14 March, 1883: 119th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx

To mark the anniversary of the death of Karl Marx, Alan Woods has wrote a short piece about Marx's contribution to human thought and to the struggle for the emancipation of the working class. Together with this we have included the text of Engels' marvellous speech that he gave at the grave of Karl Marx.

“Philosophers have only interpreted the world in different ways. The point is, however, to change it.” (Marx)

Today is the anniversary of the death of one of the greatest men of all time. Karl Marx revolutionised the world. He radically altered the whole course of human history. His brilliant theories in the field of philosophy, history, sociology and economics have radically affected all these fields. Today, despite all the attempts to downplay Marx’s role and belittle his ideas, no serious person can doubt the tremendous vitality of his thought; its richness, depth and extraordinary scope.

The Communist Manifesto, written when Marx and Engels were still young men, is a landmark in history. It is as fresh today as when it was first written in 1848. Indeed, it is more relevant now than when it was written. Today, it is possible to see the superiority of the method of Marx very easily. Just take any bourgeois book written 150 years ago, and it will be immediately evident that it is only of an historical interest. But if you read the Manifesto, you will find an accurate description of the world, not as it was in 1848, but as it is today. Phenomena such as globalisation, the concentration of capital, the exploitation of labour under the guise of modern technology – all these things were not only predicted by Marx but explained scientifically.

Marxism is a science. It is scientific socialism. And in order to understand the problems of the modern world, a scientific method is necessary. Today, the bourgeoisie and its academic servants are completely unable to explain what is happening in the world. One would look in vain in the pages of the economic journals for a rational explanation of the world crisis of capitalism. As for sociology, philosophy, psychology etc. – the less said the better. In its progressive phase, the bourgeoisie produced great ideas. In the phase of its senile decay, it produces only gibberish.

It fell to Marx and his great co-thinker and lifetime comrade, Frederick Engels to provide the working class with the ideological weapons it requires to change society. For without a scientific understanding of the world it is impossible to change it. Some say that the writings of Marx and Engels are difficult. This is not true. Marx wrote in such a way that a person of average intelligence could understand him. Marx wrote for the workers. But Marx did not believe in writing down to the workers as if they were little children. Every worker knows that life is hard, and also that everything in life that is worthwhile has to be worked and struggled for. To the person who is prepared to study the works of Marx with the necessary attention, it may mean an effort. But it will yield the most marvellous results in the end.

Reading the works of Marx and Engels is like climbing a high mountain. Exertion and perseverance is required, but once you reach the summit, what a glorious perspective opens up at your feet! Here is not just politics, but philosophy, art, history, science, and all the riches of human thought as it has been developed and perfected for centuries and millennia. The advanced worker must make it his or her duty to climb this mountain, to master the ideas of Marx – the most profound and comprehensive set of ideas ever worked out by one man. The task of conquering theory is not an academic exercise. These marvellous ideas are the tools and weapons by the aid of which the working class can conquer the world.

For thousands of years, knowledge and culture have been the monopoly of a tiny handful of wealthy exploiters, who have used and abused their monopoly to keep millions of their fellow men and women in chains. Socialism will put an end to this odious monopoly once and for all, giving free access to the wonders of culture to every man, woman and child on the planet. This is the meaning of socialism: to make actual that which was always potential in the human race. That is the greatest end to which anyone can aspire, the only cause worthy of giving one’s life for. Karl Marx gave his whole life to this cause, sacrificing everything for the cause of the emancipation of the working class.

Marx died 119 years ago today. But his ideas live on to educate and inspire the new generations of class fighters all over the world. We salute the memory of this mighty thinker and pledge ourselves to continue the struggle he began, until the day dawns when humanity will triumph over all obstacles and raise itself up to its true height.

March 14, 2002

Frederick Engels’ Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx

Highgate Cemetery, London. March 17, 1883

On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep - but for ever.

An immeasurable loss has been sustained both by the militant proletariat of Europe and America, and by historical science, in the death of this man. The gap that has been left by the departure of this mighty spirit will soon enough make itself felt.

Just as Darwin discovered the law of development or organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.

But that is not all. Marx also discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production, and the bourgeois society that this mode of production has created. The discovery of surplus value suddenly threw light on the problem, in trying to solve which all previous investigations, of both bourgeois economists and socialist critics, had been groping in the dark.

Two such discoveries would be enough for one lifetime. Happy the man to whom it is granted to make even one such discovery. But in every single field which Marx investigated - and he investigated very many fields, none of them superficially - in every field, even in that of mathematics, he made independent discoveries.

Such was the man of science. But this was not even half the man. Science was for Marx a historically dynamic, revolutionary force. However great the joy with which he welcomed a new discovery in some theoretical science whose practical application perhaps it was as yet quite impossible to envisage, he experienced quite another kind of joy when the discovery involved immediate revolutionary changes in industry, and in historical development in general. For example, he followed closely the development of the discoveries made in the field of electricity and recently those of Marcel Deprez.

For Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival. His work on the first Rheinische Zeitung (1842), the Paris Vorwarts (1844), the Deutsche Brusseler Zeitung (1847), the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (1848-49), the New York Tribune (1852-61), and, in addition to these, a host of militant pamphlets, work in organisations in Paris, Brussels and London, and finally, crowning all, the formation of the great International Working Men's Association - this was indeed an achievement of which its founder might well have been proud even if he had done nothing else.

And, consequently, Marx was the best hated and most calumniated man of his time. Governments, both absolutist and republican, deported him from their territories. Bourgeois, whether conservative or ultra-democratic, vied with one another in heaping slanders upon him. All this he brushed aside as though it were a cobweb, ignoring it, answering only when extreme necessity compelled him. And he died beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow workers - from the mines of Siberia to California, in all parts of Europe and America - and I make bold to say that, though he may have had many opponents, he had hardly one personal enemy.

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