Treasures from afar: The Communist Manifesto

Art & Lit Literature

A few months ago I was browsing the Sunday Times bestseller lists, and was shocked to discover that The Communist Manifesto was at number seven in the non-fiction chart. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, but there was no mistake; in 2015 The Communist Manifesto was still a hot enough property to trouble the Sunday Times lists. So it was an aged text, respected in its way but largely considered irrelevant in the modern world, which had managed to garner a momentary popularity to the point where it charted again; it was the political equivalent of ‘Hooked on a Feeling’.

Intrigued by this sudden surge in popularity, I decided to give this important political text a look. Written by two Germans and simultaneously published in English, French, German, Italian and Danish, this book struck me as a more than fitting candidate for a ‘treasures from afar’ piece, particularly as Marx and Engels deal so heavily with capitalism as a global phenomenon.

Anyway, what about the text itself, I hear you ask? Well, as a piece of writing it’s actually fairly well-done, though it gets a bit bogged down in the second half and the conclusion feels a little bit rushed. Marx and Engels’ analysis of capitalism in the first half is extraordinarily well argued, and on more or less every page I was hit by a rather depressing realisation that most of it is still spot-on a century and a half later. There are a few stylistic quirks (particularly amusing is their habit of saying “in a word”, and then providing around fifty), and the writing is so dense as to occasionally require re-reading of entire paragraphs to grasp their meaning. But on the whole The Communist Manifesto is a well-written, profoundly resonant piece of writing. Whatever one may think of Marxism as an ideology, its historical importance makes this an invaluable read. Considerable progress has been made since Marx and Engels’ time, but this little book serves as a reminder that we still have a long way to go.