Gustavo Machado, PSTU-Brazil
During the bicentenary celebrations of Karl Marx’s birth many stress the necessity to revisit his work. Even The Economist, the newspaper of the financial bourgeoisie, published a story with the ironic title “Rulers of the world, read Marx”. The article suggests that “his diagnosis of the failures of capitalism” is of enormous relevance today. Obviously, before outlining Marx’s ideas, the paper devotes ample space to criticise them with the grossest historical forgeries.
If even The Economist cannot entirely deny the importance of Marx’s thought, they, as well as most of the contemporary left, insist on denying, falsifying or concealing two aspects of the German revolutionary’s life: Marx’s programme to overcome capitalism and the political organisations he built to achieve that goal. In this sense, The Economist does not differ much from the former São Paulo’s mayor Fernando Haddad (Worker’s Party – PT). According to him, “there are Marxists who defend Social Democracy in the PSDB, there are Marxists in the PT and in the PSOL.” For Haddad, it is as if Marx’s thought is compatible with any organisational form, any party, and any programme. For him, each one can choose the piece of Marx’s work that interests them in order to build their “Frankenstein Marxism”.
Several myths contributed to the view that partisanship was secondary in Marx’s thought. The first one is that party means for him the historical interests of the working class, not a specific organisation. In another more elaborated myth, his conception would refer to an organisation that encompassed all the working class, including all types of different programmes and nuances that could exist within it.
Several quotes are wrenched out of their original context to support those myths. For example, in the Communist Manifesto we can read: “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement”. Or, in an interview in 1879 for the North American newspaper Chicago Tribune, when Marx says, “But those revolutions will be made by the majority. No revolution can be made by a party, but by a nation”. Also, in the same vein, there is a letters exchanged between Marx and his friend and poet Ferdinand Freiligrath – who confused the term – whose Marx’s reply was “by party I understood the great historical meaning the word contains.”
If it is true that Marx used in some cases the term party in the sense of ‘taking sides’ with a social class in a historical perspective, to say that he did not clearly differentiate between that and the meaning of party as an organisation is to regard him as mad. Marx joined and founded many organisations throughout his life. In Belgium, he founded the Brussels Communist Correspondence Committee. Shortly afterward, he joined the Communist League and would be a member, in two distinct moments, of its Central Committee. In the 1848-49 revolutions, when the League became inactive due to the dispersion of its members, Marx joined and reorganised the Cologne Workers’ Association, leading it alongside the typographer Karl Schapper. He founded the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA), the First International. Marx’s involvement in the IWA was such that his house in London functioned as a sort of informal headquarter for the organisation. And, in the final period of his life, he closely followed the formation and development of the German Social Democratic Party.
To leave Marx’s writings on his partisan struggle is to marginalise easies the distortion and appropriation of his thought by all kinds of political currents. To get the picture, between 1853 and 1860 Marx published three pamphlets directly linked to his organisational activity. In Revelations Concerning the Communist Trial in Cologne, he acted as advocate for his Communist League’s comrades who had been arbitrarily arrested. He also published The Knight of Noble Consciousness to defend his positions against the Willich-Schapper faction inside the League. Not to mention the substantial volume Mr. Vogt, a reply to Karl Vogt, who published articles in the European press precisely to slander Marx’s organisational activity. It was later learned that Vogt was funded by the French Emperor Louis Bonaparte (1808-1873). If many consider Marx’s organisational performance of little relevance, the France’s Emperor at the time did not think so.
The militant Marx
All those works, as well as rules and resolutions written or approved by Marx in all organisations, are unfortunately forgotten. But a brief reading of that material removes, without effort, the set of myths mentioned above. For example, in The Knight of Noble Consciousness, Marx writes that his antagonist in the League, August Willich, “converts the party situation within a particular German secret society… into the ‘party situation within the proletariat’.” As can be seen, Willich distorts Marx’s words precisely by confusing his positions regarding a party and with the party understood in the sense of the general interests of the proletariat.
The hypothesis of the single party of the proletariat also does not survive a single page of all the material mentioned above. So much so that, that in all the organisations he joined or founded, Marx did so only with clear programmatic borders amid almost endless battles. Marx’s entry into the Communist League, for example (formerly the League of the Just), occurred after a fierce battle with its former leader Weitling, who used to say: give me an army of 40,000 ex-prisoners and I’ll establish communism by force. As we can see, the programme advocated by Weitling is indifferent to the objective needs of the proletariat. It is the construction of a pre-fabricated communist society by exclusively military means. It is this kind of conception that Marx fights in the Communist Manifesto when he says that “Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties,” or that “no revolution can be made by a party.” However, it does not follow that a party is unnecessary to win and lead the proletariat in the sense indicated by Marx.
It was only after a long battle against Weitling’s positions and after he leaves the League that Marx joined. In his own words in Mr. Vogt: “The Central Committee had convened a League Congress in London, where the critical views held by us [Engels and Marx] would be proclaimed the League doctrine in a public manifesto.” Only then did Marx join the organisation. Far from a party of all the working class, the Rules of the League, drafted in December 1847, begin by stating: “The aim of the League is the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the abolition of the old bourgeois society which rests on the antagonism of classes, and the foundation of a new society without classes and without private property.” As a condition to join the organisation the Rules read: “A way of life and activity which corresponds to this aim”, “subordination to the decisions of the League.” In the clauses that define who could be a member we can read:
“Revolutionary energy and zeal in propaganda; acknowledgment of communism; abstention from participation in any anti-communist political or national association…; observance of secrecy concerning the existence of all League affairs.”
Many other examples could be mentioned, both in the IWA and in German Social Democracy.
As noted, Marx devoted most of his life to organisational and militant activities. He fought for an independent party of the working class with a programme built on scientific grounds. He opposed the purely conspiratorial nucleus and an organisation looking to administer capitalism. Forgetting such essential moments in Marx’s life, activity and reasoning is no coincidence. It is at the service of a Marx emptied of his essential content. A Marx apart of the working class and the socialist revolution. An artificially constructed Marx after his death. Certainly, it is this last Marx, cut out and disfigured, the “Frankenstein Marx”, who is claimed by The Economist, Haddad and many others in the 200th anniversary of his birth.
 PSDB – Party of Brazilian Social Democracy, a right-wing bourgeois party; PT, Workers’ Party, reformist; PSOL, Party of Socialism and Liberty, neo-reformist.