A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of communism.
One of the most famous lines in Marx's oeuvre, the metaphor of 'the spectre' was given an extensive treatment by philosopher Jacques Derrida. (You can read an excerpt here).
The choice of metaphor by Marx is interesting - as a champion of 'materialism', he is here invoking something that lacks materiality. At one level, it is as if he is saying that whilst communism is 'a long way off', it is nonetheless here to haunt the economic and political systems of Europe.
To elaborate a little further, I'll use an analogy from psychoanalysis, which also has materialist underpinnings. Lacan said that Marx invented 'the symptom'. In its simplest guise, the psychoanalytic symptom results from the inevitable clash between the conscious and the unconscious. An 'ideational representative' that is unacceptable to consciousness is banished to the unconscious. The outcome of this process, however, is not merely 'ideational' - the subject experiences any one of a range of neurotic symptoms, such as hysterical pains, feelings of anxiety, obsessive fixations, or whatever. The symptom is in a sense 'material', and results because the human subject carries within himself/herself an insoluable contradiction between conscious and unconscious.
In the same vein, capitalism implies, of necessity, the formation of antagonistic classes. The sites of clashes between these classes are the 'symptoms' of communism. In Marx's time, these symptoms included the various worker's uprisings in Europe, and the formation of trade unions and worker's parties.
Wither the spectre of communism today, when, in the post-Soviet world, few Marxist parties wield any power at all? It could be argued that the symptoms of class antagonism continue to emerge - global financial crisis, food shortages, rioting in Paris, in Athens, the intifadas of the Palestinian territories, the Zapatista movement of Mexico, the widespread hatred for 'deregulatory' industrial policy in Australia, to name but a few examples. Whether this 'spectre' is properly communist is debatable, but that it still exists is not.
Communism is still haunting Europe, and even the US. The evidence for this is the zeal with which politicians and the media seek to expunge anything vaguely 'leftist' from their discourse. The French philosopher Alain Badiou remarked upon this point in relation to Sarkozy:
At first sight there may seem something strange about the new President’s insistence that the solution to the country’s moral crisis, the goal of his ‘renewal’ process, was ‘to do away with May 68, once and for all’. Most of us were under the impression that it was long gone anyway. What is haunting the regime, under the name of May 68? We can only assume that it is the ‘spectre of communism’, in one of its last real manifestations. He would say (to give a Sarkozian prosopopoeia): ‘We refuse to be haunted by anything at all. It is not enough that empirical communism has disappeared. We want all possible forms of it banished. Even the hypothesis of communism—generic name of our defeat—must become unmentionable.’
The notion of this spectre as a 'symptom' is clear in Badiou's comment - communism, even in the form of mere 'hypothesis', is 'unmentionable'. It must be 'banished'. Rightist critics of public education will allege, for instance, that in university courses, Marxist perspectives are employed to analyse literature, film, or philosophy. Granted, this is true, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with communism.
I would also argue that there is today another spectre haunting Europe, and elsewhere, namely, the spectre of fascism, the 20th century's most infamous political invention.
Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as communistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of communism, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?
Words such as 'socialism' and 'communism' remain terms of abuse in much of political discourse in the English-speaking world. The haphazard way in which the term 'fascism' has been used (by both sides of politics) is repeated here, though to a lesser extent. A bail-out of car manufactorers in the US is termed 'socialist'. John Howard's centralising of the industrial relations system was derided by free-marketeers (HR Nicholls) as 'Stalinist'. Socialism and communism are used interchangeably, and are held to be self-evidently both economically mistaken and morally evil. The crimes of Stalin are held up as evidence of the depravity, or stupidity of Marx. Often this is done with some appeal to a 'human nature' that is, again, self-evidently incapable of communism.
Two things result from this fact:
I. Communism is already acknowledged by all European powers to be itself a power.
II. It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a manifesto of the party itself.
So, the Manifesto was intended to be a clear statement of position as against the 'nursery tale' of communism as told by the latter's detractors.
To this end, Communists of various nationalities have assembled in
Immediately, we see here one feature of Marx's Manifesto that distinguishes it from other political approaches, namely, its internationalism. In fact, I'm struggle to think of many other genuinely internationalist political perspectives, other than (perversely) perhaps neoconservative 'democracy-building', coupled with globalised free trade. The Manifesto was initially translated into the languages of industrialised Western Europe, but it would soon travel much further than this, most notably in the Русский язык.
I'll leave it there for now. Any discussion or non-trolling debate is welcome. I'm certainly no Marxologist or specialist in this area, merely an educated layperson, so please feel free to point out any inaccuracies or oversights.