The Promethean Vision: The Communist Manifesto and the Development of Capitalism after 150 years
When the Manifesto was written, the combined age of its authors fell well short of sixty. The supreme confidence with which the vision underlying the Manifesto is articulated, is at least in part attributable to the exuberance and elan of brilliant youth, untempered by the doubts arising out of life and experience. That vision was a Promethean one, and in the Manifesto it was painted in bold and vivid strokes: the class contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat was seen as the principal contradiction of the age, just as that between the feudal lords and their serfs was the principal contradiction shaping the contours of the previous class society; the bourgeois mode was more revolutionary however than any other previous mode and through the unimaginable speed with which it had expanded the forces of production via the scientific harnessing of natural laws, thro'ugh the very rapidity of its advance, including in its net far flung territories and their resources, it had already created the agency for its own destruction, the class struggle of the organised proletariat against the bourgeoisie. This struggle expressed the basic contradiction of the capitalist system which could never be overcome within the limits of that system, namely the increasing misery of the proletariat on the one hand, and the objective potential for the rational social use of the immense productive forces it had unleashed, on the other. The Manifesto proclaimed that the beginnings of the end of the new-born capitalist system could already be seen in the agency of the class it had forged, the proletariat. The proletariat of the European countries, given rise to and nurtured by the capitalist system, was to overthrow the very system which had created it.
* Professor at CESP, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Social Scientist, Vol. 27, Nos. 1- 4, Jan. - April 1999