The Communist Manifesto

October 25, 2016

By Aditi Kumar, Vishrut Nanda, Christopher Newman

The document that was banned for 165 years…

Who: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels 

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Figure 1: Image from the book cover

What: The Communist Manifesto

When: 1848-2013

Where: Turkey, The United States, Germany

Why: To prevent the spread of communism

“In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property” (Marx & Engels 22).

Communism is a political and economic system where there is communal ownership of property and businesses, which is in stark contrast to the current capitalist system. Since its publication, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels has been historically controversial due to its critique of capitalism and its advocacy of communism (Brians). The text analyzes the ongoing creation and destruction of two classes (upper class and lower class) and government systems in western societies. The “class struggles” or revolutions destroy the current capitalist system, but create “new conditions of oppression” (Marx & Engels 14). In Marx and Engel’s time, the most recent class struggle was between the bourgeoisie and proletariat in a capitalist system. Marx and Engels were in the midst of the Industrial Revolution (Greene). While they positively addressed the technological advancements occurring in the Industrial Revolution, they critiqued the greed and materialism of the bourgeoisie (Greene). In this class struggle, the bourgeoisie attempted to keep the proletariat class divided in order to avoid any conflict. However, the Communist Party aimed to unite the proletariat, put them in control, and decentralize the power. Marx and Engels believed that the proletariat had the power and numbers to overthrow the capitalist system and then slowly establish a communist system (Marx & Engels, 20-24).

The upbringings and the lives of the authors provide context into their communist beliefs. As Greene mentions, “Marx, the son of a prosperous German lawyer” in Prussia, was on the path to become a lawyer (Greene). However, he became interested in philosophy, especially the works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Hegel’s democratic ideas clashed with totalitarian Prussia, Marx’ home. When Marx graduated, he wanted to teach Hegelian’s philosophies, but, as Greene states, Prussia “forbade the teaching of liberal and Young Hegelian ideas.” Due to this ban, Marx moved to Germany where his articles for a radical newspaper were repeatedly censored. Later, Marx moved to Paris, where he found friends in a communist community. In this group, he met Engels, who became his friend and collaborator on The Communist Manifesto (Greene).

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Figure 2: Picture of Engels (left) and Marx (right) from Dragon Theatre

Engels, too, was part of the bourgeoisie because his father was a rich factory owner in the textile industry in Prussia. Engels also became interested in Hegel’s work when he was working in Germany and wrote articles critiquing the results of the industrialization. After working in Germany for a few years, he joined the Prussian army. While in the army, he met a group of Young Hegelians and wrote about the dire conditions of factory workers. After a year in the army, Engels went back to England to work in his father’s factory. While working in the factory, he wrote more about the afflictions of the workers and the working class. After connecting with radicals, Engels favored a “working class revolution against the capitalist order” (Greene). When Engels went back to Germany, he met Marx and started an exchange of letters that would result in the creation of The Communist Manifesto (Greene). Despite growing up as bourgeoisie, Marx’s and Engel’s educations and experiences lead them to desire the downfall of capitalism due to the effect it had on the less-fortunate workers. They were motivated to take action against this oppression through their writings and by joining a communist community.

While The Communist Manifesto discusses the downfalls of previous oppressive systems like feudalism and serfdom, Marx and Engels were very much influenced by the events surrounding them in the early 19th century: the Hungry 1840s and the French Revolution. The Hungry 1840s in England influenced Engels, since he witnessed it. Many people migrated to Manchester in search of work in cotton factories. However, these factories were concentrated with so many workers and “the living conditions… were horrible” (Boyer 155). The workers and their families did not have enough food or water and the homes were “‘afflicted with disease and infirmity’” (qtd. in Boyer 156). Engels referred to this as “‘social murder’” by the bourgeoisie (qtd. in Boyer 156). Along with these horrible living conditions, many workers became unemployed due to the increase in technology. Many people had to turn to charity and the Poor Laws for help. The Poor Laws were meant to give housing, food, and schooling to the poor, but the conditions of the workhouse were dire. There was not enough food sometimes, families would be separated, and everyone in the house had to work.

