Karl Marx: a revolutionary militant

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In The State and Revolution, Lenin wrote: “During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the ‘consolation’ of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping the latter, while at the same time robbing the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunting its revolutionary edge and vulgarizing it.”

During the life of Marx, the bourgeoisie did everything to prevent him from operating by demonising him and persecuting him through the apparatus of the police.[1] After his death they did everything to distort his fight to destroy capitalism and open up the future to communism.

An infamous propaganda

All of the publications, radio and television programmes produced on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Marx stuck by these rules. A number of academics salute the work of Marx on the economy, philosophy or sociology, while presenting him as "out of touch with reality", totally overtaken or completely mistaken on the political terrain: it's nothing less than blunting the edge of this trenchant and militant revolutionary! One of the arguments put forward today is that Marx was only a "nineteenth century thinker"[2] , his work incomprehensible for the future evolution of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Following this reasoning, a revolutionary perspective has no validity today. The working class doesn't exist and, moreover, its political project can only lead to a Stalinist horror. Every political aspect of the works of Marx is finally thrown into the dustbin of history.

But a more subtle aspect of this propaganda affirms that it's necessary to draw from Marx, the "real" Marx, elements which in the final analysis could validate the defence of democracy and liberalism and the critique of alienation. Fundamentally, this is a question of presenting Marx not as the revolutionary that he was, but as a sort of great thinker of whom certain aspects of his work allow us to understand and ameliorate an "unregulated" capitalism which, without the control of the state, engenders inequalities and economic crises. Within the bourgeoisie, there are many who like to paint Marx as an "economic genius" who foresaw the crisis of capitalism, predicted globalisation, the growth of inequality, etc.

Numerous among the flatterers of Marx are his so-called heirs for more than a century, from the Stalinists to the leftists, including the Trotskyists who have never ceased, in the same sense, to disfigure, distort and tarnish the revolutionary Marx by transforming him, as Lenin justly denounced above, into a semi-religious icon, canonising him and putting him up on a pedestal.  All this in order to untruthfully present socialism or communism as the domination of state capitalism along the models built up in the USSR, the countries of the eastern bloc and China –forms assumed by capitalism in its epoch of decadence and as a product of the counter-revolution.

Marx was a fighter first of all

Straightaway, it's necessary to say, along with Engels, that Marx was first of all a revolutionary; a fighter, in other words. His theoretical work is incomprehensible without this point of departure. Some want to turn Marx into a pure savant, surrounded by books and cut off from the world, but only a revolutionary militant can be a marxist. From his participation in the group of Young Hegelians in Berlin, 1842, the life of Marx was a combat against Prussian absolutism. This turned into a fight for communism when he tried to understand the misery of a considerable part of society and when he saw the potentialities of the working class in his discussions with the workers of Paris. It's this fight which made him an exile chased from one country to the other, pushing him into an extreme poverty which led to the death of his son. In this regard it's really obscene to attribute this poverty to Marx himself, hinting that neither he nor his wife could manage a household budget because of their well-to-do origins, which is what the French TV "culture" programme Arte did recently. In reality, Marx was totally impregnated with proletarian solidarity and regularly used his small income for the cause of the revolution!

Moreover, and contrary to what Jonathon Spencer says, Marx wasn't a "journalist", but a militant who knew that the struggle, first of all against the authoritarian Prussian monarchy then against the bourgeoisie, demanded a work of propaganda that he took on in Rheinische Zeitung, then in Deutsche Brusseler Zeitung and Les Annales franco-allemande and finally in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. As a fighter Marx was fully involved in the combat of the Communist League and responded to a mandate from it to write a major text of the workers' movement: the Manifesto of the Communist Party. It is also because he was a fighter (as indicated in the title of his biography written by Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen, Marx, Man and Fighter) that the regroupment and organisation of revolutionaries was at the heart of his activities. In the same way, the whole of his theoretical work was a driving force for the struggle for clarity going on within the working class.

The theoretical work of Marx

Marx developed an immense theoretical elaboration since he started off from a working class point of view, a class which had nothing to defend within capitalism and had "nothing to lose but its chains" through its struggle against exploitation. It was in going on from this postulate that he understood that this combat potentially contained the end of the exploitation of man by man, a condition in which humanity had floundered since the appearance of social classes, and that the liberation of the working class would bring about the reunification of humanity through communism. When Jaques Attali affirms that Marx is a "founding father of modern democracy", it is just a lie in the service of the bourgeoisie, a lie which claims that the present society is the best there is. The aim of this propaganda is to prevent the working class from understanding that the sole perspective possible for emerging from the horror of a dying capitalism is communism.

It is also by proceeding from the needs of the working class that Marx established a scientific method, historical materialism, allowing the working class to direct its combat. This method criticises and goes beyond the philosophy of Hegel while "turning on its head" what the latter had discovered, which was that the transformation of reality was always a dialectical process. This method allowed Marx to draw the lessons from the great workers' struggles, such as 1848 and the Paris Commune. The transmission of this same method to subsequent generations of revolutionaries, like those of the communist left, also made it possible for the lessons to be drawn from the failure of the revolutionary wave of 1917. Marx's approach is effective: it's by examining reality with his method and confronting it with the results obtained that revolutionaries are able to enrich the theory.

