by Malik Sekou OSEI
Karl Heinrich Marx
(b. May 5th, 1818 - d. March 14th, 1883)
There have been a lot of opinions and views on Karl Marx and his work, most of it has been more than opinionated based on an anti-human idealism of sentiment. While Marx was a product of European history and thus he couldn't answer every question of human existence. But he did leave a method that could be used and applied with the intellectual talent and imagination of its participants as activists. A lot of students and activist will begin to read the biography of Karl Marx hoping to get an intellectual grip on what is called Marxism and the evolution of 19th century communism.
This may be a good attempt of understand Marx’s life experiences in relation to the conclusion that he draw of history and communism being the historic scientific proper conclusions of human alienation and exploitation and oppression.
The contributions of Marx and Engels were to make clear the motion of history through a science of dialectics base in and on the material existence of the world. But understanding history and its motion enable the human quest to be liberated from the heavy boulders of history and the privilege of class through exploitation.
Marx with Engels was to lay out a science of history and society without the superstition of religious faith as a world view.
This view is normally called Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism. While these views of the society are important and must be struggle to be understood in the lived experience of the people to make it dynamic as all people engage in the struggle for a better life and this and these struggle find expression in the struggle against oppression and exploitation and in the struggle against national oppression and racism. Not everyone will have the social or intellectual clarity of training or experience but everyone engage this struggle objectively without clarity subjectively.
It must be understood that the struggle for clarity is by its nature a political struggle of ideas and the conclusions of those ideas and in whose interests.
For the use of science and truth is always on the side of the people, because the vast humanity never needs the lies of Obscurantism and objectification to gain the developing flower of the humanity of gaining a fruitful life, thus this is a very short biography of Karl Marx and the conditions that brought him to a number of conclusion about the world.
As we seek to understand the world to change it out of necessity of freedom and human actualization, the quest for clarity becomes a weapon of engagement. For the privilege of the oppressor cannot give any rationalization for their existence that is not based on lies of obscurement, for the weapon of the oppressed and the exploited is the weapon of clarity before the weapon of organization.
This brings up the name of Karl Marx the architect of the attempt at the science of history that has engage some of the best minds of humanity in the quest for the quest for power in the vehicle of revolution for the actualization of human being from alienation and exploitation, where the resources of humanity are put in service of humanity.
This intellectual hurricane was based on the material conditions of the majority class in Europe in the middle of the 19th century and as society grows in its complexity the application of this hurricane must grows in its own application to remain its relevancy.
The methods of dialectical materialism came into the work of a once law student and then philosophy student inspired by the 19th century philosopher Fredrick Hegel was the young man called Karl Heinrich Marx. The work of this young man as social scientist, historian and revolutionary was ignored and disregarded during his life time. But however, the body of social and political ideas that he elaborated gained increasingly rapid acceptance in the European revolutionary movements after his death in 1883. Until recently, almost half the world’s population lives under some government that called itself Marxist. The success, of this has meant that the original ideas Marx have been the attempt to apply their meaning to a great variety of political circumstances. In additions, the delayed publication of many of his writing meant that only relatively has the opportunity arisen for a just comprehension of Marx’s intellectual importance.
Karl Marx was born into a secure middle class family in Trier on the river Moselle in Germany. He came from a long line of rabbis on both sides of his family and his father, although intellectually a typical Enlightenment rationalist who knew Voltaire and Lessing by heart, had only agreed to baptism as a Protestant on nuisance and distress of losing his job as one of the most respected lawyers in Trier. At the age of seventeen, Marx enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Bonn and Marx was receptive to the romanticism there that dominated the social and intellectual environment, particularly as he just became engage to Jenny Von Westphalen; she was the daughter of Baron von Westphalen, a foremost member of Trier society who had already interested Marx in romantic literature and Saint-Simonian politics. The following year Marx’s father sent him to a larger and more serious minded University of Berlin, where he remind for the next four years, during the course of which he abandoned romanticism for the intellectualism and rigor of Hegelianism which ruled in Berlin at that time.
