Karl Marx

Thinker and fighter

By Sam Marcy (March 9, 1995)
Karl Marx was an activist, as was his collaborator Frederick Engels. This was particularly evident in their later years, when both Marx and Engels lived in England.

Marx not only attended the official demonstrations called by the labor and socialist movements. He also participated in ones the bourgeois press labeled as "rowdy." These were demonstrations that riled the bourgeoisie because of their militancy.

Marx was arrested in one of these demonstrations. When he was released, along with others, he nevertheless continued his active, outdoor support for the workers' movement in England. In this he differed very much from the leaders of the Second International like Karl Kautsky in Germany and Jules Guesde in France, who exercised tremendous influence over the momentous working-class struggles in a later period but were removed from the workers.

Because Marx and Engels were exiled from Germany, their native land, they were forced to stay now in France, now in Belgium, and finally in England. During all the time they were separated from their own country, they kept up a large correspondence with the leaders of the German workers' movement.

Both Marx and Engels had voluminous correspondence with socialist and workers' organizations throughout the world. But they never seemed to lose their thread to the militant sections of the movement in Germany.

Marx and Engels took a considerable interest in the movement in Russia at a time when there was very little to foreshadow later revolutionary developments. In his early years, Marx wrote an expose of Russian expansionism in Europe showing how dangerous it would be for democratic and progressive forces if czarist influence were to increase.

At the same time, Marx and Engels showed considerable interest in developments in Spain. Every one of Marx's writings exposed the entrenched reaction of the feudal elements without in any way embellishing the democratic forces under the sway of the bourgeoisie.

Theory and practice

All this took a lot of work. Nevertheless, it can be said without contradiction that both Marx and Engels attended all the main working-class events in England.

When, in later years, V.I. Lenin became the outstanding Marxist authority in the European socialist movement, he made it one of his principal tasks to relate Marxist theory to Marxist practice.

There can be no consistent revolutionary practice, Lenin explained, unless it is grounded in revolutionary theory. These thoughts of Lenin were in later years to become the principal source for innumerable resolutions passed at international communist congresses that roundly denounced the divorce of theory from practice--as often happened in the older social-democratic organizations.

What gave revolutionary ideology a particular impetus in Europe in the 19th century were the reverberations of the great French Revolution, the development of the industrial revolution in England, and the rise of the democratic forces in struggle against entrenched feudal reaction. Notwithstanding the military aspect of the Napoleonic wars, they helped spread democratic ideas and struggles across Europe and were a liberating force against feudal reaction.

All these European struggles were basically for the bourgeois democratic revolution. Yet despite his communist views, Marx was an uncompromising partisan in the struggle. It would have been utterly out of character for him not to take a revolutionary position in the struggle of the nascent bourgeoisie against entrenched feudal reaction.

In Marx's writings on the relations between Germany and France, it is clear that, while not born in France, he had an intimate knowledge of the events there, especially the Revolution of 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871.

The Commune, which was set up when the workers took over the city of Paris, happened during a war between France and Germany. Marx's analysis doesn't show an iota of bias in favor of Germany; he writes strictly from the viewpoint of the class struggle--and above all proletarian internationalism.

It is interesting that Marx's opponents rarely accuse him of any national bias in favor of Germany or against France.

Lenin taught of Marx and Engels that, above all, they were revolutionists. It is impossible to be a revolutionist in contemporary society without being actively engaged in the struggle of the working class against the capitalist class with the aim of abolishing capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression.

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