A Sketch of the Life of Marx

May 5th, 1818. – March 14th, 1883.

At the ancient German town of Treves, Heinrich Karl Marx, the founder of scientific Socialism, was born of Jewish parents on May 5th, 1818. The father of Marx was a prominent lawyer, and a man of considerable talent, saturated with the ideas of the French Encyclopedists of the 18th century regarding religion, sience, and art. After going through the ordinary school course, Marx entered the university of Bonn and later that of Berlin, studying “law to please his father and history and philosophy to please himselL” At the conclusion of his university studies, Marx intended to take a lectureship in philosophy at the Bonn University, but the treatment meted out to his friend Bruno Bauer, who was a lecturer there, caused him to relinquish this plan.

Though Marx was at this time but 24, his remarkable talent already attracted the attention ot the Rhemish bourgeoisie, and at the founding of the “Rheinische Zeitung” in the Autumn of 1842, he was placed at its direction. The life of this journal was a continual struggle with the censorship. A double censorship not sufficing to curb this dangerous daily paper it was suppressed by the government in 1843.

With his young wife, Jenny Von Westphalen, Marx now settled in Paris. Here he made the acquaintance of Engels and Proudhon, and collaborated with Arnold Ruge in the production of the “Deutsch-Franzoesischen Jahrbuecher.” In these annals he published his long essay on Hegel’s “Philosophy of Law” and another on the Hebrew question, which show that he had by this time emancipated himself from his earlier Hegelianism, and had wedded the dialectic to experience.

After the cessation of the Franco-German Annals, Marx and Engels—for the two become henceforth inseparable, the one supplementing the other—wrote the “Holy Family,” a satirical critique of German idealistic philosophy; and collaborated with Heine and Ewerbeck on the Paris “Vorwaerts.”

Marx having, as he himself said, been led by his studies to the conclusion that legal relations, as well as the forms of state, could neither be understood by themselves nor explained by the so-called general progress of the human mind, but are rooted in the material conditions of social life; now took up seriously the study of economics as the anatomy of society. These studies were continued in Brussels, where Marx nevertheless found time to write articles and pamphlets, and to reply to Proudhon’s bombastic Utopianism by the “Poverty of Philosophy.” The Communist Alliance had been founded by German refugees in Paris, and while in Brussels Marx and Engels joined this semi-secret society, which henceforth became simply an organisation for Communist propaganda. In 1847 the Alliance was transformed by the adoption of the famous Communist Manifesto.

In the stormy times which followed the events of February, 1848, Marx was expelled from Brussels, went to Paris and thence after a time to Cologne, where he collaborated with Engels, Wilhelm and Ferdinand Wolf, Ernest Dronke, and the poets Freiligrath and Georg Weerth, on the brilliant editorial staff of the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung.” The defence of the Parisian insurgents by this intrepid daily paper, together with its outspoken policy in general, brought about a continuous struggle with the reaction and finally led to the suppression of the journal in May, 1849.

Marx now went to Paris, and having participated in the movement culminating in the fiasco of “June 13th, 1849” was expelled from Paris and came to London, then truly the hub of the world. Here he found the material for the work of his life, for, as Liebknecht says, “Capital” could have been created in London only.

Keeping aloof during this time from the dregs of the February and March movements, Marx now wrote his history of the , of December 2nd, 1852, under the title of the “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” a work which, to those familiar with the chief personages and events of the time, is an illuminating application of the economic interpretion of history.

After the dastardly trial and conviction of the Communists at Cologne, and the consequent crushing of propaganda, the Communist Alliance was dissolved ; Marx writing his “Disclosures regarding the Cologne Communist Trial” in 1853. The time that followed was for Marx an entire devotion to scientific study and literary work. He became a regular contributor to the “New York Tribune,” then under the famous editorship of Horace Greely and C. A. Dana ; and became acquainted with David Urquhart, the talented explorer and student of Oriental questions.

From this period date the articles on “Revolution and Counter Revolution,” while the materials were now gathered for the “Life of Lord Palmerston,” “The Secret Diplomatic History of the 18th Century” and “The Eastern Question.”