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Figure 3: Anti-Poor Law on a 1837 Poster

This plight led to the creation of unions, which the bourgeoisie attempted to suppress. As time went on, more conflicts arose. Workers held aggressive protests when some employers threatened to cut wages and when the workers realized the government was not helping. Marx and Engels saw these protests as “the beginning of a planned political revolution” (Boyer 161).

Marx and Engels also saw the French Revolution as a pivotal step in inspiring the proletariat revolution. France had an absolute monarch, Louis XVI, but it was “on the brink of financial ruin and a social explosion” (Greene). The lower class united to strategically attack the upper class and destroy the previous feudal order. In this Revolution, the ideal was that citizens were to be treated equally under the law and abolish feudal property. In practice, the idea of a democracy did not go to completion in France due to Napoleon. However, the French Revolution’s ideals became those that Marx and Engels wanted the lower class to strive for and fight for.  

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Figure 4: Painting of the French Revolution by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux

It is no surprise that The Communist Manifesto was censored in a multitude of countries given its controversial nature. Most notably it has been censored in the United States, Germany, and Turkey over three different time periods. The method used in censoring the book also differs largely from country to country. Countries with more government control of the population, such as Turkey and Nazi-controlled Germany in the 1930s, tended to prefer outright banning of the work, whereas in the United States, the ban was implied rather than stated.

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Figure 5: Map of United States from Maps of World

In the United States The Communist Manifesto was not banned in an official sense, but rather its censorship was a product of the second “Red Scare,” which was started by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s. During this era, over a hundred American journalists were accused of being communists or communist sympathizers and had their lives examined in great detail by government organizations (Alwood, 3). McCarthyism caused the censorship of a significant amount of leftist media due to the fact that people were afraid of being labelled as a “red” for fear of losing their job, or worse. Works such as the Communist Manifesto are in direct conflict with the American ideals reinforced by McCarthy during the 1950s, which is the primary cause of its censorship in the United States.

The effect of the censorship of the Manifesto was perhaps most significant during this period. “More than thirty-nine states required teachers and other public employees to take loyalty oaths. Meanwhile, some libraries pulled books that were considered too leftist from their shelves” (Wall). Wall claims that unlike some nationwide censorships, the ban of the communist manifesto was a recommendation and not a requirement – however it was enforced in majority of the states. This movement contributed to the eventual downfall of the Communist Party in the late 1950’s. “As a result of the division inflicted by the McCarthy era, the Communist Party in America died out in the late 1950’s” (Sauvey). Senator McCarthy’s staunch attitude against the spread of Communism bore fruit in the mid-twentieth century when the Communist Party dissolved in the United States.

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Figure 6: Picture of Senator McCarthy from MSNBC

This extreme measure is indicative of the fear that the United States government felt during the Red Scare. To prevent the spread of communism, Senator James McCarthy advocated for numerous anti-communist acts. This gives us an insight into the commotion that communism was causing amongst the American people and the government’s detest for the economic concept.

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Figure 7: Map of Germany during the 1930s from Germany History Documents

Another important part of understanding why a country might ban a book such as the Manifesto is to understand the effect a book might have on a country’s population. In many countries, “The Communist Manifesto is tied to large radical, socialist, or communist movements or parties” (Greene). For Nazi Germany that large radical movement was the German Communist Party which, according to Doug Greene, “had several hundred thousand members, received millions of votes and an armed wing that fought Nazis in the streets”. The Manifesto was officially banned in Germany following two assassination attempts on the life of Emperor William I (Karolides, 325). An additional important factor in the banning of The Communist Manifesto was that the proletariat in Germany at the time of the banning was particularly powerful and there may have been fear of a potential revolution, as suggested by The Communist Manifesto. (Cowling, 89-90)

During the Nazi regime, Germany once again suppressed the Manifesto. “Marx’s works were among the 25,000 volumes publicly burned in Berlin, Germany in 1933 a large-scale “symbolic” bonfire demonstration” (Karolides, 328). Due to Hitler’s dictatorial rule, communist ideas would have been harmful and might have led to an uprising. For this reason, the Manifesto appeared on a list of books to be burned publicly to condemn its ideas. Almost a decade later, during the second world war, the Nazi regime had reached its peak. Having occupied numerous neighboring countries, and formed several alliances, the weight of its actions was far greater. From 1940-1945, “Germany suppressed the Manifesto in all occupied countries as well as allied countries” (Karolides 328).

