It took Marx and Engels six weeks to write the Communist Manifesto, since, by the end of December 1847, the London Bildungsgesellschaft für Arbeiter officially asked them to develop its political programme.
Although both Marx and Engels are equally accountable for the text, it was no doubt Marx who wrote the final version.
The manuscript was sent from his home in Brussels to London in the beginning of February 1848.
There, the German workers' association borrowed 25 pounds to buy gothic printing type on the continent. The associate member J.E. Burghard composed the text (rather carelessly) and printed 1,000 copies (with many printing errors) in his own small shop in Liverpool Street. The pamphlet had 23 pages, a green cover, and measured 21.5 to 13.4 cm.
The Association immediately confirmed this draft as its programme and thereafter called itself Bund der Kommunisten.
At the same time, the February Revolution in Paris started a series of revolutionary events on the continent, and the Manifesto was sent as a clandestine pamphlet throughout Europe. Thus, the Amsterdam counterpart of the Bund der Kommunisten received 100 copies. During a demonstration by workers and subsequent rioting in Amsterdam, 24 March 1848, a copy of the Manifesto was confiscated. A civil servant made a very erroneous abstract of it and placed the abstract in the police archives.
To this day, the text in every possible shape and form remains an object of study. Although the original preface announces the English, French, Italian, Flemish, and Danish translation to be forthcoming, Sweden has the honour of having the first foreign-language translation (Kommunismens Röst, Stockholm, December 1848).
During the twentieth century the Manifesto was even translated into languages that were hardly spoken at all.
People managed to teach themselves German by comparing the translation to the original. The text was copied by hand in a medieval manner and illegally distributed in countries that had no freedom of the press. The genesis and meaning of nearly all terms were annotated and analyzed.
Important socialist theoreticians like Adler, Kautsky, Trotsky, Plechanov, and Gorter ventured to add a new introduction. Graphic artists have done their best to design new forms for the text, such as a poster, stamp, or cartoon. An edition in braille was made in Germany.
Even the official historiography no longer attempts to document all editions, let alone estimate their number. The history of translating and editing the Manifesto in each country is of course related to its specific political and social history. During the revolutionary years in Russia for instance, seventeen Russian-language editions were produced in 1905 and ten in 1917, many of these by the emigrant press in Western Europe.
It has been said that the Manifesto is the second most published manuscript, coming after the Bible. In an equally vague manner we might add that the Manifesto must be one of the most vilified documents, and deliberately thrown into fire or flushed down the toilet.
The IISH, from its very beginning, has collected any edition it can lay hands on (any suggestions for adding to the collections are welcome, please contact .
Some special editions from the Institute's collection are shown here, including the only remaining handwritten page of the first draft, which Engels gave as a present to one of his colleagues on 12 June 1883.