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Scene from The Young Karl Marx by Raoul Peck

Marx was born on this day–May 5

Karl Marx was born, two centuries ago, on this day–May 5. In today’s world, it’s impossible to ignore Marx, the greatest proletarian revolutionary. Rather, the exploitative economic system makes Marx essential for building up a decent world.

Today, it’s necessary to convey Marx to the new generation being strangulated by the world system of exploitation. Frederick Engels is the foremost teacher to tell about Marx as he was the closest comrade of the revolutionary. The speech Engels delivered at the grave of Marx tells, in brief, about the revolutionary.

Engels, in the speech delivered at the Highgate Cemetery in London, on March 17, 1883 said:

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

The discovery initiated a new politics based on science – a politics to get rid of exploitation of human and nature, a politics to make life humane, a politics to make life dignified. And, the politics made Marx the enemy of exploiters. The class enemy – exploiters – used all its might to kill the new politics, a politics of the exploited.

Engels said:

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

The discovery of surplus value made all claims of the exploiters null and void. It tore down the shroud of lies and confusion the exploiters use to cover their chaotic, inconsistent, irrational, destructive system.

Referring to these two discoveries Engels said: “Two such discoveries would be enough for one lifetime. Happy the man to whom it is granted to make even one such discovery.” Engels pointed out the fields Marx investigated: “many fields”, and “none of them superficially”, and “in every field, even in that of mathematics, he made independent discoveries.” This led Engels to depict Marx as “the greatest living thinker.”

He described Marx as:

“[T]he 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 quite another kind of joy when the discovery involved immediate revolutionary changes in industry, and in historical development in general.”

Above all these tasks accomplished, according to Engels:

Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival.

And, consequently, Engels said in the speech, “Marx was the best hated and most calumniated man of his time. Governments, both absolutist and republican, deported him from their territories. Bourgeois, whether conservative or ultra-democratic, vied with one another in heaping slanders upon him. All this he brushed aside as though it were a cobweb, ignoring it, answering only when extreme necessity compelled him.

Opposite to the hatred the exploiters nourished for and spread against Marx was love of the exploited for him. Engels describes:

And he 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 had many opponents, he had hardly one personal enemy.

Engels, in the speech, proclaimed a changing time:

His [Marx] name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work.

Today stands as evidence to the proclamation: “His name will endure through the ages”. So much resources and intellectuals the bourgeoisie have employed to nullify Marx, to falsify Marx, to prove his discoveries false and irrelevant are unimaginable! But what has happened? The mainstream media reports said during The Great Financial Crisis: The mainstream began buying Capital by Marx at increasing rate – unprecedented in their history. They were trying to find out the source of the crisis. To the exploited, Marx is essential to dissect the exploiting system. Dissecting the system is required to get rid of the enslaving chain of exploitation. Thence, Marx is enduring, and Marx shall endure.

Paul Lafargue, a close associate of Marx, in his “Reminiscences of Marx” (written in 1890, in Marx and Engels Through the Eyes of Their Contemporaries, Progress Publishers, Moscow, erstwhile USSR, 1972) draws the following sketch:

“Karl Marx was one of the rare men who could be leaders in science and public life at the same time: these two aspects were so closely united in him that one can understand him only by taking into account both the scholar and the socialist fighter.

“Marx held the view that science must be pursued for itself, irrespective of the eventual results of research, but at the same time that a scientist could only debase himself by giving up active participation in public life or shutting himself up in his study or laboratory like a maggot in cheese and holding aloof from the life and political struggle of his contemporaries.”

The attitude to life and science Marx held is exemplified by the statement cited above.

Lafargue cites Marx: “Those who have the good fortune to be able to devote themselves to scientific pursuits must be the first to place their knowledge at the service of humanity.” One of Marx’s favorite sayings was: “Work for humanity.”

Scientists’ duty to humanity is well-pronounced by Marx, and with this pronouncement, Marx announces his position: For humanity.

“I am a citizen of the world,” [Marx] used to say; “I am active wherever I am”, writes Lafargue. The revolutionary declared his position: Nothing sectarian, nothing supremacist.

Today, our planet’s existence is threatened with crises created by capitalism. The call of the hour is to humanity; and Marx is for humanity.

The associate, relative to Marx also, writes:

Although Marx sympathized profoundly with the sufferings of the working classes, it was not sentimental considerations but the study of history and political economy that led him to communist views. He maintained that any unbiased man, free from the influence of private interests and not blinded by class prejudices, must necessarily come to the same conclusions.

Hence, according to Lafargue, “Marx wrote […] with a determined will to provide a scientific basis for the socialist movement, which had so far been lost in the clouds of utopianism.”

With analyses of economics, politics, philosophy, etc., Marx provides the scientific basis to the program and struggle of the exploited.

Heine, Goethe, Shakespeare, Dante, Robert Burns, poets in all European languages, Aeschylus in the Greek original, all were closer to Marx, writes Lafargue. “Marx could read all European languages and write in three: German, French and English, to the admiration of language experts. He liked to repeat the saying: ‘A foreign language is a weapon in the struggle of life.’”

Marx, Lafargue writes, “took up the study of Russian when he was already 50 years old, and […] in six months he knew it well enough to derive pleasure from reading Russian poets and prose writers, his preference going to Pushkin, Gogol and Shchedrin. He studied Russian in order to be able to read the documents of official inquiries which were hushed over by the Russian Government because of the political revelations they made. Devoted friends got the documents for Marx and he was certainly the only political economist in Western Europe who had knowledge of them.”

