In the mid-19th century the growth of industry and the rise of great cities created demands for political change. Large swathes of Europe were still ruled by monarchies and a long way away from universal suffrage.
By the late 1840s, the continent stood on the brink of revolution. The German philosopher Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto, which outlined his views on the causes of the situation and the way forward.
The Communist Manifesto argued that history was a fight between three groups: the aristocracy, owners of capital and the workers. Marx argued that rather than just focusing on the aristocracy, who were losing power, the working class should combine forcibly to overthrow the rising middle class as well.
The manifesto made ten immediate demands, including complete state control of the banking system and state ownership of factories. In the short run, the manifesto’s impact was limited.
But Marx’s philosophy, outlined further in Das Kapital (Capital), would influence many thinkers. After the Russian revolution of 1917 the world’s first communist government came to power. By the 1950s, Marxist regimes would control large swathes of Europe, Asia and Africa.
Ironically, this discredited Marxism. State control turned Russia and the Eastern bloc into bankrupt backwaters kept together by repression. By the late 1980s, as the Soviet Union imploded, “Workers of the World Unite” had become “Workers of the World, We Apologise”.