Karl Marx the story of his life 1918.pdf - Routledge Library Editions KARL MARX ECONOMICS KARL MARX the story of his life KARL MARX'The Story of His

Karl Marx the story of his life 1918.pdf - Routledge...

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Unformatted text preview: Routledge Library Editions KARL MARX ECONOMICS KARL MARX the story of his life KARL MARX 'The Story of His Life by Franz Mehring Translated by Edward Fitzgerald New Introduction by Max Shachtman Ann Arbor Paperbacks For the Study of Communism and Marxism The University of Michigan Press First edition as an Ann Arbor Paperback 1962 New Introduction copyright © by The University of Michigan 1962 All rights reserved Reprinted by special pennission Published in the United States of America by The University of Michigan Press and simultaneously in Toronto, Canada, by Ambassador Books Limited Manufactured in the United States of America Hardbound edition published by the Humanities Press, New York City TO CLARA ZETKIN INTRODUCTION INTEREST in economics and politics, indeed, in the trend and problems of social development in general, cannot be enlightened without an understanding-regardless of the conclusions drawn from it-of the ideas of Karl Marx. Ignorance of Marxism, or even indifference to it, is as inexcusable in the fields of social science and politics as ignorance of Newton and Darwin would be (to use a loose but adequate comparison) in the fields of physics and biology. The belief that Marxism has been outlived, or �hat it is irrelevant to events and problems of our day, or that it has failed in this or that or in all respects, is nowhere so widely hcJd as in the United States. It would be more appropriate to hold that this belief itself, and in all its fonns, has been outlived and is irrelevant to the need to know Marx's ideas. Marx is unique among all the social thinkers of his time. If "his time" is extravagantly broadened to include the centuries that have marked the passage from the feudal world to the modern, his distinction is only enhanced. To the name of Marx, as to that of no one else in his field, are attached enduring interest, passion, controversy, and great political movements in almost every part of the world. This alone invites thoughtful consideration. But there is more. The governments of some one-third of the world proclaim Marxism as their official doctrine and guide. The relations between these governments and the rest of the world form the principal axis of world politics today; and the kind of relations that are established largely determine the direction in which the axis revolves. To seek such relations without understanding the doctrine nominally avowed by the forces these governments represent is at best parochialism. The legitimacy of the com­ munist governments' claim to Marxism is debatable. The claim of Marxism to be studied is not. In the countries of the West outside the communist world, the political life and destiny of the most important countries­ the United States appears to be the outstanding exception-are decisively influenced by socialist movements which enjoy the allegiance of millions. Unlike the communist movement, the socialist movement today is not Marxist in name. Despite its substantially Marxist origins, contemporary European socialism has either disavowed Marxism or has significantly revised many of its ideas. The importance of this disavowal and revision can­ not be disregarded. I t does not follow that Marxism can be disregarded. What Marxism means has been interpreted to the satisfac- Vlll INTRODUCTION tion of literally hundreds of writers on the subject, by supporters as well as opponents, by those who have studied it, and by those who regard a study of it as an unnecessary impediment. What­ ever Marxism may mean to others, Marx himself took pains to set forth what he considered his own central thought. He made it clear in 1852 in a famous letter to a party friend, Georg Weydemeyer, a former Prussian artillery officer who was later active in the American Civil War as a Northern regimental colonel: " ... as for myself, no credit is due me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society nor yet the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois econ­ omists the economic anatomy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (I) that the existence oj classes is only bound up with particular, historic phases in the development oj production; (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship oj the pro­ letariat; (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the tran­ sition to' the abolition oj all classes and to a classless society." The old term "dictatorship of the proletariat" has long ago been discarded by all socialists, understandably and wisely. It had acquired abhorrent connotations with the rise of the Stalinist regime, which was nothing but a dictatorship over the proletariat and against it. Ambiguity and misconception have been re­ duced to a minimum by using the terms "labor" or "socialist" government. In any case, by that harsh Latinic phrase, Marx had in mind, as he put it in his classical statement of the Com­ mum'st Manifesto, "the first step in the workers' revolution [which] is to make the proletariat the ruling class, to establish democracy." 