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Book Review: A Commentary on the Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels with an introduction and notes by D. Ryazanoff, Director of the Marx-Engels Institute, Moscow. Published by Martin Lawrence, Bedford Row, London, W.C., 15/-. (Special cheap edition, 6/-, obtainable through this office)
This work is the summary of lectures given in Russia by the head of the Marx-Engels Institute during 1921 and 1922. The book takes the form of a re-translation of the Communist Manifesto into English by Eden and Cedar Paul, and a series of historical and other notes commenting on the persons, events and policies dealt with in the manifesto itself. It includes a chronology of events in the “working class” movements from 1516-1871. The draft of a proposed manifesto for the Communist League by Frederick Engels, and also the Rules and Constitution of the League are reprinted in the book.
Two very interesting articles by Engels on the Communist League and the Revolutionary Movements of 1847, are given for the first time in English. There is also a reprint of a trial number of the Communist Journal of September, 1847, which was to be the London organ of the Workers' Educational Society, a body with whom Marx and Engels were associated.
The New Translation of the Manifesto.
Eden and Cedar Paul’s translation of the Communist manifesto is certainly no improvement on the authorised edition published in England by Reeves, translated by Samuel Moore, and revised by Engels. The language used by the new translators is not as simple and clear as the old. One or two examples will illustrate the curious efforts of the translators to use new and strange words in place of the easier and more popular English of the old translation. The new translation refers to the bourgeoisie and proletariat as “two great and directly contraposed classes,” whereas in the Reeves’ edition we have ”two great classes directly facing each other.” In place of ”political sway” in the Reeves’ edition, Eden and Cedar Paul put “political hegemony.” In the old translation the manifesto refers to the “scattered state of the population,” etc., but the new translation prefers to use such a difficult, ugly word as “fractionisation. ” Where the Reeves’ edition talks of "the abolition of existing property relations," the Pauls say, “pre-existent property relations." In another paragraph we get the formal lawyer-like language, “pre-existent private proprietary securities” to replace “previous securities for, and insurances of individual property.” Where the old translation refers to the wage-labourer, the new one adopts the harder phrase, “the proletarianised worker.” Many similar instances could be quoted to show that the translators have forgotten that this great historic manifesto was written for the working class and that the language should be as simple as possible. In one place where Marx refers to Communism abolishing the bourgeois family, the new translation makes Communism abolish the family!
Ryazanoff, however, is not responsible for the translation. In the Russian edition of his work he used Plechanoff’s translation of the manifesto.
The Commentary on the Manifesto.
The lengthy notes to illustrate and explain characters and events will be very useful for the student. Marx’s “Capital,” and also his “Poverty of Philosophy,” are drawn upon for quotations to help the reader. Engels' “Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844,” is much quoted by Ryazanoff to furnish the historical background of the manifesto in England.
The author of this work states that it is not the commentary on the manifesto that is really needed, but time has not permitted a more suitable work. His view as to what a commentary should be is quite correct and he hopes to be able to write a fuller work in the future. What the student needs is a history of the previous “Communist ” and allied movements and a history of the Early “Socialist ” theories, together with a study of the class struggles prevailing.
The manifesto is a historical work and can be best understood with a knowledge of the social and historical conditions that led up to it. The notes given by Ryazanoff will be useful as an outline.
There are many extracts from little known writings of Marx and Engels now translated for the first time in this book. Some of them on Christianity, Law, etc., will be reproduced in the Socialist Standard as space permits. The famous quotation containing Marx’s phrase, “Religion is the opium of the people,” is given from Marx’s Criticism of Hegel's' “ Philosophy of Rights.”
Proletarian Democracy!
The author comments on the well-known attitude of Marx in the manifesto that the workers must first of all win political supremacy—become the ruling class by winning the battle of democracy. Ryazanoff says this must be understood as “proletarian democracy,” but gives no evidence that Marx, meant anything different from what he said—“democracy.” Winning the battle of democracy in modern times means winning the majority of the population— which is the working class. Marx pointed out at the time in his article on Chartism (quoted in the March Socialist Standard), that the majority of voters in England under manhood suffrage would constitute the mass of the workers who could become politically supreme if they used their votes to do so.
If the workers are to win the battle of democracy and become supreme, then it is obvious that where the working class are the majority of the nation they become supreme by using existing democracy and not waiting till a new society is already established. The statement of the author that “democracy” here means “proletarian democracy” makes nonsense of Marx’s phrase, because the workers have to rise to power before they could (if they wished) disfranchise the capitalists.
Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
Ryazanoff says that though the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” is not used in the Communist manifesto the basis of it is there. He says the phrase was coined after the 1848 revolution in Paris. But he forgets that in none of the many prefaces to the manifesto which Marx and Engels wrote in later years did they use the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat.” In two writings where it was used it was simply used to mean the rule of the working class in a society not ready for Socialism. In a private letter criticising the “free people’s State” Marx once used it and also in the early ’fifties in magazine articles on “Class Struggles in France.” The latter were not published in book form till 1895, long after Marx’s death. And it was in that work where Marx, dealing with the large peasantry and the small working class in France, said that if the workers got power there would be a “dictatorship of the proletariat."
"The Class Struggles in France” is a review of events from 1848-1850, and the views set out there depend upon the conditions of the time. Engels, in his long introduction, shows that minority action and the violent methods, advocated at the time Marx wrote the work, had been proved wrong by history, and that social changes had transformed completely the conditions under which the workers had to struggle. Engels advocates political action and also tells us that a democratic republic affords the best conditions for political success. He did not repeat the advice about dictatorship given by Marx nearly 50 years before. In none of the published works of Marx and Engels did they lay down dictatorship as the object of a working class party. As Engels says (“Socialism: Utopian and Scientific”), the working class seizes the power of the State and at once converts the means of production into social property. Whether we examine the Communist League, the International Working Men’s Association or any other body Marx was identified with; their object was always defined as the capture of political power by the working class.
Long after the Paris Commune of 1871 was over Engels wrote in the preface to Marx’s “Civil War in France (1871),” that in the Paris Commune, with its universal suffrage and democracy, you could see what the dictatorship of the proletariat was like.
Finally, we suggest to the head of the Marx-Engels Institute that the "smash the State" theory which he associates with Marx and Engels has no foundation in the philosophy of Marx and Engels. The most widely read book of Engels, written with the co-operation of Marx against Duhring (“Socialism: Utopian and Scientific"), says:
"The first action undertaken by the State as genuinely representative of society at large, the seizure of the means of production in the name of society at large, is simultaneously its last independent action as a State.” And he goes on to say, “The State is not 'abolished,’ it dies but.” (Ryazanoff translation).
Apart from the matters to which we have drawn attention, the book well deserves reading and will prove worthy of any worker’s, time.
One of its chief drawbacks is that it does not generally deal with the usefulness or otherwise, to-day, of the various measures or policies advocated in the manifesto.
The book is published at 15/-, but working class bodies can have a special edition at 6/-. It really should be published in cheap covers at about 2/-, so that most workers could get it.
Adolph Kohn