On Karl Marx's 200th birth anniversary, why he remains a man of science

The German philosopher's ideology was not a product of his sentimental approach and sympathy for the working masses.

 |  14-minute read |   04-05-2018
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When examining any historical theory or philosophy, two issues are considered:

1. The theme of the theory.

2. Whether or not the theory is applicable in the present era.

But Marxism, as seen by the bourgeois world, is different, because not only is the order of questions changed, the theme, too, is often ignored, leaving only the question of the applicability of Marx’s doctrine in the present era.

Numerous articles, books and documents make this evident.

The reason behind this is the nature of the philosophy Marx presented, wherein it was inevitable that the real aims and objects of the ruling elite and of their intellectuals would be exposed. Hence, Marx is criticised for not being a philosopher — unlike those who could not go beyond their thoughts. Wilhelm Liebknecht, Marx’s contemporary and the father of Karl Liebknecht (the famous German revolutionary), argued well in his Reminiscences of Marx:

“Science is not a marketable value. And bourgeois society cannot be expected to pay a reasonable price for the drawing up of its own death sentence.” [i]

Therefore, censorship seems mandatory for the bourgeois for the sake of capitalism, ignoring the doctrine of Marx. But as Paul Lafargue had said, “Marx could no longer be ignored”[ii] and the bourgeois adopted the attitude of conflict towards the founder of conflict science. Marx is ignored despite being not ignored. Along with his followers, his opponents also approach him to find a way out from the crisis of capitalism. For example, the dialectical research methodology introduced by Marx is recognised as the best in universities across Europe. On other hand, the other sections mentioned above, too, seem afraid of Marx, especially when it comes to the crisis of capitalism.

Criticising Marx despite terming him failed is evidence of his success.

Critics' failure in denouncing Marx forced his opponents to portray different kinds of images of the scholar. These were harmless, so the bourgeois, monetary capitalism and transnational corporate were transformed as acceptable while big businesspersons, the ruling elite, world’s states, religious priests and scattered feudal and tribal lords had no antagonism towards the cited forces. Per their desire, they shaped him as the reformist-critic of the bourgeois or the prevailing social conditions. Marx seemed tolerable to exploiters and oppressive classes but without his revolutionary essence.

While there is no doubt Marx may be understood well through his works, much has been misinterpreted and distorted for decades in order to create harmless, peaceful, humanist and non-violent images of Marx. It is not a "conspiracy theory" but evident in the numerous books and articles portraying Marx as liberal and even theist. Many works emphasise that Marx derived his theory against exploitation from Christianity or Islam or the teachings of Moses. Even liberals alleged that Marx reproduced the ideas of Adam Smith.

690-karl_050418062205.jpgIt is necessary to explain and demonstrate the actual, original and true face of one of the founders of scientific communism.

Those who have watched the decades since the 1950s through to the 1980s would be well aware of certain liberals, nationalists and even racists being termed as Marxist or Communist. Drinking wine, appearing as professional lawyers at labour courts, participating in trade union activities and even introducing and promoting certain policies or trends on behalf of transnational corporates were all sufficient to dub an individual as a Marx follower, especially in a conservative society.

The main objective was to divert people’s attention from the basic teachings of Marx, therefore the bourgeois and monetary capitalism chose only the aspects that were necessary to assure the people that capitalism, irrespective of its shape, is the only way forward for the progress of humankind and Marxism could not be an alternative.

Lenin exposed such tactics of the bourgeois in his marvellous book The State & Revolution, starting with following phrase:

“What is now happening to Marx’s doctrine has, in the course of history, often happened to the doctrines of other revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes struggling for emancipation. During the life time of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes hound them constantly, attack their doctrines with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaign of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonise them, so to say, and to surround their names with a certain halo for the 'consolation' of the oppressed classes and with the object of duping them, while at the same time emasculating the revolutionary doctrine of its content, vulgarising it and blunting its revolutionary edge. At the present time, the bourgeoisie and the opportunists in the labour movement concur in this revision of Marxism. They omit, obliterate and distort the revolutionary side of its doctrine, its revolutionary soul. They push to the foreground and extol what is or seems acceptable to the bourgeoisie. All the social-chauvinists are now 'Marxists' (don’t laugh!). And more and more frequently, German bourgeois scholars, erstwhile specialists in the extermination of Marxism, are speaking of the 'national-German' Marx, who they aver trained the labour unions which are so splendidly organised for the purpose of conducting a predatory war!” [iii]

So, on his 200th birth anniversary, it is necessary to explain and demonstrate the actual, original and true face of one of the founders of scientific communism.