'Ihe value of knowing Marxism is difficult to reject.. , The validity of :Marxism is not so difficult to reject. It is indeed far more widely rejected than accepted. And where, as in the Communist world, it is honored in the word it is outraged in the deed. It is hardly necessary to go much further than to compare the reality of the so-called communist societies of today with what was explicitly set forth as the view of the early communists of Marx's time. Only a few weeks before Marx wrote his Manifesto in 1847, the first English journal published in London by the German communist society which sponsored the Manifesto declared: "We are not among those communists who are out to destroy personal liberty, who wish to turn the world into one huge barrack or into a gigantic workhouse. There certainly are some communists who, with an easy conscience, refuse to countenance personal liberty and would like to shuffle it out of the world IN T ROD U CT ION IX because they consider that it is a hindrance to complete harmony. But we have no desire to exchange freedom for equality ..." The present Communist regimes may draw their inspiration from "some communists" of a century ago, but not from Marx. They are no more a confirmation of Marxism than they are its realization-except perhaps in the sense in which Marx wrote that where the struggle of the classes does not end in a "revolu­ tionary change in the whole structure of society," it ends "in the common ruin of the contending classes." It is said that whatever may be the merit of explaining the "failure of Marxism" in backward countries like tsarist Russia or China, its failure in the capitalistically developed Western countries cannot be explained away.This is undoubtedly true. The incontestable fact that the class struggle has not-in any case, has not yet-led to the rule of the working class that was to be transitional to a classless society (the perspective that Marx himself held to be his unique contribution) is a challenge to all Marxists, most of whom have been too occupied with commit­ ting blunders in Marx's name to leave time for reflecting on this difficult and complex problem. To meet this challenge, however, other facts also deserve consideration, and by critics of Marxism as well. Outstanding is the fact that even those continuing socialist parties of Europe that have abjured or extensively modified Marxism, and even officially renounced the class struggle, do not seem able to make a fundamental change in their own class character. Their appeals to middle-class elements, entirely proper within limits,have not eliminated the essential fact that they remain the organized working class in politics.Their program and aims may be formu­ lated ever so moderately and modestly, but so long as they continue to strive for political power in the hands of an organized working-class force, they remain a confirmation of the basic historical and social movement that Marx foresaw. In this respect, even the United States may prove before too long that its exceptional position is less reality than form and appearance. Marxism, as a theoretical system, has never found great popularity in this country.Class struggle, even the existence of classes, is almost universally denied.It is repeatedly repudi­ ated not only by spokesmen of government, but by leaders of labor and capital.Class harmony, identity, or at least mutuality of interests-that is the American way of life. Yet the most conservative labor leader does not propose to abandon the strictly working-class character of the unions; the most liberal capitalist has a correspondingly rigid attitude with regard to the unions of capital and commerce. Neither side has yet vigorously x IN T ROD U CT ION proposed the merger of the two types of class organizations into one as a living testimonial to the identity of interests they espouse so ceremoniously. Moreover, the class organizations of both sides have been increasingly and antagonistically active in politics in recent years. Each seeks to increase its power and influence in government, each seeks to reduce not only the political influence but the political activity of the others. Thoughtful, or at least instinctive, capitalist judgment more or less grasps the objective implications of labor's organized, class intervention into political life, even if it is still not as advanced, open-faced, and assertive as it is in other countries. This is not the confirmation of Marxism, to be sure. Neither is it the refutation.But it, too, is a challeng­ ing development, certainly not to supporters of Marxism alone. Once again, a knowledge of what Marx thought and wrote and did is a valuable aid to understanding. Franz Mehring once recalled that the philosopher Fichte scolded the German reader for his refusal to read a book be­ cause he first wanted to read a book about the book.We Amer­ icans deserve the same or a stronger scolding, because we first want to read an authoritative review of a book about the book. That being the case, and reform of habits being a long way off, Mehring's biography of Marx is to be recommended-as it always has been by serious scholars and students-as the best introduction to the works, to the life, and struggle of the most eminent figure in world socialism. 