138th anniversary of Marx’s death: an indispensable militant

[:es]UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1865: Karl Marx (1818-1883), philosopher and German politician. (Photo by Roger Viollet Collection/Getty Images)[:]

March 14 marks a new anniversary of the death of Karl Marx. Founder of historical materialism and revolutionary organizer. Reviewing his life in the midst of a world situation of political polarization and capitalist crisis forces us to review his work as a militant, often hidden, to show that this activity was not just one among others that the German genius knew how to practice, but a central element to understand the theoretical legacy left by his work.

By Nicolás Zuttión

Born in 1818 in Trier, a city belonging to the German province of the Rhineland, Marx was a revolutionary crossed by two historical phenomena of an era that marked him by fire, the Great French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. The impulse of which provoked new convulsions in Western Europe in the decade of the 30’s and allowed a young Marx to see the first evidence of action of an incipient proletariat that joined the class struggle, through the expression of English Chartism as the first workers’ organization. This determined historical point was the one that functioned as the environment of who, later, traced a history of militancy orientated towards a revolutionary strategy that contemplated the emancipation of the workers.

A revolutionary organizer

The image of Marx has regained much importance after the capitalist crisis opened in 2008, which still remains unresolved. However, despite the revival of this giant, revisionism of his life and work continues to be in force, which disseminates it in hundreds of parts, but omits one. They revive Marx as one of the fathers of sociology, as a philosopher and other facets that only frame him as one more element of academia. What is forgotten or consciously suppressed is his role as a militant, as Ryazanov denounced some time ago: “Historians have overlooked Marx’s organizational work, presenting him as a cabinet thinker, and have not known Marx’s role as an organizer, neglecting one of the most interesting aspects of his personality.

As concrete data of what has been said, we find the participation of the German revolutionary in 1847 in the League of Communists, where together with Engels they elaborated the Communist Manifesto, published in February 1848. This political program was the one that founded the pillars of historical materialism. The union of theory and praxis will be continually in motion, feeding back on the new teachings of revolutionary experience. Such is the example of the Message of the Committee to the League of Communists in 1850 where, after taking stock of what happened in the Peoples’ Spring, Marx raises the need for the constitution of an organization of the working class itself, delimited from the democratic party, with a program that goes beyond what the conservative bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leadership proposed, a program that in the author’s own words called for “permanent revolution”.

Without this facet of Marx, without paying attention to the central activity of his life, it is impossible to understand the turn he demanded of philosophy from a contemplative character to one marked by action. The academic impartiality that is alleged to Marx is very far from someone who knew how to take sides in class struggle.

International militancy

Another of the guiding elements of Marx’s militant life was traced by internationalism. In 1864, First International already founded, the revolutionary joined the ranks of the first world organization of workers. His previous work as leader of the League of Communists was what gave him the authority to be appointed to draft the Inaugural Manifesto. A document that contained the demands of the labor movement of the time and also showed the tactical breadth used in the militancy by Marx, since it reflected a united front with anarchists, Chartists and supporters of other political tendencies.

The internationalist character of Marx’s militancy was part of the understanding of a new phenomenon that capitalist society had initiated. Returning to the Communist Manifesto, we can highlight the following sentence that states: “National isolation and antagonisms between peoples disappear from day to day with the development of the bourgeoisie, trade freedom and the universal market, with the uniformity of industrial production and the conditions of existence that correspond to it”. We can conclude that the premise alluded to by Marx and Engels is the one that gives to understand the internationalist and socialist militancy as the theoretical and political reflection of the character of the world economy, of the world development of the productive forces and of the world form taken by the class struggle.

We find his participation in the Paris Commune in 1871 as the last chapter of this political and militant characteristic. The workers’ feat was a historical experience that meant a turning point for his own theory. It was in the light of this fact that Marx was able to draw the lessons to reach the conclusion and idea of the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

A valid legacy

The current crisis of capitalism, which has magnitudes only comparable to those of the 1930s or the late 19th century, reveals the barbarity of maintaining this type of society. Pandemics, extreme poverty, profit with health and wars are the only possible horizon of a model in complete decomposition. However, a lesson that the 20th century left us revolutionaries is that capitalism, as Benjamin says, will not die a natural death.

This is why we see the importance of the MST in recovering the militant Marx, Marx as revolutionary organizer. Of course, returning to Marx does not imply taking all his important theoretical-political legacy in an uncritical way. We share Lenin’s assessment that “What has happened today with Marx’s doctrine has happened repeatedly in history with the doctrines of revolutionary thinkers and of the leaders of the oppressed classes in their struggle for liberation. During the lifetime of the great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes subject them to constant persecution, they receive their doctrines with the most savage rage, with the most furious hatred, with the most unbridled campaign of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to turn them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to speak, to surround their names with a certain halo of glory to “console” and deceive the oppressed classes, castrating the content of their revolutionary doctrine, dulling its revolutionary edge, debasing it”.

Taking this as a starting point, we return to Marx because we see in his contribution in Marxism, a theory and a political guide for the struggle for the emancipation of the working class.

In short, the best tribute to Marx is to take the teachings of his revolutionary life so that the 99% of us who face the onslaught of the counterrevolution of capital, mount an organization that prints a clear strategy, a conscious end to the anger of the oppressed, socialism.


George Novack, Dave Frankel, Fred Feldman: The First Three Internationals.

Lenin: The State and Revolution.

Marx and Engels: The Communist Manifesto.

Ryazanov: Marx and Engels.