Starting off from the point of view of the working class also facilitates the essential understanding of what the working class was up against and what it had to destroy in order to free itself from its chains. Marx was thus engaged in a study of the economic fundamentals of society in order to make a critique of it. This study allowed him to show that the basis of capitalism was commodity exchange and that it's this exchange which is at the basis of wage labour, that's to say the form taken by the exploitation of man by man in capitalism. It is interesting to compare this fundamental result with what Liberation says in its celebration of the anniversary of his birth: "Karl Marx shows that the purchase of labor power by the capitalist raises a problem of uncertainty as to the reality of the effort made by the wage earners"; in other words, if one could measure the labour of the worker so that their effort is endurable, the exploitation of man by man would be a good thing. Here's an example of the way in which Marx is used to justify capitalism! Whereas for Marx, "the purchase of labour power" signifies "production of surplus value" and thus exploitation!

It is also through the profoundly militant aspects of his theoretical works that Marx was able to conclude that capitalism wasn't an eternal system and that, like other modes or production which preceded it, this system would come up against its limits  and historically fall into crisis because: "At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution." (Contribution to a Critique of the Political Economy). On the other hand Marx demonstrated that capitalism gave rise to its own gravedigger: the proletariat, which is both the last exploited class in history, dispossessed of everything, and the only social class with revolutionary potential because of the associated character of its labour. It is a class which, by unifying across frontiers, is the sole force capable of overthrowing capitalism at the world level in order to establish a society without classes and without exploitation.

At the end of the day, the "great analyses" of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries pretend either that Marx has been overtaken, is a thing of the past, or that he is still valid by virtue of his "economics" or  as a "great prophet" in the current theory of the anti-globalists who aim to "correct the excesses" of capitalism.  All of this ideological confusion has the function of obscuring the struggle for proletarian revolution.

Marx’s concern for the organisation of revolutionaries and the working class

For Karl Marx, the identification of the working class as the sole actor able to overthrow capitalism and bring about the arrival of communism went hand-in-hand with the necessity for the proletariat to organise itself. On this level, as on others, the contribution of Marx is essential. He was involved in the "Correspondence Committee" in order to put German, French and English socialists in touch with one another because, according to him: "at the time of action, it is certainly of great interest for everyone to be educated about the state of affairs abroad as well as at home". The necessity for self-organisation is concretised in his constant participation in struggles for the defence and constitution for an international revolutionary organisation within the proletariat. The fight for communism and the most profound understanding of what this represented pushed him to fight for the transformation of the League of the Just into the Communist League in 1847. It's because they had an acute understanding of role of revolutionaries that Marx and Engels defended the necessity for the Communist League to adopt a programme, which resulted in the writing of the Manifesto of the Communist Party in 1848.

The Communist League couldn't withstand the blows of the repression after the defeat of the revolutions of 1848. But after that the struggles took off again at the beginning of the 1860's and other efforts of organisation appeared. From its beginnings Marx involved himself in the International Workingmen's Association (IWA), formed in 1864. He had a major role in writing up its statutes and was the author of its Inaugural Address. His conviction about the importance of the organisation and his theoretical clarity made him central to the organisation. In the IWA as in the Communist League he undertook a determined struggle for the organisation to fulfil its function. His theoretical preoccupations were never separated from the needs of the struggle. It's for this reason that in the Communist League he said, when faced with Weitling, "up to now ignorance has been of no use to anyone" because of the latter's utopian and idealist vision of communism.  It's for the same fundamental reasons that he fought in the IWA against Mazzini who wanted the organisation to be focused on the defence of national interests, and against Bakunin who plotted to take control of the IWA and got involved in conspiratorial adventures substituting himself for the mass action of the proletariat.

The theoretical elaboration undertaken by Marx shines a formidable light on bourgeois society as much in the nineteenth century as in the following two. But if one considers this elaboration merely as a means of "understanding the world", like the pseudo-experts of the bourgeoisie celebrating his year of birth, his work remains surrounded in a fog of mystery. On the contrary, while the bourgeoisie cultivates the idea of "no future" the working class must free itself of its chains. In order to do that it must not only make use of the theoretical studies of Marx, but take inspiration from his life of struggle, his life as a militant. The means that he was able to develop were always in accord with the very aim of proletarian struggle: "to transform the world"!

Vitaz, June 1, 2018

[1]  Thus, Engels declared at Marx's funeral: "Marx was the man most hated and the most lied about of his time. Absolutist and Republican governments deported him. Democratic and conservative bourgeois were united against him".

[2]  Notably in the recent biography of the American academic Jonathon Spencer who benefited from a wide-scale promotion throughout the media. This book is precisely called Karl Marx, a Man of the Nineteenth Century