David Riazanov's

An Introduction to Their Lives and Work



In Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels we have two individuals who have greatly influenced human thought. The personality of Engels recedes somewhat into the background as compared to Marx. We shall subsequently see their interrelation. As regards Marx one is not likely to find in the history of the nineteenth century a man who, by his activity and his scientific attainments, had as much to do as he, with determining the thought and actions of a succession of generations in a great number of countries. Marx has been dead more than forty years. Yet he is still alive. His thought continues to influence, and to give direction to, the intellectual development of the most remote countries, countries which never heard of Marx when he was alive.

 We shall attempt to discern the conditions and the surroundings in which Marx and Engels grew and developed. Every one is a product of a definite social milieu. Every genius creating something new, does it on the basis of what has been accomplished before him. He does not sprout forth from a vacuum. Furthermore, to really determine the magnitude of a genius, one must first ascertain the antedating achievements, the degree of the intellectual development of society, the social forms into which this genius was born and from which he drew his psychological and physical sustenance. And so, to understand Marx -- and this is a practical application of Marx's own method -- we shall first proceed to study the historical background of his period and its influence upon him.

 Karl Marx was born on the 5th of May, 1818, in the city of Treves, in Rhenish Prussia; Engels, on the 28th of November, 1820, in the city of Barmen of the same province. It is significant that both were born in Germany, in the Rhine province, and at about the same time. During their impressionable and formative years of adolescence, both Marx and Engels came under the influence of the stirring events of the early thirties of the nineteenth century. The years 1830 and 1831 were revolutionary years; in 1830 the July Revolution occurred in France. It swept all over Europe from West to East. It even reached Russia and brought about the Polish Insurrection of 1831.

 But the July Revolution in itself was only a culmination of another more momentous revolutionary upheaval, the consequences of which one must know to understand the historical setting in which Marx and Engels were brought up. The history of the nineteenth century, particularly that third of it which had passed before Marx and Engels had grown into socially conscious youths, was characterised by two basic facts: The Industrial Revolution in England, and the Great Revolution in France. The Industrial Revolution in England began approximately in 1760 and extended over a prolonged period. Having reached its zenith towards the end of the eighteenth century, it came to an end at about 1830. The term "Industrial Revolution" belongs to Engels. It refers to that transition period, when England, at about the second half of the eighteenth century, was becoming a capitalist country. There already existed a working class, proletarians -- that is, a class of people possessing no property, no means of production, and compelled therefore to sell themselves as a commodity, as human labour power, in order to gain the means of subsistence. However, in the middle of the eighteenth century, English capitalism was characterised in its methods of production by the handicraft system. It was not the old craft production where each petty enterprise had its master, its two or three journeymen, and a few apprentices. This traditional handicraft was being crowded out by capitalist methods of production. About the second half of the eighteenth century, capitalist production in England had already evolved into the manufacturing stage. The distinguishing feature of this manufacturing stage was an industrial method which did not go beyond the boundaries of handicraft production, in spite of the exploitation of the workers by the capitalists and the considerable size of the workrooms. From the point of view of technique and labour organisation it differed from the old handicraft methods in a few respects. The capitalist brought together from a hundred to three hundred craftsmen in one large building, as against the five or six people in the small workroom heretofore. No matter what craft, given a number of workers, there soon appeared a high degree of division of labour with all its consequences. There was then a capitalist enterprise, without machines, without automatic mechanisms, but in which division of labour and the breaking up of the very method of production into a variety of partial operations had gone a long way forward. Thus it was just in the middle of the eighteenth century that the manufacturing stage reached it apogee.

 Only since the second half of the eighteenth century, approximately since the sixties, have the technical bases of production themselves begun to change. Instead of the old implements, machines were introduced. This invention of machinery was started in that branch of industry which was the most important in England, in the domain of textiles. A series of inventions, one after another, radically changed the technique of the weaving and spinning trades. We shall not enumerate all the inventions. Suffice it to say that in about the eighties, both spinning and weaving looms were invented. In 1785, Watt's perfected steam-engine was invented. It enabled the manufactories to be established in cities instead of being restricted to the banks of rivers to obtain water power. This in its turn created favourable conditions for the centralisation and concentration of production. After the introduction of the steam-engine, attempts to utilise steam as motive power were being made in many branches of industry. But progress was not as rapid as is sometimes claimed in books. The period from 1760 to 1830 is designated as the period of the great Industrial Revolution.