At that time Marx was to become deeply involved in the Young Hegelian movement. This group, which contained such figures as Bruno Bauer and David Strauss, which both were producing a radical critique of Christianity and by implication, a liberal opposition to the Prussian autocracy. Finding a university career closed to him by the Prussian government, Marx moved into journalism and in October 1842, became editor in Cologne of the influential Rheinische Zeitung, a liberal newspaper backed by Rhenish industrialist. Marx’s incisive articles, particularly on economic questions induced the government to close the paper and he decided to immigrate to France.
By the time Marx got to Paris at the end of 1843 he briskly made communicated with organized groups of emigre German workers and with organized various sects of French socialists. Marx also began to edit the short-lived Deutsch-franzosische Jahrbucher which was intended to form a bridge between nascent French Socialism and the ideas of the German radical Hegelians. During the first few months of his stay in Paris Marx rapidly became a convinced communist and set down views in a series of writing known as The Economic and Philosophical Manuscriptswhich remained unpublished 1930. Here Marx was to outline a humanist conception of communism, influenced by the philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach and based on a contrast between the alienated nature of labor under capitalism and communist society in which human being freely developed their natures in cooperative production. It was also in Paris that Marx first formed his lifelong friendship and intellectual partnership with Fredrick Engels.
At this point was to become expelled from France at the end of 1844 and moved with Engels to Brussels where he stayed for the next three years, visiting England, then the most advance industrial country, where Engels’s family had cotton-spinning interests in Manchester. While in Brussels Marx devoted himself to an intensive study of history and elaborated what became known as the materialist conception of history. This he set out in a manuscript (also published only post-humously as German Ideology) of which the basic thesis was that “the nature of individuals depends on the material conditions determining their production.” Marx traced the history of the various modes of productive and predicted the collapse of the present one—capitalism—and its replacement by communism. At the same time as this theoretical work Marx became involved in political activity, polemicizing (in the book called The Poverty of Philosophy) against what he considered to be the unduly idealistic socialism of Proudhon and joining the Communist League. This was an organization of German emigre workers with its center in London of which Marx and Engels became major theoreticians. At a conference of the League in London at the end of 1847 Marx and Engels were commissioned to write the Communist Manifesto which was to be the concise and to the point expression of their views. Just when the Manifesto was published in 1848 that a wave of revolutions broke out in Europe.
Early in 1848 moved back to Paris where the revolution first broke out and then on to Germany where he founded, and again in Cologne, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. The paper, which had wide influence, supported a radical democratic line against the Prussian autocracy and Marx devoted his main energies to its editorship since the Communist League had been practically disbanded. With the ebbing of the revolutionary tides, however, Marx’s paper was suppressed and he sought refuge in London in May 1849 to begin the “long, sleepless night in exile” that was to last for the rest of his life.
On the settling in London Marx, optimistic about the imminence of a fresh revolutionary outbreak in Europe, rejoined the rejuvenated Communist League and at this time Marx wrote two lengthy pamphlets on the 1848 revolution in France and its aftermath entitled The Class Struggle in France and The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. But he was soon became convinced that “a new revolution is possible only in consequence of a new crisis” and this understanding force Marx to devote himself to the study of political economy in order to determine the causes and conditions of this crisis.
During the first half of the 1850s the Marx family lived in three-room flat in the Soho section of London and he and his family were to experienced profound and profane poverty. On arriving in London there were four children already and soon after two more were born. Of these only three survived the Soho period. Marx’s major source of income at this time and later was Engels who was drawing a steadily increasing income from his father’s cotton business in Manchester. This was supplemented by weekly articles written as foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. Inheritances during the late 1850s and early 1860s eased Marx’s financials position somewhat, but it was not until 1869 that Marx had a sufficient and assured income settle on him by Engels.
