Karl Marx: A Revolutionary Above All RM Online (2023)

Karl Marx: A Revolutionary Above All RM Online (1)Paris, February 1848. (Photo: wikimedia commons)

Friedrich Engels said the prayer on March 17, 1883 at the grave of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery. Reflecting on the life of his great friend, he told the small group of mourners that "Marx was first and foremost a revolutionary".1This phrase is often quoted, but it is worth considering what Engels meant.

Undoubtedly Marx took part in the revolution. In the great wave of revolutions that swept across Europe in 1848, Marx and Engels joined the insurgents. Expelled from Brussels as a dangerous radical, Marx traveled through revolutionary France to Prussia, where, as a journalist and newspaper editor, he became an influential participant in debates on how the revolution could be more successful in fighting for democratic reforms against the autocratic Prussian state.

When the revolution was defeated, Marx's newspaper was closed and he was put on trial for his writings. He later helped defend other revolutionaries persecuted by the Prussian state. Engels, who also worked as a journalist for Marx's newspaper, would take part in the revolutionary armed struggle.

When the revolutions that flourished in 1848 were crushed by counter-revolutionary violence, Marx, like so many other revolutionaries, was forced into exile. For the rest of his life, Marx lived in London - at the heart of the world's most advanced capitalist country and at the center of the British Empire - and suffered from a political climate of reactionary rule. His big book, written in those years of exile, was not called "Revolution" but "O Capital". So what kind of “revolutionary” was Karl Marx?

A revolutionary history of mankind

"The history of all previous societies is the history of class struggles."2So began the first chapter ofManifesto of the Communist Party, co-authored by Marx and Engels just weeks before the outbreak of the 1848 revolutions. This was a revolutionary approach to human history—and remains so today.

Consider how we are encouraged to categorize "our" history: the Georgians, the Tudors, the Victorians, etc. . . which tells us nothing exactly except to name a few very privileged people at the time when they were the most privileged people in the country - hardly a common human experience. How can ordinary peopleNObe written from such a historical narrative? Furthermore, it implies that change occurs only at the top of society, while asserting that nothing essential really changes - "The king is dead, long live the king". [For everything else in history that cannot be reduced to the name of a British monarch, the non-British place is generally considered sufficient to summarize entire civilizations: "the Egyptians".]

Marx's approach to history is entirely different; instead of natural personsManifestdescribes the social structures of different societies and chronicles stories of "free and slave, patrician and commoner, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed".3Marx asked about our history: What do we produce and under what conditions - slavery, serfdom or wage labor? He then examines what tensions resulted from these social relationships and what changes resulted from these conflicts.

EmInside the Sagrada Familia, published in 1845, Marx explained very clearly that history is nothing other than human actions: "Storyhe doesanything, "it hasNOimmense wealth", he "salaryNOFight". That's itMann, real, living man who does all this, who owns and fights; “History” is not, so to speak, a separate person using man as a means of attainmentyour ownGoal; history isNothing butthe activity of man pursuing his goals.'4(After the defeat of the revolutions of 1848, he added that while men write their own history, they do not do so under circumstances of their choosing.5)

Historical accounts that obscure the role of people in historical change are not neutral or objective as they often claim, but effectively disempower those with an interest in changing the present. Marx's approach, on the other hand, insists on a history of change that was all created by people. His approach to economics is equally powerful. He beganCapital citynoting that "the wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as 'a vast accumulation of commodities'".6He then shows that although wealth "appears" to come from commodities, it is in fact the product of commodities.humanwork. Man produces his own world and can therefore modify it.

revolutionary capitalism

Although Marx argued that human history was marked by revolutionary changes, he claimed that the growing dominance of the bourgeois or capitalist class ushered in a particularly revolutionary historical phase. True to form, Marx asked what was produced and under what circumstances. He noted that the circumstances were changed by the rise of the bourgeoisie, the complex social relations of the old feudal order being subjected to revolutionary attacks:

