Otto Rühle

Karl Marx: His Life and Works


Part II

German Ideology

As the outcome of nearly a year’s work (the year extending from September 1845 to August 1846), Marx and Engels wrote two thick volumes which were to be published under the title Die deutsche Ideologie. A friend and admirer of Marx, the sometime Lieutenant Weydemeyer, working in Westphalia as a geometrician, hoped that his brother-in-law Lüning, the publisher of the “Westfälisches Dampfboot” in Bielefeld, would issue the new book. The manuscript was sent to him, but the book never appeared, the reason being, as the authors learned in due course, that “changed circumstances made it impossible to print it.” Nor could any other publisher be found. “We decided, therefore,” wrote Marx at a later date, “to leave our manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice—and did so all the more willingly since we had attained our chief purpose, self-understanding.”

Self-understanding all along the line—this was the essential characteristic of the book. It was “to expose the sheep which regarded themselves and were regarded as wolves”; it was to show “how the rodomontade of the expounders of philosophy served merely to reflect the pitiful character of actual conditions in Germany” it was to make known to all the world “the process of putrefaction which had set in in the absolute German spirit.”

Such were the aims of its authors. But it did more than this. It freed Marx and Engels from the last vestiges of philosophical lumber with which, unwittingly, their thought was still burdened; led them beyond the criticism of philosophy, of politics, and of economics, to the criticism of the interpretation of history; and thus revealed to them a fact of overwhelming importance, that the motive force of history is not the idea, not criticism, but the revolution, man—revolutionary man.

The discovery of the real, active human being, of man engaged in the process of making history, as announced in the Theses on Feuerbach, is here followed up by the discovery of revolutionary man. Step by step, Marx the investigator had made his way to this result.

“The first presupposition of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. The first facts to investigate, therefore, are the bodily organization of these individuals and the resultant relation between these individuals and the rest of nature.”

“All history-writing must set out from these natural foundations and their modification in the course of history by the action of human beings.”

“We may distinguish human beings from animals by consciousness, by religion, by anything you please. They them selves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their own means of subsistence, a step which is necessitated by their bodily organization. Inasmuch as human beings produce their own means of subsistence, they indirectly produce their own material life.”

“The necessaries of life are, above all, food, drink, shelter, clothing, and a few others. Hence the first historical act is the production of the means for the satisfaction of these needs, the production of material life itself, and this one historical fact is a fundamental determinant of all history.”

“As individuals express their lives, so they are. Thus what they are, coincides with what they produce; and not only with what they produce, but with how they produce. Consequently, what individuals are, depends upon the material conditions of production.”

“Determinate individuals, productively active in a determinate way, therefore enter into determinate social and political relations.”

“Social classification and the State are continually proceeding out of the life process of determinate individuals, not, however, of these individuals as they may appear to themselves or others, but as they really are; that is to say as they work, as they are engaged in material production, as they are active under determinate material limitations, presuppositions, and conditions which are independent of their will.”

“The production of ideas, representations, consciousness, is, primarily, directly interwoven into the material activity and the material intercourse of human beings, is the language of actual life. Representation, thought, the intellectual intercourse of human beings, arise as the direct outcome of their material behaviour. The same thing is true of mental production, as displayed in the language of the politics, the laws, the morality, the religion, the metaphysics, etc., of a people. Human beings are the producers of their representations, ideas, etc.; but the actual working human beings are determined by a specific evolution of their productive powers and of the appropriate method of intercourse in its furthest ramifications.”

“Consciousness can never be anything other than conscious being, and the being of man is man’s true vital process.”

“In sharp contrast with German philosophy, which came down from heaven to earth, here an ascent is made from earth to heaven. This means that we do not set out from what men say, fancy, represent to themselves, nor yet from man as said to be, thought to be, fancied to be, represented to be, in order thence and by that path to reach man in the flesh; we set out from real, active human beings, and from their actual vital processes we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this vital process. Even the phantasmagorias in the human brain are necessary supplements of man’s material vital process, of a process that is empirically demonstrable and is linked with material presuppositions. Morality, religion, metaphysics, and ideology in general, with their appropriate forms of consciousness, thus forfeit the semblance of independence. They have no history, no evolution, of their own. Human beings, developing material production and material intercourse, and thus altering the real world that environs them, alter therewith their own thought and the products of their thought. Consciousness does not determine life, but life determines consciousness.”

“This observation is not devoid of presuppositions. It sets out from real presuppositions, and never for a moment abandons the ground of the real. Its presuppositions are human beings, not in any fanciful circumscription and fixation, but in their actual, empirical, perceptible developmental process under specific conditions. As soon as this active vital process has been demonstrated, history ceases to be a collection of dead facts.”

“Once reality has been demonstrated, philosophy as an independent discipline loses the medium of its existence.”

“Not criticism, but revolution, is the motive force of history.”

“This conception of history shows that history does not end by resolving itself into ‘self-consciousness’ as ‘the spirit of spirit’; but that in history at every stage there exists a material outcome, a sum of productive forces, a historically created relation to nature and a historically created relation of individuals one to another, which are handed down to each successive generation by its predecessor; that there are in each stage of history a mass of productive forces, capitals, and circumstances, which are indeed modified by the new generation, but on the other hand prescribe to the new generation its own vital conditions, and give to it a definite development, a specific character—so that circumstances make men quite as much as men make circumstances.”

“Finally we obtain the following results from the fully developed conception of history. 1. In the development of the forces of production a stage is reached at which productive forces and means of intercourse are evolved which, under the extant conditions, only do harm; which are no longer forces of production, but forces of destruction (machinery and money). In association with this we find that a class is evolved which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which is forced out of society into the most marked contrast to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all the members of society, and one from which the consciousness of the necessity for a thorough going revolution, the communist consciousness, proceeds—a consciousness which, of course, can only arise in the other classes thanks to the comprehension of the position of this particular class. 2. The conditions within which determinate forces of production can be applied, are the conditions of the dominion of a specific class of society, of a class whose social power (arising out of ownership) secures practical-idealist expression in the extant form of State, with the consequence that every revolutionary struggle is directed against a class which has up to that time been dominant. 3. In all revolutions that have hitherto taken place, the kind of activity has remained inviolate, so that there has never been anything more than a changed distribution of this activity, with a new distribution of labour to other persons; whereas the communist revolution is directed against the kind of activity which has hitherto been exercised, and does away with labour, and makes an end of class rule when it does away with classes, the reason being that this revolution is brought about by the class which no longer counts in society as a class, is not recognized as a class, but is the expression of the dissolution of all classes, nationalities, etc., within extant society. 4. For the widespread generation of this communist consciousness, and for the carrying out of the communist revolution, an extensive change in human beings is needed, which can only occur in the course of a practical movement, in the course of a revolution; so that the revolution is not only necessary because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but is also necessary because only in a revolution can the uprising class free itself from the old yoke and become capable of founding a new society.”

“For us, communism is not a condition of affairs which ‘ought’ to be established, not an ‘ideal’ towards which reality has to direct itself. When we speak of communism, we mean the actual movement which makes an end of the present condition of affairs. The determinants of this movement arise out of the extant presupposition.”

The foregoing remarkable passages from the fragment of the work which has been rescued, and which has been recently published for the first time at Frankfort-on-the-Main in the opening volume of the “Marx-Engels Archiv,” give no more than an imperfect picture of the mental energy with which the before-mentioned process of self-understanding was carried through.

They contain an elementary formulation of the materialist interpretation of history, which was subsequently to be worked out as a complete method. Here and there, the actual wording of the extracts is identical with that of the later elaborated formulation.

“True” Socialism

The great settlement of accounts with a world of adversaries would have been incomplete, and the victorious champions in this battle of the intellects would have remained unsatisfied, had not Marx and Engels, in the second volume of their German Ideology, made a ruthless onslaught upon “German or true socialism,” as voiced “by its various prophets.”

Among the “true socialists,” perhaps the most notable was Karl Grün, a Westphalian. He had been one of Marx’s fellow students, and Moses Hess had made him acquainted with Engels. His socialist career had started from the radical “small-beer liberalism.” Then he had coquetted with Fourierism for a time, until at length, having got into touch with Hess, he deviated towards early socialism. All possible varieties of socialism were jumbled together in his head. Out of borrowed and undigested thoughts from Proudhon, Feuerbach, Hess, and Marx, he had brewed the most amazing elixir of happiness, whose formulas were aesthetically tinted and were couched in a feuilleton style. From Paris, writing hastily and irresponsibly, he sent his lucubrations to the German press, and especially to the “Triersche Zeitung.” He had wrongfully accused Marx of not protesting with sufficient vigour against expulsion from France, and Marx, who was always too ready to take offence, had therefore conceived an animus against Grün which formed the undertone of a fierce criticism of the latter’s attitude towards the problems of socialism.

