From Smirking Chimp
In 1888, Marx wrote, "philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."
On this 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx we focus on Marx as a political activist, rather than what he is best known for, an economist and philosopher who wrote some of the most important analyses explaining capitalism and putting forward an alternative economic model.
In the Communist Manifesto, Marx wrote, "The history of all previous societies has been the history of class struggles." He believed political change stems from the history of conflicts between people who are exploited against the people who are exploiting them. This exploitation leads to conflict and revolt. Marx posited revolution as "the driving force of history."
The root of the political struggle for Marx was the economic system creating a struggle between classes. This conflict has varied throughout history; e.g., the serfs vs. the lords in the Feudal Era, the slaves vs. their owners in the era of slavery, and today between workers and their bosses or capitalists.
Marx Was a Political Activist Working to Change the World
In an interview with Immanuel Wallerstein, Marcello Musto described Marx's political activism, noting:
"For all his life, Marx was not merely a scholar isolated among the books of London's British Museum, but always a militant revolutionary involved in the struggles of his epoch. Due to his activism, he was expelled from France, Belgium and Germany in his youth. He was also forced to go into exile in England when the revolutions of 1848 were defeated. He promoted newspapers and journals and always supported labor movements in all the ways he could. Later, from 1864 to 1872, he became the leader of the International Working Men's Association, the first transnational organization of the working class and, in 1871, defended the Paris Commune, the first socialist experiment in history."
Wallerstein adds that Marx played a major role in organizing people on an international level and that "Marx's political activity also involved journalism". He worked as a journalist to get an income, but he saw his contributions as a political activity. He had not any sense of being a neutral. He was always a committed journalist."
At 24 years of age, Marx was writing fiery articles opposing Prussian authoritarianism. The newspaper he edited was closed in 1842 by the government, he was exiled and moved to Paris from where he was expelled in 1844.
In 1848, Marx and Engels published the Communist Manifesto. "The Manifesto" was written as a declaration of the principles of socialism for the Communist League in Brussels. It remains a statement of the core principles of socialism to this day. At 45 years of age, Marx was elected to the general council of the first International where he was active in organizing the International's annual congresses.
Marx's vision of socialism had nothing in common with one-party dictatorships like the former Soviet Union that declared themselves to be socialist or communist. For Marx, the key question was not whether the economy was controlled by the state, but which class controlled the state. A society can only be socialist if power is in the hands of workers themselves.
Our Tasks: Expose Inequality, Create New Economic Systems
Marx's critique of capitalism focuses on how it inevitably leads to concentration of wealth. Marxism was seen as extinct after the Reagan-Thatcher eras and the end of the Soviet Union. But, now after nearly 40 years of neoliberalism, the inequality of deregulated global capitalism has made the occupy meme of the 99 percent versus the one percent a factual reality.