Hunting for women, haunted by gender: The rhetorical limits of the manifesto

Joan C. Tronto

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


How revolutionary can a revolutionary text be? How revolutionary must its rhetoric be? The Communist Manifesto is surely a revolutionary text of the first order. Not only is it about the "series of revolutions" in history (CM 238), it is an extended speech act fomenting revolution among the working class. To and of the proletariat, its rhetoric soars. "They have nothing to lose but their chains" and "a world to win" (CM 260). But how exactly does the Manifesto’s rhetoric work for revolution? What rhetorical strategies did Marx and Engels use to convince real men and women, as workers, to devote themselves to revolutionary change? What traditional beliefs did they leave in place? This chapter answers these questions by closely examining the men and women - real and spectral - that the Manifesto described and addressed. It reveals some of the profoundly gendered assumptions and traditional beliefs about women at work in this otherwise revolutionary text. Women make only cameo appearances in the Manifesto. They appear here and there as workers, as part of the scandalous "community of wives" and in other minor roles. This was not because Marx and Engels were unfamiliar with, or unwilling to hold, radical ideas about women and their place in society. They were attentive to such topics in the work of, among others, Fourier and Saint-Simon. Women’s roles in Saint-Simonian thought had been debated and worked out in great detail throughout the 1820s and 1830s (Moses 1984; Cohen 1991). Women were prominent behind the scenes in the anti-slavery movement in the United Kingdom. Engels and Marx were involved in setting up a democratic organization in Brussels in the fall of 1847 with Lucien-Leopold Jottrand (Engels to Jottrand, CW 38:132), who was committed to changing "the abnormal situation of women in our societies" (Bouyssy and Fauré 2003, 303). In The Holy Family, Marx and Engels frequently addressed women’s status and defended women writers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to The Communist Manifesto
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781139583404
ISBN (Print)9781107037007
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Hunting for women, haunted by gender: The rhetorical limits of the manifesto'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this