France and the absolute monarchy of Prussia had led to the synthesis that was the 19th-century Prussian state. This was a state where citizens enjoyed greater freedoms than in the past, but...
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