Grün had influence among the socialist handicraftsmen and apprentices in Paris, the “Straubinger” (travelling journeymen) as Engels contemptuously termed them. Since it was hoped to win them over to communism, Grün must be discredited. To lay him low in the literary lists would not suffice. Engels must go to Paris, and there, by personal intervention, undermine Grün’s position. In October 1846, Engels wrote to Marx from Paris: “I think I shall get my way here with the Straubinger. The fellows are terribly ignorant, however, and their condition in life has not prepared them in any way. ... Grün has done a tremendous lot of harm. He has turned all that was definite in their minds into mere day-dreams, humanist aspirations, and the like. Under the pretext of attacking Weitlingism and other systematized forms of communism, he has filled their heads full of belletristic and petty-bourgeois phraseology, and has declared that anything else than his teaching is enslavement to system. Even the joiners, who have never been Weitlingians (except for a few), have a superstitious horror of ‘bread-and-butter communism,’ and prefer the most preposterous day-dreaming, peaceful plans for inaugurating universal happiness, and so on, to what they call ‘bread-and-butter communism.’ The most hopeless confusion prevails.” The net upshot of the visit was that Engels, though he did indeed put an end to Grün’s influence, only increased the confusion, so that the “Straubinger” ceased to be possible recruits for an international communist league such as Marx and Engels already hoped to found.

Intellectually, Karl Grün was closely allied with Moses Hess, who was also living in Paris at this time. Engels, therefore, in his letters from Paris, was not sparing in savage attacks on the “communist rabbi,” as Ruge had called Hess. Marx, too, since May 1846, had put Hess upon the proscription list. Weitling, in a letter to Hess, had informed the latter regarding Marx’s plans and views. “There must be a winnowing in the communist party. ... Handicraftsmen’s communism, philosophical communism, is to be fought; sentiment is to be despised: these are merely day-dreams. Communism can only be realized after the bourgeoisie has got command of the ship.” In the struggle between Marx and Weitling, Hess had taken Weitling’s side, and this was enough to infuriate Marx, and to make him look for a means of crushing Hess. Nevertheless, Moses Hess, despite many deviations and peculiarities had in the course of his socialist development come so near to Marx’s standpoint, that, as late as July 28, 1846, Hess wrote to Marx: “I am in full agreement with your views concerning communist authorship. However necessary it may have been at the outset that communist endeavours should be linked to German ideology, it is no less necessary now that they should be based upon historical and economic premises, for otherwise we shall never be able to settle accounts either with the ‘socialists’ or with the adversaries of all shades of opinion. I am now devoting myself exclusively to economic literature.” Although Marx regarded this declaration as a “capitulation,” in Paris Engels had, as he himself admitted, treated Hess with “coldness and mockery.” Still, in August 1847, when the Workers’ Educational Society (an organization dominated by Marx and Engels) was founded in Brussels, Hess, who had now settled in that city, not only became a member of the organization, but was actually elected president, and, further, collaborated with Marx and Engels as a regular contributor to the “Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung.”

Among the other representatives of “true” socialism, three demand special mention. Hermann Kriege, a student who had been a disciple of Feuerbach, had at first aroused great hopes in Engels, but, having emigrated to New York, founded there a periodical, the “Volkstribun,” in which he advocated a confused form of communism based on brotherly love. Hermann Püttmann had at one time been on the staff of the “Kölnische Zeitung,” and had then for two years in succession, published the “Deutsches Bürgerbuch” and the “Rheinische Jahrbücher,” which served to voice the hazy views of a number of freethinking socialist enthusiasts. Otto Lüning of Bielefeld was the publisher of the “Westfälisches Dampfboot,” a journal which carried on propaganda on behalf of socialist ideas, and did not shrink from the thought of revolution.

Like the philosophers, the “true” socialists were critically disembowelled by Marx and Engels according to all the rules of art. It was continually being made plain, said the critics, that this true socialism was nothing more than a botched German translation of the ideas of French socialism, was communism that had been emasculated into German ideology. In the heads of such eclectic philanthropists, the old illusion was still firmly fixed that a cleavage in the conceptual world must inevitably precede a cleavage in the real world of history, the former bringing the latter to pass. “They endeavoured to hide how pitiful a part the Germans have played in actual history, by putting the illusions to which the Germans have always been peculiarly prone on the same footing with reality. As the Germans have never had a talent for anything but looking on and looking after, they believed it to be their mission to sit in judgment on all the world, and they cherished the illusion that the whole of history was attaining its ultimate aim in Germany.”

Since Marx and Engels were ruthlessly endeavouring to reach self-understanding, self-laceration could not be avoided. This self-laceration conjured up an army of adversaries, and involved them for five years or more in the most venomous personal quarrels. A further result was that the proletarian united front, which was already in course of formation, was, prematurely and without any sufficient objective reason, broken for decades to come. The intolerant way in which the purging of the communist ranks was effected and in which the cleavage in the communist camp was brought about, was not the outcome of unavoidable necessity, not dependent upon the progress of economic evolution. Its primary cause was Marx’s craving for exclusive personal predominance, which he rationalized into a fanatical confidence in the conquering power of his own idea.

Beyond question, however, this idea, distilled to absolute purity by a pitiless process of clarification, and running on ahead of the evolution of historical reality, pointed the way (like the star of Bethlehem) which would lead infallibly to liberation. Just as it was the main service of Moses Hess to deliver socialism from its entanglement with opposition bourgeois radicalism, so was it the unparalleled service of Marx and Engels to draw a clear distinction—however remorselessly and however fanatically, and however much at the cost of unity—between ethico-philosophical socialism and economic socialism.


A close scrutiny of Marx’s intellectual labours down to this time shows that for years past, considered as a whole, they had been an uninterrupted onslaught on Hegel, sometimes direct and sometimes indirect.

This young man—endowed with a leonine strength and equipped with a lion’s claws, a giant fighting desperately to maintain and increase his own sense of self-esteem, discountenanced, shunned, and persecuted by society—dared to measure his forces against those of Hegel, that monumental figure, universally admired, overtopping all, venerated by the whole intellectual world.

Marx’s writings for years past, against Bruno Bauer, Feuerbach, Stirner, the Young Hegelians, and the “true” socialists, had, in the last analysis, been shafts aimed at the Hegelian principle of the absolute, at the Hegelian priority of the idea, at Hegel’s metaphysical trend, at the aloofness from the world characteristic of Hegel’s way of looking at things, at Hegel’s “abstract man.” In a word, whatever the ostensible target, Marx’s missiles had really been thrown at Hegel’s head. It was under the stimulus of this profound antagonism that Marx had been converted to materialism side by side with Feuerbach, had attacked Hegel’s philosophy of right, had advanced from philosophy to politics, had put man in place of the idea, had substituted the active man for the abstract man, had replaced criticism by the revolution, and had declared that the revolutionary proletariat would achieve the fulfilment of historical evolution.

Throughout: Marx in conflict with Hegel, titan wrestling with titan.

But a work of such fundamental significance as Hegel’s system, a philosophy which had had so overwhelming an influence upon the mental outlook and the development of an entire nation, could not (as Engels phrased it) be thrust aside by ignoring it, nor yet overcome by running atilt against it.

It must be ‘superseded’ after its own kind, must be dealt with in such a way that, whilst its form was annihilated by criticism, the new content with which it had enriched thought would be preserved.”

This new content of the Hegelian system was the dialectical method.

When we contemplate things and phenomena, we may proceed by regarding them one by one, detached from their environment, in abstract isolation. At times this may be indispensable and useful. But, as a general method, it leads to unsatisfactory results. The most important characteristics elude us. In the world there is nothing isolated, there is nothing at rest, there is nothing to be found apart from all other things, there is no self-existent phenomenon. Everything is in a flux, dynamically mobile, interconnected by inseparable ties with the whole world of phenomena. By the law of becoming, which is realized in the totality of life, all being is resolved into eternal movement. This movement is change, is the passage from what has existed to a new condition. Hence it is logically indispensable to contemplate every thing, every phenomenon, in all its manifestations and all its interconnexions. The method which fulfils this demand is the dialectical method, and by that method the principle of evolution is scientifically justified.

