Max Beer February 1927
Source: Labour Monthly, February 1927, pp. 126-128;
Transcribed:by Ted Crawford.
This seems the last time Max Beer wrote in Labour Monthly. Note by transcriber.
The book contains seven essays, written by Karl Marx between the years 1843 and 1850, the majority of them, however, in the years 1845-46. They deal with the following subjects: Hegelian Philosophy of Law, Jewish question, the State and Social Reform, Democracy and Communism, Proudhon, French Materialism, the English Revolution.
The essays exhibit Marx’s advance from the standpoint of humanitarianism, on which he placed himself after leaving the university (1841), to that of socialism based on the materialist conception of history, which he reached in 1844-45, and to which he gave fairly complete expression in Misery of Philosophy (1847) and the Communist Manifesto (1848).
The earliest and least socialist essay is that on the Jewish Question. It was written in 1843 in the form of a review of a book dealing with Jewish emancipation or granting political rights to the Jews in Germany. Here we see Marx as a critical humanitarian, believing that man in the abstract is free from all religious and racial prejudices and economic selfishness and striving for social righteousness. The work of the philosopher and true statesman is to make society approach to the ideal man. The greatest obstacle in the way to the ideal is commercialism, or the economic system of selfishness which pervades present-day bourgeois society. Since, however, the Jewry is the embodiment of bourgeois commercialism, the whole question of Jewish emancipation resolves itself into the question of emancipating society from commercialism. In this essay we catch the first glimpse of Marx’s progress from Radical politics to social economics. The problem of political rights for a section of the community is turned into the greatest economic problem of society.
The second essay in point of time and importance is that on Hegelian Philosophy of Law (1844). Marx writes already as a social revolutionary who attempts to get a clear notion of the classes which compose bourgeois society, and the part they play in it. Although the essay deals with Germany and with the meaning which Hegelian philosophy has for that country, it is applicable to society in general. We find in that essay, for the first time, the term proletariat and, moreover, the idea of the revolutionary role of the proletariat. Marx has got far beyond the humanitarian point of view which “declares man to be the supreme being of mankind.” He attains to the conviction that as soon as the proletariat is inspired with the revolutionary philosophy, which is nothing else but the theoretic expression of its movements and struggles, it will bring about its own emancipation and at the same time the emancipation of the whole society from every kind of serfdom.
In the third essay, the State and Social Reform (1845), Marx is quite free from all deification of the State, which, one would have supposed, he might have adhered to as a follower of Hegel. The essay arose from a criticism of a Prussian Radical who asked for nothing less than that the State should abolish pauperism by means of more rational administration. Marx tells him plainly no State can do that, since it does not look for the cause of social evils in society, except either in the inferior morality of the poor or of the rich, that is, either in the laziness of the poor or in the greed of the rich. Even the Radical politicians see the cause of poverty not in the arrangements of society, but in a specific form of the State, which they aim at replacing by another form. Moreover, even the revolutionary who strives for a violent overthrow of the State is no better than they, since his act would not affect the arrangements of society. A political revolution is only important in so far as it is turned into an instrument for dissolving the old conditions of society. The political revolution or the overthrow of a form of government is but the necessary preliminary to the introduction of socialism. To ask a bourgeois government or an oligarchic State to abolish poverty is really to ask it to abolish itself and the old order of society into the bargain, which is an absurd demand.
The essay on democracy and communism, which is headed Moralising Criticism and Critical Morality (1846), deals trenchantly with the difference between political democracy and economic communist thinking. This is one of the most important and topical essays in the book. It is a fine piece of polemical writing against the middle-class democrat and republican, Karl Heinzen, who severely reproaches the Communists with promoting reaction by fighting the Liberals and democrats, by emphasising the precedence of economics over politics, by expatiating on the economic transformation of society as against political democracy and republicanism. Heinzen argues that “the injustice in the property relations” is only maintained by regal or oligarchic force; hence, given democratic institutions, economic injustice will disappear. To these reasonings Marx replies that “the injustice in the present property relations” does not proceed from political force, but, on the contrary, the modern arrangements of production, division of labour, free competition, concentration, & c., are the sources of the present political arrangements; the political rule of the bourgeoisie proceeds from those relations of production which are proclaimed by bourgeois economists to be necessary and eternal laws. The existing bourgeois property relations are maintained by the agencies of State power, police and military, which the bourgeoisie has organised for the protection of its property relations. “The property question, according to the successive stages in the development of industry, has always been the vital question of a particular class. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the point at issue was the abolition of feudal property relations, the property question was the vital question of the middle class. In the nineteenth century, when the point at issue is the abolition of bourgeois property relations, the property question is a life question for the working class.” The essay is a long one, containing a good deal of history and politics; it may be regarded as a forerunner of the “Communist Manifesto.”
The remarks on Proudhon are taken from Marx-Engel’s book against the German Liberal writers, the three brothers Bauer. The title of the book is Holy Family (1845). In the chapter on Proudhon we see the interpretation which Marx gives to Hegelian dialectics. Without some knowledge of this, the essay on Proudhon will be difficult reading. In the introduction to my booklet, Karl Marx: his Life and Work, I made an attempt at popularising it.
Most of the sixth essay on French Materialism (1845) I translated some years ago for the LABOUR MONTHLY. It shows Marx as an historian of philosophy, and it can only be appreciated by students of philosophy.
The last essay on the English Revolution is a review of Guizot’s pamphlet, Pourquoi la revolution d’Angleterre a-t-elle reussi (1850). Guizot was a French statesman of much experience and learning. As a young man he understood the role of the classes in the French Revolution, but later on he fell back on the political and even religious interpretations of history. Indeed, to the question, why the English Revolution was more successful than the French Revolution, Guizot gives the answer, first, the English Revolution bore a thoroughly religious character and therefore broke in no way with the traditions of the past; secondly, the English Revolution did not wear a destructive but a constructive aspect, Parliament defending the old laws against the encroachments of the Crown; thirdly, the victorious revolution concentrated its energies on stabilising the Parliamentary regime, and promoting trade.
Marx makes short work of Guizot’s explanations. Guizot fails to see that the free thought of the French Revolution was imported to France from England. Locke, Shaftesbury and Bolingbroke were the masters of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot. With regard to the second point, Guizot forgets that at the outset the French Revolution was quite as conservative as the English; the third estate demanded the revival of the Estates General which had been extinct since Henry IV and Louis XIII. And as the third point, the concentration on Parliamentary government and the promotion of trade and commerce, was the inevitable consequence of the Revolution which arose not from a struggle between the Crown and the commercial class for political privileges, but from the Stuarts interfering with the free development of trade and commerce; the concentration on Parliamentary government meant nothing else than the subjection of the Crown to the interests of trade and commerce. For the rest, the essay must be read as it was written by Marx, who really explains the problem why the English Revolution was more homogeneous and suffered less from internecine struggles than the French Revolution. The English Revolution was borne by the continuous alliance of the middle class with the largest section of the great landowners, “an alliance that essentially distinguishes the English Revolution from the French Revolution, which destroyed large landed property by parcelling out the soil. The English class of large landowners, which had originated under Henry VIII, unlike the French feudal landowners, did not find itself in conflict, but rather in harmony, with the material conditions of life of the bourgeoisie. It placed at the disposal of the middle class the necessary population to carry on manufactures and it was able to develop agriculture to a degree which corresponded to the state of industry and commerce. Hence its common interests with the middle class, hence its alliance with the latter.”