On 5 May 1818 Karl Marx was born in Trier, Germany. He is undoubtedly one of greatest influences in the history of the nineteenth, twentieth and twentieth-first centuries. Throughout his life and along with Friedrich Engels, his friend and comrade, in theoretical and political elaboration, and activism, they built a current of thought and action (Marxism) that today is still more a force than ever.
It includes, of course, his critical studies on the capitalist economy and its operating laws. Especially Capital, a monumental work that he did not complete, but which has not yet been surpassed (even though it was complemented by other works, such as Lenin’s book on Imperialism). Anyone who wants to understand in depth the current situation of capitalism (and the need to overcome it as a stage of the economic-social development of mankind) must start reading Marx’s works.
There are also his numerous philosophical writings. Based on a materialist conception, Marx fought the idealistic visions and religious understanding of history. At the same time, he drew materialism from the straitjacket of the formal-mechanical methodology in which it was imprisoned and elevated it to a higher level by incorporating the outlook of dialectics, constructing a new method for understanding reality: dialectical materialism.
There is, finally, the aim of his central body of ideas, which organises all his multiple and complex elaborations: the revolutionary militant. A path that begins with a philosophical premise in his youth: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” (Thesis XI on Feuerbach, 1845). Based on a scientific study of society, Marx concluded that the agent for the historical transformation of the world is the modern working class that develops in capitalism. And the way to reach this goal is that of revolution: the seizure of power by means of a working-class insurrection and the destruction of the bourgeois state, to begin the radical transformation of the economic-social capitalist foundations to first arrive at a socialist society and later to communist society.
From the time he and Engels joined the Communist League (1847), he had participated or helped to lead – and disputed other currents’ positions when he considered necessary – the most important processes of working class organisation and struggle such as the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA or First International in 1864) and the first workers’ revolution, the Paris Commune in 1871.
The Commune was defeated. But, from this experience, Marx wrote a pamphlet with conclusions and lessons drawn from its mistakes. By developing these conclusions and adding new considerations, a new generation of socialists (Lenin and Trotsky) would lead, in 1917, the first triumphant workers’ revolution and the construction of the first workers’ state in history. The balance sheet of this experience and its subsequent course continue to be the subject of intense debate. But it is an inseparable part of Marxism.
The ideologues of capitalism and their “tailor-made” journalists said in the 1990s that – as ironically a song by Joan Manoel Serrat said – “Marx is dead and buried” because “capitalism has triumphed.” But capitalist reality has shown that his analyses and conclusions maintain an absolute validity and his works need study more than ever.
Some supposed ‘Marxists’ tried to sterilise the revolutionary Marx and deform his ideas to reach the conclusion that capitalism can be ‘humanised’. Others tell us that the revolutionary aspect of his proposals remains valid… but are for an indeterminate future. They propose that the current task is to ‘democratise’ capitalism and so end up joining with the first group.
We are sure that Marx would repudiate these reasonings with the depth, harshness and irony that characterised him in the controversies he took part.
For our part, we remain proudly ‘orthodox Marxists’. That is, we try to be Marxists in thought and in the action to “change the world” by the class struggle, fighting for the workers’ and socialist revolution.