xxxxxAs we have seen, it was in 1848 (Va) that the German social philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto, calling for the workers of the world to unite and overthrow the capitalist system. Because of the revolutions which broke out across Europe later that year, Marx was obliged to take refuge in London. There he became the virtual leader of the First International, organised by the International Workers’ Association in 1864. Under his guidance this organisation flourished, but in 1871 he came out strongly in favour of the Paris Commune of that year, and this brought into the open the deep divisions within the movement. He managed to defeat the anarchists who, led by the German socialist Mikhail Bakunin, wished to take direct action against the capitalist governments, but this brought about the collapse of the International in 1876. Meanwhile Marx spent long hours writing up his major work Das Kapital (Capital), the first volume of which was published in 1867. In this he argued that the capitalist system made the bourgeoisie progressively wealthy by exploiting the working man, forcing him to labour long for little reward. It was inevitable, he claimed, that the working class would overthrow capitalism by violent means and introduce a communist system based on common ownership of the means of production and a classless society. Marx died in 1883 and it was left to his collaborator Friedrich Engels to edit his friend’s notes and produce the additional two volumes in 1885 and 1894. Marx was one of the most influential socialist thinkers of all time, and his theories, inciting as they did a class struggle, were to have an enormous impact upon the history of the 20th century in Europe and, given time, across most parts of the world.

KARL MARX  - HIS LIFE IN LONDON  1849 - 1883 (Va, Vb, Vc)


Marx: detail, by the London photographer John Mayall (1813-1901), 1875 – The International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Bakunin: detail, by the French photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820-1910), 1860 – National Library of France, Paris. Founders: contained in The Communist Manifesto, artists unknown.

xxxxxAs we have seen, it was in 1848 (Va) that the two German social philosophers, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, published the Communist Manifesto. In this they argued that the age-along struggle between the classes of society was destined to end in a violent overthrow of the privileged élite, and the establishment of a society organised by the ordinary working people, the “proletariat”. It called upon the workers of the world to unite, throw off their chains, and take over the political and economic power of their countries. This was highly volatile material, but, exclusively written to set out the objects of the newly formed Communist League (a German refugee organisation), the pamphlet had little or no immediate effect upon public opinion. Nevertheless, the “spectre of communism” was floated abroad, and, when popular rebellions broke out across the continent later that year - “Europe’s Year of Revolutions” - Marx was seen as an undesirable, a likely honey pot for dissident bees. He was expelled from Belgium and then Prussia, and in August 1849 was obliged to take refuge in London. He was to stay in England for the rest of his life.

xxxxxAs noted earlier, for the next fifteen years Marx and his family were poverty-stricken, living a hand to mouth existence. In 1852 he became European correspondent for the New York Tribune and the income from this, together with money from his in-laws and his loyal friend Engels, enabled him to move out of Soho in 1856 and take up more salubrious lodgings in Kentish Town. During this period, however, three of his children died, including his son Guido, and it was not until 1864, when Engels was made a partner in his father’s firm and was able to increase his financial help, that Marx became comparatively free of money troubles.

xxxxxThroughout these years his main task was preparing data for his major work Das Kapital (Capital). He spent many hours in the British Museum reading up on social and economic history to develop his theories, and his first book, Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, written in 1859, was an examination of what he called “the system of bourgeois economy”, a study central to his materialistic conception of history. Such research took up much of his time, but It was inevitable that Marx would be drawn into active politics. Having rejoined the Communist League, he urged the setting up of “revolutionary workers’ governments”, but cautioned against precipitate action, arguing that a transition period of fifteen to fifty years of strife would be necessary to bring about change and equip the working man for political power. When the League was dissolved in 1852, Marx maintained contact with revolutionists in Britain and across the continent, and it was due in part to his influence that in September 1864 the International Workingmen’s Association was formed, sparked off by a visit to London of a group of French workers.  

xxxxxMarx was not a founder member but, once elected to the General Council, he soon became the organisation’s leading spirit, drawing up the Association’s rules, outlining its aims, and overseeing the work of its committees. His commitment to the cause, and his skills as a journalist paid off. Under his tactful guidance the First International, as the Association came to be known, grew in strength. By 1867 there were delegates from six countries - Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland -, and two years later its membership was put at 800,000. By then, however, deep divisions had appeared between various factions, and these conflicting schools of socialist thought threatened to undermine and destroy the organisation.