Hegel had gone back to the method of dialectical thought which was in use already among the ancients, and was advocated, above all, by Heraclitus. Taking over from Fichte the three stages of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, he had replaced the principle of the old logic “Everything is identical with itself, nothing contradicts itself,” by the new principle “Nothing is identical with itself and everything contradicts itself.” In accordance with this principle, he conceived every notion as a necessary product of the interaction of two antecedent notions, which, their oppositions having been fused into a new unity, had both been subsumed in the higher notion. To notions, concepts, or ideas, he ascribed a validity which was not eternal or absolute, but merely transient and historical. “According to Hegel,” says Engels, “the truth to be recognized by philosophy was no longer a collection of ready-made dogmatic propositions which, once discovered, had merely to be learned by heart. Truth lay in the very process of cognition, in the long historical evolution of science, rising from lower to ever higher stages of knowledge, but never reaching (by the discovery of a so-called absolute truth) the point beyond which no advance would be possible, the point at which all we should have to do would be to fold our arms and go on admiring the absolute truth that had been won. ... Every stage is necessary, that is to say justified for the time and under the conditions out of which it arises; but it becomes invalid and forfeits its justification under new and higher conditions which gradually develop within its own womb; it has to give place to a higher stage, which in its turn will decay and perish. ... Thus this dialectical philosophy does away with any thought of permanent, absolute truth, and of absolutely final conditions for man-kind dependent on such a truth. To the dialectical philosophy, nothing is final, absolute, or sacred; everything is transient, subject to an uninterrupted process of becoming and disappearing, of an unending ascent from the lower to the higher-dialectic itself being no more than a reflexion of that process, a reflexion within the thinking brain.” Hegel gave several definitions of the term dialectic as he understood it. In his Encyclopoedia he says that true dialectic is the inner and progressive transition of one explanation into another, in course of which it becomes manifest that the explanations of the understanding are one-sided and narrowly limited, this meaning that each of them contains its own negation. All this acquires its peculiar character in that it does away with itself. In his Logic he describes the dialectical developmental process brought about by the play of the internal oppositions. He says that the forward movement begins with abstract and simple concepts or categories, and passes into the next concepts, which continually become richer and more concrete. At every stage of the enlarged particular concept, the whole mass of its earlier content resurges; and, in the course of the dialectical development, none of this earlier content is lost, for, rather, all succeeding new acquisitions are borne onward with the rest, so that the whole is an enriched condensation. The climax is reached in the absolute idea. In Hegel’s Science of Logic we read: “The immediate, moving in this negative direction, has been submerged in the other, but the other, essentially, is not an empty negative, not nothing, as is assumed to be the ordinary result of dialectic; it is the other of the first, the negative of the immediate; thus it is determined as the mediate, contains the determination of the first in itself. Thus the first is preserved and maintained in the process of alteration.”

Hegel was an idealist. He regarded the idea as the living soul of the world, and in accordance with this it was natural that for him dialectic should play its primary part in the realm of ideas. Only in that the dialectically won concept “alienated itself,” did it undergo transformation into nature, “where it experiences new development, unconscious of itself, clothed as natural necessity, and at long last returns to self-consciousness in man. Thenceforward, in the course of history, this self-consciousness works itself up again from the raw, until at length, in the Hegelian philosophy, the absolute idea comes to itself fully once again. Thus, for Hegel, the dialectical development which occurs in nature and history (that is to say the causal interconnexion of the progressive movement from lower to higher, the progressive movement which is continuous despite zigzags and momentary reverses), is nothing but an enfeebled copy of the spontaneous movement of the idea, that movement which has been going on from all eternity, no one knows where, but in any case independent of the thinking human brain.” (Engels.)

On first coming into contact with Hegelianism, Marx had recognized conceptual dialectic to be a speculative mystification, without, however, questioning or rejecting the dialectical method per se. When, subsequently, he was led to materialism by Feuerbach, he was able to free dialectic from its idealist trappings, and to translate the mirror-writing of abstraction into a readable, concrete formula. Then it was seen that reality is not a mere reflexion of ideas; but, conversely, that ideas are copies of reality, copies formed by a materialistic process. In this way the Hegelian conceptual dialectic, which had been standing on its head, was turned back on to its feet, and exhibited itself as a factual dialectic.

When, still later, Marx broke away from Feuerbach, he did so (as we know) because the materialism of the objective world of nature had for him been transformed into a materialism of social conditions which, dialectically regarded, present themselves as the outcome of processes. In so far as man acts on nature external to himself, in the course of this action he modifies his own nature. The production of the idea and of concepts takes place in close connexion with the material activities of men and with their material relations. Man’s being is the real process of his life. Cognition, therefore, can be nothing else than the cognition of this actual being. This being of man, a series of processes, was disclosed by Marx (when he developed philosophy into politics) to be the production of material life, to be a succession of struggles for power, struggles undertaken on behalf of interests. These interests, economic interests, relate to the domain of production, to the field of political economy. Now here it was plain that the struggles which arise in connexion with the production of the material necessaries of life, are carried on between classes which confront one another as hostile powers.

Marx was not the original discoverer of this. He found the notion ready-made in English and French sociological literature, and beyond question Engels must have directed his attention to some of these sources. “Since the establishment of large-scale industry,” writes Engels in his essay Ludwig Feuerbach, “that is to say at least since the peace of 1815, it has been no secret in England that the whole political struggle in that country turns upon the rival claims of two classes, the aspirations of the landed aristocracy and the bourgeoisie respectively to achieve dominion. In France, the same fact became obvious when the Bourbons returned to power. The historians of the Restoration period, Thierry, Guizot, Mignet, and Thiers, all presented this idea to their readers as the key for the understanding of French history since the Middle Ages. From 1830 onwards, both in England and in France, it was recognized that the working class, the proletariat, had become a third competitor in the struggle for power. Conditions had been so greatly simplified that nothing but wilful blindness could hide from the observer the struggle among these three great classes, could prevent the recognition that the conflict of their interests is the motive force of modern society. This is true, at any rate, as regards the two most advanced countries.”

In this conflict of interests, bourgeoisie and proletariat are related each to the other as thesis and antithesis. The dialectical process works itself out as a class struggle, which carries the movement on beyond the oppositions of the antithetical relation. A new society, socialist society, appears as a synthesis.

Thus Marx, investigating, drawing inferences, shaping things in his mind, welding link into link to form a chain, evolved the Feuerbachian materialism of nature into a materialism of society, transformed the abstract conceptual dialectic of Hegel into a concrete factual dialectic, saw the dialectical contradiction incorporated in classes, and recognized the dialectical process in the class struggle. In this way he was led to a new dialectic, a new conception or interpretation of history.

Nay more, he came to regard socialism as a logical upshot of historico-economic evolution, arising in virtue of an inherent law.

Engels made the same scientific discovery. He reached it as the outcome of practical experience and direct observation in England. In that country, the contradictions inherent in the capitalist method of production, working themselves out in the form of social conflicts, had been manifest to him in all their nudity. Already in the “Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher” he had incorporated the gist of his observations and deductions upon these matters in two articles, embodying entirely new outlooks.

This discovery sufficed to show that he was the predestined collaborator of Marx.

Misère de la Philosophie

According to Hegel, human beings are puppets, jerked hither and thither on the stage of life by the strings to which they are suspended—the strings of the idea.

Feuerbach describes them as real human beings, gives them flesh and blood, but they do not know how to set about their business.

In Marx’s hands they at length become independent actors, performing their own drama on their own stage. They experience history, and fulfil it, in actual practice. They are not in the leading strings of a higher will, are not subordinated to an idea outside themselves, are not guided by a consciousness existing apart from themselves and working towards its own preconceived ends. There is no prompter in the wings. They are independent beings; they act solely in accordance with the dictates of their own human interests.

These interests, in Marx’s view, are directed towards effecting man’s mastery over nature, towards safeguarding human existence, towards promoting the expansion of that existence by the development of the forces of production and of social relations. In a society divided into classes, the respective classes pursue their rival interests amid the vicissitudes of the class struggle. The aim of the proletarian class struggle is the establishment of a socialist society. The way thither is through revolution.

From year to year, in one book after another, and with increasing definiteness, Marx had been developing these ideas in all their convincing inexorability. The results of his process of self-clarification, at the outset no more than little tongues of flame in the thorny thicket of philosophical confusion, had gradually become a circle of lights, and had then taken the form of torches borne onwards in proletarian hands as a demonstration making its progress through an intimidated world. But this did not suffice our titan. Now a lighthouse was to be erected, shedding its beams far and wide over the whole extent of the globe; a conflagration was to be inaugurated, bringing society and civilization face to face with an inevitable destiny.

Marx’s next book, Misère de la philosophie (1847), penned and published in Brussels, achieved this end.

Misère de la philosophie [Poverty of Philosophy] was a polemic in answer to Proudhon’s Système des contradictions économiques, ou philosophie de la misère [System of Economic Contradictions, or Philosophy of Poverty], which had appeared earlier in the same year. The talks the two men had had in Paris had not brought Proudhon over to Marx’s way of thinking, or at any rate Proudhon had not followed Marx in the latter’s new thought-trend. In the preface to the Poverty of Philosophy Marx writes banteringly: “Monsieur Proudhon enjoys the misfortune of being misunderstood in a peculiar way. In France, he is excused for being a bad economist because he is regarded as thoroughly well versed in German philosophy; in Germany, on the other hand, he is excused for being a bad philosopher because he is regarded as one of the most outstanding among French economists. Being myself both German and economist, I feel it incumbent on me to lodge a protest against this twofold error.” In a letter to Marx, Proudhon had referred to his forthcoming volume and had said: “I await the lash of your criticism.” He was to receive a lashing unexampled in its severity!

