The Rhetoric of the Manifesto

Martin, James. 2015. The Rhetoric of the Manifesto. In: Terrell Carver and James Farr, eds. The Cambridge Companion to The Communist Manifesto. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University press, pp. 50-66. ISBN 9781107037007 [Book Section]

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The Communist Manifesto, by definition, is a polemical treatise. The word polemic stems from the Greek polemikos, meaning “war,” and the Manifesto presents itself, accordingly, as the exposé of a “more or less hidden civil war” between social classes, and exhorts its readers to take sides with the participant whose interests it promotes (CM 245). These features of the text are sufficient to remind us that Marx and Engels are engaged in a distinctively rhetorical exercise. Their task in the Manifesto is to supply arguments that define the prevailing situation and, thereby, to persuade their audience to adopt and uphold a position in relation to it. The text achieves this by a combination of arguments that narrate a story, populate that story with characters, identify and explain its central dramatic conflict, ridicule opponents, deliberate over alternative strategies and, finally, exhort a rallying call to arms. The Manifesto is not just a treatise on politics; its arguments are its politics.

In this chapter, I examine the rhetorical dimensions of the Manifesto. That involves thinking about the text as an assemblage of argumentative strategies designed to capture its audience's attention, reason with them about the current circumstances and orient their allegiance to a specific cause. Here rhetoric is understood not merely as the formal or literary aspects of discourse, but, more expansively, as an effort to intervene in a situation in order to shift people's perceptions and adjust their actions (see Martin 2015). In the Manifesto, Marx and Engels accomplish this through a variety of rhetorical strategies; in particular, by appeals to reason (logos) and to character (ethos). Together these appeals fashion a combative, ironic style that privileges the text's distinctive stance and casts its reasoning in an unabashed, partisan light. Here the Communist Manifesto follows many of the generic conventions of the manifesto format that emerged from the French revolution: articulating an impatient rage by refusing conciliation with the present order. Its distinctive rhetoric supplies the text with an intellectual depth and creative verve that, although occasioned by a particular set of circumstances, have allowed it to speak beyond its original setting.

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16 Mar 2016 13:18

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30 Jun 2017 12:10


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