Reading The Communist Manifesto in the 21st Century

Marx and Engels described not the world as it had already been transformed by capitalism in 1848, but predicted how it was logically destined to be transformed by it.

We now live in a world in which this transformation has largely taken place, even though readers of the Manifesto in the third millennium of the western calendar will no doubt observe the continued acceleration of its advance. In some ways we can even see the force of the Manifesto’s predictions more clearly than the generations between us and its publication. For until the revolution in transport and communications since the Second World War, there were limits to the globalisation of production, to ‚giving a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country‘. Until the 1970s industrialisation remained over­whelmingly confined to its regions of origin. Some schools of Marxists could even argue that capitalism, at least in its imperialist form, so far from ‚compel[ling] all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production‘, was by its nature perpetuating, or even creating, ‚underdevelopment‘ in the so-called Third World. While one third of the human race lived in economies of the Soviet communist type, it seemed as though capitalism would never succeed in compelling all nations ‚to become bourgeois themselves‘. It would not ‚create a world after its own image‘. Again, before the 1960s the Manifesto’s announcement that capitalism brought about the destruction of the family seemed not to have been verified, even in the advanced Western countries, where today something like half the children are born to or brought up by single mothers, and half of all households in big cities consist of single persons.

In short, what might in 1848 have struck an uncommitted reader as revolutionary rhetoric or, at best, as plausible prediction can now be read as a concise characterisation of capitalism at the start of the new millennium.

—Eric Hobsbawm, How to Change the World, (London: Little, Brown, 2011), 112-113.

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