The Communist Manifesto and 'World Literature9
Marx was twelve years old at the time of the revolutions of 1830 and thirty when he drafted the Manifesto, with some assistance from Engels, barely a few weeks before the revolutions of 1848 broke out first in Paris and then across much of Europe. The originality of the Manifesto is that Marx sought for the revolution a clearly proletarian orientation. For the rest, the idea of a revolution, of one kind or another, seemed, as he was growing up, as natural as the prospect that the sun would set in the evening and rise in the morning. Even 'socialism' was something of a password among many of those whom the Manifesto calls "would-be universal reformers". Part of the purpose in drafting the document in fact was to spell out the ways in which the Communist League, whose manifesto it was to be, thought itself different from those other tendencies in the democratic movements which also considered themselves socialist.
This is important to remember in a time such as ours, when a whole new generation is growing up in an environment where, perhaps for the first time in roughly two hundred years, the idea of revolution has been made to seem implausible, however much there might be aspirations for liberal democracy, social change and the like. That there would be revolution was clear to everyone in Marx's generation of students, intellectuals and activists who identified themselves with the spirit of 1789. In deed, a careful reading of the main documents of the French Revolution, notably the famous 'Declaration of Man and the Citizen', had been crucial in Marx's own philosophical and political evolution.1 It was here, well before drafting the Manifesto that he had drawn two conclusions: that the abstract universal rights contained in the 'Declaration' were everywhere sacrosanct in theory
* Till recently fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol. 29, Nos. 7- 8, July-August 2000