Lafargue observes: “Marx had another remarkable way of relaxing intellectually – mathematics, for which he had a special liking. Algebra even brought him moral consolation and he took refuge in the most distressing moments of his eventful life. During his wife’s last illness he was unable to devote himself to his usual scientific work and the only way in which he could shake off the oppression caused by her sufferings was to plunge into mathematics. During that time of moral suffering he wrote a work on infinitesimal calculus which, according to the opinion of experts, is of great scientific value […] He saw in higher mathematics the most logical and at the same time the simplest form of dialectical movement. He held the view that science is not really developed until it has learned to make use of mathematics.”

Marx’s opponents were forced to acknowledge his scholarly knowledge in political economy, history, philosophy and literature of many countries.

On the approach to work Marx followed, Lefargue explains:

Marx had a passion for work. He was so absorbed in it that he often forgot his meals.

He sacrificed his whole body to his brain; thinking was his greatest enjoyment.…

Marx’s brain was armed with an unbelievable stock of facts from history and natural science and philosophical theories. He was remarkably skilled in making use of the knowledge and observations accumulated during years of intellectual work. You could question him at any time on any subject and get the most detailed answer you could wish for, always accompanied by philosophical reflexions of general application. His brain was like a man-of-war in port under steam, ready to launch into any sphere of thought.

[…] Work was easy for him, and at the same time difficult. Easy because his mind found no difficulty in embracing the relevant facts and considerations in their completeness. […]

He saw not only the surface, but what lay beneath it. He examined all the constituent parts in their mutual action and reaction; he isolated each of those parts and traced the history of its development. Then he went on from the thing to its surroundings and observed the reaction of one upon the other. He traced the origin of the object, the changes, evolutions and revolutions it went through, and proceeded finally to its remotest effects. He did not see a thing singly, in itself and for itself, separate from its surroundings: he saw a highly complicated world in continual motion.

His intention was to disclose the whole of that world in its manifold and continually varying action and reaction. [….] Marx’s [literary work] required extraordinary vigor of thought to grasp reality and render what he saw and wanted to make others see. Marx was never satisfied with his work – he was always making some improvements and he always found his rendering inferior to the idea he wished to convey […]

Marx had the two qualities of a genius: he had an incomparable talent for dissecting a thing into its constituent parts, and he was past master at reconstituting the dissected object out of its parts, with all its different forms of development, and discovering their mutual inner relations. His demonstrations were not abstractions – which was the reproach made to him by economists who were themselves incapable of thinking; his method was not that of the geometrician who takes his definitions from the world around him but completely disregards reality in drawing his conclusions. Capital does not give isolated definitions or isolated formulas; it gives a series of most searching analyses which bring out the most evasive shades and the most elusive gradations.

Marx was always extremely conscientious about his work: he never gave a fact or figure that was not borne out by the best authorities. He was never satisfied with secondhand information, he always went to the source itself, no matter how tedious the process. To make sure of a minor fact he would go to the British Museum and consult books there. His critics were never able to prove that he was negligent or that he based his arguments on facts which did not bear strict checking.

His habit of always going to the very source made him read authors who were very little known and whom he was the only one to quote. Capital contains so many quotations from little-known authors that one might think Marx wanted to show off how well read he was. He had no intention of the sort. ‘I administer historical justice’, he said. ‘I give each one his due.’ He considered himself obliged to name the author who had first expressed an idea or formulated it most correctly, no matter how insignificant and little known he was.

Marx was just as conscientious from the literary as from the scientific point of view. Not only would he never base himself on a fact he was not absolutely sure of, he never allowed himself to talk of a thing before he had studied it thoroughly. He did not publish a single work without repeatedly revising it until he had found the most appropriate form. He could not bear to appear in public without thorough preparation. It would have been a torture for him to show his manuscripts before giving them the finishing touch.”

This was the approach the theoretician of the revolutionary proletariat used to follow in his work as that was the scientific approach; and the responsibility he took on himself was to create theories based on science so that the exploited can stand on scientific ground in all of their initiatives, in areas of organization and struggle. The revolutionary leader writes in Capital: “There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.” The proletariat’s path of struggle based on science has no royal road.

The bourgeoisie proved Marx is their enemy, enemy of all the exploiting classes. The exploiting classes tried to silence him, and conspired against him. Lafargue writes:

[T]here was a conspiracy of silence against him and his work. The Eighteenth Brumaire, which proves that Marx was the only historian and politician of 1848 who understood and disclosed the real nature of the causes and results of the coup d’état of December 2, 1851, was completely ignored. In spite of the actuality of the work not a single bourgeois newspaper even mentioned it.

The Poverty of Philosophy, an answer to the Philosophy of Poverty, and A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy were likewise ignored.

However, writes Lafargue, “The First International and the first book of Capital broke this conspiracy of silence after it had lasted fifteen years. Marx could no longer he ignored: the International developed and filled the world with the glory of its achievements.” And, Lafargue informs:

During a big strike which broke out in New York extracts from Capital were published in the form of leaflets to inspire the workers to endurance and show them how justified their claims were.

Marx, the revolutionary finds his theory is action, call to action, path to action. This is Marx, who wrote: Philosophy is to be realized through politics. (Letter to Ruge, March 13, 1843) This position led him to the position of a social revolutionary.

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