Is it ever worth violent revolutions to achieve communism?

Karl Marx: Waiting for the big bang


Read on one side

He was born 200 years ago: Karl Marx, the philosopher, writer and politician. He hoped for a revolution based on a militant working class. But even when there was revolt all over Europe, Marx waited in vain for the big bang. A guest contribution by the Leipzig historian Jan Gerber

On August 27, 1849, Karl Marx left the Dover harbor City of Boulogne, a steamboat that operates between France and Great Britain. A few days earlier, one of the last bastions of the European awakening of 1848 fell in northern Italy: the Austrian military smashed the Repubblica di San Marco of Venice. The revolution is over. Subversive forces flee to Great Britain from almost every country on the continent: London becomes the European capital of exile.

When the German Revolution was suppressed, Marx initially fled to Paris. But the French government wanted to deport him to the inhospitable department of Morbihan in Brittany in August 1849 - Marx opted for London. There he continued to practice revolutionary optimism, but soon became more cautious with his prognoses. He carefully started to improve his theory.



Be there live online when our podcasts are created and meet your favorite hosts at the first ZEIT ONLINE podcast festival on Sunday, June 20, 2021.

With your registration you take note of the data protection regulations.

Many Thanks! We have sent you an email.

Check your mailbox and confirm the newsletter subscription.

That seemed necessary, because none of his fiery predictions had come true. in the Communist Party Manifesto, which appeared only a few weeks before the beginning of the revolution in 1848, Marx and Friedrich Engels had not only declared all history to be the history of class struggles, but also spoke of the imminent disempowerment of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat.

The events in France in 1848/49 could best be traced back to the class struggle scheme of the Manifestos press. At least the June uprising in Paris was sparked by the social question; on the barricades, red Paris had faced that of the tricolor. But that's about it. Because the supposed messengers of the new society did not gather under the red flag: Strictly speaking, at that time there were no industrial workers in Paris who wanted Marx and Engels to be understood as "proletarians". Until well into the last third of the 19th century, French factories were more manufacturers than factories. The supporters of the June uprising were those who, alongside the nobility, can be considered the last representatives of the class order - the journeymen craftsmen.

In Great Britain, in contrast to France, there was already a clearly visible industrial workforce, but the forecast from the also met them Communist manifesto Not to: Measured against the ideas of historical materialism, the belief in a meaning and a goal of history, the British proletariat was completely unrevolutionary. In 1848, of all places, in the country in which, according to Marx, the class antagonisms were most evident, there was absolutely no revolutionary awakening. While barricades were being erected on the continent, one day in April 1848 British labor leaders sat down like gentlemen in cabs, drove across the Thames and petitioned Parliament calling for a reform of the electoral law.

If you look beyond Western Europe, the situation becomes even more complicated. What began in Paris at the beginning of 1848 as an uprising of the lower classes became the spring of nations towards the east: In Hungary, Bohemia, Slovakia, parts of Poland and Romania, the question of social equality was raised less than about national independence in 1848/49. History there was by no means the history of class struggles; the social question merged with the national one.

Strictly speaking, Marx and Engels had im Communist manifesto spatially and temporally limited phenomena generalized. In view of the universalization tendency of the world market, they generalized the political development of France as well as the strict social polarization observed in England and the associated dominance of the social question - and charged both with the philosophy of history. Even if the protests of the nascent labor movement seemed to accommodate Marx ’and Engels’ speech about the role of the proletariat in world history, their view was based primarily on the Hegelian legacy of historical materialism.

Since moving to London in 1849, Marx's work has primarily aimed to explain why none of the predictions from the Communist manifesto had occurred. To this end, he devoted himself to studying political economy. It is true that he had already begun reading the writings of British economists during his first stay in Paris in the mid-1840s. He had also traveled to England with Engels to study the original. As early as 1844 he had the idea of ​​writing a "Critique of Politics and Economics". Nevertheless, the hour of the economy struck only in exile in London.

After Marx received the long-awaited library card for the reading room of the British Museum in June 1850, he began a lasting intellectual dialogue with Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus and other deceased classics of economics. He spent more time under the museum's famous domed roof than with his family. Friedrich Engels regularly provided him with empirical information on his considerations, figures and details of the factory and the stock exchange. While Marx may never have seen the inside of a factory, Engels had been working in the cotton mill in Manchester since the early 1850s, which belonged to his father and the English brothers Ermen. An example of the exchange is a letter from the spring of 1858 in which Marx asks about details of the internal organization, machine costs and purchases: "In my economic work I am now at a point where I would like some practical information from you, nothing about it to be found in theoretical writings, "the theorist asked his friend for information.