End of Apprenticeship
Among the socialist organizations Marx made contact with in Brussels
was the German Workers' Educational Association, headed by a type-setter
(Schapper), a cobbler (Bauer), and a watchmaker (Moll); its headquarters
were in London, and it was affiliated with a federation called the
Communist League. In 1847 this group commissioned Marx to write
a document expounding its aims and beliefs. Reworking a first draft
provided by Engels, Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto in a burst
of creative energy and dispatched it to London early in 1848. It
was published, without having any major impact, a few weeks before
the outbreak of the Paris revolution. The by now familiar first
sentence, "The history of all hitherto existing society is
the history of class struggle," adumbrates what is perhaps
the most distinctive aspect of all of Marx's later work. His period
of apprenticeship was over. He would elaborate and refine his message
later on, and his specific political views and orientations would
undergo many changes, but the main line of his intellectual development
When the 1848
revolution broke out in Germany, Marx returned to the Rhineland,
after having spent some time in revolutionary Paris, and once again
assumed the editorship of a radical newspaper, the Neue Rheinische
Zeitung. He and Engels now worked for an alliance of the liberal
bourgeoisie with the incipient working-class movement. When the
revolution failed, Marx, back again in exile, entertained for a
while the will-o'-the-wisp of an impending new revolutionary outbreak.
Castigating the liberals for their failure and their cowardice,
Marx still expected that the revolutionary flame would be rekindled
in the very near future.
In August 1849,
Marx was presented by the French government with the alternatives
of retiring into a distant provincial retreat or leaving the country.
He made his decision and embarked for London. He was never to leave
this city again for any length of time.
During the first
phase of his stay in London, Marx considered the city a temporary
port he would soon leave when the Continental revolution came again.
In these early years he wrote his most brilliant historical pamphlets,
The Class Struggles in France (1850) and The Eighteenth Brumaire
of Louis Bonaparte (1852). These works are informed by a burning
revolutionary ardor, but perhaps more importantly, they show Marx
at his best in his new role as a social historian of distinction.
As the London
years went on, Marx, although never despairing of the coming of
a new revolutionary upsurge, realized that the fires of 1848 had
burned out. Refusing to participate in a variety of insurrectionary
conspiracies advocated by Continental revolutionaries, Marx and
Engels withdrew from most of their fellow refugees. Since he had
not managed to make many contacts in the British labor and socialist
movement, Marx now retired almost completely into the narrow circle
composed of his family, Engels and a few other devoted friends and
disciples. He remained in this isolated condition throughout most
of his life. When he wrote to Engels about "our party"
he was referring to Engels and himself.
In June 1852
Marx obtained an admission card to the reading room of the British
Museum. There he would sit from 10:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. every day,
pouring over Blue Books of factory inspectors and perusing the immense
documentation about the inequities of the operation of the capitalist
system that was to become an important part of Das Kapital. Here
also, filling notebook after notebook, he deepened his knowledge
of the British political economists whom he had begun to study during
the Paris days.
of the London period Marx lived in dire and abject poverty. Only
once had he attempted to find regular gainful employment (as a clerk
in a railway office) but was turned down because of his illegible
handwriting. Being entirely devoted to his work and absolutely convinced
that the anatomy of the political economy of capitalism, which he
now was describing, would provide an indispensable instrument for
the "necessary" emancipation of the working class, Marx
continued his scholarly tasks even when he and his family were pursued
by angry creditors and found it hard to obtain lodging. Three of
his children died from malnutrition or lack of proper care. When
one of them died, he had no money to pay for a coffin until a fellow
refugee came to his rescue. He and his family were exhausted by
a variety of illnesses, some of which clearly stemmed from their
miserable living conditions. But Marx persevered. Had it not been
for the financial support that the devoted Engels gave to the full
measure of his ability, the family might have gone down completely.
on what was to become Das Kapital proved even more time-consuming
than had been anticipated. A first sketch entitled A Contribution
to the Critique of Political Economy had been published in 1859
but attracted little attention. The first volume appeared in 1867.
Marx never completed the subsequent volumes; they were finally published
by Engels and Kautsky after his death.
poverty was slightly relieved for a time when the foreign editor
of the New York Daily Tribune, then probably the world's largest
newspaper and one with a radical orientation to boot, asked him
to become its regular correspondent for European affairs at one
pound sterling for each article. He was to send them regular weekly
dispatches for almost ten years. When ill health, lack of detailed
knowledge, or the pressure of work on Das Kapital prevented him
from writing, Engels, much more the facile journalist, took over.
Recently, efforts to establish which of the unsigned articles were
written by Marx and which by Engels have proved a profitable occupation
for Marxicologists. In any case, these occasional writings provide
privileged access to the operation of Marx's mind. The articles
range over a variety of subjects--diplomatic events, social histories
of England and the Continent, analyses of the secret sources of
war and crisis, analytical accounts of the consequences of British
domination in India--and reveal his reactions to the passing scene
that are otherwise available only in his Correspondence, particularly
fifties, Marx and Engels watched expectantly for signs of the major
economic crisis that would inaugurate a new period of revolutions.
None came for many years. When a serious slump finally occurred
in 1857, it had no revolutionary consequences. Marx then concentrated
less on the expected economic breakdown and more on organizing the
working class, but here too he was disappointed for a long time.
To be sure, Ferdinand Lassalle, the romantic firebrand of German
socialism, had created a German labor movement. But Marx disapproved
of its political orientation even more than of Lassalle's histrionic
manners. Jealousy of Lassalle, who had borrowed most of his theoretical
weapons from Marx, may have been one of the motives for Marx's hostility,
but there were more objective reasons. He was suspicious of Lassalle's
tendency to build a socialist movement upon some sort of unspoken
alliance with Bismarck and the Prussian government.
On the rest
of the Continent, more particularly in France, the working-class
movement was quiescent, not having fully recovered from the disasters
of 1848. As for England, Marx never managed to have much sympathy
for the stolid, unideological and pragmatic labor leaders who dominated
the union movement there. He regarded most of them with withering
contempt and they, in turn, to the extent that they knew him at
all, returned the compliment.