Karl Marx was not the first philosopher to introduce dialectics, but what distinguished him from the others is his theory of historical materialism and dialectical materialism — which was formulated with equal participation and assistance from his comrade Frederick Engels.

Marx, standing firmly on his solid scientific ideology, even declared himself a product of history who could never be sacred in view of the theory of conflicts that believes nothing in universe is sacred.

Karl Marx asserted that the material or productive relations of a society are the basis of any ideology or thought. So, from the Marxist point of view, any philosophy or ideology, be it in the shape of individual or collective ideas, stands upon the material relations of individuals or groups of individuals, with the society.

Nevertheless, interpretation for the sake of it was not acceptable to Marx, so in his criticism of Feuerbach's philosophy, he incorporated a vital aspect:

“Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point however, is to change it.”

After the French Revolution of 1789, the poor, hungry, working masses evicted the king and queen from the palace and dragged them on the streets, shouting repeatedly, “Now, the cook and maid are with us, and they would provide us bread.”

Similarly, Marx chose the most difficult way for himself.

He expanded the theory relating to the laws of natural science (of dialectics and of physics) to social evolution. In other words, historical materialism and dialectical materialism are branches of one ideology.

Marx’s ideas are interrelated as he taught the world to realise and understand the universe as a whole, and not in parts.

At the same time, Marx, instead of philosophers, scholars and intellectuals, declared the Proletariat as the vanguard, the driving force and leader of the social revolution. According to Marx, the emancipation of the working class was the basic condition to change the world and also the responsibility and historical duty of the workers themselves.[iv]

Thus, the scientific doctrine of Marx could only be revolutionary. And Marx clearly stressed the use of force by the working masses to change the existing productive relations, especially in the Communist Manifesto and The Civil War in France.

Frederick Engels, in his speech on the occasion of Marx's burial at London's High Gate graveyard, reminded the world of this, calling him a leader of the militant proletariat:

“An immeasurable loss has been sustained both by the militant proletariat of Europe and America, and by historical sciences, in the death of this man.”[v]

Therefore, after his death, revisionists and opportunists disguised as Marxists started distorting the revolutionary essence of his doctrine — even using extracts from his writings to convert his revolutionary philosophy into a reformist one. But they were rebutted by Engels, Plekhanov, Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and especially Vladimir Lenin.

Nevertheless, Marx is still portrayed as the defender of bourgeois democracy by presenting his quotation: "Democracy is the way to socialism."

As in the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels cast liability upon communists to stand with the democratic forces but in the same booklet, they openly declared that Communists could obtain their aims by overthrowing the prevailing social system with the use of force.

Marx repeatedly termed revolution as actions by force while in practice. Marx supported every workers' uprising since 1848. It is pertinent to mention here that Marx and Engels — in Communist Manifesto — envisaged Communist society without politics.

The question of democracy and politics cannot be alienated from the question of the role of the state and the Marxist approach towards the state.

Marx learnt from the revolutionary workers of Paris and also advised them during the revolutionary events to destabilise the old state structure and to occupy the Central Bank. Marx termed Parisian workers "heroes storming the heaven".

Even in his early writings, Marx denounced the bourgeois state, terming it the capitalists' agent. In his article published in 1844, in Vorwarts, Marx drew parallels between the state and slavery:

“The existence of the State and the existence of Slavery are inseparable.” [vi]

Another political tragedy of the Left is it has been a supporter and defender of human rights, feminism and charity, betraying the revolutionary ideology of Marxism.

Marx neither participated in any campaign for human rights nor tried to eliminate any kind of exploitation by remaining within the structure of capitalism, nor did he ever state this in his writings. He was an ardent opponent and an unkind critic of such political and social theatres.

Despite living a miserable life in the depth of poverty, Marx never compromised on his ideology and always criticised and exposed the capitalists and their hypocrisy through his sharp writings.

