Karl Marx: Man and Fighter Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen-Helfen

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Karl Marx: Man and Fighter - Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen-Helfen


Strife has raged about Karl Marx for decades, and never has it been so embittered as at the present day. He has impressed his image on the time as no other man has done. To some he is a fiend, the arch-enemy of human civilisation, and the prince of chaos, while to others he is a far-seeing and beloved leader, guiding the human race towards a brighter future. In Russia his teachings are the official doctrines of the state, while Fascist countries wish them exterminated. In the areas under the sway of the Chinese Soviets Marx's portrait appears upon the bank-notes, while in Germany they have burned his books. Practically all the parties of the Socialist Workers' International, and the Communist parties in all countries, acknowledge Marxism, the eradication of which is the sole purpose of innumerable political leagues, associations and coalitions.

The French Proudhonists of the sixties, the followers of Lassalle in Germany of the seventies, the Fabians in England before the War produced their own brand of Socialism which they opposed to that of Marx. The anti-Marxism of to-day has nothing in common with those movements. He who opposes Marxism to-day does not do so because, for instance, he denies the validity of Marx's theory of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Similarly there are millions to-day who acknowledge Marx as their leader, but not because he solved the riddle of capitalist society. Perhaps one Socialist in a thousand has ever read any of Marx's economic writings, and of a thousand anti-Marxists not even one. The strife no longer rages round the truth or doctrine of historical materialism or the validity of the labour theory of value or the theory of marginal utility. These things are discussed and also not discussed. The arena in which Marx is fought about to-day is in the factories, in the parliaments and at the barricades. In both camps, the bourgeois and the Socialist, Marx is first of all, if not exclusively, the revolutionary, the leader of the proletariat in its struggle to overthrow Capitalism.

This book is intended to describe the life of Marx the fighter. We make no attempt to disguise the difficulties of such an undertaking. Marxism--to use the word in its proper sense, embracing the whole of Marx's work--is a whole. To divide theory from practice was completely alien to Marx's nature. How, then, can his life be understood except as a unity of thought and action?

'The man of science was not even half the man,' Engels said in his speech at the grave-side of his dead friend. 'For Marx science was an historically moving, revolutionary force. Marx was above all a revolutionary. To co-operate in one way or another in the work of bringing about the downfall of capitalist society and the state institutions which were its creations, to co-operate in the liberation of the modern proletariat, to make it conscious of its situation and its needs, and conscious of the conditions for its own emancipation--that was his real life-work.'

Marx was a Socialist before he reached real and complete understanding of the laws of development underlying bourgeois society. When he wrote the Communist Manifesto at the age of thirty he did not yet appreciate the many different forms which surplus value could assume, but the Communist Manifesto contained the whole doctrine of the class-war and showed the proletariat the historical task that it had to fulfil. We have written the biography of Marx as the strategist of the class-struggle. The discoveries made by Marx in the course of his explorations of the anatomy of bourgeois society will only be mentioned in so far as they directly concern our subject. But the word 'directly' need not be taken too literally. A complete picture of Marx's economic doctrines would not be consistent with our theme, which was dictated to us by the time in which we live.

To some periods of Marx's life we have given far more space than others. In writing his biography our standard was not mere length of time but the importance of events in Marx's life. Once, when Marx was asked what his idea of happiness was his answer was 'to fight.' The years of revolution in 1848-9 and those of the First International are two or three times as important as the rest. We do not believe we have left out anything of importance. To the important things we have given the space that they deserve.

Many new documents have been discovered since the end of the Great War. They put many things in a new light and reveal links and connections the very existence of which was not suspected before. To mention all the sources we have used would take up too much space. Suffice it to say that apart from printed material--incidentally we discovered a great deal of hitherto unsuspected material from old newspapers and periodicals--we have succeeded in extracting a great deal of new matter from archives. In particular the archives of the German Social Democratic Party, which contain the manuscripts of Marx and Engels left at their death, as well as those of many of their contemporaries and fellow-fighters, and a vast number of documents relating to the history of the First International were put at our disposal. They remained at our disposal even in the present difficult circumstances, when they have been taken abroad, and for this we have to thank the Party leaders (at present in Prague). We found a great deal of material in the secret state archives at Berlin-Dahlem and in the Saxon state archives at Dresden.

We were also enabled to use some documents from the archives of the British Foreign Office, preserved in the Record Office, more particularly documents regarding the attempt made by the Prussian Government to secure Marx's expulsion from England in 1850. We wish to express our thanks to Mr. E. H. Carr, who drew our attention to these documents and sent us copies.

We have intentionally quoted a great deal. We obviously could not recoin phrases coined by Marx which have long become familiar in our everyday speech. We have quoted Marx himself wherever the subject demanded it, and often let him speak for himself, because the particular turn he gave his thoughts, the way he fitted his sentences together, the adjectives he chose, reveal the nature of the man more clearly than any analysis. For the same reasons we have quoted his contemporaries whenever possible. Half the contents of a police agent's report is the way he writes it. To quote a letter of Bakunin's without using his own words in the important passages would be to misrepresent him. The fact that we give the source of our quotations will be welcome to many readers.

June 1936


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