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Labor Action, 24 March 1947


Frederick Engels on the Death of Karl Marx

His Name Will Live Through the Ages

(17 March 1883)


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 12, 24 March 1947, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


On March 14, 1883, 64 years ago, Karl Marx – the great founder of the socialist movement – died in London. On this anniversary of his death Labor Action is reprinting the famous speech made by his lifelong friend and, associate, Frederick Engels, on March 17, 1883, at the grave of Marx in Highgate Cemetery. In the words of Lenin, “Ancient legends give us various touching examples of friendship. The European working class may say that its science was created by two thinkers and warriors whose relations surpass all the most touching tales of the ancients concerning human friendship ... The love Engels felt for Marx when the latter was alive and his reverence for Marx’s memory after the latter’s death were infinite. The stern fighter and strict thinker possessed a deeply loving soul.”


On the fourteenth of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left along for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in an armchair, peacefully gone to sleep – but forever.

An immeasurable loss has been sustained both by the militant proletariat of Europe and America, and by historical science, in the death of this man. The gap that has been left by the death of this mighty spirit will soon make itself felt.

Just as Darwin discovered the law of evolution in organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of evolution in human history; he discovered the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat and drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, religion, art, etc.; and that therefore the production of the immediate material means of life and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the forms of government, the legal conceptions, the art and even the religious ideas of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which these things must therefore be explained, instead of vice versa as had hitherto been the case.

But that is riot all. Marx also discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist method of production and the bourgeois society that this method of production has created. The discovery of surplus value suddenly threw light on the problem in trying to solve which all. previous investigators, both bourgeois economists and socialist critics, had been groping in the dark.

Two such discoveries would be enough for one life-time. Happy the man to whom it is gritted to make even one such discovery. But in every single field in which Marx investigated – and he investigated very many fields, none of them superficially – in every field, even in that of mathematics, he made independent discoveries.

This was the man of science. But this was not even half the man. Science was for Marx a historically dynamic, revolutionary force. However great the joy with which he welcomed a new discovery in some theoretical science whose practical application perhaps it was as yet quite impossible to envisage, he experienced a quite other kind of joy when the discovery involved immediate revolutionary changes in industry and in the general course of history. For example, he followed closely the discoveries made in the field of electricity and recently those of Marcel Deprez.

For Marx was before all else a revolutionary.

His real mission in life was to contribute in one way or another to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the forms of government which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the present-day proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, of the conditions under which it could win its freedom. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival. His work on the first Rheinische Zeitung (1842), the Paris Vorwärts (1844), the Brussels Deutsche Zeitung (1847), the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (1848–49), the New York Tribune (1852–61), and in addition to these a host of militant pamphlets, work in revolutionary clubs in Paris, Brussels and London, and finally, crowning all, the formation of the International Workingmen’s Association – this was indeed an achievement of which Marx might well have been proud, even if he had done nothing else.

And consequently Marx was the best hated and most calumniated man of his times. Governments, both absolutist and republican, deported him from their territories. The bourgeoisie, whether conservative or extreme democrat, vied with one another in heaping slanders upon him. All this he brushed aside as though it were cobweb, ignoring them, answering only when necessity compelled him. And now he has died – beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow-workers – from the mines of Siberia to California, in all parts of Europe and America – and I make bold to say that though he may have many opponents he has hardly one personal enemy.

His name and his work will endure through the ages!

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