The Communist Manifesto and its earlier drafts: Further explanation, or simply an ignorance of the truth?
Inspiring a movement is not only a difficult, but a lengthy process. The perfect combination of motivation in the population, necessity for change, as well as belief that a particular movement will improve the peoples’ lives will create the necessary force to drive a revolution. The drive for a Communist Revolution was not unlike this process: made possible only by the presence of suitable economic and social conditions, there was a spark lit in the population by two intellectual revolutionaries; Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Although they were not part of the proletariat, Marx and Engels were very passionate in regard to the necessity for change in society, more specifically with class divisions. Through their dedication to, and passion for the topic, they were able to formulate their own ideologies surrounding a possible revolution to end the horrors of industrial society. The Communist Manifesto was born, outlining the division of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, defining communism, as well as addressing various socialist groups and the way in which they would not thrive as well as Communism.
The Manifesto was not written in just one sitting: Marx and Engels underwent a long process of editing in order to produce this short text. However, earlier versions allow the reader to grasp a more complete version of Marx and Engels’ ideas, although certain discrepancies are present, forcing the reader to probe the reasoning behind these variations. Engels’ “Principles of communism”, written shortly before The Communist Manifesto, may be seen, in several key aspects, as a more detailed and practical version of the later piece of work, clarifying certain aspects of communist thought; however, the Manifesto’s emphasis on addressing other communistic groups, as well as a few other minor points, greatly outdoes such endeavors in the earlier draft.
The first, and most obvious, way in which “Principles of Communism” and The Communist Manifesto differ is with their presentation of the summarized list of measures to be taken in order to execute a communist revolution. “Principles of Communism” was written in October 1947, followed closely by The Communist Manifesto in February 1848. The timing the release of this final version in 1948 is crucial to the reasoning behind certain differences in the works: The Communist Manifesto spoke to a much more revolutionary audience, as many nations across Europe were undergoing social and political revolutions at the time. “Principles of Communism” spoke to a much calmer audience, as reflected in the practicality of the piece as opposed to the strong rhetoric in The Communist Manifesto. In general, Engels’ version is much more detailed than in the later work. “Principles of Communism” features 12 summarized main points, the manifesto features only 10. As well as with its length, The Communist Manifesto’s points are much less pragmatic than Engel’s earlier edition. Point 1 in the Manifesto demands the “expropriation of landed property and application of ground rent of land to state expenditures” (Marx and Engels 82), as opposed to point 2 in “Principles of Communism”, which demands the “gradual expropriation of landed proprietors, factory owners, railway and shipping magnates…” (Engels 148 [emphasis added]).
The discrepancies between these two points illustrate the abridged and straightforward nature of The Communist Manifesto in comparison to the more detailed “Principles of Communism”. Engels’ wording is also much more practical, stating that the transitions should be gradual, a sharp contrast to the emphasis on immediacy of the later edition. It appears as well that the Manifesto is much stricter in its demands than previous drafts, such as with its “abolition of right of inheritance” (Marx and Engels 82), versus the stating that “equal rights of inheritance (will) be enjoyed by illegitimate and legitimate children” (Engels 149) in “Principles of Communism”, demonstrating the use of harsher and more concise diction in the Manifesto in order to quickly provoke action in the readers. The variation of diction used in both works is also evident in the listing of points. Point 12 of Engels’ draft outlines the “concentration” of transportation, whereas the Manifesto outlines the “centralization” of transportation in Point 6. This seemingly menial, but notable, difference in diction demonstrates the editing of ideas through the editing of language, as well as the decreased emphasis on long-term action in the Manifesto, pushing for a more immediate revolution. The significance of sequence is also clear here, as the inclusion of a point on transportation has been prioritized from point 12 to point 6, indicating the emphasis the Manifesto placed on rapid industrialization in order to facilitate a revolution. There are, however, certain similarities in the points given in both works, including the confiscation of rebels’ property, the offering of education to children, and the combination of agriculture and industry. The main importance of differences, in terms of the set of points, lies within Engels’ recognition that, “of course, all these measures cannot be carried out at once” (Engels 149). This statement, or yet concept, can no longer be found in The Communist Manifesto, emphasizing the pragmatic nature of “Principles of Communism” as a whole, and the practical way in which it explains the difficulties, as well as steps, of a communist revolution.
Although, for the most part, “Principles of Communism” is more detailed in its analysis of communist principles, The Communist Manifesto assumes a much broader audience and is therefore much more lengthy in its addressing of other socialist groups. The Manifesto addresses these groups in an independent section, in comparison to the mere paragraphs that are allotted to this subject in “Principles of Communism”. The Communist Manifesto speaks to several groups in detail, where Engels’ work simply outlines a few. Engels’ account of the reactionary socialists, more specifically feudal socialists, is brief, stating that they seek to go back to,
a society which was indeed free from the vices of present society, but brought at least as many other evils in its train and did not even hold out the prospect of the emancipation of the oppressed workers through a communist organization (Engels 154).
This view may be seen as a more concise, preparatory version of Marx and Engels’ final draft. The Communist Manifesto addresses feudal socialists through the use of historical examples, as well as lengthy explanations:
In the July revolution of 1830 in France, and in the English reform movement, they once again succumbed to the hateful upstart. Thenceforth, a serious political contest was out of the question. A literary battle alone remained possible…. In this way arose feudal Socialism: half lamentation, half squib; half echo of the past, half menace of the future” (Marx and Engels 83).