Marx scourged Proudhon with a criticism so remorseless, dismembered the philosopher of poverty with so unsparing a hand, roasted his victim so unmercifully, that there could no longer be any question of friendship between the pair. Some, even, who had little concern with the quarrel, were outraged that controversy should be conducted in such a tone. In earlier and subsequent disputes with more formidable opponents, with foemen more worthy of his steel, Marx was more lenient. On this occasion he excelled himself in cut and thrust, in sovereign contempt, in self-confident scorn for his adversary. The book was not so much a criticism as a liquidation. The enemy’s ship was positively blown out of the water.

There was something more, however, than an impressive public execution, for here a man of genius was engaged in the work of creation. When making a clearance of the remnants of speculative illusion, when revealing all the inconsistency of utopian romanticism, when pillorying the half-heartedness and obliquity and folly of economic quackery, he was clearing the ground on which science could erect the solid edifice of a new interpretation of history and a new theory of society.

In the Misère de la philosophie, Marx for the first time gives a concrete and comprehensive account of the materialist interpretation of history, which hitherto in his writings has been referred to only in passing, sketchily and allusively. Now he expresses his theory in unambiguous terms. He declares that economic production, and the social stratification which is its necessary outcome, form, in each historical epoch, the foundations of the political and ideological history of this epoch. The whole course of history down to our own times has been a history of class struggles. Today, these class struggles have reached a phase of development at which the exploited and oppressed class of the proletariat cannot effect its liberation from the bourgeoisie without a revolutionary transformation of society at large. Such, in broad outline, is the theory of historical materialism.

At a later date, Marx described the tenor of his book in the following terms: “I showed therein how little Proudhon had penetrated into the mystery of scientific dialectic; and how, on the other hand, he shared the illusions of speculative philosophy, inasmuch as, instead of regarding economic categories as the theoretical expressions of historical relations of production corresponding to a definite evolutionary phase of material production, he wandered off into the belief that they were pre-existent and everlasting ideas, and returned by this devious path to the outlook of bourgeois economics.

“I showed, further, that his acquaintance with the ‘political economy’ which he was venturing to criticize was defective, worthy of a schoolboy; and that he set out in company with the utopists in search of a so-called ‘science’ which was to provide an a priori formula for the ‘solution of the social problem,’ instead of creating the science out of a critical knowledge of the historical movement—a movement which itself produces the material conditions of emancipation. In especial I showed how Proudhon continued to hold unclarified, fallacious, and half-hearted views concerning the basis of the whole, concerning exchange-value, mistaking the utopian interpretation of the Ricardian theory of value for the foundation of a new science. As to his general standpoint, I may sum up my judgment as follows:

“Every economic relation has a good and a bad side; that is the only matter in which Monsieur Proudhon does not slap his own face. He considers that the good side is presented by the economists, and that the bad side is brought into accusatory relief by the socialists. He borrows from the economists the necessity of the eternal relations; he borrows from the socialists the illusion that poverty is nothing more than poverty (instead of recognizing in poverty the revolutionary and destructive trend which will overthrow the old society). He agrees with both parties, endeavouring to prop himself by the authority of science. For him, science is reduced to the dwarfed stature of a scientific formula; he is always on the hunt for formulas. Monsieur Proudhon, therefore, plumes himself on having effectively criticized both political economy and communism—although both are far above his head. He stands below the economists because, as a philosopher possessed of a magical formula, he believes himself competent to enter into purely economic details; and he stands below the socialists because he has neither sufficient courage nor yet sufficient insight (were it but purely speculative insight) to lift himself above the bourgeois horizon.”

The first part of the book deals with use-value and exchange-value, constitutive value and synthetic value, labour time, money, and surplus labour; the second part discusses the division of labour and machinery, competition and monopoly, landed property and land-rent, strikes and working-class combination. The reader is amazed to find how perfectly Marx is already acquainted with the anatomy of bourgeois society. He has studied the whole body of the literature bearing on the question. He quotes Adam Smith and Ricardo, refers to Lauderdale, Sismondi, Storch, Atkinson, Hodgkin, Thompson, Edmonds, Bray, John Stuart Mill, Sadler, to Cooper the American, to the French writers Boisguilbert, Quesnay, Say, and Lemontey. He puts his finger on all Proudhon’s weak spots, discloses every one of the speculative entanglements, and makes merry over his adversary’s utopian confusions.

The following passages are of especial importance as regards the foundation and the formulation of the materialist interpretation of history.

“A true philosopher, Monsieur Proudhon stands everything on its head, and discerns in actual relations nothing more than the incarnation of those principles, of those categories, which (as Monsieur Proudhon the philosopher tells us) slumber in the womb of the ‘impersonal reason of humanity.’ Monsieur Proudhon, the economist, knows well enough that human beings make cloth, linen, silk, under specific productive relations. But what he has failed to grasp is that these specific social relations are just as much products of human activity as are cloth, linen, etc. The social relations are intimately interconnected with the forces of production. With the acquisition of new productive forces, men modify their method of production; and as they modify the method of production, as they change the way in which they make their livelihood, they simultaneously transform all the relations of social life. The handmill produces a society with feudal lords, the powermill produces a society with industrial capitalists. But these same human beings, who create social relations in accordance with the material relations of production, also create principles, ideas, categories, in accordance with social relations. Thus these ideas, these categories, are no more eternal than the relations they express. They are historical, transitory products.”

“Let us assume, with Monsieur Proudhon, that real history, in its temporal succession, is the historical succession in which ideas, categories, principles, have manifested themselves. Each principle has had its own century, in which it has revealed itself. For instance, the principle of authority has had the eleventh century, just as the principle of individualism has had the eighteenth. Logically, therefore, the century belongs to the principle, not the principle to the century. In other words, the principle makes history, history does not make the principle. If we then ask, in the hope of saving principles as well as history, why this principle has revealed itself in the eleventh century, and that one in the eighteenth century, and neither the one nor the other in some other century, we are necessarily compelled to enter into details, and to inquire what the men of the eleventh and the eighteenth century were like, what were their respective needs, their forces of production, their method of production, the raw materials out of which they produced, and what, finally, were the relations between man and man, the relations proceeding out of all these conditions of existence. Well now, to study all these questions, does not that mean to study the actual mundane history of human beings in each century; to describe these human beings as at one and the same time the authors of and the actors in their own drama? But as soon as we come to regard human beings as the actors in and the authors of their own history, we have, after a detour, found our way back to the real starting-point, for we have dropped the eternal principles whence we set out.”

“Providence, a providential aim, this is the high-sounding phrase wherewith, nowadays, the course of history is to be explained. In reality, the word or the phrase explains nothing, being at most a rhetorical form, one of many ways in which the facts can be paraphrased. It is a fact that landed property in Scotland has acquired enhanced value thanks to the development of industry, because the development of industry has opened new markets for wool. For the production of wool on the large scale, ploughlands have had to be put under grass. To effect this transformation, estates must be centralized, and small holdings must be abolished. Thousands of smallholders must be driven from their homes, must be replaced by a few shepherds who guard millions of sheep. Thus the outcome of land ownership in Scotland is, through successive transformations, that men are driven off the land by sheep. If you then declare that it has been the providential aim of land ownership in Scotland to have men driven off the land by sheep, you will have written history as it appears to those who believe in providence.”

“Monsieur Proudhon knows no more of the Hegelian dialectic than its manner of speech. His own dialectical method consists in a dogmatic distinction between good and evil. Well, let us take Monsieur Proudhon himself as category; let us study his good and his bad sides, his merits and his defects. If, as compared with Hegel, he has the merit of propounding problems which he proposes to solve for the benefit of mankind, he has, on the other hand, the defect of utter sterility as soon as he is concerned to call a new category into life by the activity of dialectical procreation. What characterizes the dialectical movement is the coexistence of two opposed aspects, the conflict between them, and their issue in a new category. The exclusive attempt to eliminate the bad side, cuts the dialectical movement in twain.”

“Economic conditions begin by transforming the masses of the population into [manual wage] workers. The regime of capital has created for this mass a common situation, joint interests. Thus this mass is already a class confronting capital, though not yet aware of its own position as a class. ... The interests it defends, become class interests. Now, a struggle of class against class is a political struggle.”