 Imagine a country where for a period of seventy years new inventions were incessantly introduced, where production was becoming ever more concentrated, where a continuous process of expropriation, ruin and annihilation of petty handicraft production, and the destruction of small weaving and spinning workshops were inexorably going on. Instead of craftsmen there came an ever-increasing host of proletarians. Thus in place of the old class of workers, which had begun to develop in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and which in the first half of the eighteenth century still constituted a negligible portion of the population of England, there appeared towards the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, a class of workers which comprised a considerable portion of the population, and which determined and left a definite imprint on all contemporary social relations. Together with this Industrial Revolution there occurred a certain concentration in the ranks of the working class itself. This fundamental change in economic relations, this uprooting of the old weavers and spinners from their habitual modes of life, was superseded by conditions which forcefully brought to the mind of the worker the painful difference between yesterday and to-day.

 Yesterday all was well; yesterday there were inherited firmly established relations between the employers and the workers. Now everything was changed and the employers relentlessly threw out of employment tens and hundreds of these workers. In response to this basic change in the conditions of their very existence the workers reacted energetically. Endeavouring to get rid of these new conditions they rebelled. It is obvious that their unmitigated hatred, their burning indignation should at first have been directed against the visible symbol of this new and powerful revolution, the machine, which to them personified all the misfortune, all the evils of the new system. No wonder that at the beginning of the nineteenth century a series of revolts of the workers directed against the machine and the new technical methods of production took place. These revolts attained formidable proportions in England in 1815. (The weaving loom was finally perfected in 1813). About that time the movement spread to all industrial centres. From a purely elemental force, it was soon transformed into an organised resistance with appropriate slogans and efficient leaders. This movement directed against the introduction of machinery is known in history as the movement of the Luddites.

 According to one version this name was derived from the name of a worker; according to another, it is connected with a mythical general, Lud, whose name the workers used in signing their proclamations.

 The ruling classes, the dominant oligarchy, directed the most cruel repressions against the Luddites. For the destruction of a machine as well as for an attempt to injure a machine, a death penalty was imposed. Many a worker was sent to the gallows.

 There was a need for a higher degree of development of this workers' movement and for more adequate revolutionary propaganda. The workers had to be informed that the fault was not with the machines, but with the conditions under which these machines were being used. A movement which was aiming to mould the workers into a class-conscious revolutionary mass, able to cope with definite social and political problems was just then beginning to show vigorous signs of life in England. Leaving out details, we must note, however, that this movement of 1815-1817 had its beginnings at the end of the eighteenth century. To understand, however, the significance of it, we must turn to France; for without a thorough grasp of the influence of the French Revolution, it will be difficult to understand the beginnings of the English labour movement.

 The French Revolution began in 1789, and reached its climax in 1793. From 1794, it began to diminish in force. This brought about, within a few years, the establishment of Napoleon's military dictatorship. In 1799, Napoleon accomplished his coup d'etat. After having been a Consul for five years, he proclaimed himself Emperor and ruled over France up to 1815.