However, it was not surprising that Marx major work on political economy was to make very slow progress, by 1857/58 had produced an enormous and huge 800-page manuscript which was intended to deal, with capital, land property, wage-labor, the State, foreign trade and the world market. This manuscript was known as Grundrisse was not published until 1944. By the early 1860s Marx broke off from his work to compose three large volumes, give the title of Theories of Surplus Value, which discussed his predecessors in political economy, in particular Adam Smith and David Ricardo. It was not until 1867 that Karl Marx could actually publish the first results of his work in volume I of Capital; this was devoted to a study of the capitalist process of production. Here he elaborated his version account of the labor theory of value and his conception of surplus value and exploitation which would ultimately lead to a falling rate of profit and the collapse of capitalism. Volumes II and III were largely finished during the 1860s but Marx worked on the manuscript for the rest of his life and they were published posthumously by Engel.
One of the reasons why Marx was so hindered in his work on Capital was that he devoted a lot of time and vigor to the First International to whose General Council he was elected in 1864. Marx was particularly active in preparing for the annual Congresses of the International and in leading the struggle against the anarchist wing led by Mikhail Bakunin. Although Marx would win this contest, the transfer of the seat of the General Council from London to New York in 1872, which Marx supported, led to the swift decline of the international. At this time the most important political event during the existence of the International was the Paris Commune of 1871 when the citizen of Paris in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, rebelled against their government had held the city for two months. On the gory and bloodstained suppression of the rebellion, Marx was to write one of the most famous pamphlets—The Civil War in France—which was an enthusiastic defense of the activities and aims of the Commune.
For during the last decade of his life Marx’s health was to decline vastly and he was incapable of the continued and constant effort of creative synthesis that he has so obviously characterized his previous work. Nonetheless Marx did manage to comment substantially on contemporary politics, particularly on Germany and Russia. In Germany, Marx opposed in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, the tendency of his followers Karl Liebknecht and August Bedel was to compromise with the state socialism Ferdinand Lassalle in the interests of uniting the German Socialist Party. In Russia, in correspondence with Vera Zasulich he contemplated the possibility of Russia’s bypassing the capitalist stage of development and building communism on the basis of the common ownership of land characteristic of the village mir. Marx was however increasingly plagued by ill health and he regularly traveled to European spas and even to Algeria in search of recuperation. Karl Marx was under a very dark period after the death of his eldest daughter and his wife had darkened the last years of his life.
What has to be realized that Marx’s contribution to thinking peoples understanding of society has been immense. His thought is not the comprehensive system evolved by some of his followers under the name of Marxism and Dialectical materialism. The very dialectical nature of his approach meant that it was usually tentative and open-ended. Moreover, there is often a tension of Karl Marx the political activists and Karl Marx the materialist philosopher of the dialectic and the intense researcher of the political economy. While a number of activist and thinkers has done Marx a profound disservice by cutting the rigor of his work to axiomatic slogan of militancy at protest marches. For this becomes the sterile dance of posture that goes no way in understanding of social and intellectual development, thus it all become a theater of no talent actors with nothing to say.
For Marx was to lay bare and stress the economic factor in society and his analysis of classes has had a vast and profound and vast influence on understanding of history and sociology as actual social tools of gathering clarity.
While Karl Marx was a product of the 19th century Europe and he understood the motivating crisis of the European state and he passed before the advent of the crisis emerging imperialism and the countenance of counter-revolution would take the stature of race and fascism. Where through the surplus value of imperialism would have the role of workers take the political role of conservatives protectors of the status quo.
While, it must be noted through the dialectic of history that Karl Marx was given support by his friend and radical intellectual partner Fredrick Engels' father cotton mill, whose was engage in the colonial/racial enterprise of cotton trade. Thus colonial capital was to help create its worst enemy. For which Marx never took the intellectual time to give systemic expression to. Marx became the victim of the forced and imposed minuteness and provincialism of his time and life. For Marx’s give the world an anti-capitalist science, but he never lived long enough to give the world an anti-imperialist science.
This must be done by his activist who follow and study his ideals and methods and begin to apply them to the contradictions of the 21th century, with the same rigor and intense commitment to revolution and regaining ones humanity in the alienating world of capitalist culture and art and the deadening of all of our human social senses.
For history is on our side, but not time.