Arnold Petersen, 1948 forward to Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto


Arnold Petersen, 1948 forward to the centennial
edition of Marx and Engels, the Communist Manifesto
scanned from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,
The Communist Manifesto, New York Labor News Co, 1848, pages ix-xv
Where minor differences between the 1948 and the 1968 editions
have been found, the wording from the 1968 edition is used here.



The year 1948 witnesses the 100th anniversary of the publication of the "Communist Manifesto." It is difficult for us to realize that a document so essentially modern, in so many respects so current in its evaluation and presentation of social problems and relations, has actually attained the hoary antiquity of 100 years. The fact attests, on the one hand, to the genius, the prescience of the two intellectual giants, Marx and Engels, while on the other hand it certifies to the backwardness, the progress-hostile character of the bourgeoisie. The "Communist Manifesto" stands as an ever-living proof that Marx and Engels were supreme social scientists; and that their scientific analysis of society and social forces should have been disregarded by the capitalist class and their professorial and literary pundits for one hundred years, and being still, if not ignored, then dismissed by them, and frequently subjected to their ridicule, constitutes one of the strongest indictments of bourgeois economic "science" and "scientists." It exposes the former as economic superstition, on a par with tribal "medicine," and the latter as economic illiterates and "medicine men" -- as no better than exponents of myths and ruling class "folklore," comparable to the practitioners of magic and voodooism, as alchemists and astrologers. Above all, the fact confirms the historic experience that ruling classes cling with savage tenacity to outworn forms if these are bound up with their class interests.

The "Communist Manifesto" has been universal recognized as one of the greatest documents that ever issued from the mind and pen of man. Even the bitterest enemies of Marxism concede as much, though they do so with no pleasant reflections on its implications. It was, in the words of the Greek histoian, cited by Franz Mehring, "a work of lasting importance and not a polemic for the casual reader." It was, to paraphrase Marx, as bold in conception as it it was bold in presentation. It belongs among the most original works in all the world's literature.

It is as stirring, as challenging, today as it was a hundred years ago, though the impact then on men's thinking was, of course, far greater than it is today. Yet, how well one remembers its revolutionizing effect on the youthful mind, its soul-stirring and heart-swelling effect. It opened up a new world, new horizons appeared; it called forth new perspectives, summoned at once something very old, yet something altogether new, that blended unforgettably with visions of hitherto undreamed-of things, of limitless potentialities. At one and the same time, it pronounced the doom of the class-ridden society and proclaimed the coming of the new, classless fellowship of man, the fellowship so often dreamed of, but never before given the solid foundation of actual realizability.

Originally designed as a mere declaration of what came to be known as the Communist League, it almost immediately became the handbook, the textbook, of forward-looking workers everywhere. Tt sounded a trumpet blast to action,, it became the rallying cry of the embattled proletariat wherever capitalism had produced the sharp, and ever-sharpening, conflict between capitalist and wage worker. And, under its impulsion, workers in practically all the European countries began to band together in local "leagues," to take counsel with one another, and to plan for the conquest of the working world for the world's workers. And with all of them Marx and Engels maintained contact, directly or indirectly.

The Communist League sprang from what was known as the League of the Just. The latter in turn was an offshoot of the Parisian Outlaws' League, founded by German refugees in that city. After a turbulent ten-year period the League of the Just found its "center of gravity," as Engels put it, in London, where, he added, a new feature came to the fore: "from being German, the League became international." The program and aim of the League of the Just were vague, and largely Utopian.

It was about this time that the historic meeting between Marx and Engels took place in Paris in the year 1844 -- the year in which Engels published his first substantial work, "The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844." Previously (in 1842), Engels had met Marx in Cologne, but neither made an impression on the other -- both were young, Engels 22, and Marx 24. However, at their meeting in Paris two years later, they found themselves in "complete agreement in all theoretical fields," and from that meeting their joint collaboration dates. As related by Engels: "When, in the spring of 1845, we met again in Brussels, Marx had already fully developed his materialist theory history in its main features ... and we now applied ourselves to working out in detail, in the most varied directions, the newly won mode of outlook."

