Karl Kautsky

The Historic Accomplishment of Karl Marx

I. Introduction

On the 14th of March, 1908, it will have been 25 years since Karl Marx died, and at the start of the same year it had been 60 years since The Communist Manifesto first appeared, in which his new doctrine found its first fulfilled expression. Those are long time spans for such a fast-paced period like ours, which changes its scientific and artistic views as quickly as its trends. Karl Marx still lives among us in full vigor, and he dominates the thought of our time more than ever, despite all crises of Marxism, despite all refutations and enlightened conquests from the podiums of bourgeois science.

This surprising and constantly growing influence would be a mystery were it not for Marx’s success in bringing to light the deepest roots of capitalist society. Having done that, then naturally, so long as that social form endures, new social discoveries of any weighty significance are not to be found beyond Marx, and hence the path he indicated remains much more theoretically and practically fruitful than any other. The powerful and enduring influence of Marx on modern thought would however also be unreasonable were it not for his endeavor to run past, in spirit and mind, the confines of the capitalist process of production. His recognition of capitalism’s intrinsic tendencies which point toward a higher social order prompted him to point out yet-distant goals. Through unfolding development, these goals become ever nearer and within reach of mankind, who grasps them with clarity to the same degree it becomes aware of its own greatness.

It is this unique combination of scientific depth and revolutionary daring that has led us to the fact that Karl Marx today, half a century after his death and almost three generations since his first appearance on the public stage, has greater influence today than when he was alive.

If one attempts to understand the nature of the historical achievement of this marvelous man, one can perhaps summarize it best by realizing the breadth of his work, combining biology with the humanities, merging English, French, and German philosophy, as well as the workers’ movement and socialism, in both theory and practice. That he succeeded without parallel in not only knowing these various fields of study, but in mastering them, made it possible for Karl Marx to accomplish the historic feat of having his character stamped on the late decades of the nineteenth century, and the twentieth century.


Last updated on 5 November 2020