“The existence of an oppressed class is the vital condition of every society based upon class oppositions. Consequently, the liberation of the oppressed class necessarily involves the creation of a new society. If the oppressed class is to be able to liberate itself, it must have reached a stage at which the already acquired forces of production and the extant social institutions can no longer continue to exist side by side. Of all the instruments of production, the greatest productive force is the revolutionary class itself. The organization of the revolutionary elements as a class presupposes the existence of all the forces of production which can develop within the womb of the old society.”

“Just as a necessary condition for the liberation of the third estate, of the bourgeois estate, was the abolition of all estates and of all orders, so the necessary condition for the liberation of the working class is the abolition of all classes. In the course of its development, the working class will replace the old bourgeois society by an association which will exclude classes and their oppositions; and there will no longer be any kind of political authority, properly speaking, seeing that political authority is the official expression of the class conflicts within bourgeois society. Pending this development, the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie is a struggle of class against class, a struggle which, when it attains its highest expression, is a complete revolution. Need we wonder that a society founded upon class oppositions should culminate in crass contradiction, in the collision of man with man, as ultimate outcome? It is an error to say that the social movement excludes the political movement. There is no political movement which is not a social movement at the same time. Not until things are so ordered that there are no classes and no class oppositions, will social evolutions cease to be political revolutions.”

The foregoing paragraphs read like a rough draft of the Communist Manifesto. There can be no question that the Misère de la philosophie was a preliminary sketch (and though preliminary, a ripe one) of that classical document which, six months later, in the sultry atmosphere of the days just before the revolution of 1848, was to fall as a gift from destiny into the lap of the unsuspecting proletariat.

Before March

If (as Marx considers) thoughts and ideas are reflexions of the realities of life, reflexions of practical experiences, then the thoughts and theories of Marx himself must have had a sub-stratum in the economic and political conditions of his day. His theories must be demonstrable as the materials of the world that environed Marx, when they had been transformed within the human head.

If we analyse the social situation, the economic life, and the political relations of the eighteen-forties, what picture do we get?

There were abundant indications that a revolution was imminent in continental Europe. In France, the bourgeoisie had risen to power in 1830, but only the topmost stratum of the bourgeoisie, the financial aristocracy. The members of this stratum had understood very well how—with the aid of State loans, contracts for supplies to the government, corruption, speculation, shady financial manoeuvres, etc.—to turn their dominant position to account as a means of enrichment. “The July monarchy,” says Marx, “was nothing but a joint-stock company for the exploitation of the national wealth of France, the dividends being shared out among ministers of State, the chambers, 240,000 electors, and their hangers-on. Louis Philippe was the director of the company.”

As time went on, however, industrial capital, favoured by the long series of discoveries in the fields of natural science and technique and by the extensive development of machinery, attained such proportions, that it began to bulk more imposingly than financial capital, and was able to aspire towards the control of the government. It began to regard itself as the leading element of the national economy and as the main pillar of the State, rose in revolt against the banking magnates and the lords of the stock exchange who would fain have kept it in tutelage while neglecting its interests, and demanded its share in legislative authority. Simultaneously with the voicing of these claims, there was heard, like a threatening echo, a murmur from the depths of the proletariat. Among the workers, innumerable groups, secret societies, and sects, led by a motley crowd of reformers, enthusiasts, apostles of universal happiness, and would-be shapers of the future, were in search of a way out of unutterable wretchedness towards a better, a more human existence.

Marx’s stay in Paris, his exhaustive study of socialist literature, his intercourse with notable representatives of utopian schools and systems, had led him into the centre of this fermenting and struggling world. It was, we must remember, not only a world of ideas and theories, but also, and above all, a world in which hecatombs of men were perishing of hunger and unregulated toil, in which sweat and tears poured down the faces of overworked women, in which the poverty of exploited children cried to heaven.

In Germany, too, the bourgeoisie, thanks to the enormous advance in the forces of production, had taken on a new and powerful impetus during the thirties and forties. Marx has given us a vigorous description of the situation of the various classes of the population at that time: “The bourgeoisie was becoming aware of its own strength, and was determined to break the chains wherewith feudal and bureaucratic despotism had fettered its commercial enterprise, its industrial capacity, its united activities as a class. Some of the landed gentry had already devoted themselves to the production of commodities for the market; this section had identical interests with the bourgeoisie, and made common cause with it. The petty bourgeoisie was discontented, grumbled at the burden of taxation, complained of the hindrances that were imposed upon its business activities, but had no definite programme of reforms that might safeguard its position in the State and in society. The peasantry was weighed down, partly by the burdens of the feudal system, and partly by the extortions of usurers and lawyers. The urban workers were partners in the general discontent, were inspired with an equal hatred for the government and for the great industrial capitalists, and were being infected with socialist and communist ideas. In a word, the opposition consisted of a heterogeneous mass, driven onward by the most diversified interests, but led, more or less, by the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, in Prussia, there was a government lacking the support of public opinion, one from which part even of the nobility had become disaffected, relying for its maintenance upon an army and a bureaucracy which from day to day were increasingly influenced by the ideas of the bourgeois opposition. Furthermore, it was a government whose treasury was empty, and one which could not raise a penny towards balancing the ever-increasing deficit without capitulating to the bourgeois opposition.”

Thus revolution was in the air, in Germany no less than in France. The bourgeoisie was beginning to pay attention to the social problem and to the question of the revolution. In the periodical press, there was an increasing stream of articles upon labour, pauperism, the reform of society, the harmfulness of competition and monopolies, free trade and protection, socialism, and the like. After the weavers’ rising in the Eulengebirge, even the “Kölnische Zeitung” (a semi-official organ), followed the example of the liberal journals, and opened a collection for the benefit of the widows and children of the fallen rebels. Jung wrote to Marx: “Day after day, pauperism, socialism, and so on, a rag here, a rag there—at length the German philistine comes to believe what is thus buzzed in his ears without alarming him too much. In the end, he would actually share out, if he were told every day for a few years it was necessary.” Communist clubs and cliques were formed on all hands, and these held meetings and engaged in discussions without asking permission of the police. Writing to Marx from Barmen as early as 1844, Engels said: “You may turn whithersoever you please, you will stumble over communists.” In an article for Owen’s “New Moral World,” under date December 14, 1844, he announced that within the brief space of a year a powerful socialist party had come into existence in Germany, a middle-class affair for the nonce, but hoping soon to get into touch with the working class. The frozen crust of reaction was beginning to break up. March 1848, was near at hand.

Of course, this revolution could not, in the circumstances, be anything more than a bourgeois revolution, designed to liberate the forces of the capitalist economy, and to establish a form of State that would be appropriate to the needs and interests of the bourgeoisie. If the German bourgeoisie were not to lag behind its foreign competitors in the development of its productive forces and in the expansion of its field of economic activity, if it were not to forfeit its laboriously acquired access to the world market, it must win control over the State apparatus, and thus ensure its position in the world. For the German bourgeoisie, victory or defeat of the revolution signified advance or withdrawal in the immediate necessities of life and development.

Thanks to the study of history, and thanks to the insight into the determinism of the historical process which he had secured by means of the materialist interpretation of history, Marx had come to realize that the success of the bourgeois revolution would, while fulfilling the demands of the bourgeoisie, leave the hopes and claims of the masses unsatisfied. The nature of the epoch in which he was living was fully revealed to him he understood it, and he looked beyond it. His gaze ranged across the age that was to follow. Thinking in decades, reckoning in generations, he contemplated the bourgeois revolution in historical perspective as the threshold of the subsequent revolution, the proletarian revolution. Here and now, the social revolution would only be procreated, not yet born. Whereas the bourgeois looked to the imminent revolution to end his struggles and gratify his wishes, Marx knew that the revolutionary process then beginning would not close until the bourgeois system of society had been annihilated.

Nevertheless, Marx recognized that, as a matter of historical necessity, the bourgeois revolution must first be helped onward to victory. Only upon the trail broken by the bourgeoisie, could the proletariat advance along the course marked out for it by history. What had happened to the proletariat in England, France, and America, gave plain demonstration that the winning of political power by the bourgeoisie did not merely put new political weapons into the hands of the workers, but, permitting the workers to constitute themselves into a political party without any breach of the law, enabled them to occupy a far more favourable position on the political fighting front.

