Life and Work of Karl Marx – IV: From Paris to Brussels
MARX study of economics led by the spring of 1844 to a wide-ranging but unfinished manuscript which was published only a century later under the title, “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts”.
In this manuscript Marx, in a polemic with bourgeois political economy and in a settling of accounts with Hegelian philosophy, investigated the role of labour in the development of the personality and society. He described labour as the essence of a man, everything through which man becomes man: a social being capable of many-sided creative activity and of unlimited progress. However, under the economic relations of capitalism where the product of labour does not belong to the working individual, but to the private owner of the means of production, or the “non-worker” as Marx then put it; where the product created by the worker becomes, in the hands of the owner of the means of production, a power which rules the worker; where the worker must sell his labour-power, for better or worse, and has no secure place in the social labour process – under these conditions man’s labour appears as something hostile, something strange to him. Under these conditions labour loses its real meaning for the working man. It becomes coercion, a necessary evil, is found to be a burden, because the worker, as a result of capitalist private ownership, is robbed of the means of production as well as of the product of his labour.
All other forms of alienation in the social, political and ideological life of society rest on this economic foundation. The alienation of labour, called forth by capitalist private property, distorts the relations between people. It leads to the alienation of person, to the rule of one over the other, to antagonism between the workers and the non workers. It also leads, however, to the alienation of the working people from one another, to isolation, indifference towards fellow human beings, to loneliness.
Marx described how money is the real criterion in bourgeois society. Everything, even things not created by labour can be bought with money. Whoever has money also has power over all human values. Money, Marx wrote, “transforms loyalty into disloyalty, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, serf into lord, lord into serf, idiocy into intelligence, intelligence into idiocy.” This power of money over people is only an expression of the alienated, unnatural, inhuman, social relations.
The opponents of Marxism strive to separate Marx’s conception of alienation from its material, social, and economic basis and set up alienation as “human nature”. Since alienation of the human being is his “fate”, he cannot free himself of it, unless he can change and purify his “nature” or “essence”. Thus they try to condemn the workers to passivity, to fatalism, to hold him back from resistance to the society that exploits him, from revolutionary action.
Marx, however, had never derived alienation from human nature. On the contrary, in the Manuscripts, he had shown that the alienation of labour, and the resulting alienation in all human relations, is neither eternal nor natural, but concretely historical, and characteristic of every exploiting society. That is why alienation is set aside when its basis, the private ownership of the means of production, is set aside.
In contrast to bourgeois thinkers before him, who had indeed attacked single aspects of human alienation without, however, being able to uncover its origins, Marx tore away the ideological veil that concealed the origins of alienation and showed the working class that through the abolition of exploitation the origins of alienation would also be abolished. In socialist and communist society, Marx wrote, with the disappearance of the alienation of labour, the distortion of human relations that arises from it also disappears. In this new society there follows the “flowering of man through and for man”; freedom takes the place of coercion, brotherhood take the place of egoism, humanness takes the place of inhumanity.
In June 1844, Marx broke off his work on the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. The daily political struggle was raising its own imperative demands – finding of answers to urgent questions, especially the question of the future of the working class.
Around this question there were fierce controversies among the French workers and also the German workers living in Paris. The bourgeois and petty-bourgeois socialists based themselves on the good sense and charity of the owning classes, preached against struggle, and wanted to make the owners understand the need for social reform through peaceful propaganda. The “worker-communists”, approved struggle, but imagined they could seize power through conspiracies.
Marx did not agree with their erroneous ideas because they could not stand up to scientific examination. But his own views had also not yet fully ripened. He had clearly perceived the goal of the working class – the proletarian revolution and the abolition of classes through the abolition of private ownership, but the road to this goal had still to be mapped out. For that, it was necessary to test them, and to follow the contest of opinions.
Marx went to the workers, paying special attention to the German workers living in Paris. He did not join any of the existing groups, because he did not share the views about socialism and communism that prevailed among them but he constantly sought a dialogue with the workers, partly to explain his views about the tasks of the proletariat to them, and more important, to learn from them, to become acquainted with their approaches to life. From now on the constant and intimate contact with the working class became an integral part of his work, a deeply felt need in his life.
May 1, 1844, brought the Marx couple a joyful event – the birth of a healthy daughter who, in accordance with the father’s wish was named after his beloved Jenny.
Marx followed developments in Germany with a watchful eye. The struggle of the popular masses in the country reached the first climax when thousands of weavers in Silesia rose in open resistance to their capitalist exploiters in June 1844. For three days they fought with courage against the Prussian troops called to crush the uprising. With the revolt, the proletariat had opened its revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie and announced its historical rights. The German bourgeoisie, itself still combating the reactionary feudal state power, called on the army and police of precisely that State to protect it. The class lines began to grow clearer.
Marx was furious when his one-time co-worker Arnold Ruge dismissed the weavers’ uprising as unimportant, and even sought to deny the proletariat the power as well as the right to make history, in practice and in theory. In a sharp polemic, Marx vigorously defended the Silesian uprising and the revolutionary strength of the proletariat. He judged it to be the “active element” in the freeing of Germany and prophesied an “athlete’s role,’ for it. Thus, Marx broke completely with his former comrade-in-arms. Political antagonism and personal friendship were not compatible in Marx’s view.
Marx already recognised that in the coming revolutionary struggles with the feudal state power, the people, in the first place the developing proletariat, were called upon to play a decisive role. Disdain for the masses, for the proletariat, would weaken the entire anti-feudal movement. To reject the strength of the popular masses meant rejecting victory over the enemy of the German people.
The same considerations moved Marx, a few weeks later, to oppose the Bauer brothers, whom he sarcastically called “the holy family” because of their claim to infallibility. Marx wanted to refute their unscientific, idealist views.
Just when Marx began writing “The Holy Family” Frederick Engels arrived in Paris at the end of August 1844. The two had first met in Cologne in 1842 and the second meeting was in Paris at the end of August 1844. Marx was impressed by Engels’ philosophical mind, his courage, dedication and single-mindedness – qualities essential to a revolutionary proletarian fighter. Engels spent ten days in Paris during which Marx and Engels exchanged views, establishing with ever-greater pleasure that they completely agreed on all theoretical questions. To lend “The Holy Family” this clarity, Engels wrote his part of it while still in Paris. This was their first collaboration and the book appeared in February 1845 under the title, The Holy Family or a Critique of Critical Criticism against Bruno Bauer & Company. By Frederick Engels and Karl Marx.
In these Paris days, Marx and Engels learnt to esteem each other highly and immediately became warm friends. With this meeting began the decades of creative collaboration between Marx and Engels that only death was to end. “Old legends,” wrote Lenin later, “contain various moving instances of friendship. The European proletariat may say that its science was created by two scholars and fighters, whose relationship to each other surpasses the most moving stories of the ancients about human friendship.”
The authors of The Holy Family proved in it that neither supernatural forces, nor man’s consciousness, nor “heroes…make history”. It was the working masses alone who moved society forward through their labour and their political struggle. In opposition to the utopian socialists, Marx and Engels showed that the proletariat, through its economic and social position in capitalist society, is called upon to free itself. “It cannot, however, free itself without abolishing its own living conditions. It cannot abolish its own living conditions without abolishing all the inhuman living conditions found in contemporary society.” In these views the thesis of the world historical liberating mission of the proletariat as a class was basically elaborated. The course of history since then has confirmed it.
(To be continued)