 To the end of the eighteenth century, France was a country ruled by an absolute monarch, not unlike that of Tsarist Russia. But the power was actually in the hands of the nobility and the clergy, who, for monetary compensation of one kind or another, sold a part of their influence to the growing financial-commercial bourgeoisie. Under the influence of a strong revolutionary movement among the masses of the people -- the petty producers, the peasants, the small and medium tradesmen who had no privileges -- the French monarch was compelled to grant some concessions. He convoked the so-called Estates General. In the struggle between two distinct social groups -- the city poor and the privileged classes -- power fell into the hands of the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie and the Paris workers. This was on August 10, 1792. This domination expressed itself in the rule of the Jacobins headed by Robespierre and Marat, and one may also add the name of Danton. For two years France was in the hands of the insurgent people. In the vanguard stood revolutionary Paris. The Jacobins, as representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, pressed the demands of their class to their logical conclusions. The leaders, Marat, Robespierre and Danton, were petty-bourgeois democrats who had taken upon themselves the solution of the problem which confronted the entire bourgeoisie, that is, the purging of France of all the remnants of the feudal regime, the creating of free political conditions under which private property would continue unhampered and under which small proprietors would not be hindered from receiving reasonable incomes through honest exploitation of others. In this strife for the creation of new political conditions and the struggle against feudalism, in this conflict with the aristocracy and with a united Eastern Europe which was attacking France, the Jacobins -- Robespierre and Marat -- performed the part of revolutionary leaders. In their fight against all of Europe they had to resort to revolutionary propaganda. To hurl the strength of the populace, the mass, against the strength of the feudal lords and the kings, they brought into play the slogan: "War to the palace, peace to the cottage." On their banners they inscribed the slogan: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."

 These first conquests of the French Revolution were reflected in the Rhine province. There, too, Jacobin societies were formed. Many Germans went as volunteers into the French army. In Paris some of them took part in all the revolutionary associations. During all this time the Rhine province was greatly influenced by the French Revolution, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the younger generation was still brought up under the potent influence of the heroic traditions of the Revolution. Even Napoleon, who was a usurper, was obliged, in his war against the old monarchical and feudal Europe, to lean upon the basic victories of the French Revolution, for the very reason that he was a usurper, the foe of the feudal regime. He commenced his military career in the revolutionary army. The vast mass of the French soldiers, ragged and poorly armed, fought the superior Prussian forces, and defeated them. They won by their enthusiasm, their numbers. They won because before shooting bullets they hurled manifestoes, thus demoralising and disintegrating the enemy's armies. Nor did Napoleon in his campaigns shun revolutionary propaganda. He knew quite well that cannon was a splendid means, but he never, to the last days of his life, disdained the weapon of revolutionary propaganda -- the weapon that disintegrates so efficiently the armies of the adversary.

 The influence of the French Revolution spread further East; it even reached St. Petersburg. At the news of the fall of the Bastille, people embraced and kissed one another even there.

 There was already in Russia a small group of people who reacted quite intelligently to the events of the French Revolution, the outstanding figure being Radishchev. This influence was more or less felt in all European countries; even in that very England which stood at the head of nearly all the coalition armies directed against France. It was strongly felt not only by the petty-bourgeois elements but also by the then numerous labouring population which came into being as a result of the Industrial Revolution. In the years 1791 and 1792 the Corresponding Society, the first English revolutionary labour organisation, made its appearance. It assumed such an innocuous name merely to circumvent the English laws which prohibited any society from entering into organisational connections with societies in other towns.

 By the end of the eighteenth century, England had a constitutional government. She already had known two revolutions -- one in the middle, the other at the end, of the seventeenth century. [1642 and 1688] She was regarded as the freest country in the world. Although clubs and societies were allowed, not one of them was permitted to unite with the other. To overcome this interdict those societies, which were made up of workers, hit upon the following method: They formed Corresponding Societies wherever it was possible -- associations which kept up a constant correspondence among themselves. At the head of the London society was the shoemaker, Thomas Hardy (1752-1832). He was a Scotchman of French extraction. Hardy was indeed what his name implied. As organiser of this society he attracted a multitude of workers, and arranged gatherings and meetings. Owing to the corrosive effect of the Industrial Revolution on the old manufactory production, the great majority of those who joined the societies were artisans -- shoemakers and tailors. The tailor, Francis Place, should also be mentioned in this connection, for he, too, was a part of the subsequent history of the labour movement in England. One could mention a number of others, the majority of whom were handicraftsmen. But the name of Thomas Holcroft (1745-1809), shoemaker, poet, publicist and orator, who played an important role at the end of the eighteenth century, must be given.