1962 MAX SHACHTMAN T RAN S LA T OR' S P REF ACE THE author of this biography was born in 1 846 in Pomerania of a well-to-do middle-class family. He studied at the universities of Berlin and Leipzig, taking the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the latter. From the beginning his leanings were democratic and liberal, and when the time came for him to submit himself to the stupidities of the Prussian drill sergeant he left Prussia and went to live in Leipzig, which in those days was " foreign territory " . This deliberate revolt caused the breaking off of relations between him and his family. Whilst still a young man he began to take an active part in public life and in the political struggles of the day. At the age of 25 he was a member of the small band of democrats led by Guido Weiss and Johann Jacoby which had sufficient courage to protest openly against the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by Bismarck after the Franco­ Prussian \Var. Mehring's chief activities were journalistic and literary, and for many years he was a contributor to prominent liberal and democratic newspapers, and later on an editor. All his life he had a keen sense ofjustice, and the feeling that injustice was being done was always sufficient to bring him on the scene. He defended Platen against Heine, Lassalle and Bakunin against Marx and Engels, Schweitzer against Bebel, and Bernstein against Liebknecht, and together with Rosa Luxemburg he fought a brilliant polemic against Kautsky and Riazanov. That he was not always on the side of the angels the reader of this book will discover for himself, but wherever he was to be found it was not because he had first considered the consequences to himself, but because his own sense of justice had compelled him with imperative logic. At about the age of 30 he became a socialist of the Lassallean school, appearing in the arena with a pamphlet against the historian Treitschke. It is to this period of socialism strongly tinged with nationalism that his attacks on Social Democracy and on 1vfarx belong. Like many another well-meaning and liberal-minded man from the ranks of the possessing classes, he approached the working-class movement equipped with demo­ cratic and liberal principles and a desire to assist the workers, and he suffered the failure and disappointment which such an approach inevitably brings with it. However, unlike many others, he did not then withdraw to nurse his wounded dignity and bemoan the proletarian lack of gratitude, but, spurred on by his initial failure, he came to grips with the problem and emerged as a Marxist. Xll T RAN SL ATO R ' S P RE F ACE It was in 1 890 that the final breach with his own class took place. He was then the chief editor of the democratic Berliner Volkszeitung and in its columns he resolutely opposed Bismarck's policy and defended the social democrats, who were still being persecuted under the Anti-Socialist Law. His attacks on Bismarck were extremely effective, and the latter answered with a threat of suppression unless the shareholders dismissed the uncomfortable critic. True to those traditions of pusillanimity which caused both Marx and Engels to despair of the German bourgeoisie the shareholders swallowed their democratic prin­ ciples to defend their economic interests, and Franz Mehring was sacrifi c ed. At the age of 44 he now took the final and logical step and joined the Social Democratic Party. The period of his greatest literary activity then opened up. The Neue Zeit, at that time under the editorship of Karl Kautsky, published many brilliant articles from his pen, including the famous series which appeared in book form in 1 893 as The Lessing Legend, the classic Prussian history of the Frederician age, and caused Friedrich Engels to write to Kautsky from London declaring that the articles made him look forward with impatience to every new number of the publication. Throughout the years which followed up to the time of his death Mehring's pen produced innumerable articles on philosophic, historical, military, literary and political subjects, and won him a foremost position in the in­ ternational socialist movement. The chief scene of his activities was the writing-desk, but for all that he was no arm-chair strategist, but a fighter all the time with the sharpest weapons at his disposal, and he used them with all his energy against a powerful enemy. From the closing years of the last century onwards when the revisionist efforts of Bernstein and his friends undermined revo­ lutionary Marxism in the social-democratic organization