It [the bourgeoisie] ruthlessly tore the heterogeneous feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors," leaving no other link between man and man than pure self-interest, callous "payment in money."7

Marx also noted that since capitalism's productive capacity was historically unprecedented, the response to what was produced was equally fraught with revolutionary implications:

The bourgeoisie, during its reign of barely a hundred years, has created more massive and colossal productive forces than all previous generations put together. Subjugation of the forces of nature among men, machines, application of chemistry in industry and agriculture, steamships, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of entire continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, entire populations raised from the ground.8

Although capitalism enabled the production of immense wealth, those who produced all of society's wealth, those who operated the machines and built the railroads and canals had no control over what they produced and little or no opportunity to enjoy it what they had produced.

In manuscripts written in the early 1840s, Marx observed that the class needed for the emergence of a sophisticated capitalist civilization were often denied even the basic necessities of human existence as the polluted, overcrowded and filthy slums gave a devastating testimony to the city of the 19th century. :

Even the need for fresh air is no longer a need for the worker. [. . .] A sojourn in the light, which Prometheus described in Aeschylus as one of the greatest gifts, thereby transforming the savage into a man, ceases to exist for the worker. Light, air, etc. - the simplest animal cleanliness - ceases to be a human need.9

In fact, capitalism was ainhumanSystem.

Revolution of the working class

Having determined what was being produced and under what circumstances, Marx examined the tensions that arose from this state of affairs. Marx's conclusions were drawn from the actions of the workers themselves; In Britain, the nation with the most developed form of capitalism, workers had the most developed form of collective organization. Realizing that they could only develop their strength together, workers formed unions to demand wage increases, shorter hours and better working conditions in the face of intense state repression.

In 1842 the Chartist movement of the working class in Britain triggered the first general strike in the struggle for democracy. Marx recognized that as the capitalist class rallied workers in ever increasing numbers in an insatiable desire to make more profit, workers themselves learned that they could organize themselves collectively to resist exploitation. Furthermore, workers under capitalism were placed in a special position because they had no private interest within the existing system: they did not have large wealth reserves or private property; they had no industries in which to exploit another social group.

Without an interest in the survival of capitalism, workers' interests were tied to its revolutionary overthrow, and without a privileged status to uphold, a successful workers' revolution would achieve a general emancipation for all that would be inconsistent with only partial emancipation. a social segment. The bourgeois capitalist class, totally dependent on the workers as a source of its profits, has also created “its own gravediggers” within this working class.10

Marx's analysis of the systemic challenge posed by the workers' revolution was clearly revealed by the course of the revolutions of 1848, particularly in France. After the February Revolution of 1848, which deposed the king and established the republic, the workers of France demanded that their class share in the gains of the new society. They forced the government to grudgingly accept the principle of the “right to work”: that unemployment and hardship should not be treated like natural disasters that commonly strike workers, but that safeguarding workers' lives is a social responsibility.

Thus, in the early months of the republic, the government created national workshops to employ the unemployed. They were not utopian ventures, they were militarily organized and the work, often useless and lengthy, poorly planned. However, when in June 1848 the government unveiled its plan to close down the national workshops and even renounce this limited concession, it provoked a working-class revolt in Paris.

Marx was one of the few prominent radical figures to support the June insurgents, support he gave unconditionally and sincerely from the moment he learned of the uprising.11The revolt was brutally crushed, the French military not only bombing the barricades but also the homes of the working class, killing thousands and arresting and deporting thousands more.

The language of Marx writing in the bloody aftermath seems quite surprising: the revolt he so passionately supported he described as "the ugly revolution, the bad revolution", in contrast to the February revolution which was "the beautiful revolution". .12However, Marx goes on to show that the June uprising was “ugly” because it challenged more than one section of the old society (e.g. Society.

