Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels worked on a document in late 1847and early 1848 which became one of the most influential political documents ever written. Like most writing it was deadline driven.
An organization, originally formed by exiled German labour activists formed a decade earlier under the name, the ‘League of the Just,’ commissioned it.
Rising tensions in Europe provoked by crop failures, a worsening economic depression and deteriorating conditions for the poor majority, demanded action. The organization had changed its name in November, 1847 at a meeting in London, England to the Communist League. It needed a document to clearly state its position and rally the working classes.
Engels wrote a draft which served as a basic outline for Marx’s effort. The Communist Manifesto, first published in February, 1848, presented a brief summary of Marx’s theory of history and his view of the problems capitalism presented. His analysis unveiled the idea of constant class struggle over time. “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another.”
Marx saw one theme common to all eras “the exploitation of one part of society by the other.” Over the long march of history we clearly can see in hindsight that no class of people remains marginalized forever. Our concept of basic human rights today, as well, has been borne out of these struggles to rectify fundamental injustices. The human pilgrimage continues.
Capitalism represented the penultimate phase in Marx’s concept of the dialectical process of history. The globalizing impact of this economic model drives all before. “It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production … In one word, it creates a world after its own image.” Our world today is, without doubt, one totally integrated economic entity.
Many parts of the Marxian analysis pegged the problem dead-on. The purposed plan of action in the Communist Manifesto and ways later regimes chose to implement them often lead to totalitarianism and continued oppression. As one of Karl Marx’s harshest contemporary critics, the Russian revolutionary anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, put it, “Freedom without socialism is privilege and injustice, but socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”
Our current global economic crisis underlines in bold, capital letters the fact that we have not got it right yet. Wholly new ways of addressing our economic system have to be envisioned.
The Europe of 1848 erupted in conflict in the summer of 1848. Bloody repression followed but also led to some fundamental reforms like the end of serfdom in Russia and the first recognition of worker’s rights. What changes will the summer of 2009 augur?
May 1st, International Workers’ Day, recalls the struggle for the 8 hour working day and commemorates events in labour history such as the Haymarket Square Massacre in Chicago in 1886.
How will our actions honour this history today? What global vision does Marx’s 1848 rallying cry “Workers of the world, Unite!” call us towards?
Hopefully there will be a just, tolerant, inclusive and environmentally sustainable banner or banners that I can happily march behind.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, May 2—Twelfth Day of Ridvan ends the Baha’i commemoration of when in 1863 Baha’u’llah declared that he was God’s messenger.
Sunday, May 3—Fourth Sunday of Easter. A suggested reading is John 10: 11- 18.
Sunday, May 3—World Press Freedom Day focuses on the potential of media to foster dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation.
Tuesday, May 5—Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, recalls the defeat of a invading French army in 1862.
Friday, May 8—World Red Cross – Red Crescent Day marks the birth of its founder, Henry Dunant.