xxxxxThese disagreements came to the surface in 1871. In that year the establishment of the Paris Commune, following close on the armistice which ended the Franco-Prussian War, brought Marx international fame and, with it (ironically), a serious rift within the First International. The insurrection which broke out in Paris in March 1871, though not without an element of class struggle, was pre-eminently motivated by opposition to the dishonourable peace settlement, but Marx saw it as the first example of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. He gave it his full support and, when it collapsed in the May, considered its martyrs “enshrined forever in the great heart of the working class”. His contemporary account entitled The Civil War in France, given as an address to the General Council of the International, saw the Commune as “the finally discovered political form under which the economic emancipation of labour could take place.”  

xxxxxInxEurope, not surprisingly, Marx became the symbol of the revolutionary spirit, but in the First International his public stance only served to exacerbate the antagonisms within the movement. A number of English trade unionists, for example, following the Reform Bill of 1867, considered that changes could be accomplished via the ballot box, whilst in stark contrast, a large group of anarchists, led by the Russian revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876) (illustrated), were bent on a programme of whole scale destruction and sabotage, and saw Marx as an arrogant dictator who stood in the way of direct and immediate action. Bakunin had even gone so far as to set up a secret International Alliance of Social Democracy to rival and eventually replace the International, but he failed in this attempt. At a congress held at The Hague in 1872 the Bakuninists were defeated and expelled. However, for Marx it was a Pyrrhic victory. The General Council was relocated to New York City, and the organisation was disbanded four years later.

xxxxxWith the collapse of the First International, Marx returned to what he saw as his overriding task, the completion of his monumental work Das Kapital. This “Bible of the Working Class” aimed to analyse in detail the history of capitalism in order to highlight the weaknesses of the capitalist system, its gradual self-destruction through declining profits, and its eventual overthrow and replacement by communism, with its common ownership of production, and its establishment of an egalitarian and classless society. In such circumstances, the “state” would finally “wither away”. In the first volume, published in 1867, he set out his ideas on the struggle between the classes, and emphasised the importance of economic factors in world politics.

xxxxxAdopting what he termed the materialist conception of history, Marx argued that under capitalism labour was nothing more than a commodity that could be exploited to maximise profit. Whereas a machine had a limit to its capacity, the existence of a reserve army of unemployed “hands”, eagerly seeking a subsistence wage, provided what Marx called a “surplus value”, an excess product which provided additional profit for the capitalists or bourgeoisie, those who controlled the political and economic power of the nation. This division between those in society who ruled and were wealthy, and those who were oppressed and poverty-stricken, provided the age-old dialectic or clash between opposing classes, and one which, given time, would end in the violent overthrow of industrial capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat, the transitional stage towards a true communist society.

xxxxxBut Marx never saw the publication of the remainder of his masterpiece. During the last decade of his life his health declined fairly rapidly, and he suffered from bouts of depression. Nevertheless he continued to show an interest in working class movements at home and abroad. In a letter written in 1875, for example, (later published as Critique of the Gotha Programme), he took the German socialists to task for being willing to cooperate with their government, and he was delighted, so we are told, to learn of the assassination of Alexander II, the first sign, as he rightly saw it, of a peasant revolt to overthrow Tsarism. He attended health resorts for a time, and on one occasion travelled to Algeria, but he never recovered from his wife’s death in 1881, and following the death of his eldest daughter Jenny in January 1883, he died just two months later and was buried in Highgate Cemetery in North London. It was left to Friedrich Engels, his devoted collaborator, to edit the copious notes left by Marx and produce from these the second and third volumes of Capital, published in 1885 and 1894.

xxxxxMarx was one of the most influential socialist thinkers of all time. His Das Kapital,  - a masterly exposition of his economic thought - together with his associated theories on class struggle, the inevitable overthrow of industrial capitalism, and the dictatorship of the working people, though of little direct influence in his own lifetime, were to have an enormous impact upon the history of the 20th century. The victory of the Marxist Bolsheviks in the Russian revolution of October 1917, led by Vladimir Lenin, was to set in motion a train of events which was to engulf Europe in decades of conflict and, given time, threaten political stability in almost every part of the globe. The spectre of communism, floated abroad by the Communist Manifesto of 1848, and given substance by an economic argument which, in fact, proved a failure in practice, was to haunt mankind for many years to come.    

xxxxxIncidentally, manuscripts and notes found after Marx’s death showed that he had a fourth volume of Das Kapital in mind. These writings were edited by the German socialist Karl Kautsky (1854-1938). and published in four volumes under the title Theories of Surplus Value (1905-10). ……

xxxxx……  Marx’s imposing tomb in Highgate Cemetery, complete with portrait bust, was built by the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1954. It bears the inscription: “Workers of all lands unite”. There is an impressive statue of Marx in Moscow, and combined statues of Marx and Engels in Berlin and Budapest.  ……

xxxxx…… The Internationale, the famous socialist and communist anthem, was originally a French poem written by the French socialist Eugène Pottier (1816-87) to celebrate the Paris Commune of 1871. It was intended to be sung to the tune of La Marseillaise, but the Belgian-born composer Pierre De Geyter (1848-1932) set the words to his own music in 1888. It served as the national anthem of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1943.


