The Communist Manifesto
In 1847, a group of radical workers called the "Communist League" met in London. They commissioned Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who had recently become members, to write a manifesto on their behalf, soon known as the Communist Manifesto. Marx was the principle author, with Engels editing and assisting. The Communist Manifesto was originally published in London in 1848. Of all the documents of modern socialism, it is the most widely read and the most influential. It is the systematic statement of the philosophy that has come to be known as Marxism.
Marx (1818-1883) was a German philosopher, economist and sociologist, as well as a political revolutionary. He met Engels (1820-1895) when he moved to Paris after 1843, and they worked together on several essays. Marx and Engels are best known for their revolutionary writings about Communism. One of Marx's primary intellectual influences was the work of G.W.F. Hegel. Hegel's theory presents history as a process in which the world becomes conscious of itself as spirit. Marx took this idea and furthered it, arguing that as man becomes conscious of himself as spirit, the material world causes him to feel increasingly alienated from himself. Escape from this alienation requires a revolution.
Marx and Engels were not simply content with theorizing about revolution in the abstract, however. They thought that theory was only useful insofar as it promotes social change, clarifying the proper means and ends of revolution; they were thus not only authors, but activists, and believed that by theorizing they were actively influencing history. The Communist Manifesto can be understood as one attempt to influence history by spreading information about the communist movement.
Marx's theory should be understood in the context of the hardships suffered by 19th-century workers in England, France and Germany. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries created a seemingly permanent underclass of workers, many of whom lived in poverty under terrible working conditions and with little political representation. The Communist Manifesto was written on the eve of the Revolution of 1848 in Germany. The failure of this worker and student-led revolution caused Marx to later revise some of the arguments and predictions that appear in the Communist Manifesto. However, the general structure of Marx's original arguments, as well as its revolutionary tone, remained unchanged.