Years of the
October 30, 1937
It is hard to believe that the centennial of the Manifesto of the Communist
Party is only ten years away! This pamphlet, displaying greater genius
than any other in world literature, astounds us even today by its freshness.
Its most important sections appear to have been written yesterday. Assuredly,
the young authors (Marx was twenty-nine, Engels twenty-seven) were able
to look further into the future than anyone before them, and perhaps than
anyone since them.
As early as their joint preface to the edition of 1872, Marx and Engels
declared that despite the fact that certain secondary passages in the Manifesto
were antiquated, they felt that they no longer had any right to alter the
original text inasmuch as the Manifesto had already become a historical
document, during the intervening period of twenty-five years. Sixty-five
additional years have elapsed since that time. Isolated passages in the
Manifesto have receded still further into the past. We shall try to establish
succinctly in this preface both those ideas in the Manifesto which retain
their full force today and those which require important alteration or
1. The materialist conception of history, discovered by
Marx only a short while before and applied with consummate skill in the
Manifesto, has completely withstood the test of events and the blows of
hostile criticism. It constitutes today one of the most precious instruments
of human thought. All other interpretations of the historical process have
lost all scientific meaning. We can state with certainty that it is impossible
in our time to be not only a revolutionary militant but even a literate
observer in politics without assimilating the materialist interpretation
2. The first chapter of the Manifesto opens with the following
words: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of
class struggles." This postulate, the most important conclusion drawn from
the materialist interpretation of history, immediately became an issue
in the class struggle. Especially venomous attacks were directed by reactionary
hypocrites, liberal doctrinaires and idealistic democrats against the theory
which substituted the struggle of material interests for "common welfare",
"national unity," and "eternal moral truths" as the driving force of history.
They were later joined by recruits from the ranks of the labour movement
itself, by the so-called revisionists, i.e., the proponents of reviewing
("revising") Marxism in the spirit of class collaboration and class conciliation.
Finally, in our own time, the same path has been followed in practice by
the contemptible epigones of the Communist International (the Stalinists):
the policy of the so-called People's Front flows wholly from the denial
of the laws of the class struggle. Meanwhile, it is precisely the epoch
of imperialism, bringing all social contradictions to the point of highest
tension, which gives to the Communist Manifesto its supreme theoretical
3. The anatomy of capitalism, as a specific stage in the
economic development of society, was given by Marx in its finished form
in Capital (1867). But even in the Communist Manifesto the main
lines of the future analysis are firmly sketched: the payment for labour
power as equivalent to the cost of its reproduction; the appropriation
of surplus value by the capitalists; competition as the basic law of social
relations; the ruination of intermediate classes, i.e., the urban petty
bourgeoisie and the peasantry; the concentration of wealth in the hands
of an ever-diminishing number of property owners, at the one pole, and
the numerical growth of the proletariat, at the other; the preparation
of the material and political preconditions for the socialist regime.
4. The proposition in the Manifesto concerning the tendency
of capitalism to lower the living standards of the workers, and even to
transform them into paupers, had been subjected to a heavy barrage. Parsons,
professors, ministers, journalists, Social Democratic theoreticians, and
trade union leaders came to the front against the so-called "theory of
impoverishment." They invariably discovered signs of growing prosperity
among the toilers, palming off the labour aristocracy as the proletariat,
or taking a fleeting tendency as permanent. Meanwhile, even the development
of the mightiest capitalism in the world, namely, U.S. capitalism, has
transformed millions of workers into paupers who are maintained at the
expense of federal, municipal, or private charity.
5. As against the Manifesto, which depicted commercial
and industrial crises as a series of ever more extensive catastrophes,
the revisionists vowed that the national and international development
of trusts would assure control over the market, and lead gradually to the
abolition of crises. The close of the last century and the beginning of
the present one were in reality marked by a development of capitalism so
tempestuous as to make crises seem only "accidental" stoppages. But this
epoch has gone beyond return. In the last analysis, truth proved to be
on Marx's side in this question as well.
6. "The executive of the modem state is but a committee
for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." This succinct
formula, which the leaders of the Social Democracy looked upon as a journalistic
paradox, contains in fact the only scientific theory of the state. The
democracy fashioned by the bourgeoisie is not, as both Bernstein and Kautsky
thought, an empty sack which one can undisturbedly fill with any kind of
class content. Bourgeois democracy can serve only the bourgeoisie. A government
of the "People's Front," whether headed by Blum or Chautemps, Caballero
or Negrin, is only "a committee for managing the common affairs of the
whole bourgeoisie." Whenever this "committee" manages affairs poorly, the
bourgeoisie dismisses it with a boot.