 In 1792, when France was declared a republic, this Corresponding Society availed itself of the aid of the French ambassador in London and secretly dispatched an address, in which it expressed its sympathy with the revolutionary convention. This address, one of the first manifestations of international solidarity and sympathy, made a profound impression upon the convention. It was a message from the masses of England where the ruling classes had nothing but hatred for France. The convention responded with a special resolution, and these relations between the workers' Corresponding Societies and the French Jacobins were a pretext for the English oligarchy to launch persecutions against these societies. A series of prosecutions were instituted against Hardy and others.

 The fear of losing its domination impelled the English oligarchy to resort to drastic measures against the rising labour movement. Associations and societies which heretofore had been a thoroughly legal method of organisation for the well-to-do bourgeois elements, and which the handicraftsmen could not by law be prevented from forming, were, in 1800, completely prohibited. The various workers' societies which had been keeping in touch with each other were particularly persecuted. In 1799 the law specifically forbade all organisations of workers in England. From 1799 to 1824 the English working class was altogether deprived of the right of free assembly and association.

 To return to 1815. The Luddite movement, whose sole purpose was the destruction of the machine, was succeeded by a more conscious struggle. The new revolutionary organisations were motivated by the determination to change the political conditions under which the workers were forced to exist. Their first demands included freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of the press. The year 1817 was ushered in with a stubborn conflict which culminated in the infamous "Manchester Massacre" of 1819. The massacre took place on St. Peter's Field, and the English workers christened it the Battle of Peterloo. Enormous masses of cavalry were moved against the workers, and the skirmish ended in the death of several scores of people. Furthermore, new repressive measures, the so-called Six Acts ("Gag Laws/index.htm"), were directed against the workers. As a result of these persecutions, revolutionary strife became more intense. In 1824, with the participation of Francis Place (1771-1854), who had left his revolutionary comrades and succeeded in becoming a prosperous manufacturer, but who maintained his relations with the radicals in the House of Commons, the English workers won the famous Coalition Laws (1824-25) as a concession to the revolutionary movement. The movement in favour of creating organisations and unions through which the workers might defend themselves against the oppression of the employers, and obtain better conditions for themselves, higher wages, etc., became lawful. This marks the beginning of the English trade union movement. It also gave birth to political societies which began the struggle for universal suffrage.

 Meanwhile, in France, in 1815, Napoleon had suffered a crushing defeat, and the Bourbon monarchy of Louis XVIII was established. The era of Restoration, beginning at that time, lasted approximately fifteen years. Having attained the throne through the aid of foreign intervention (Alexander I of Russia), Louis made a number of concessions to the landlords who had suffered by the Revolution. The land could not be restored to them, it remained with the peasants, but they were consoled by a compensation of a billion francs. The royal power used all its strength in an endeavour to arrest the development of new social and political relations. It tried to rescind as many of the concessions to the bourgeoisie as it was forced to make. Owing to this conflict between the liberals and the conservatives, the Bourbon dynasty was forced to face a new revolution which broke out in July, 1830.

 England which had towards the end of the eighteenth century reacted to the French Revolution by stimulating the labour movement, experienced a new upheaval as a result of the July Revolution in France. There began an energetic movement for a wider suffrage. According to the English laws, that right had been enjoyed by an insignificant portion of the population, chiefly the big landowners, who not infrequently had in their dominions depopulated boroughs with only two or three electors ("Rotten Boroughs/index.htm"), and who, nevertheless, sent representatives to Parliament.

 The dominant parties, actually two factions of the landed aristocracy, the Tories and the Whigs, were compelled to submit. The more liberal Whig Party, which felt the need for compromise and electoral reforms, finally won over the conservative Tories. The industrial bourgeoisie were granted the right to vote, but the workers were left in the lurch. As answer to this treachery of the liberal bourgeoisie (the ex-member of the Corresponding Society, Place, was a party to this treachery), there was formed in 1836, after a number of unsuccessful attempts, the London Workingmen's Association. This Society had a number of capable leaders. The most prominent among them were William Lovett (1800-1877) and Henry Hetherington (1792-1849). In 1837, Lovett and his comrades formulated the fundamental political demands of the working class. They aspired to organise the workers into a separate political party. They had in mind, however, not a definite working-class party which would press its special programme as against the programme of all the other parties, but one that would exercise as much influence, and play as great a part in the political life of the country, as the other parties. In this bourgeois political milieu they wanted to be the party of the working class. They had no definite aims, they did not propose any special economic programme directed against the entire bourgeois society. One may best understand this, if one recalls that in Australia and New Zealand there are such labour parties, which do not aim at any fundamental changes in social conditions. They are sometimes in close coalition with the bourgeois parties in order to insure for labour a certain share of influence in the government.

