In 1848 there were no ‘models’ for communist society, however imperfect. Marx and Engels could only sketch a general framework, based on their scientific analysis of human history. Subsequently, and under the impact of later developments, the understanding of ‘communism’ has been developed and enriched. Yet, even today, the Manifesto presents a brilliant insight into the society of the future.
The first stage of communism – socialism – would be a society in which the working class and its allies have taken political and state power out of the hands of the capitalist class. The new really democratic state would be used to bring the economy under social ownership and control, to outlaw discrimination and end women’s second class status, to expand production in a planned and humane way, to encourage mass participation in economic and social life and to defend socialism against counter-revolution. Some inequalities would nonetheless persist, reflecting people’s different abilities and contributions, and the ‘ideological hangover’ of individualistic attitudes from capitalist society.
In the higher stage of communism, the productive forces, educational and technical skills and public consciousness would all have developed to the point where people’s material and cultural needs would be satisfied, and work would be transformed into opportunity to realise their all-round potential, free from oppression. As the class system and class divisions were abolished, and communism established itself across the world, the state apparatus itself would wither away. So far, we have only caught glimpsesof this future.
To the modern reader, some issues – such as national liberation and the elimination of women’s oppression – receive very limited attention in the Manifesto. Given the prevailing attitudes of the time that is not surprising – but indeed it was never intended to be a comprehensive statement. Engels went on later to deal with women’s oppression, in his Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. However, even in 1848 Marx and Engels were scathing of bourgeois attitudes to the family and women’s status.
On bourgeois patriotism the Manifesto is clear:
The working men have no country. We cannot take from them what they have not got. This does not however mean that workers have no national identity – rather that workers of all countries have more in common than divides them and that the bourgeois domination of society denies all working people the full fruit of their labour and genuine flowering of national culture. Indeed, the Manifesto goes on to say that the proletariat ‘must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation’. It specifically speaks of supporting the struggle for national emancipation in Poland, and it remarks that ending exploitation of one individual by another will leadto the end of exploitation of one nation by another.
Part of an introduction to the Communist Manifesto, written by Martin Levy of the Political Committee, Communist Party of Britain.