Beginning in January of that year, a wave of uprisings (nearly 50 in all) convulsed the continent, creating instability from Paris to Palermo.
That February, a pair of left-wing German philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, published “The Communist Manifesto,” a platform for the Communist League, which they had helped found the year before.
The timing of the publication would forever link it with revolution in the minds of many. Soon, the world would learn the central premise of Marxism: “The existence of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
“For Marx and Engels, the heart of the system of capitalism was exploitation,” says author Joshua Muravchik, author of “Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism.” “As they saw it, the workers were the ones who are creating the things that are coming out of the factories but the capitalists were the ones who were keeping most of the profits.”
The only way to level the playing field, according to “The Communist Manifesto,” was to seize the “means of production” in the name of the people.
“The means of production [was] the Marxist term for the machinery, the factories,” says Muravchik. “And the only way to rectify it was for the workers to get together and take away the factories from the capitalists so that they could have the complete benefit of the products that they themselves were creating.”
Marx and Engels predicted that the result of that revolution would be socialism, a worker’s state where people contributed according to their ability and received according to their needs. In time, government itself would become unnecessary and give way to a new, stateless society that Marx and Engels called Communism.
“What Marx and Engels said was, ‘Don’t worry, whatever happens to you, no matter how miserable your lives are, no matter how desperate your political struggle seems, history is working its way towards its outcome,'” says Columbia University political science professor Sheri Berman. “And that’s what gives Marxism its incredible force.”
By 1900, “The Communist Manifesto” had been translated into every major European language and had become a political cause celebre in many precincts.
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