Remember the Future? The Communist Manifesto as Historical and Cultural Form

Peter Osborne

Abstract


With the disappearance of the horizon of proletarian revolution, and the retreat to the spirit world of the famous 'spectre' of communism, the text has undergone a profound transformation. In short, the Manifesto appears to have been transformed from an eschatological tour de force, in which the end of capitalism was assured ('What the bourgeoisie...produces, above all, is its own gravediggers'), into what Marshall Berman has notoriously described as a 'lyrical celebration of bourgeois works': a celebration, more specifically, of the revolutionary temporality of capitalism; a capitalism which - without a fundamental countervailing force - appears now as open-ended. From the standpoint of the philosophy of history, communism as the eschatological absolute has given way to the 'bad infinity' of capitalism - 'the affirmation as negation of the finite' - capitalism without end, amen. Or at least, so it would seem. But does the rest of the Manifesto belong unambiguously to a shape of life grown old? Or is there another sense in which it is still a 'living' text, after the fall of historical communism? Is there, perhaps, new life in it today? What lives in the Communist Manifesto? In particular - and this is the question I shall address here - what is the temporal character of its address to us, citizen-subjects of Western capitalist democracies? How does it inscribe us into historical time, today?

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