Das Kapital and

Friedrich Engels


xxxxxAs we have seen (1848 Va), Friedrich Engels (1820-95) met Karl Marx in 1842. Three years later he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on his study of poverty in Manchester, and he then assisted Marx in the production of the Communist Manifesto, published in Brussels in 1848. On returning to Manchester he gave financial help to Marx, then working in London, and wrote numerous articles in support of the communist movement in England and overseas. He actively assisted Marx during his leadership of the First International, and did much to promote Marxism as a social philosophy. His greatest contribution to the communist cause, however, came after the death of Marx in 1883. It was then that he edited his friend’s notes and manuscripts and produced the second and third volumes of Das Kapital, the “Bible of the Working Class”. Among his own works during this later period were The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. Whilst Marx was clearly the theorist of Communism, Engel’s contribution to the promotion of this working class movement was considerable.

xxxxxAs we have seen (1848 Va), Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) met Karl Marx in 1842 and they became life-long friends and revolutionaries. Sharing identical views concerning the need to replace the capitalist system with a communist, classless society, Engels worked closely with Marx in preparing the ground for a working class movement which would eventually be capable of overthrowing the privileged élite (of which he was one!) and taking over a nation’s means of production. In 1845, based on his observations while working in Manchester, he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, a damning indictment of the social effects of the Industrial Revolution, and three years later assisted Marx in the publication of the Communist Manifesto, a stirring call to arms which set out the basic principles of this new, egalitarian society and stressed the revolutionary path that had to be taken to bring it about.

xxxxxThe Manifesto itself had little or no immediate effect on the current social and political scene - it being simply a tract written for the newly formed Communist League - but the names of its authors were duly noted by the authorities, and when a series of revolutions broke out across Europe later that year, both were obliged to seek refuge in England. Engels resumed work in his father’s textile firm in Manchester and was thus able to give some financial support to Marx and his family, then living a hand-to-mouth existence in London. In the early years this assistance was of necessity limited, but when he became a partner in the business in 1864 he increased this help substantially, and five years later, when he sold his share of the company, he made Marx a generous annual grant.

xxxxxDuring this period and beyond, Engels wrote a large number of  newspaper articles encouraging the communist movement in Europe - some of them on behalf of Marx himself - and he regularly corresponded with Marx, advising him especially on economic matters relating to commerce and industry. Together they reorganised the Communist League - until internal disputes brought about its collapse in 1852 - and he staunchly supported and actively assisted Marx throughout his leadership of the First International. In addition, by his book reviews and his own writing he promoted Marxist thought and did much to “sell” Das Kapital as the “Bible of the Working Class”.

xxxxxAfter Marx’s death in 1883 Engels continued to serve his friend as the foremost theorist and apologist of Marxism  He assiduously maintained contact with leaders of the communist movement worldwide, and he devoted the next ten years to editing a mass of manuscripts and a vast quantity of rough drafts in order to compile and complete the second and third volumes of Das Kapital, published in 1885 and 1894. And to these years belongs three works of particular value to the cause, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy, and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, the last named setting out the materialist conception of history and denouncing the capitalist machine that kept the workers under control. In 1870 he moved to London and it was there, in 1895, that he died of cancer.

xxxxxEngel’s name is inextricably linked with that of Marx, and it is perhaps because of this that his personal contribution to the birth and development of communism has not always received the acknowledgement it deserves. It is doubtless true that the Communist Manifesto was largely the work of Marx, but Engels played a significant role in formulating the revolutionary social philosophy which goes by the name of Marxism, based upon a materialistic interpretation of history. He had first-hand knowledge of the poverty endured by the British factory worker and his family, and he did much to promote the spread and development of the movement both at home and overseas. And his greatest contribution to Marxist thought - apart from the financial assistance he gave to Marx over many years - came after Marx’s death in 1883. It was then that he edited his friend’s manuscripts and copious notes, and published the second and third volume of Das Kapital.

xxxxxIncidentally, although German by birth, Engels had very much the ways and demeanour of an English gentleman. However, he had a ruthless, abrasive side to his character and this made him a number of enemies. But Marx would never hear any criticism of his friend - perhaps not surprising considering the enormous financial support he received from Engels over more than twenty years. ……

xxxxx……  In 1889 Engels played a part in the formation of the Second International, remembered in particular for its declaration of May 1st as International Labour Day. The movement proved more successful than its predecessor, but it was dissolved in 1916 during the First World War.