7. "Every class struggle is a political struggle." "The
organisation of the proletariat as a class [is] consequently its organisation
into a political party." Trade unionists, on the one hand, and anarcho-syndicalists,
on the other, have long shied away-and even now try to shy away-from the
understanding of these historical laws. "Pure" trade unionism has now been
dealt a crushing blow in its chief refuge: the United States. Anarcho-syndicalism
has suffered an irreparable defeat in its last stronghold – Spain. Here
too the Manifesto proved correct.
8. The proletariat cannot conquer power within the legal
framework established by the bourgeoisie. "Communists openly declare that
their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing
social conditions." Reformism sought to explain this postulate of the Manifesto
on the grounds of the immaturity of the movement at that time and the inadequate
development of democracy. The fate of Italian, German, and a great number
of other "democracies" proves that "immaturity" is the distinguishing
trait of the ideas of the reformists themselves.
9. For the socialist transformation of society, the working
class must concentrate in its hands such power as can smash each and every
political obstacle barring the road to the new system."The proletariat
organised as the ruling class" – this is the dictatorship. At the same
time it is the only true proletarian democracy. Its scope and depth depend
upon concrete historical conditions. The greater the number of states that
take the path of the socialist revolution, the freer and more flexible
forms will the dictatorship assume, the broader and more deepgoing will
be workers' democracy.
10. The international development of capitalism has predetermined
the international character of the proletarian revolution. "United action,
of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions
for the emancipation of the proletariat." The subsequent development of
capitalism has so closely knit all sections of our planet, both "civilised"
and "uncivilised," that the problem of the socialist revolution has completely
and decisively assumed a world character. The Soviet bureaucracy attempted
to liquidate the Manifesto with respect to this fundamental question. The
Bonapartist degeneration of the Soviet state is an overwhelming illustration
of the falseness of the theory of socialism in one country.
11. "When, in the course of development, class distinctions
have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands
of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its
political character." In other words: the state withers away. Society remains,
freed from the straitjacket. This is nothing else but socialism. The converse
theorem: the monstrous growth of state coercion in the USSR is eloquent
testimony that society is moving away from socialism.
12. "The workingmen have no fatherland." These words of
the Manifesto have more than once been evaluated by Philistines as an agitational
quip. As a matter of fact they provided the proletariat with the sole conceivable
directive in the question of the capitalist "fatherland." The violation
of this directive by the Second International brought about not only four
years of devastation in Europe, but the present stagnation of world culture.
In view of the impending new war, for which the betrayal of the Third International
has paved the way, the Manifesto remains even now the most reliable counsellor
on the question of the capitalist "fatherland."
Thus, we see that the joint and rather brief production of two young
authors continues to give irreplaceable directives upon the most important
and burning questions of the struggle for emancipation. What other book
could even distantly be compared with the Communist Manifesto? But this
does not imply that after ninety years of unprecedented development of
productive forces and vast social struggles, the Manifesto needs neither
corrections nor additions. Revolutionary thought has nothing in common
with idol-worship. Programmes and prognoses are tested and corrected in
the light of experience, which is the supreme criterion of human reason.
The Manifesto, too, requires corrections and additions. However, as is
evidenced by historical experience itself, these corrections and additions
can be Successfully made only by proceeding in accord with the method lodged
in the foundation of the Manifesto itself. We shall try to indicate this
in several most important instances.
1. Marx taught that no social system departs from the arena
of history before exhausting its creative potentialities. The Manifesto
excoriates capitalism for retarding the development of the productive forces.
During that period, however, as well as in the following decades, this
retardation was only relative in nature. Had it been possible in the second
half of the nineteenth century to organise economy on socialist beginnings,
its tempos of growth would have been immeasurably greater. But this theoretically
irrefutable postulate does not invalidate the fact that the productive
forces kept expanding on a world scale right up to the world war. Only
in the last twenty years, despite the most modem conquests of science and
technology, has the epoch of out-and-out stagnation and even decline of
world economy begun. Mankind is beginning to expend its accumulated capital,
while the next war threatens to destroy the very foundations of civilisation
for many years to come. The authors of the Manifesto thought that capitalism
would be scrapped long prior to the time when from a relatively reactionary
regime it would turn into an absolutely reactionary regime. This transformation
took final shape only before the eyes of the present generation, and changed
our epoch into the epoch of wars, revolutions, and fascism.
