New College of the Humanities

The Communist Manifesto

Roger Spalding introduces one of the most important publications in modern world history.

First edition of the Communist Manifesto, in German
First edition of the Communist Manifesto, in German

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. Karl Marx, born in 1818, came from the Rhineland, an area occupied by the French during the Napoleonic Wars. During this period the French abolished feudal restrictions, introduced religious toleration and secularised the state. Many, like Marx’s father, benefited from this liberal regime. When, after Napoleon’s defeat, the Rhineland passed under Prussian control, Hirschel Marx, Karl’s father, abandoned Judaism for Christianity to retain the right to practise as a lawyer. Friedrich Engels, born in 1820, came from a family of German industrialists: he had, therefore, first-hand knowledge of the effects of rapid industrialisation. In 1842 Engels moved to Manchester to work at the family cotton mill. This took him to the heart of the world’s first industrial nation.

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