‘A Spectre, Haunting’ explores the ‘Manifesto’

January 23, 2023

From the January-February 2023 issue of News & Letters

Herr Lange wonders that Engels, I etc. take the dead dog of Hegel seriously…Herr Lange is naïve enough to say that I “move with rare freedom” in empirical matter…this…is nothing but a paraphrase for the method of dealing with matter—that is, the dialectic method.”

Karl Marx, June 27, 1870, letter to Dr. Kugelmann

As far-right regimes, politics and “ideas” brutally strive to crush mass worldwide struggles for freedom, A Spectre, Haunting: On the Communist Manifesto (China Miéville, Haymarket Books) was featured in The New York Times Book Review in December. Miéville analyzes, outlines and evaluates the Manifesto, reproduced in full as an appendix. This form allows readers direct engagement with the discussion. Miéville’s writing ranges from academic, complex, to passionate, to down to earth, compelling readers’ attention (keep a good dictionary handy).


The book sets the Manifesto in European radical history, from the French Revolution through early socialism and post-Marx communism, condemning “dismal Stalinist experiments” (p. 100). The author engages with the wide range of theoretical debates within all brands of Marxism. He cites later writings of Marx and Engels to support their embryonic origins in the text, to counter superficial simplistic criticism that the Manifesto—and Marxism itself—is out of date and wrong.

As for today, Miéville asserts: “Rather than dispensed with, Marx’s analysis must, in the words of the Combahee River Collective of radical queer black women, be ‘extended’; it must, as Fanon insisted, be ‘stretched.’ As, in the hands of the great anti-racist and anti-colonial movements, it has been” (p. 130).

Although Miéville successfully rejects “commonplace” simplistic criticisms of Marx and the Manifesto and presents nuances and dualisms as well as contradictions, to a Marxist-Humanist he has not adequately acknowledged the importance of Hegelian dialectical philosophy in Marx’s method. Marx’s deep dive into the Hegelian dialectic underlies the inherent complexity of the Manifesto. Marx’s critiques of opposing forces from within the revolution as well as from capitalism, (as the rise of Stalinism from the greatest proletarian Russian Revolution of 1917) underlie his 1850 call for “revolution in permanence.”


Nevertheless, it is a shock that Miéville concludes the book with an essay “on hate.” In a way it makes sense because there is so much hate around us, and he insists it is not individual hatred but hatred of capitalism. The last sentence of his “Afterword” reads: “living with the Yes smouldering at the core of you…ultimately stronger than the also smouldering No of necessary hate, is the only way to come close to existing, to living as a human, in so foul and monstrous and in- and anti-human system. Yes. Yes we will change the existing state of things” (p. 172). But can this get you to freedom? Absolute negativity—the negation of the negation that creates a new Yes—is not hate but the ceaseless transcendence of existing society in theory and practice.

Marx’s entire life study of the workings of capitalism and his dialectical method allowed him to see that in revolutionary human beings, passion and thought are integrated. It enabled him to recognize revolutionary elements in so-called primitive societies. That philosophy does not allow for uncritical acceptance of institutions like governments or unions that have become reactionary, transformed into their opposites. Does Miéville, after his important analyses, really intend for revolutionaries to rely on passion alone?

Notwithstanding, A Spectre, Haunting is an important link to Marxism for revolutionary young activists, to strengthen our movements for transforming capitalism itself into a humane, free society.

—Susan Van Gelder

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