The Communist Manifesto (Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei) has been described as the single most important piece of foreign-language printing ever produced in Britain.
It was written in late 1847 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels at the request of a group of German revolutionary exiles based in London, and printed for private distribution in February 1848 by J. E. Burghard of Liverpool Street. Burghard also printed the radical German newspaper, the Deutsche Londoner Zeitung, which serialised the Manifesto between March and July 1848.
It was a time of great political unrest in Europe, and following a surge in demand prompted by the February revolution in Paris, the text was reissued in pamphlet form three times within a month of the first printing. A second edition was published in April or May.
Although hundreds of copies were produced, very few survive today; in fact, only 26 have been recorded. This is due both to the clandestine nature of the pamphlet, and to its physical fragility: it was printed on poor quality paper and stitched in distinctive but flimsy green wrappers. Also, after the initial flurry of interest in radical circles, the Manifesto was largely neglected until, in 1872, it was cited in evidence at the trial of the German Socialist August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebkecht.
This brought the work to the attention of a new generation of Socialist thinkers and activists, and it went on to become the most influential and iconic text of 20th-century Communism. Its opening and closing lines have become famous: 'A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of communism' and 'Workers of all lands, unite!'