This juxtaposition of phrases emphasizes the importance placed in the Manifesto on the role of other socialist groups in the Communist revolution, as seen in the emphasis placed upon the overly reactionary nature of the feudal Socialists in their search for change. The Communist Manifesto utilizes examples in order to demonstrate why the Petty-Bourgeois Socialists, German Socialists, Critical-Utopian Socialists, and many more groups are not truly going to be able to execute a revolution as successfully as the Communists. The lack of detail present in the corresponding section of “Principles of Communism” may indicate the particular interest that Marx had in Socialist groups; moreover, it enables the articulation, of not what communism is, but of what communism is not, to be further developed, allowing the proletariat in February 1848 to distinguish the views of Communists, as well as their form of revolution, from other Socialist groups.
“Principles of Communism” and The Communist Manifesto may focus on several similar topics; however, Engels’ individual work focuses more intently on the reasoning behind the issues at hand, as well as the solutions. The Manifesto offers a greater focus on the ideology of Communism itself. Firstly, “Principles of Communism” puts forward a much more analytical account of the Industrial Revolution and its effects on society. Engels also explores the source of the true weakness of the Bourgeoisie, overproduction:
Thus since the beginning of this century the state of industry has continually fluctuated between periods of prosperity and periods of crisis…. It has entailed the greatest misery for the workers, general revolutionary ferment, and the greatest danger to the entire existing system (Engels 145).
Here, Engels outlines the pitfalls of modern industry, allowing the reader to gain perspective on the underlying reasoning behind the drive for a revolution in industrialized European nations. However, The Communist Manifesto focuses more intently on the weaknesses present in the Bourgeoisie class:
A similar movement is going on before our very eyes. Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange, and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has summoned by his spells (Marx and Engels 67).
In this text, Marx and Engels are further analyzing the weaknesses of modern industrial society, pointing out that the Bourgeoisie themselves are subject to the negative effects of overproduction, losing control over the system that they themselves built. This theme is further explored by the discussion of feudal systems and the way in which, although very ancient, they were somewhat better than the current system. The Communist Manifesto is, in a way, demonstrating how every societal change will result in further harm to the lower classes, a never-ending cycle that may only be broken by an immediate revolution, stating that “it is high time that the Communists openly set forth before the whole world their perspectives, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this fairy tale about the Spectre of Communism with a Manifesto of the Party itself” (Marx and Engels 61). This demand for a written Manifesto, in many languages, illustrates the desire of The Communist Manifesto to solidify the main principles of Communists and emphasize the need to act on a revolutionary opportunity. “Principles of Communism” focuses closely on the process of the Revolution, rather than its rhetoric. A great deal of attention is drawn to the steps of removing private property from the societal system, analyzing how difficult this process is, allowing the reader to gain a more practical view of the outcome of a revolution, something that the Manifesto fails to do.
A juxtaposition of “Principles of Communism” and The Communist Manifesto allows for a further understanding of Communist ideologies; however, the reasoning behind these discrepancies must also be analyzed. Engels’ article is often seen as a draft for the later Manifesto; therefore, the differences in text are rather notable. The Communist Manifesto was designed to promote fast revolution in various European nations, as would occur in the early months of 1848. It almost seems as though Marx and Engels’ later edition of their ideas is an assumption that the majority of the population will be able to grasp the general issues at hand without detailed explanation, allowing the Manifesto to focus less on the issues, history, and actual process of executing a revolution. The Manifesto is simply a call to action of the proletariat; dramatic rhetoric was used in order to spike interest and passion in the people. It also outlines the variations of socialism as a way of indicating that a moderate push for change, or compromise, will not be successful in this case. “Principles of Communism” is much more descriptive in its analysis of present issues and the process of revolution, causing it to becomes less of a call for action and more of an informative article. Although the Manifesto was much more dramatic–and in that case successful in demanding action–“Principles of Communism” remains much more realistic, accepting that “the proletarian revolution, which in all probability is impending, will transform existing society only gradually” (Engels 147), as opposed to the call of action of The Communist Manifesto, crying out: “Proletarians of all lands unite!” (Marx and Engels 94), as well as its insistence that the bourgeoisie’s’ “fall and the victory of the proletariat are alike inevitable” (Marx and Engels 74). A comparison of these two lines alone indicates the differences between the two versions of what was ostensibly the same idea: one presented as a gradual and possible process, one as an immediate and inevitable call to action.
The earlier drafts of The Communist Manifesto are, for the most part, more detailed and truthful than the final published version. Moreover, the lack of detail present in the Manifesto may have contributed to the misuse of the Communist ideology. In 1848 alone almost every nation in Europe would undergo a revolutionary effort by a distinct group. Most of these would come to fail, although not necessarily at the fault of the Manifesto. However, almost a century later, Russian revolutionaries would manipulate the ideas of Marx and Engels in order to execute a Communist revolution in their country. Through a misuse of the demands of Marx and Engels, as well as manipulation of the Communist cause, Russia would be thrust into an age of horror, under the rule of dictatorship. Although there were many factors involved in the failure of the Russian Revolution, including their lack of industrialization, had the Russian Communist leaders been able to access “Principles of Communism,” perhaps they would have had further insight on the necessity of a gradual revolution, as well as more information as to what to do after the revolution is executed. Whether or not this would have truly affected Russia is difficult to ascertain; however, it is clear that the truncated nature of The Communist Manifesto in comparison to previous drafts was not as successful as Marx and Engels most likely hoped.
Marx, Karl, Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. L. M. Finlay trans. Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2004.