Many groups and organisations were formed to spread socialist ideas and organise workers. One of these was the League of the Just which had members in many countries of Europe. Its slogan was ‘All men are brothers’. Thus internationalism was one of its important features. In 1847, its name was changed to the Communist League and it declared as its aim, “the downfall of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the overthrow of the old society of middle class, based on class distinction, and the establishment of a new society without classes and without private property.” Its journal carried the slogan, “Proletarians of all lands, unite!” It instructed Karl Marx and Frederick Engels to draft a manifesto.
The Communist Manifesto first appeared in Germany in February 1848. It was the work of Karl Marx (1818-83) and Frederick Engels. Both Marx and Engels were Germans but spent most of their life in England. Their view of socialism is called scientific socialism and their philosophy Marxism.Their work and writings gave a new direction to socialist ideology and movement.
The Communist Manifesto aimed worldwide overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. It pointed out that socialism was not merely desirable, but also inevitable. Capitalism, it said, does not serve the needs of man and, like other social and economic systems in history, it would be replaced by a system, better suited to human needs. They wanted to replace the classes and class differences of old bourgeois society, with an association in which the free development of each individual which would lead to conditions for the free development of all. Marx analysed the working of capitalism in his famous work Das Kapital (Capital) and pointed out the characteristics that would lead to its destruction. According to him,
Workers produce more ‘value’ than they get in the form of wages, the difference being appropriated by the capitalists in the form of profits. This constitutes the basis of conflict in capitalist society. Profits can be increased at the cost of workers’ wages and, therefore, the interests of workers and capitalists are irreconcilable.
Economic crises were inevitable under capitalism because of the discrepancy between the purchasing power of workers and total production. These crises would be resolved only if the private ownership of the means of production is abolished and the profit motive eliminated from the system of production. With this, production would be carried on for social good rather than for profits for a few
The exploiting classes would disappear and a classless society would emerge in which there would be no difference between what was good for the individual and for society as a whole.
Marx and Engels believed that this would be accomplished by the working class which was the most revolutionary class in capitalist society. They advocated that the emancipation of the working class would emancipate the whole human race from all traces of social injustice.
Around the time the Communist Manifesto was published, revolutions broke out in almost every country in Europe. These revolts aimed at the overthrow of autocratic governments, establishment of democracy and also, in countries such as Italy and Germany, at national unification. One of the major forces in these revolutions were the workers who had been inspired by ideas of socialism. The Communist League participated in these revolutions in many countries. However, all these revolutions were suppressed. With the failure of the 1848 revolutions, the socialist movement seems to have abated. However, it was soon to rise in strength again.
One of the outstanding features of the various socialist groups was their internationalist character. In Britain, an organisation called the Society of Fraternal Democrats had been formed in 1846. It had close links with other similar organizations in Europe and with the Chartists in Britain. All these organisations emphasized the idea that the cause of the working class in all countries was the same. A leader of the Society of Fraternal Democrats, for example, said in 1848, “I appeal to the oppressed classes in every country to unite for the common cause.”
The people, according to him, were the workers and peasants, and the cause of the people was “the cause of labour, of labour enslaved and exploited….In all countries there are people who grow corn and eat potatoes, who make clothes and wear rags, who build houses and live in wretched hovels. Do not the workers of all nations have the same reason for complaint and the same causes of distress? Have they not, therefore, the same just cause?’ It was these ideas of international solidarity that were to remain the fundamental features of the socialist movement in the coming years.