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Fighting Words

Fifteen Books that Shaped the Postcolonial World


Dominic Davies, Erica Lombard and Benjamin Mountford

Can a book change the world? If books were integral to the creation of the imperial global order, what role have they played in resisting that order throughout the twentieth century? To what extent have theories and movements of anti-imperial and anticolonial resistance across the planet been shaped by books as they are read across the world?

Fighting Words responds to these questions by examining how the book as a cultural form has fuelled resistance to empire in the long twentieth century. Through fifteen case studies that bring together literary, historical and book historical perspectives, this collection explores the ways in which books have circulated anti-imperial ideas, as they themselves have circulated as objects and commodities within regional, national and transnational networks. What emerges is a complex portrait of the vital and multifaceted role played by the book in both the formation and the form of anticolonial resistance, and the development of the postcolonial world.

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Chapter 1: From Communism to Postcapitalism: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s The Communist Manifesto (1848) (Dominic Davies)


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1 From Communism to Postcapitalism: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s The Communist Manifesto (1848)


History bears testament to the Manifesto’s planetary circulation, global readership and material impact. Interpretations of this short document have affected the lives of millions globally, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century. The text is somehow able to outline the complex theoretical foundations for the world’s most enduring critique of capitalism in a comprehensible and persuasive language, and as such, readers of all classes, professions, nations and ethnicities have drawn on – and in many cases warped and manipulated – its valuable insights. Whilst arguing for the importance of the Manifesto as an anti-imperial book and exploring the reasons for its viral circulation, this chapter will also show that it is a self-reflexive text that predicts its own historic impact. It is the formal and generic – or, in fact, ‘literary’ – qualities of this astonishing document that have given it such primacy in the canon of anti-imperial and anti-capitalist writing.

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