and provided the yearnings of its leaders for respectability with a theoretical cloak, Mehring was in the front ranks of those who fought strenuously against a policy which led logically to the collapse of the German working-class movement in 1 9 1 4. Throughout the war years he remained true to the principles of socialist internationalism and despite his advanced years he spent many months in prison. Together with Clara Zetkin and Rosa Luxemburg, " the only real men in the social-democratic move­ ment " as he was fond of calling them, he raised aloft the banner of proletarian internationalism in the heroic Spartakist League. He lived to see the first post-war class struggles and the defeat of the revolutionary workers, and he died in January 1 919 shortly before his seventy-third birthday, his death undoubtedly being hastened by the terrible tidings which reached him a day or T R AN S L ATO R ' S P REF ACE Xlll two before that his two friends Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht had been slaughtered by white mercenaries. With his death German literature lost a brilliant author and trenchant critic, and the German working class lost a great historian and socialist theoretician and the greatest literary man the socialist movement has yet produced. Artistic or other talent may not in itself be a suitable subject for historical research, but historical conditions render it fit matter for such i nvestigation, and, apart from his historical writings, Mehring's greatest service to the working-class move­ ment was his practical application of the Marxist historical materialist method to cultural and literary problems. In this respect he was a pioneer, for both Marx and Engels very rarely ventured into this field, their time being almost wholly taken up with the more direct economic, philosophical and political phases of the revolutionary movement. How long and how often will socialists continue to regret that Marx finally never did carry out his intention of writing a monograph on Balzac and his Comedie Humaine? The significance of Franz Mehring on this field is nowhere better described than in a letter of congratulation written to him on his seventieth birthday by Rosa Luxemburg: " . . . For decades now you have occupied a special post in our movement, and no one else could have filled it. You are the representative of real culture in all its brilliance. If the German proletariat is the historic heir of classic German philosophy, as Marx and Engels declared, then you are the executor of that testament. You have saved everything of value which still remained of the once splendid culture of the bourgeoisie and brought it to us, into the camp of the socially disinherited. Thanks to your books and articles the German proletariat has been brought into close touch not only with classic German philosophy, but also with classic German literature, not only with Kant and Hegel, but with Lessing, Schiller and Goethe. Every line from your brilliant pen has taught our workers that socialism is not a bread-and-butter problem, but a cultural move­ ment, a great and proud world-ideology. When the spirit of socialism once again enters the ranks of the German proletariat the latter's first act will be to reach for your books, to enjoy the fruits of your life's work. . . . To-day when intellectuals of bourgeois origin are betraying us in droves to return to the flesh­ pots of the ruling classes we·can laugh contemptuously and let them go : we have won the best and last the bourgeoisie still possessed of spirit, talent and character-Franz Mehring. " The biography of Karl Marx which is now presented to the English-speaking reader was the culmination of Mehring's work. XlV T R AN SL A TO R ' S P RE F ACE It was first published in Germany in 1 9 1 8, after long and irritating delays owing to the military censorship, which wished to prevent i ts publication altogether or permit it only in a mutilated form. Despite the troublous times its success was immediate, and half a dozen editions and many thousands of copies were sold. I n 1 933, o n the fiftieth anniversary o f the death o f Marx, a n ew edition was published, and it is a translation of this edition which is now before the reader. Franz Mehring dedicated the first edition to : " Clara Zetkin-heiress to the Marxist Spirit " and this first English edition therefore respects his wishes, although since then she too has joined her old friends Franz Mehring and Rosa Luxemburg in the ranks of those who will be " enshrined for ever in the great heart of the working class ". Mter Kfe�ring's death a new era in Marxist research was opened up with its centre in the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow, and many facts unknown to him were brought to light. The fiftieth anniversary edition was therefore brought up to date by means of an appendix prepared under the direction of Eduard Fuchs, an old friend of Mehring and his literary executor. This appendix, which the reader will find ...
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