The General and the Specific in the Working Class Movement

Notes on Various Prefaces of the Communist Manifesto

Published in Padakkhep

In prefaces that Marx and Engels wrote for various German and other language editions of The Manifesto of the Communist Party, they reread the text in specific geographical and historical contexts. This gave them the opportunity to (re)historicise the text itself and (re)articulate the general principles in multiple contexts and in sharper ways. In fact, this exercise is never complete with regard to a text like the Manifesto, and only this way it “would be possible to revitalise [its] propaganda effect,” as Brecht once put it.

In almost all the prefaces, the central idea is that in accordance to time and space, “the state of things may have altered”, however, without affecting the general principles. It is recognised that “the practical applications of the principles” are dependent on historical conditions. Hence, Marx and Engels without any remorse declared in the 1872 German edition that revolutionary measures enumerated in section II must be altered according to time and place. Similar was the case of section IV about the communists’ relations with other parties which were in principle correct but most of the parties had already been eliminated by the progress of history itself.

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