In 1853, Marx exposed how slavery was connected with Dutches and Dukes who pretended to be (so-called) agitators against Negro slavery. He summed up his belief in these words:

“The enemy of British wage slavery has a right to condemn Nagro slavery: a Duchess of Sutherland, a Duke of Atholl, a Manchester cotton lord ... never”[vii]

Marx’s ideology was not the product of his sentimental approach and sympathy for the working masses as he never mourned upon the miseries of the poor people. Instead, he argued on the basis of reason, vast critical study and scientific approach and reached the conclusion that the emancipation of mankind and real progress is possible only through the emancipation of the proletariat. He was not concerned with the alien liberal, the lazy sufi or the priest or any feminist belonging to the class of exploiters who see women as productive tools.

Despite being born into a middle class family and marrying a woman whose brother later became the interior minister of Germany, Marx had no affiliation with the elite class. His hero was the proletariat and he devoted his life for them. That is why he had to suffer miseries such as hunger, living beyond the line of poverty, forcible expulsions, diseases, eviction from rental accommodation and even the deaths of his beloved children.

Maximilien wrote that in 1853, Marx had to abandon his research work for four years during which he and his family had to plumb the depths of “middle class poverty”. The year of 1853 was “beginning of long night exile”.[viii]

In his letter dated September 8, 1852, Marx narrated his condition to Engels:

“My wife is ill, little Jenny is ill, Leni has a sort of nervous fever. I cannot and could not call the doctor, having no money for medicines. For the last week I have fed my family on bread and potatoes, but I wonder if I shall be able to buy any today.” [ix]

But the iron man of time never halted. He fought throughout his life. He always looked for new science and new discoveries.

The popular slogan in many countries that one should change his thoughts to change the society is utopian when change in individual or collective thoughts is subject to the change of productive relations, as Marx clearly affirmed when he said that prevailing thoughts of mankind rest upon the class nature of any society.

In other words, it is not possible to convince any capitalist to accept socialism when he/she cannot think in any way other than the way imposed upon him/her by social and economical conditions.

The same doctrine of Marx helps us understand the prevailing unrest in the world. Someone who has studied terrorist forces such as ISIS can understand the reasons that forced the ruling classes and transnational corporates to create and support them. Referring to why capitalists were bold enough to commit any crime, Marx wrote:

“If money, according to Augier, 'comes into the world with a congenital blood stain on ones check', capital comes dripping from head to foot from every pore, with blood and dirt.”[x]

So, according to Marx’s philosophy, in the emancipation of workers lies the emancipation of capitalists.

“The capitalist system presupposes the complete separation of the labourers from all property in the means by which they can realise their labour.”[xi]

Because of such separation, the worker becomes a victim of alienation, as Marx explained.

Marx was a man of science so that he was a man of revolution. After a century and a half, the words Frederick Engels spoke at the time of Marx's burial seem true:

“His name will endure through the ages and so also his work.”


[i] Ref Marx And Engels Through the Eyes of Their Contemporaries: Progress Publisher Moscow. Edition 1978.

[ii] Ref Marx And Engels Through the Eyes of Their Contemporaries: Progress Publisher Moscow. Edition 1978.

[iii] V. I. Lenin: The State And Revolution (The Marxist doctrine of the state and the tasks of the proletariat in the revolution. published by Foreign Languages Publishing House Moscow 1947 Page 11.

[iv] Communist Manifesto 1848 & its subsequent prefaces by Marx & Engels.

[v] Engels speech 1883.

[vi] Marx Life & Works by Maximillen Rubel Page 11.

[vii] NYDT 9th February, 1853 {Marx Life & Works by Maximilien Rubel translation by Marry Bottomore Page 29 (M.H.Khan Library Lahore)}.

[viii] Marx Life & Works by Maximilien Rubel translation by Marry Bottomore Page 29 (M.H.Khan Library Lahore).

[ix] Karl Marx’s Letter to F. Engels 8th September 1852. Ref: Marx Life & Works by Maximilien Rubel translation by Marry Bottomore Page 28

(MH Khan Library Lahore).

[x] Karl Marx Capital volume I: pages 711-712: Progress Publishers Moscow 1978.

[xi] Karl Marx Capital volume I: page 668 Progress Publishers Moscow 1978.

Also read: Jinnah portrait at AMU should remind Sangh that India can never be a clean slate


Nusrat Afghani Nusrat Afghani @nusratafghani

Advocate and author based in Pakistan.

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