The Communist Manifesto was a product of the social, economic and political turmoil that characterised Europe before 1850. Both of its authors, Marx and Engels, were touched by elements of this turmoil. Like many young Germans, Marx and Engels were profoundly influenced by the German philosopher Georg Hegel who had developed a theory of history that explained change. Collaboration between Marx and Engels began in Paris in 1844. In 1847 they joined an organisation of working-class German exiles, the League of the Just. A number of changes made at the 1847 congress of the League indicate their growing influence within it. The name, for example, was changed to the Communist League. In the aftermath of these changes, Marx and Engels were invited to draft a statement of aims. This was the genesis of The Communist Manifesto which was published on February 21, 1848. It is one of the world’s most-read political manuscripts.
The Communist Manifesto outlines a form of government designed to distribute wealth and eliminate social strata, for, as Marx and Engels wrote: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Detailing the reasons why capitalism led to tension between the well-to-do bourgeoisie and the hard-laboring proletariat, Marx and Engels suggested the working class would soon rise up to overthrow their oppressors — hence the League’s slogan (borrowed from Marx): “Workers of the world, unite!”
Three days after Manifesto was published, February 23rd, riots broke out in France. Germany would see demonstrations next, followed by Denmark and nearly a dozen nations — some as far away as South America. Still, more than a century and a half after its first publication, The Communist Manifesto has a bewildering power over readers. The ideas espoused by Marx and Engels reflect a prescience few works can claim, as the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011 often pointed to the same differences in class Marx touched on 163 years before. Marx and Engels may not have changed the world, but they certainly changed the way we interpret it.