MARX, in the Poverty of Philosophy, clearly set forth the principles of his theory of social history. “The hand mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist,” he wrote, examining the dialectical interaction of the productive forces and production relations. Prospects were opened before the reader for the revolutionary struggle of the working class and all working people.
Under Communism, social changes would cease to be political revolutions; a harmonious development of all elements of the social structure and rapid progress of all mankind would be secured.
In a brilliant application of materialist dialectics, Marx exploded the reformist ideas according to which it is possible to fundamentally change capitalism without destroying its basis, ie., capitalist private ownership of the instruments and means of production, the chief cause of exploitation of man by his fellow man. These are but two sides of one medal. Abolition of capitalist private ownership of the instruments and means of production is the first task of a Socialist revolution and the first in a series of revolutionary transformations leading to a classless society.
Incidentally, today also, this criticism remains a potent weapon in the struggle against the theories widely peddled by the apologists of the imperialist system—the theories of “people’s capitalism”, the “affluent society”, the “post-industrial society”, etc. All of these theories propound the idea of changing capitalism while leaving its economic basis intact.
Marx’s struggle against trends alien to the proletariat in the workers’ movement cleared the way for the creation of a proletarian party.
In the second half of 1840s, the economic crisis that had hit England spread to the continent. Because of crop failures agriculture was in a state of crisis. Ferment was growing among peasants, artisans and workers, sometimes culminating in political demonstrations.
LINKING THEORY WITH MOVEMENT
Marx and Engels who had an intimate knowledge of the situation in the European countries, were fully aware that in its class content the impending revolution could only be a bourgeois one—a revolution aimed at destroying the feudal-absolutist order. The overall social development, and above all the emergence of the working class in the political arena, made it particularly important to build a class political organization of the proletariat.
At the beginning of 1847, the leadership of the League of the Just invited Marx and Engels to join it. Realizing that history was providing them with a real opportunity of taking a step towards linking their theory with the workers’ movement, of building a proletarian organization in which the principles of Scientific Communism could and should prevail, Marx and Engels joined the League and devoted much effort to reorganizing it and building a proletarian party.
New forms of organizations were worked out. It was necessary to draft statutes in which organizational principles, the duties and the aims of the members would be clearly expressed in accordance with the new view and new knowledge. Together with Engels, Marx contributed the basic ideas to the draft of the statutes.
The association was to be a democratic but strictly organized and militant body, with elected leaders, subject to constant recall, which would be set up in local and district groups, and with leadership which would be responsible to the Congress as the highest organ of the organization. These were already the organizational principles which were later to become characteristic of all revolutionary workers’ parties as “democratic centralism”.
THE BASIS AND GOAL
The basis and goal of the League was declared to be: “the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the abolition of the old bourgeois society resting on class antagonism and the founding of a new society without classes and without private property.” In accordance with this aim Marx and Engels proposed that the organization be called the League of Communists, and that the old slogan, “All men are brothers”, should be substituted by the new battle-cry, “Workers of the World Unite!” This would openly proclaim the proletarian revolutionary and international character of the struggle.
To his great chagrin, Marx could not take part in the First Congress in London in June 1847. He and his family were once again in a situation where they lacked the necessities of life. Even his friends could give him little assistance, and it was impossible to think of an expensive trip to London.
But Marx knew that he would be ably represented there, since Engels was taking part as a delegate. When Wilhelm Wolff, who was a delegate from the Brussels branch returned after the Congress, he brought good news: the draft of the statutes, in line with the views of Marx and Engels had been approved and sent to the organisations of the League for discussion. The new name and the new slogan had also been accepted, and the drawing up of a programme had also been decided on. Though these decisions did not provide the urgently needed party with a finished scientific programme, it did lay the foundation for such a party.
‘WAGE-LABOUR AND CAPITAL’
The Brussels and district sections of the League of Communists were set up at the beginning of August. Marx was elected Chairman of the Brussels group and also to the district committee. Together with Engels, Marx organized the Brussels German Workers’ Association. It was thanks to Marx that the Association became a school for Communism.
He delivered a series of lectures on the origins of capitalist exploitation and explained to his audience why the interests of capital and the interests of the workers were irreconcilable. These lectures were later published in the well-known work Wage-Labour and Capital.
Marx and his friends were successful in winning a decisive influence over the democratically oriented Deutsche-Brusseler-Zeitung in the late summer of 1847. In this four page all-round paper that appeared twice a week, and was smuggled across the border into Germany in various ways, Marx and Engels published a series of articles in which they developed their concept of the coming struggle.