No journal by Marx, oNeue Rheinische Zeitung, Engels variously compared the suppression of the June uprising to the "Roman Slave War", the workers' uprising of 1834 in Lyon and French colonialism in Algeria (in the latter case many of the same commanders were involved in the suppression of the Algerian resistance and in the Paris workers of June 1848).13Marx, on the other hand, compared the suppression of the June insurgents with the crushing of Warsaw by the Russian Empire in 1831.14

All of these examples underscored how much Marx and Engels viewed the workers' revolution as incompatible with the structures of contemporary society: just as a revolt against slavery or empire represented an existential threat to the existing social order. In fact, as Marx emphasized, the June uprising was crushed under the slogan "order" precisely because it was the social order characterized by exploitative economic relations that the June uprising dared to challenge.15

The government obviously appreciated this point: in 1850 one could have shouted: "Long live the republic!", yelling"Long live the Democratic and Social Republic!’ (‘Long live the democratic and social republic!’) was punishable.16After the June uprising, the bourgeoisie showed that it was more afraid of workers' revolution than it was of democracy, and under the mantra of maintaining “order” abandoned its own revolution.


In the shadow of the defeat of the 1848 revolution, Marx began his most intense study of capitalist society in the most capitalist of nations. It was an attempt to interpret the world in order to change it, and he devoted the rest of his life to rebuilding and expanding working-class organization beyond national borders, most spectacularly from 1864 in his leading role in the International Organization Workers ' Association. He made his vocal support and analytical skills available to every major emancipatory struggle: from the American Civil War to revolts against British imperialism and the Paris Commune.

Marx was not a revolutionary because he told people what a future revolution would or should look like. Marx was a revolutionary because his analysis of contemporary capitalism, in all its ugliness, revolutionized the ideology of capitalism in which workers count for nothing. Demonstrating that wealth in capitalist society is not created by the rich but by the working class, he argued that if these same workers organized together, they could revolutionize society so that we could live in conditions of our own choosing.

Kate Connellyis a writer and historian. She led student strikes in the UK anti-war movement in 2003, coordinated the 2013 Emily Wilding Davison Memorial Campaign and is a senior member of Counterfire. She wrote the acclaimed biography "Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of the Empire'and recently edited and introduced'A Suffragette in America: Reflections on Prisoners, Pickets, and Political Change'.


  1. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1883/death/burial.htm
  2. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm#007
  3. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm#007
  4. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/holy-family/ch06_2.htm
  5. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm
  6. Karl Marx,Capital: A critique of political economy, Bd. 1 (London: Penguin Books, 1990), S. 125
  7. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm#007
  8. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm#007
  9. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/needs.htm
  10. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm#007
  11. See Marx's first answer:https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/06/27.htm
  12. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/06/29a.htm
  13. See Fredrich Engels' Die 23thirdin June',Karl Marx Fredrich Engels Collected Works, Volume 7, S. 130; English, '24. June',Karl Marx Fredrich Engels Collected Works, Band 7, S. 134.
  14. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/06/29a.htm
  15. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/06/29a.htm
  16. Veja, por exemplo, John M. Merriman, 'Radicalisation and Repression: A Study of the Demobilization of the 'Democ-Socs' during the Second French Republic', mit Roger Price (Hrsg.),Revolution and Reaction: 1848 and the Second French Republic(Londres: Croom Helm, 1975), S. 219-20

Monthly reviewdoes not necessarily adhere to all opinions expressed in articles newly published on MR Online. Our goal is to share a variety of leftist perspectives that we think our readers will find interesting or helpful.– ed.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Terrell Hackett

Last Updated: 01/31/2023

Views: 6378

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (52 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Terrell Hackett

Birthday: 1992-03-17

Address: Suite 453 459 Gibson Squares, East Adriane, AK 71925-5692

Phone: +21811810803470

Job: Chief Representative

Hobby: Board games, Rock climbing, Ghost hunting, Origami, Kabaddi, Mushroom hunting, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Terrell Hackett, I am a gleaming, brainy, courageous, helpful, healthy, cooperative, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.