The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: On the film: The Young Karl Marx. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!
An absolutely stunning review that demonstrates the critical approach that was lacking in the Hawking piece:
"To sum up: it's not a question here of denying the decisive role of Marx and Engels in the evolution of the revolutionary movement but of situating their trajectory within the proletarian movement and of underlining that their inestimable contribution could not have happened without this great movement which still makes the working class the active subject of history. The caricatures that the director sometimes gives us mask this reality by putting the accent on the preponderant place of individuals and their providential role."
The first thing that should be mentioned in a critique of the film however is the problem of the title: The Young Karl Marx, when at least half the film was about Engels! I don't know Pieck's role in deciding on the title, but what actually stood out most for me in the film was the absolute importance of Engels, not only for Marx personally, but for the development of Marxism itself. Whatever Engels later methodological failures (something I believe probably well over blown) that have given rise to a denunciation of the infiltration of "Engelism" into Marxism after the holy one's death, this film makes it absolutely clear that without Engels there would likely be no Marxism. In fact, the campaign against Engels seems to have the goal of a certain canonization of Marx as a pure thinker, who understood it all, betrayed by Engels post mortem. It is Engels who is responsible for the germ of Stalinism in post-Marx Marxism. We all know the argument.
But even more so than demonstrating the importance of Engels, the film shows us the critical importance of the social milieu that surrounded both Marx and Engels in these formative years. Not just the nascent workers' associations of Paris and Brussels, but also the larger Anglo-Irish working classes of Manchester. As I wrote in the other thread, can anyone doubt that without the influence of Mary Burns that Engels would have achieved his insights on the importance of the working class? The film also shows the importance of Jenny to Marx's own intellectual development.
Of course, there is a certain risk of a kind of reductio ad absurdum here. How broad is it appropriate to make the list of the founding generation of Marxists? Is there a certain self-effacing absurdity in essentially saying that great social thinkers couldn't exist without society? Obviously, both Marx and Engels had considerable critical talent--talent that was multiplied by their collaboration--and that is something that we cannot ignore either. We shouldn't dampen their importance by writing it all off to "providence." After all, Weitling, Ruge, Proudhon, etc. were part of the same (or similar) milieu, yet they did not achieve the level of insights that produced the methodology that now bears Marx's name. Still, it is is without a doubt true that Marx and Engels found themselves in the right places at the right historical time--Marx immersed in the cultural life of the burgeoning workers association, Engels surrounded by a developing industrial proletariat--that allowed them to come to the conclusions they did. Marxism would not have been possible without interrogating and criticizing and ultimately surpassing Proudhonism, Christian idealism, etc.
As for the importance of the film itself today, I don't find it particularly surprising that there is a certain campaign to rehabilitate Marx today. We are in an era where, whatever the importance of the rise of right-wing populism, there is also a growing rehabilitation of the idea of socialism. The Sanders campaign in the US, Corbyn, etc. have touched off a fury of interest in the history of socialism and Marxism is no longer the slander word it once was for generations in some circles (although it still is in others--witness the right-wing attempt to paint identity politics as a kind of Marxism). Still, the question is which Marx, or for that matter which Rosa Luxemburg, will the younger generations recognize--the revolutionary figures of history or the "democratic socialist" legends that the capitalist system can tolerate, even if it currently wants that brand of politics nowhere near power at the moment?
I think that this is an excellent post on an "absolutely stunning review". I defend the Hawkin piece but this is much sharper and much more political and jk rightly defends the depths of Engel's marxism (scientific socialism) and the way this greatest of double acts sparked off each other - and many others too - just look at the quantity and quality of their correspondence with each other and everyone else. I don't think it all banal to see the political development of these two men coming from the entrails of society, from the social condition, and I see this as an example, a prime example, of how a phenomenom can come from a society, break of its shackles and go beyond it.
I just want to develop a bit on one point raised by jk on the question of the role of Jenny Marx. I think that both Marx and Engels have been criticised by varieties of feminism for basically being "men". Jenny Marx was pivotal in the development of and solidarity with Marx's work and the feminist idea of the "poor wife at home" is a travesty.
One of the major elements of the petty-bourgeois ideology of May 68, was that with the rejection of the bourgeois family came the idea of immediate sexual liberation for women along with the conept of "free-love" taking place within capitalism. And this petty-bourgeois froth was appearing at the same time as proletarian families were fighting side-by-side in the class struggle - as they had been in all the major upheavals of the working class.
From the 1960's to the 1980's, the "Grandmother Hypothesis" became popular, fashionable even. I won't go into it, or its critiques, but, intuitively, it sounds right. In prehistory, the grandmother played an active role in the coherence of society through care, wisdom, etc. What it ignored was who was looking after the grandmothers while they were taking up these tasks. It was the men, the youth, the sisters, etc. Food had to be provided for them and this wasn't necessarily within the bourgeois restriction (tail-ended by feminism) of "man the hunter". Despite what Chris Knight says (you don't hear much about him now) there is absolutely no reason, physical or mental, why women wouldn't have hunted along with others in the tribe or clan.
The point I'm making is that in the reference to Jenny Marx that jk makes, resides the unity in struggle of men and women.