2. The error of Marx and Engels in regard to the historical
dates flowed, on the one hand, from an underestimation of future possibilities
latent in capitalism, and, on the other, an overestimation of the revolutionary
maturity of the proletariat. The revolution of 1848 did not turn into a
socialist revolution as the Manifesto had calculated, but opened up to
Germany the possibility of a vast future capitalist ascension. The Paris
Commune proved that the proletariat, without having a tempered revolutionary
party at its head cannot wrest power from the bourgeoisie. Meanwhile, the
prolonged period of capitalist prosperity that ensued brought about not
the education of the revolutionary vanguard, but rather the bourgeois degeneration
of the labour aristocracy, which became in turn the chief brake on the
proletarian revolution. In the nature of things, the authors of the Manifesto
could not possibly have foreseen this "dialectic."
3. For the Manifesto, capitalism was – the kingdom of free
competition. While referring to the growing concentration of capital, the
Manifesto did not draw the necessary conclusion in regard to monopoly,
which has become the dominant capitalist form in our epoch and the most
important precondition for socialist economy. Only afterwards, in Capital,
did Marx establish the tendency towards the transformation of free competition
into monopoly. It was Lenin who gave a scientific characterisation of monopoly
capitalism in his Imperialism.
4. Basing themselves on the example of "industrial revolution"
in England, the authors of the Manifesto pictured far too unilaterally
the process of liquidation of the intermediate classes, as a wholesale
proletarianisation of crafts, petty trades, and peasantry. In point of
fact, the elemental forces of competition have far from completed this
simultaneously progressive and barbarous work. Capitalism has ruined the
petty bourgeoisie at a much faster rate than it has proletarianised it.
Furthermore, the bourgeois state has long directed its conscious policy
toward the artificial maintenance of petty-bourgeois strata. At the opposite
pole, the growth of technology and the rationalisation of large-scale industry
engenders chronic unemployment and obstructs the proletarianisation of
the petty bourgeoisie. Concurrently, the development of capitalism has
accelerated in the extreme the growth of legions of technicians, administrators,
commercial employees, in short, the so-called "new middle class." In consequence,
the intermediate classes, to whose disappearance the Manifesto so categorically
refers, comprise even in a country as highly industrialised as Germany
about half of the population. However, the artificial preservation of antiquated
petty-bourgeois strata in no way mitigates the social contradictions, but,
on the contrary, invests them with a special malignancy, and together with
the permanent army of the unemployed constitutes the most malevolent expression
of the decay of capitalism.
5. Calculated for a revolutionary epoch the Manifesto contains
(end of Chapter II) ten demands, corresponding to the period of direct
transition from capitalism to socialism. In their preface of 1872, Marx
and Engels declared these demands to be in part antiquated and, in any
case, only of secondary importance. The reformists seized upon this evaluation
to interpret it in the sense that transitional revolutionary demands had
forever ceded their place to the Social Democratic "minimum programme,"
which, as is well known, does not transcend the limits of bourgeois democracy.
As a matter of fact, the authors of the Manifesto indicated quite precisely
the main correction of their transitional programme, namely, "the working
class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield
it for its own purposes." In other words, the correction was directed against
the fetishism of bourgeois democracy. Marx later counterpoised to the capitalist
state, the state of the type of the Commune. This "type" subsequently assumed
the much more graphic shape of soviets. There cannot be a revolutionary
programme today without soviets and without workers
control. As for the rest, the ten demands of the Manifesto, which
appeared "archaic" in an epoch of peaceful parliamentary activity, have
today regained completely their true significance. The Social Democratic
"minimum programme," on the other hand, has become hopelessly antiquated.
6. Basing its expectation that "the German bourgeois revolution...
will be but a prelude to an immediately following proletarian revolution,"
the Manifesto cites the much more advanced conditions of European civilisation
as compared with what existed in England in the seventeenth century and
in France in the eighteenth century, and the far greater development of
the proletariat. The error in this prognosis was not only in the date.
The revolution of 1848 revealed within a few months that precisely under
more advanced conditions, none of the bourgeois classes is capable of bringing
the revolution to its termination: the big and middle bourgeoisie is far
too closely linked with the landowners and fettered by the fear of the
masses; the petty bourgeoisie is far too divided and in its top leadership
far too dependent on the big bourgeoisie. As evidenced by the entire subsequent
course of development in Europe and Asia, the bourgeois revolution, taken
by itself, can no more in general be consummated. A complete purge of feudal
rubbish from society is conceivable only on the condition that the proletariat,
freed from the influence of bourgeois parties, can take its stand at the
head of the peasantry and establish its revolutionary dictatorship. By
this token, the bourgeois revolution becomes interlaced with the first
stage of the socialist revolution, subsequently to dissolve in the latter.