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Figure 8: Book Burning in Berlin, May 1933

The effect of this suppression was again insignificant and served more as a symbolic gesture. As predicted by Jonathon Green and Nicholas J. Karolides in the Encyclopaedia of Censorship, “it may be generally assumed that those governments pursuing right-wing totalitarianism or dictatorial policies are keen to ban the founder of communism” (34).

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Figure 11: Map of Turkey from Maps of World

In Turkey, for political reasons, The Communist Manifesto appeared on an extensive list of banned publications. Turkey has a long history of censoring media dating all the way back to the mid-19th century. The Communist Manifesto has only been recently unbanned there; it was banned from 1848 to 2013 and was un-banned along with over 452 other books, periodicals, magazines, and newspapers. However, the unbanning of these works can be seen as largely ceremonial. In spite of the ban, the Manifesto has been sold over 6,000 times in its Turkish edition since 2008 according to one of its publishers, Hayri Erdogan (Güsten).

The banning of The Communist Manifesto was a movement that began decades after the original publication of the political pamphlet. “Action to ban the Manifesto in Germany occurred in 1878” (Karolides 325). This was nearly thirty years after the Manifesto was first published. In Europe, the baning of the document largely affected the socialist parties and other parties similar to the communist league the Marx belonged to.

In Europe, the ban of the document largely affected the socialist parties and other parties similar to the communist league the Marx belonged to.

Despite the years of censorship, The Communist Manifesto is studied as important historical document and is relevant today. The creation of The Communist Manifesto and ideals of communism were and still are the foundations of Bolshevik Revolution, the Cold War, the Communist Party of China, and the governments of Cuba and North Korea. While these “communist” countries adopt aspects of Marx and Engels’ ideals of communism, The Communist Manifesto provides insights into these contexts and develops a significant political philosophy.

Key Definitions in terms of the Communist Manifesto:

Capitalism: an economic system in which a group of individuals controls the market

Communism: an economic and political system in which there is a communal ownership of property and trade

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Figure 9: Political cartoon from Theodore Roosevelt High School

Bourgeoisie: the middle class people who own the most private property and companies

Proletariat: the lower working class who are oppressed by the bourgeoisie

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Figure 10: Polictial Cartoon from Socialist Newspaper Union, St. Louis

 

 

References:

Alwood, Edward. Dark Days in the Newsroom: McCarthyism Aimed at the Press. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2007. Print.

Cowling, Mark, and Karl Marx. The Communist Manifesto: New Interpretations. Trans. Terell Carver. Washington Square, NY: New York UP, 1998. Print.

Green, Jonathon, and Nicholas J. Karolides. The Encyclopedia of Censorship. New York, NY: Infobase, 2014. Print.

Greene, Doug Enaa. “The Communist Manifesto: A Weapon of War.” Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. N.p., 16 Sept. 2016. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

Güsten, Susanne. “Turkey Plans to Lift Bans on Hundreds of Publications.” The New York Times. N.p., 12 Dec. 2012. Web.

Karolides, Nicholas J. Literature Suppressed on Political Grounds. New York: Facts On File, 2006. Print.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Manifesto of the Communist Party. Trans. Samuel Moore. N.p.: n.p., 1888. Print. pp. 14-35. 

“Marx Publishes Manifesto.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2016.

Sauvey, Gretchen. “McCarthyism and the Red Scare: Anti-Communism in the United States.” Marquette University History Department. Daniel J. Meissner, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

Wall, Wendy. “Anti-Communism in the 1950s.” The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

Keywords: The Communist Manifesto, Censorship, Ban, Turkey, U.S., Germany, Nazi, Marx, Engels, Communism, Bourgeoise, Proletariat

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