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New Left Review 28, July-August 2004


Jacob Stevens on Gareth Stedman Jones, Introduction to The Communist Manifesto. Intellectual antecedents of the trumpet blast of 1848. Must today’s critics lower their political horizons?

JACOB STEVENS

EXORCIZING THE MANIFESTO

Canonized by the Penguin Classics imprint, the latest edition of the Communist Manifesto is dwarfed by a 185-page introduction, described by its author as ‘an excavation of the intellectual antecedents of Marxist thought’. Serious archaeology on such a scale is to be welcomed, although the forty-odd pages of the Manifesto may seem a slender basis from which to mount such an exercise; and indeed, Stedman Jones here shows little interest in the text itself. Though praising the invocation of capitalism’s prodigious revolutionizing and universalizing powers in the first section, ‘Bourgeoisie and Proletarians’, he sees a descent into bathos in the second, ‘Proletarians and Communists’, which advocates the overthrow of capitalist property relations, the abolition of the bourgeois family, the end of the ‘exploitation of one nation by another’ and the ‘radical rupture with traditional ideas’. The third part, ‘Socialist and Communist Literature’, is ‘arbitrary and sectarian’, while the fourth, outlining the communists’ position in relation to existing opposition parties, is ‘hurriedly jotted’ and ‘unfinished’.

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