This past week in class, we read a number of manifestos – Philipp Scheidemann’s “Proclamation of the Republic”, the Spartacus Manifesto, the Dadaist Manifesto. We also read The Constitution of the Weimar Republic. In discussion section, we were asked “What is the difference between a manifesto and a constitution?” The question seems obvious, so obvious it almost answers itself. But I couldn’t think of any differences that had more than surface meaning. Both types of documents tend to state ideas, beliefs, and goals, and make demands. Perhaps, a constitution is more geared towards unity, appealing to the larger populace rather than a specific group of people.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a constitution as “A decree, ordinance, law, regulation; usually, one made by a superior authority, civil or ecclesiastical”, and a manifesto as “A public declaration or proclamation, written or spoken; esp. a printed explanation of policy issued by a head of state, government, or political party or candidate, or any other body of public relevance, as a school or movement in the Arts”. These definitions contain much of the same language, but the defining difference seems to be that a constitution is legal and made by a superior authority. However, in Nazi Germany, though the Constitution of the Weimar Republic was technically still the legal constitution, in practicality, it was effectively useless.
Manifestos are still produced in the modern day. A fantastic example is The Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, issued by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in 2005. The Mexican revolutionary group’s manifesto is written in terms of opposition to Mexican policies legally in place. Manifestos, though they are not prominent in current US society, make for a powerful form of resistance against legal policies and constitutions. A strongly issued list of goals and demands calls for change in a way unlike any other.