The Communist Manifesto: the ‘most important political document in history’

A new edition of The Communist Manifesto demonstrates the book’s enduring relevance. Olive Whigham explains why you should read it—and read it again

Thursday 11 April 2024 –

Karl Marx, illustrating a story about The Communist Manifesto

Karl Marx’s and Frederick Engels’ Communist Manifesto was published amid a revolutionary wave in 1848

For many, there may never seem to be the right time to sit down and digest The Communist Manifesto. And besides, is a book written by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in 1848 even relevant today?

Phil Gasper grapples with this question head-on in the latest edition of this book, The Communist Manifesto—A Roadmap to History’s Most Important Political Document. It is an accessible read which makes clear its audience—the masses.

To call the Manifesto “history’s most important political document” is no exaggeration. If ever there were a time to pick up this book, it would be today. Horrors around the world seem not to be ebbing, but rather accelerating.

Marx and Engels explain that capitalism is a system based on infinite accumulation of capital. They write how the “need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases” the capitalists “over the entire surface of the globe”.

And, because of these dynamics, the system has a tendency to crash and for crises to occur. The working class—those who have to sell their labour power, their ability to work, for a wage—will have to pay the price for such crises.

Whether it be through cuts to wages, benefits, healthcare and education or war and climate crisis, it’s us—the majority—that are worst affected by capitalism.

But there is hope. Marx and Engels identified the working class as a force able to bring down capitalism and transform society for the better.

People can become radicalised and their ideas change during struggle. Working class people can come to understand their collective power as those who create capitalists’ profits. It is for this reason Marx says that “capitalism creates its own gravediggers”.

This edition of The Communist Manifesto is abundantly annotated and allows the reader, whether new to this text or not, to navigate it with ease. It locates the historical context Marx and Engels wrote it in—the era of the 1848 revolutions—helping us to understand the nuances of the language in the original text.

It makes no presumptions, and consequently it is hard to put the book down without feeling compelled to delve deeper into Marxist politics. Dotted throughout are sections such as, “Marxism in a Nutshell,” which strip Marxism back to its most basic foundational elements of working class self-emancipation.

The Manifesto is still a reference point today in our efforts to tackle this rotten capitalist system, the same system that was in its infantile stages when Marx put pen to paper to write it.  

When Marx and Engels ended the Manifesto with the call to action, “Workers of the world unite!”, the working class was 2 to 3 percent of the world population. Today, wage workers are a global majority with a huge potential to bury this rotten system.

The Communist Manifesto: A Road Map to History’s Most Important Political Document by Frederick Engels and Karl Marx, edited by Phil Gasper (Haymarket Books, Second Edition, March 2024)