Meanwhile, the League of the Just was undergoing a "quiet revolution," especially in the London section. In 1847, Marx and Engels were invited to join it, which after some hesitation they did, Marx founding a local section in Brussels in that year. The first Congress of the League of the Just convened in London in the summer of 1847, and here it underwent a thorough reorganization, obviously as a result of the influence Marx and Engels. "Whatever remained of the old mystical name of the conspiratorial period," wrote Engels, "was now also abolished; the League was organized in local sections, circles, leading circles, Central Committee and congress, and from now on called itself the 'Communist League.'" The very first article, preamble, so to speak, to its constitution, declared:

"The aim of the League is the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the abolition of the old bourgeois society based on class antagonisms and the foundation of a new society without classes; without private property."

It was at the second congress, held at Brussels in November and December, 1848, that the decision' made to issue a manifesto in line with the declared aim and purposes of the Communist League, and Marx and Engels were commissioned to draw up the manifesto. A considerable delay in the execution of this task caused the Central Committee of the League to serve notice sharply that if the manifesto was not ready by February 1, 1848, measures would be taken against Marx and Engels. Results followed.

As Engels relates it: "A few weeks before the [1848] February Revolution, it [the Manifesto] was sent to London to be printed. Since then, it has traveled round the world, it has been translated into almost all languages and today [1885] still serves as the guide for the proletarian movement in the most diverse countries. In place of the old League motto, 'All Men Are Brothers,' appeared the new battle cry, 'Proletarians of All Countries, Unite,' which openly proclaimed the international character of the struggle. Seventeen years later, this battle cry resounded throughout the world as the war cry of the International Workingmen's Association, and today the militant proletariat of all countries has inscribed it on its banner."

And so it is today in this year of 1948 -- one hundred years after the Communist League launched its world-shaking program -- a turbulent century has passed since the immortal "Communist Manifesto" flashed like a flaming sword across the leaden social skies of that historic year of 1848. The history recorded since then has been written largely in the terms of the "Communist Manifesto." A new force had entered the world of men. The capitalist world was still a world of exploitation, of wars and poverty, of broken and wasted workers on the altar of profit. But it was also a world instinctive with promise, with hope, and with a new stature of high social dignity added to the hitherto bowed and still burden-laden wage slave. And never thereafter could the capitalist class implicitly count on either the abject submission of the worker, nor on his resort to unintelligent, blind and planless rebellion.

No wonder the authors of the "Communist Manifesto" could say, and say it with pride, "A specter is haunting Europe -- the specter of Communism." And understanding by Communism, not its distortion and corruption by the Stalinist reactionaries, but scientific Socialism, Marxian Socialism, or Marxian Communism if you will, as understood in 1848. We can enlarge upon that phrase today: "A specter is haunting the capitalist world -- the specter of International Marxism." It is a specter that will not be laid until capitalism itself has been placed in history's graveyard, when that specter, so dreaded by ruling-class criminals, shall become transformed into the spirit of the new society of free men and free, independent women.

No person at all sensitive to the impact of social events and, however vaguely, aware of their portent can read the "Communist Manifesto" without experiencing the strongest emotions. Ruling and ruled class elements alike are stirred by its indictment and its message ; the former, because it strips them of their masks of pretense and hypocrisy; the latter, because it gives them the knowledge of, and confidence in, their greatness and mission as a new revolutionary class, which they require to achieve emancipation. It reveals the true nature of the capitalist jungle and points the way out of the wilderness toward that higher civilization which is destined to supersede class-ruled societies, crowning with glory the age-long ordeal of the mass of mankind.

This centennial edition of the "Communist Manifesto" includes, besides Frederick Engels' introduction to the English translation, a special preface written in 1933. This preface treats in some detail the modern application of the principles laid down in the "Communist Manifesto," with particular reference to the distortions and misapplications of the principles and text by the anti-Marxian Stalinists. A unique and historically important feature of this edition is the addition (in the appendix) of the preface written by Marx and Engels in 1872 to a German edition and prefaces written by Engels to German and Italian editions. The 1882 preface to a Russian edition is included in the 1890 preface signed by Engels. The facsimile reproduction of the cover page of the original German edition and other illustrations add a special interest.

This is truly a "student's edition" of the immortal work by the two great founders of scientific Socialism. Studied in its historical context, and taking proper account of the enduring as well as the incidental, temporary sections of the work, it remains the standard "textbook" for the hosts who ere long shall rally under banner of human brotherhood and march triumphantly forward to the goal of goals, the climax of social evolution, SOCIALISM.

Arnold Petersen

New York, Lincoln's Birthday, 1948.