Marx based himself in his articles on the need to overthrow the outmoded feudal order in Germany by revolutionary methods and to establish a bourgeois-democratic system. It was necessary to recognize clearly, he told the workers, that the bourgeoisie wanted to use the proletariat only as cannon fodder in its struggle against feudalism. Yet the workers should not allow themselves to be led by emotions, by their highly justified hatred of the bourgeoisie, but only by their scientific knowledge of the course of history.
The experiences in England and France had clearly shown “that the rule of the bourgeoisie not only puts new weapons into the hands of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, but also provides it with quite a different position” in society. Therefore, the working class, by its help for the bourgeoisie, fights to abolish feudalism and tow in fundamental bourgeois-democratic rights like freedom of the press, trial by jury, freedom of assembly, freedom of organization and popular representation, and thus indirectly also fights for its own proletarian interests.
Even more: where the bourgeoisie, out of fear of the popular masses, wavers in the confrontation with feudal authority, the workers, and the communists at their head, have to prove themselves as the most determined fighters for democracy and to find ways of bringing the bourgeois democrats into joint activity with them.
LINK WITH SOCIALISM
At the same time, of course, the working class had tasks and aims which went far beyond the bourgeois revolution. All the problems of the working class and the laboring masses would by no means be solved in the bourgeois republic. In the struggle for democratic institutions, it was necessary for the workers to create the conditions for the Socialist transformation of society.
With these proposals Marx emphasized the close connection between the struggle for democracy and for Socialism, a principle that today, as then, belongs to the strategy and tactics of the revolutionary workers’ party. While publicizing these ideas Marx and his co-workers began to work for the creation of a joint front of Communists and bourgeois democrats.
In the last months of 1847, Marx’s revolutionary activities were at a higher level than ever before. Although literally weighed down by his organizational and propagandistic duties in the Communist and democratic movement in Brussels, Marx did not neglect the preparations for the decisive Second Congress of the Communist League. In an exchange of views by correspondence with Engels, in Paris, he dealt with the drafting of the League’s programme. Engels worked out a draft which he discussed with the Paris Communists. On November 27, he brought with him the document called “Principles of Communism”, to Ostend where he met Marx. From there the two travelled together to London, Marx as delegate from Brussels and Engels as representative of the Paris circle of the Communist League.
THE FIRST CONGRESS
On November 29, 1847, the first international Congress of the revolutionary proletariat opened. Since most of the delegates were forced to work for their daily bread during the day, the Congress deliberations took place only in the evening. The Congress lasted for about ten days during which theoretical and practical problems were discussed and all differences resolved.
The Congress approved the rules and adopted unanimously the principles of the new doctrine. Marx and Engels were instructed to draw up a manifesto setting forth the principles of the Communist League’s programme.
Marx’s speeches at the Congress reflected his profound confidence in the triumph of Communist ideas. His devotion to the cause of the struggle for Communism, his intimate knowledge of the condition of the working people, and his concern for their needs won for Marx deep respect among the advanced workers who called him “Father Marx”. Friedrich Lessner wrote in his reminiscences:
“Marx was then still a young man…He was of medium height, broad-shouldered, powerful in build and energetic in his deportment. His brow was high and finely shaped, his hair thick and pitchblack, his gaze piercing. His mount already had the sarcastic line that his opponents feared so much.
“Marx was a born leader of the people. His speech was brief, convincing and compelling in its logic. He never said a superfluous word: every sentence was a thought and every thought was a necessary link in the chain of his argumentation.”
For Marx and Engels, the founding of the Communist League, the first revolutionary party of the working class, signified the triumph of their long years of ideological and organizational work to convince the proletariat of the necessity of having an independent political party, and to create such a party.
A few years before his death Engels wrote, in refutation of distortions of his and Marx’s fundamental viewpoint about the party of the working class: “In order that the proletariat may be strong enough to conquer on the day of decision, it is necessary—and Marx and I have said so since 1847—that the proletariat create a special party, distinct from all others and ranged against them, a class conscious party.” (Letter to Gerson Trier, December 18, 1889).
In February 1848, the small, unpretentious-looking 23 page brochure appeared: Manifesto of the Communist Party. Only a few hundred copies were available for the organizations of the Communist League, to be passed on from hand to hand. And yet, with this little booklet, Marx and Engels had produced a work that made history, in the truly literal sense, as no other, a work that has shown its vitality ever since, and continues to show it daily in our own times.
(To be continued)