 The Charter, in which Lovett and his associates formulated the demands of the workers, gave the name to this Chartist movement. The Chartists advanced six demands: Universal suffrage, vote by secret ballot, parliaments elected annually, payment of members of parliament, abolition of property qualifications for members of parliament, and equalisation of electoral districts.

 This movement began in 1837, when Marx was nineteen, and Engels seventeen years old. It reached its height when Marx and Engels were mature men.

 The Revolution of 1830 in France removed the Bourbons, but instead of establishing a republic which was the aim of the revolutionary organisations of that period, it resulted in a constitutional monarchy, headed by the representatives of the Orleans dynasty. At the time of the Revolution of 1789 and later, during the Restoration period, this dynasty stood in opposition to their Bourbon relatives. Louis Philippe was the typical representative of the bourgeoisie. The chief occupation of this French monarch was the saving and hoarding of money, which delighted the hearts of the shopkeepers of Paris.

 The July monarchy gave freedom to the industrial, commercial, and financial bourgeoisie. It facilitated and accelerated the process of enrichment of this bourgeoisie, and directed its onslaughts against the working class which had manifested a tendency toward organisation.

 In the early thirties, the revolutionary societies were composed chiefly of students and intellectuals. The workers in these organisations were few and far between. Nevertheless a workers' revolt as a protest against the treachery of the bourgeoisie broke out in 1831, in Lyons, the centre of the silk industry. For a few days the city was in the hands of the workers. They did not put forward any political demands. Their banner carried the slogan: "Live by work, or die in battle." They were defeated in the end, and the usual consequences of such defeats followed. The revolt was repeated in Lyons in 1834. Its results were even more important than those of the July Revolution. The latter stimulated chiefly the so-called democratic, petty-bourgeois elements, while the Lyons revolts exhibited, for the first time, the significance of the labour element, which had raised, though so far in only one city, the banner of revolt against the entire bourgeoisie, and had pushed the problems of the working class to the fore. The principles enunciated by the Lyons proletariat were as yet not directed against the foundations of the bourgeois system, but they were demands flung against the capitalists and against exploitation.

 Thus toward the middle of the thirties in both France and England there stepped forth into the arena a new revolutionary class -- the proletariat. In England, attempts were being made to organise this proletariat. In France, too, subsequent to the Lyons revolt, the proletariat for the first time tried to form revolutionary organisations. The most striking representative of this movement was Auguste Blanqui (1805-1881), one of the greatest French revolutionists. He had taken part in the July Revolution, and, impressed by the Lyons revolts which had indicated that the most revolutionary element in France were the workers, Blanqui and his friends proceeded to organise revolutionary societies among the workers of Paris. Elements of other nationalities were drawn in -- German, Belgians, Swiss, etc. As a result of this revolutionary activity, Blanqui and his comrades made a daring attempt to provoke a revolt. Their aim was to seize political power and to enforce a number of measures favouring the working class. This revolt in Paris (May, 1839), terminated in defeat. Blanqui was condemned to life imprisonment. The Germans who took part in these disturbances also felt the dire consequences of defeat. Karl Schapper (1812-1870),who will be mentioned again, and his comrades were forced to flee from France a few months later. They made their way to London and continued their work there by organising, in 1840, the Workers' Educational Society.

 By this time Marx had reached his twenty-second and Engels his twentieth year. The highest point in the development of a proletarian revolutionary movement is contemporaneous with their attaining manhood.


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