Marx, therefore, did everything in his power to assist the coming of the bourgeois revolution. In Brussels, he got into touch with the radicals of the town, took part in the foundation of the Democratic League, became its vice-president, and, as delegate of the league, spoke at the meeting held in London during 1847 in support of the Poles. He also contributed to the “Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung,” a journal of revolutionary trend, run by Bornstedt, sometime editor of the Paris “Vorwärts.” After a time, Marx and his adherents were able to get the periodical entirely under their influence and to dictate its position upon topical questions, such as those relating to protection and free trade. In the columns of the “Brüsseler,” he and Engels carried on a vigorous campaign against Karl Heinzen, a revolutionary phrasemonger who, having fled from Germany to escape a charge of lese-majesty, was advocating a loudmouthed communism of his own manufacture. Another campaign was directed against Hermann Wagener, assistant judge in one of the ecclesiastical courts, who was endeavouring in the “Rheinischer Beobachter” to win adherents for a hybrid doctrine halfway between State socialism and Christian socialism. One example will suffice to show how Marx dealt with this adversary: “The social principles of Christianity have now had eighteen hundred years for their development, and do not need any further development at the hands of Prussian consistorial councillors. The social principles of Christianity find justifications for the slavery of classical days, extol mediaeval serfdom, and are ready in case of need to defend the oppression of the proletariat—somewhat shamefacedly perhaps. The social principles of Christianity preach the need for a dominant and an oppressed class, expressing the pious hope that the former will deal kindly with the latter. The social principles of Christianity declare that all infamies will be spiritually compensated in heaven, the assertion being made a justification for the continuance of these infamies on earth. According to the social principles of Christianity, all the misdeeds wrought by the oppressors on the oppressed, are either a just punishment for original sin and other sins, or else are trials which the Lord in his wisdom sends to afflict the redeemed. The social principles of Christianity preach cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, subjection, humility, in a word, all the qualities of the mob; whereas for the proletariat, which does not wish to allow itself to be treated as a mob, courage, self-esteem, pride, and independence, are far more necessary than bread. The social principles of Christianity are obsequious, but the proletariat is revolutionary.” Therewith Wagener was put to silence for the time—to crop up again in due course as editor of the “Kreuzzeitung,” a pious periodical. Here, Bruno Bauer was his right-hand man.

The most weighty and the most distressing of the conflicts Marx waged in Brussels was the one with Wilhelm Weitling, the only distinguished utopian socialist in Germany, a man of character and ability. A working tailor from Magdeburg, he had as an apprentice in Paris absorbed the ideas of Saint-Simon and Fourier. Subsequently, in Switzerland, prosecuted as an ardent propagandist, he had endured a long term of imprisonment. Then his book, Die Garantien der Harmonie und Freiheit, had attracted widespread attention. Marx had been enthusiastic about it, welcoming it as “a brilliant literary debut,” and predicting a happy future for the proletariat after so excellent a start. But when Weitling turned up in Brussels, and joined the Workers’ Educational Society there, it became apparent that his development had proceeded no further, and that he had become infected with inordinate vanity, with an undue sense of superiority. He was continually talking about utopias and conspiracies, and imagined himself a prey to the persecution of envious rivals. One day, when Marx insisted upon the rejection of fanciful and overenthusiastic schemes for universal happiness (passing by the name of communism), Welding advocated the cause of the utopists, the dispute leading to an open breach between him and Marx. Since the latter had an unhappy talent for introducing personal animus into theoretical disputes, the relations between the two men were poisoned henceforward, and they became irreconcilable enemies.

Unconcerned whether he made friends or enemies, Marx, amid all the ferment and confusion of a troublous time, devoted himself relentlessly to clarifying the theory of the class struggle. With inexorable steadfastness, he continued to make this theory the centre of his thought process. He was the first to conceive of socialism as the outcome of an automatic evolution, was the first for whom the severance from utopism was a matter of principle. Moreover, he was the first to regard the proletarian masses as the fulfillers of the evolution to socialism. He was the first to look upon capitalism as an inevitable phase of development, as an economic and political fact which could not be argued out of the world or evaded by tactical manoevres. He, likewise, was the first who fully identified himself in his whole outlook with the social position of the proletariat, which he declared to be a daily and hourly class struggle. He attacked with the fierceness of an angry lion everything which threatened to obscure this clear line of advance, or tended to confuse the unambiguous consistency of the tactic of the class struggle.

The utopists, too, had their gaze fixed upon a socialist future, and fought on behalf of a social ideal. But their aim was to upbuild their social edifice as the top story of the feudalist building, either circumventing capitalism, or else attempting to come to an understanding with capitalism. What they announced as a doctrine of salvation, came from them as a gift from above, bestowed by a patron, and with a philanthropic gesture. They were animated by ethical impulses, or by sentimentalism; were moved by compassion, overwhelmed by pity, spurred on by hatred. It was inevitable that their socialism should remain a cloud castle, because they failed to understand the most elementary, the most essential feature of all society—reality. Also, because they failed to discern the inner causality of the historical process-dialectic. Also, to conclude, because they believed that it was possible to dispense with the living motive force of the movement leading to socialism—the class-conscious fighting proletariat.

Marx drew a sharp line between himself and these utopists. In daily combats, which were continually raising up against him new troops of foes, he went on demonstrating that his socialism was the only genuine, the only sound variety.

The Workers’ Educational Society

Through the activities of Marx and Engels, in the course of two or three years Brussels had become a centre of communist propaganda.

From the Belgian capital there issued to every quarter of the world strong and persistent currents of incitement, calls to arms, clarification, and influence. Here were centred countless threads of communication with all revolutionary foci; with representatives of the communist idea; with kindred movements in France, England, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland—though as yet these movements may have been based on other principles.

By means of an extensive correspondence with all persons who held modern ideas and were in any way worth considering from the standpoint of communism, new meshes were perpetually being woven in the network of relations. Engels, in repeated journeys to Paris, supplemented the information received from friends in that city, enrolled and trained new collaborators, helped to clarify the Babel-like confusion of utopism. The teachings of Saint-Simon and Fourier were obsolete, and lived on only as a tradition; but Cabet, Weitling, and Proudhon had taken the place of the two great utopists, and had as supporters a great number both of intellectuals and of manual workers. There were also confusionists like Karl Grün, conspirators like Mazzini, Christian socialists, and all kinds of sentimental reformers, each of them with a following of his own.

In this medley, Brussels had become a quiescent pole and a Mecca for a number of serious-minded persons who were interested in communism, wished to discuss important questions with Marx or Engels, needed their advice, desired enlightenment, or offered collaboration. From London had come, besides Wilhelm Weitling, Wilhelm Wolff, the Silesian, who soon became one of Marx’s most trusted adherents. From Switzerland came Sebastian Seiler; from Westphalia, Joseph Weydemeyer; from the Wuppertal, Kriege, on his way to America. Engels brought back with him from Paris the talented young compositor Stephan Born. A number of adherents were also found in Brussels: above all, Gigot, an employee in the public library; and Heilberg, who published a small working-class newspaper.

The general centre of this movement was formed by the Workers’ Educational Society, which had been founded in connexion with the Democratic League. The meetings of the society were held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when questions of the day were discussed, lectures were given, weekly reports were read, and so on. Writing of them to Herwegh, Marx said: “We debate matters in a thoroughly parliamentary fashion, hold conversations, have songs, declamation, theatricals, etc. ... If you would only come over, you would find that even as regards direct propaganda there is more to be done in little Belgium than in big France.” One of the revolutionists who were assembled in Brussels had little sympathy with the doings of the society—Bakunin. He and Marx had already got into touch with one another in Paris. A Russian of Bakunin’s circle had then described Marx in the following words: “Marx is of a type composed of energy, a strong will, and inviolable conviction; of a very remarkable type, too, in externals. He has a thick crop of black hair, hairy hands, an overcoat buttoned awry; but he looks like one endowed with the right and the power of demanding respect, however he may look and whatever he may do. His movements are awkward, yet bold and self-confident. His manners conflict sharply with the ordinary conventions of social life. He is proud, somewhat contemptuous, and his harsh voice, with a metallic ring, is admirably suited to his revolutionary opinions about persons and things.”

Bakunin and Marx differed glaringly in their respective revolutionary trends, and this soon led to disputes. “He called me a sentimental idealist,” said Bakunin later, “and he was right; I called him gloomy, unreliable, and vain, and I was right too.” We can readily understand that this man who replied to a philosophical judgment by a judgment of character, should have held aloof from the Workers’ Educational Society on personal rather than circumstantial grounds. Writing from Brussels, Bakunin said: “Marx is carrying on the same sort of futile activities as of old, corrupting the workers by making them argumentative. The same crazy theories and the same discontented self-satisfaction.”

Marx delivered some lectures at the Workers’ Educational Society. An epitome of these was subsequently published in the form of newspaper articles, and eventually secured wide publicity as a propaganda booklet. Under the title Lohnarbeit und Kapital [Wage Labour and Capital] it constituted the first of a series of fundamental writings in which Marx incorporated his criticism of political economy and gave the results of that criticism. It is especially noteworthy because it shows how Marx, feeling his way, learning, growing by slow degrees, at first finds incomplete solutions and gives lopsided demonstrations, but ultimately, after the lapse of a considerable time and after exhaustive studies, attains to finished results. In Wage Labour and Capital, for instance, it is especially the notion of the commodity labour power which discloses to us the slow growth of Marx’s economic ideas.