The national revolution therewith becomes a link of the world revolution.
The transformation of the economic foundation and of all social relations
assumes a permanent (uninterrupted) character.
For revolutionary parties in backward countries of Asia, Latin America,
and Africa, a clear understanding of the organic connection between the
democratic revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat – and thereby,
the international socialist revolution – is a life-and-death question.
7. While depicting how capitalism draws into its vortex
backward and barbarous countries, the Manifesto contains no reference to
the struggle of colonial and semi-colonial countries for independence.
To the extent that Marx and Engels considered the social revolution "in
the leading civilised countries at least," to be a matter of the next few
years, the colonial question was resolved automatically for them, not in
consequence of an independent movement of oppressed nationalities but in
consequence of the victory of the proletariat in the metropolitan centres
of capitalism. The questions of revolutionary strategy in colonial and
semi-colonial countries are therefore not touched upon at all by the Manifesto.
Yet these questions demand an independent solution. For example, it is
quite self-evident that while the "national fatherland" has become the
most baneful historical brake in advanced capitalist countries, it still
remains a relatively progressive factor in backward countries compelled
to struggle for an independent existence.
"The Communists," declares the Manifesto, "everywhere support every
revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order
of things." The movement of the coloured races against their imperialist
oppressors is one of the most important and powerful movements against
the existing order and therefore calls for the complete, unconditional,
and unlimited support on the part of the proletariat of the white race.
The credit for developing revolutionary strategy for oppressed nationalities
belongs primarily to Lenin.
8. The most antiquated section of the Manifesto - with
respect not to method but to material - is the criticism of "socialist"
literature for the first part of the nineteenth century (chapter III) and
the definition of the position of the Communists in relation to various
opposition parties (chapter IV). The movements and parties listed in the
Manifesto were so drastically swept away either by the revolution of 1848
or by the ensuing counter-revolution that one must look up even their names
in a historical dictionary. However, in this section, too, the Manifesto
is perhaps closer to us now than it was to the previous generation. In
the epoch of the flowering of the Second International, when Marxism seemed
to exert an undivided sway, the ideas of pre-Marxist socialism could have
been considered as having receded decisively into the past. Things are
otherwise today. The decomposition of the Social Democracy and the Communist
International at every step engenders monstrous ideological relapses. Senile
thought seems to have become infantile. In search of all-saving formulas
the prophets in the epoch of decline discover anew doctrines long since
buried by scientific socialism.
As touches the question of opposition parties, it is in this domain
that the elapsed decades have introduced the most deepgoing changes, not
only in the sense that the old parties have long been brushed aside by
new ones, but also in the sense that the very character of parties and
their mutual relations have radically changed in the conditions of the
imperialist epoch. The Manifesto must therefore be amplified with the most
important documents of the first four congresses of the Communist International,
the essential literature of Bolshevism, and the decisions of the conferences
of the Fourth International.
We have already remarked above that according to Marx no social order
departs from the scene without first exhausting the potentialities latent
in it. However, even an antiquated social order does not cede its place
to a new order without resistance. A change in social regimes presupposes
the harshest form of the class struggle, i.e., revolution. If the proletariat,
for one reason or another, proves incapable of overthrowing with an audacious
blow the outlived bourgeois order, then finance capital in the struggle
to maintain its unstable rule can do nothing but turn the petty bourgeoisie
ruined and demoralised by it into the pogrom army of fascism. The bourgeois
degeneration of the Social Democracy and the fascist degeneration of the
petty bourgeoisie are interlinked as cause and effect.
At the present time, the Third International far more wantonly than
the Second performs in all countries the work of deceiving and demoralising
the toilers. By massacring the vanguard of the Spanish proletariat, the
unbridled hirelings of Moscow not only pave the way for fascism but execute
a goodly share of its labours. The protracted crisis of the international
revolution, which is turning more and more into a crisis of human culture,
is reducible in its essentials to the crisis of revolutionary leadership.
As the heir to the great tradition, of which the Manifesto of the Communist
Party forms the most precious link, the Fourth International is educating
new cadres for the solution of old tasks. Theory is generalised reality,
In an honest attitude to revolutionary theory is expressed the impassioned
urge to reconstruct the social reality. That, in the southern part of the
Dark Continent, our co-thinkers were the first to translate the Manifesto
into the Afrikaans language is another graphic illustration of the fact
that Marxist thought lives today only under the banner of the Fourth International.
To it belongs the future. When the centennial of the Communist Manifesto
is celebrated, the Fourth International will have become the decisive revolutionary
force on our planet.