Let us take a moment to consider The Communist Manifesto, a wonderful book, which is like a work of music before it is a work of historical prophesy. It is a magnificent rhythmic invocation of the rhythms of a class struggle and of the possibilities for sharpening and deepening it. It offers a vision of a kind of continuous splitting of the Red Sea. However complex class structure is, the class struggle continuously divides it until in the end one is left with the confrontation of class against class. The interests which are built into those contradictions in the structure will eventually manifest themselves in the huge division of the world between these two classes, and then the epochal struggle will begin, and out of that struggle, socialism may arise. But as an actual prediction of what happened in Europe in the midpart of the nineteenth century, it was incorrect. Not only was it incorrect, it was incorrect in a disastrous manner. If it had been allowed to stand (as the predictions and prophecies of later Marxists have been allowed to stand), the political and historical cost would have been enormous. As Engels later said, they mistook the birth pangs of capitalism for its death throes. It has been the unfortunate inheritance of much of Marxism to continue living in the wake of that misunderstanding. Occasionally, some Marxist will, in the name of scientificity, predict yet another death throe that does not occur. One was predicted in the wake of World War I, and it has had disastrous effects on the understanding of how socialism could emerge and survive in Europe. There have been too many last stages, too many death throes. And the prediction of impending death was really a profound error of historical judgment. It really defeats Marxism to take Marx as a prophet, and his writing as the equivalent of Capitalism’s Almanac where you can look up what will happen tomorrow. If you invest the last vestige of your faith in Marx, and he makes a wrong prophecy, that can only destroy Marxism for you; you have made a commitment that Marx did not invite. He was a very great thinker who, like all great thinkers, made mistakes. He had to go back over The Communist Manifesto, not to refute it but to analyse the actual turn of events that he had come so very close to predicting. After all, Marx was not wrong to say that in the 1840s there was going to be a major historical rupture in the developing capitalist societies. He was not wrong about that any more than Lenin and others were wrong about predicting that there would be a series of revolutions in Europe around 1917–1921. There were. They were not wrong in that sense. What they were wrong about was the range of what could actually occur. But that is not just a historical judgment; it is also a judgment on the analytic tools which were being used. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte offers Marx’s rethinking of those actual events. It explains how that punctuating revolution that Marx predicted for 1848 ended up with a man on horseback with a three-cornered hat, how it happened that the gigantic revolutions for liberty at the center of Europe in the middle of the nineteenth century ended up, paradoxically, advancing and developing the capitalist mode of production.
Excerpt from: Stuart Hall, Cultural Studies 1983: A Theoretical History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016)