As Engels tells us in the preface, classical political economy adopted from industrial practice the current conception of the factory owner as one who buys and pays for the labour of his workers. This conception was perfectly adequate for business practice, for the factory owner’s book-keeping, and for his calculation of prices. But when thus naively transferred to political economy, it gave rise to extraordinary errors and generated confusion.

Economists discovered that the prices of all commodities, and among them the price of the commodity they termed “labour,” are continually changing; that these prices rise and fall owing to the influence of manifold circumstances, which often have no connexion with the production of the commodity, so that prices seem as a rule to be determined by pure chance. But as soon as economics became a science, one of its first tasks was to search for the law hidden behind the apparently casual changes in the price of commodities, the law which must control what seemed to be chance movements. Economists wanted to discover a fixed centre amid the vacillations of price; they set forth from the prices of commodities in search of the regulative law of the value of commodities which was to explain all perturbations of price.

The classical economists then discovered that the value of a commodity is determined by the labour contained in it, the labour necessary for its production. The explanation contented them. But as soon as they came to apply this determination of value to the commodity labour itself, they found themselves involved in one contradiction after another. How is the value of “labour” determined? By the amount of necessary labour contained in it. But how much labour is contained in the labour of a worker for a day, a week, a month, a year? If labour is the measure of all values, then we can only express the “value of labour” in labour. Yet we know absolutely nothing about the value of an hour’s labour, when we know no more than this, that it is equal to an hour’s labour. We have not got a hair’s-breadth nearer to our goal, but are still gyrating in a circle.

The classical economists then tried another turning. They said: “The value of a commodity is equal to the cost of producing it.” But what is the cost of producing labour? To answer this question, the economists had to strain their logic a little. Instead of studying the cost of producing labour itself, which eluded inquiry, they investigated the cost of producing the worker. This was discoverable. It corresponded to the sum of the means of subsistence (or the money price of these) necessary, on the average, to keep the worker fit for work and to maintain him and his family.

Now an interesting fact came to light. The value of the labour which was paid to the worker as wages, was always considerably less than the value of the labour which the employer annexed as the product of labour. Either labour must have two values, a small value for the worker and a large value for the capitalist; or else the formula must be inadequate, or based upon false premises.

The classical economists could not solve the riddle. The last offshoot of classical economy, the school of Ricardo, came to grief mainly because of the insolubility of this contradiction. Classical political economy had wandered into a blind alley. The man who discovered how to get out of this blind alley was Karl Marx, and his first step towards the solution of the riddle was made in his lectures on Wage Labour and Capital.

This was an enormously important step on the way towards clarification. The man who had found trustworthy clues leading out of the chaos of philosophy, had formulated an intelligible social theory and expounded a new interpretation of history, was now continuing his labours as pioneer in the domain of political economy. In Wage Labour and Capital, just as in Poverty of Philosophy (the two books were written in the same year) Marx gave his first remarkable discoveries to the world.

Communist Manifesto

To the last period of Marx’s stay in Brussels belongs his relationship with the central committee of the Federation of the Just in London, a body which was already in touch with Engels.

In January, 1847, a member of this central committee, the watchmaker Moll, came to Brussels empowered to ask Marx and Engels to join the federation, which wanted, said Moll, to adopt their theoretical outlooks as its foundation. The federation was organizing a congress, at which those who held other views were either to be won over or to be cleared out. At this congress, too, the process of clarification was to be completed, and the distillate was to be formulated for propaganda purposes as a manifesto. Marx had no objection, for he had thought well of the Federation of the Just in his Paris days, and had seen no reason since to change his opinion.

The congress took place in London, in the summer of 1847. Marx, however, was unable to attend. In his place, Wilhelm Wolff went to London as representative of the Brussels comrades, and Engels travelled with him, as delegate from the Paris comrades. At the congress, new rules and regulations were drafted, and a new name was given to the organization, but no final decisions were reached, for no decisions could be valid until they had been submitted to the various local groups (communes) represented at the congress. A second congress was summoned for December of the same year.

At the end of November, Marx met Engels in Ostend and the two went together to London, primarily as commissioned by the Democratic League of Brussels to participate in the meeting which the Fraternal Democrats were to hold on November 29th in anniversary commemoration of the Polish revolution. At this meeting, Marx made a speech and handed in an address. Immediately after the meeting, in the same room (the headquarters of the Communist Workers’ Educational Society in Great Windmill Street), was opened the second congress of the Federation of the Just, now known as the Communist League. This congress lasted about ten days, and definitively repudiated the old doctrine of utopism. It disavowed conspiratorial tactics, inaugurated a new method of organization, and announced a new programme. Among the items of this programme were: the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the dominion of the proletariat, the abolition of a class society, and the introduction of an economic and social order without private property and without classes—all in accordance with Marx’s views. At the close, Marx and Engels were commissioned to draft a manifesto embodying the communist principles of the newly constructed revolutionary platform.

When he and Marx returned to Brussels, Engels set to work promptly, and wrote a draft in the form of a catechism, comprising five-and-twenty points, phrased in popular language, as basic constituents of the programme. Marx waited a while, and then decided upon a different method of presentation. Though he was guided to some extent by existing manifestos, which formed part of the stock in trade of every political group, every club, and every sect in those days, he compiled an imposing manifesto bearing the imprint of his outstanding genius, one thoroughly original in content and in its general train of thought. It was at one and the same time a historical demonstration, a critical analysis, a programme, and a prophecy. It was a masterpiece.

With a vividness and liveliness such as Marx had never achieved before and was never to achieve again, the manifesto describes the historical evolution of class society down to the rise of modern capitalism, down to the appearance of the bourgeoisie and the modern industrial proletariat. This was done at a time when capitalism was still struggling with all kinds of hindrances to its development; when the bourgeoisie was first beginning to establish itself as the ruling class; and when the proletariat, with faltering steps, was only just appearing on the political stage. Marx’s amazing talent for lifting himself above the narrow confines of his actual surroundings, and, as if from the zenith, looking down upon the course of evolution into a distant future, so that the law of the movement and its trend, the ensemble and the details, were equally plain to him—this marvellous faculty is here brilliantly displayed. He foresees all the struggles and defeats, all the stages and vacillations, all the dangers and victories, of this evolution. He watches the mechanism of the advance, numbers the steps of social ascent, feels the pulse of the bourgeoisie, hears the tread of the advancing proletariat, sees the victorious banner of the social revolution. Everything decades before the materialization of the facts, generations before their onset; everything, though seen almost as if in a vision, described with minute particularity and accurate conformability to the real. Eighty years have passed, now, since the Communist Manifesto was written, and it is as apposite, as true to life, as contemporary, as topical, as if it had been penned yesterday by a man intimately acquainted with our own day.

The Communist Manifesto sets out from the fact that we live in a class society which is a historical product. At the present time, bourgeoisie and proletariat confront one another as hostile classes. They condition one another’s existence, but their historical relation each to the other is a class struggle. From this Marx deduces the fundamental idea of the manifesto, that the liberation of the proletariat from poverty, enslavement, exploitation, and debasement, can be effected in no other way than by the overthrow of capitalism, the abolition of a class society and a class State, and the establishment of a communist order upon the foundation of communal ownership and a classless society. The significance and the aim of the proletarian revolution are to be found in the fulfilment of these tasks. That revolution will not be the outcome of an arbitrary resolve, for the bringing of it to pass is the historical mission of the working class.

It is essential to have the fundamental lines of this classical demonstration of scientific socialism in Marx’s own words.

“The history of all human society, past and present, has been the history of class struggles.”

“Modern bourgeois society, rising out of the ruins of feudal society, did not make an end of class antagonisms. It merely set up new classes in place of the old; new conditions of oppression; new embodiments of struggle.”

“Our own age, the bourgeois age, is distinguished by this—that it has simplified class antagonisms. More and more, society is splitting into two great hostile camps, into two great and directly contraposed classes: bourgeoisie and proletariat.”

“From the serfs of the Middle Ages, sprang the burgesses of the first towns; and from these burgesses, sprang the first elements of the bourgeoisie.

“The discovery of America and the circumnavigation of Africa opened up new fields to the rising bourgeoisie. The East Indian and the Chinese markets, the colonization of America, trade with the colonies, the multiplication of the means of exchange and of commodities in general, gave an unprecedented impetus to commerce, navigation, and manufacturing industry; thus fostering the growth of the revolutionary element in decaying feudal society.

“Hitherto industrial production had been carried on by the guilds that had grown up in feudal society; but this method could not cope with the increasing demand of the new markets.