In 1859 the “Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” was published, and in it were laid down the foundations of the work afterwards developed in “Capital.”

Marx again entered politics in 1859, and came into conflict with Herr Vogt, a German ex-regent then at the court of Napoleon III. Carl Vogt’s abuse of the “Sulphur Gang” drew from Marx the classic pamphlet “Herr Vogt.”

A revival of the labour movement was now taking place almost throughout Europe. Meetings of sympathy with Poland led to the suggestion of an International Association of Working-men, and in September, 1864, at a meeting in the old St. Martin’s Hall, London, the International was formed. Its history is that of continued struggle with enemies within and without, and its dissolution was precipitated, not alone by the superior force of organised repression, but also by the internal struggle between the Communists, and the Utopians and Anarchists. It nevertheless served its purpose in laying the foundation of international working-class organisation.

In 1867 the first volume of “Capital” appeared, and its influence has steadily grown year by year. Even the acutest critics pay tributes to the value of the book and the genius of its author. Marx stands out as the protagonist of the economic interpretion of history ; a method of investigation and theory of social growth developed independently as regards ancient society by the great American, Lewis H. Morgan. “Capital” is, indeed, the demonstration of this method and theory, and even opponents are compelled to admit, as does E. A. Seligman of Columbian University, N.Y., Professor of political economy and finance, that “whether or no we agree with Marx’s analysis of industrial society, and without attempting as yet to pass judgment upon the validity of his philosophical doctrine, it is safe to say that no one can study Marx as he deserves to be studied—and let us add, as he has hitherto not been studied in England or America—without recognising the fact that, perhaps with the exception of Ricardo, there has been no more original, no more powerful, and no more acute intellect in the entire history of economic science.” [“The Economic Interpretation of History,” P. 56. The Macmillan Co.]

The war of 1870 and the Commune which followed it proved trying times for the International. To this period we owe the manifestoes by Marx on the war and the Commune. The International having become a terror to the rulers of Europe was now outlawed in all countries. The headquarters were transfered to New York by the Congress of La Hague in 1873, and this meant practically its dissolution.

Sickness, brought on by overwork, undermined the strong constitution of Marx and forced him to seek the South of France. The death of Jenny, his wife, dealt him a terrible blow, to be followed soon after by another in the death of Jenny Longuet, his favourite daughter. With sorrow thus heaped upon his head the scientist of the proletariat languished a few months longer and died peacefully in London on the 14th March, 1883.

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It has not been attempted to deal with the touching family life of Marx; that may be glimpsed in Liebknecht’s “Biographical Memoirs” to which indeed we are indebted for many of the facts already set forth.

We are here concerned above all with the scientific method, the economics and philosophy of Marx, and its supreme utility to the working-class movement.

The enormous, continued, and yet ineffective literature of Marxian criticism is the highest testimony to the importance of what is called Marxism, and to the impregnability of its position. The dialectic of events daily confirms the dialectic of Marx, and now the duty devolves upon those with whom science is not subordinate to the buttressing of exploitation to cease their damnable faces and get to business. The instrument of investigation forged by Marx—and already so fruitful of results—has wide fields yet virgin before it in the domain of ideology, in the evolution of philosophy, art, and religion. To use the method of Marx, however, it is above all necessary to comprehend it. There are members of the working class, who, having studied and mastered the historic method of Marx, lament silently the lack of leisure and lack of means that condemn them to sterility. Adequate study is rendered impossible to them, and they are denied the opportunity of using the splendid instrument the genius of Marx has prepared, in increasing our knowledge along any of the wide vistas of scientific investigation that open out before them.

But the Socialist worker knows that this cannot always be, and though his intellect is despised by the would-be intellectuals of the bourgeoisie from behind their shallow learning and superficial polish, yet he, at least, sees clearly the trend o! evolution and holds the key of the future; while bourgeois social science has to declare itself bankrupt where it does not adopt the method of Marx.


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