Rejoinders to Francis Wheen’s “Marx and the Working Class”

The rules, as I recall, are that the given work must be quoted and also another one from Marx.

The sentence of Francis Wheen’s that I want to interrogate is this: “Marx himself was indisputably a bourgeois intellectual.”

The other text of Marx’s (with Engels in this case) is the 1879 Private Circulation Letter called “Strategy and Tactics of the Class Struggle,” (available on the MIA).

Marx grew up (like Kant, say, not long before) under a Prussian regime that was hardly bourgeois. The bourgeois revolution in Germany was not yet a fact when the Manifesto was written in 1848. So when was Marx a bourgeois? His father was a professional, a lawyer, not a trader. Lawyers are in some sense officers of the Sate, but this was not strictly a bourgeois state.

Engels’ father on the other hand was definitely bourgeois, and the young Engels had a difficult time to figure it all out but succeeded triumphantly, leading Marx in the process.

So what, anyway? The reason that this is worth being careful about is the singularity of the lives of Marx and Engels. It would be quite easy to go off into ideas of “genius” to explain them as a phenomenon. Indeed I believe Engels did so in relation to Marx after the latter’s death. But Engels had his reasons. He steered and supported Marx and pushed Marx to the front, knowing that one of them had to earn while the other did the necessary political work. He wanted to avoid the suspicion that he was a sort of Svengali to Marx — but in fact that’s what he was.

I'm suggesting that there is a quite adequate possibility of explaining the phenomenon of Marx and Engels in terms of the conjunction of circumstances in the early 1840s. Which does not take anything away from them. On the contrary, the subjective determination to take advantage of the circumstances, and then to actually do so, is what makes Marx and Engels heroic for me, not any idea of genius or random gifts of birth, or, perhaps privilege.

Now some words from “Strategy and Tactics of the Class Struggle”:

“... when such people from other classes join the proletarian movement, the first demand upon them must be that they do not bring with them any remnants of bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, etc., prejudices, but that they irreversibly assimilate the proletarian viewpoint.”

“So far as we are concerned, after our whole past only one way is open to us. For nearly 40 years we have raised to prominence the idea of the class struggle as the immediate driving force of history, and particularly the class struggle between bourgeois and the proletariat as the great lever of the modern social revolution; hence, we can hardly go along with people who want to strike this class struggle from the movement. At the founding of the International, we expressly formulated the battle cry: The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.”

“We cannot, therefore, go along with people who openly claim that the workers are too ignorant to emancipate themselves but must first be emancipated from the top down...”

I think they lived up to all of that. And it pretty much settles the matter. After our whole past only one way is open to us.

2005-Apr-12 4:53am hypercube

“The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.”

I forgot to include this from the 1848 “Communist Manifesto.” The proletarianisation of the professionals is presented as a fait accompli.

Dominic Tweedie (hypercube)

2005-Apr-21 1:56pm hypercube