“The expansion of the markets continued, for demand was perpetually increasing. Even manufacture was no longer able to cope with it. Then steam and machinery revolutionized industrial production. Manufacture was replaced by modern large-scale industry; the place of the industrial middle class was taken by the industrial millionaires, the chiefs of fully equipped industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.

“Large-scale industry established the world market, for which the discovery of America had paved the way. The result of the development of the world market was an immeasurable growth of commerce, navigation, and land communication. These changes reacted in their turn upon industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, and railways expanded, so did the bourgeoisie develop, increasing its capitalized resources, and forcing into the background all the classes that lingered on as relics from the Middle Ages.”

“Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance. ... The modern State authority is nothing more than a committee for the administration of the consolidated affairs of the bourgeois class as a whole.”

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without incessantly revolutionizing the instruments of production; and, consequently, the relations of production; and, therefore, the totality of social relations. ... That which characterizes the bourgeois epoch in contradistinction with all others is a continuous transformation of production, a perpetual disturbance of social conditions, everlasting insecurity and movement.

“Urged onward by the need for an ever-expanding market, the bourgeoisie invades every quarter of the globe. It occupies every corner; forms settlements and sets up means of communication here, there, and everywhere.”

“By rapidly improving the means of production and by enormously facilitating communication, the bourgeoisie drags all the nations, even the most barbarian, into the orbit of civilization. Cheap wares form the heavy artillery with which it batters down Chinese walls, and compels the most obstinate of barbarians to master their hatred of the foreigner. It forces all the nations, under pain of extinction, to adopt the capitalist method of production; it constrains them to accept what is called civilization, to become bourgeois themselves. In short, it creates a world after its own image.”

“More and ever more, the bourgeoisie puts an end to the fractionalization of the means of production, of property, and of population. It has agglomerated population, centralized the means of production, and concentrated ownership into the hands of the few. Political centralization has necessarily ensued. Independent or loosely federated provinces, with disparate interests, laws, governments, and customs tariffs, have been consolidated into a single nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class interest, one fiscal frontier.”

“But the time came, at a certain stage in the development of these means of production and communication, when the conditions under which the production and the exchange of goods were carried on in feudal society, when the feudal organization of agriculture and manufacture, when (in a word) feudal property relations, were no longer adequate for the productive forces as now developed. They hindered production instead of helping it. They had become fetters on production; they had to be broken; they were broken.

“Their place was taken by free competition, in conjunction with a social and political system appropriate to free competition—the economic and political dominance of the bourgeois class.”

“A similar movement is going on under our very eyes. Bourgeois conditions of production and communication; bourgeois property relations; modern bourgeois society, which has conjured up such mighty means of production and communication these are like a magician who is no longer able to control the spirits his spells have summoned from the nether world. For decades, the history of industry and commerce has been nothing but the history of the rebellion of the modern forces of production against the contemporary conditions of production, against the property relations which are essential to the life and the supremacy of the bourgeoisie. Enough to mention the commercial crises which, in their periodic recurrence, become more and more menacing to the existence of bourgeois society.”

“The weapons with which the bourgeoisie overthrew feudalism are now being turned against the bourgeoisie itself.”

“But the bourgeoisie has not only forged the weapons that will slay it; it has also engendered the men who will use these weapons—the modern workers, the proletarians.

“In proportion as the bourgeoisie, that is to say capital, has developed, in the same proportion has the proletariat developed the modern working class. ... These workers, who are forced to sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity like any other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition and to all the fluctuations of the market.”

“Those who have hitherto belonged to the lower middle class—small manufacturers, small traders, minor recipients of unearned income, handicraftsmen, and peasants—slip down, one and all, into the proletariat. They suffer this fate, partly because their petty capital is insufficient for the needs of large-scale industry and perishes in competition with the superior means of the great capitalists; and partly because their specialized skill is rendered valueless owing to the invention of new methods of production. Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population.”

“The proletariat passes through various stages of evolution, but its struggle against the bourgeoisie dates from its birth.

“To begin with, the workers fight individually; then the workers in a single factory make common cause; then the workers at one trade combine throughout a whole locality against the particular bourgeois who exploits them. Their attacks are levelled, not only against bourgeois conditions of production, but also against the actual instruments of production; they destroy the imported wares which compete with the products of their own labour, they break up machinery, they set factories ablaze, they strive to regain the lost position of the mediaeval worker.

“At this stage the workers form a disunited mass, scattered throughout the country, and severed into fragments by mutual competition. Such aggregation as occurs among them is not, so far, the outcome of their own inclination to unite, but is a consequence of the union of the bourgeoisie, which, for its own political purposes, must set the whole proletariat in motion, and can still do so at times. At this stage, therefore, the proletarians do not fight their own enemies, but attack the enemies of their enemies, the remnants of the absolute monarchy, the landowners, the nonindustrial bourgeois, and the petty bourgeois. The whole historical movement is thus concentrated into the hands of the bourgeoisie; and every victory so gained is a bourgeois victory.

“As industry develops, the proletariat does not merely increase in numbers: it is compacted into larger masses; its strength grows; it is more aware of that strength. Within the proletariat, interests and conditions of life become ever more equalized; for machinery obliterates more and more the distinctions between the various crafts, and forces wages down almost everywhere to the same low level. As a result of increasing competition among the bourgeois themselves and of the consequent commercial crises, the workers’ wages fluctuate more and more. The steadily accelerating improvement in machinery makes their livelihood increasingly precarious; more and more the collisions between individual workers and individual bourgeois tend to assume the character of collisions between the respective classes. Thereupon the workers begin to form coalitions against the bourgeois, closing their ranks in order to maintain the rate of wages. They found durable associations which will be able to give them support whenever the struggle grows acute. Here and there this struggle takes the form of riots.

“From time to time the workers are victorious, though their victory is fleeting. The real fruit of their battles is not the immediate success, but their own continually increasing unification. Unity is furthered by the improvement in the means of communication which is effected by large-scale industry and brings the workers of different localities into closer contact. Nothing more is needed to centralize the manifold local contests, which are all of the same type, into a national contest, a class struggle. Every class struggle is a political struggle.”

“This organization of the proletarians to form a class and therewith to form a political party is perpetually being disintegrated by competition among the workers themselves. Yet it is incessantly reformed, becoming stronger, firmer, mightier. Profiting by dissensions among the bourgeoisie, it compels legislative recognition of some of the specifically working-class interests.”

“Finally, when the class war is about to be fought to a finish, disintegration of the ruling class and the old order of society becomes so active, so acute, that a small part of the ruling class breaks away to make common cause with the revolutionary class. ... Just as in former days part of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now part of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat. Especially does this happen in the case of some of the bourgeois ideologists, who have achieved a theoretical understanding of the historical movement as a whole.”

“For the proletariat, nothing is left of the social conditions that prevailed in the old society. The proletarian has no property; his relationship to wife and children is utterly different from the family relationships of bourgeois life; modern industrial labour, the modern enslavement by capital ... have despoiled him of his national characteristics. Law, morality, and religion have become for him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which bourgeois interests lurk in ambush.

“All classes that have hitherto won to power, have tried to safeguard their newly acquired position by subjecting society-at-large to the conditions by which they themselves gained their possessions. But the only way in which proletarians can get control of the productive forces of society is by making an end of their own previous method of acquisition, and there with of all the extant methods of acquisition. Proletarians have nothing of their own to safeguard; it is their business to destroy all pre-existent private proprietary securities and private proprietary safeguards.

“All earlier movements have been movements of minorities or movements in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is an independent movement of the overwhelming majority in the interest of that majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of extant society, cannot raise itself, cannot stand erect upon its feet, without disrupting the whole superstructure comprising the strata which make up that society.”

“The communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against extant social and political conditions.

“In all these movements, the communists bring the property question to the fore, regarding it as fundamental, no matter what phase of development it may happen to be in.

“Communists scorn to hide their views and aims. They openly declare that their purposes can only be achieved by the forcible overthrow of the whole extant social order. Let the ruling classes tremble at the prospect of a communist revolution. Proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

“Proletarians of all lands, unite!”

In these terse and mighty paragraphs from the first, second, and fourth sections, the revolutionary soul of the Communist Manifesto is speaking to us.

If we ignore the third section, which, in its criticism of non-Marxian theories and movements, could naturally apply only to these down to the year 1847, the Communist Manifesto contains everything the proletariat needs in the matter of elementary information, of serious scientific preparation for the practical demands of the class struggle.

The concrete course of evolution—the development of the capitalist method of production, of the bourgeoisie, of the proletariat, of the modern class struggle, and of the socialist movement—has fully confirmed the accuracy of this abstract and anticipatory sketch of all the phases of that evolution.

Eighty years of active life have shown that the Communist Manifesto is no mere paper charter embodying a theoretical erudition out of touch with the world, but that it gives expression to the inexorable law of evolution, and that in it the very heart of history is pulsating.