‘The Revolutions of 1848 and the Proletariat: A Speech by Karl Marx’ (1856) from Karl Marx: Man, Thinker, and Revolutionist edited by David Riazanov. International Publishers, New York. 1927.

We don’t often think of Marx giving speeches, but of course he gave many hundreds talks, lectures, orations, and toasts…like this. Short and masterful, an almost overwhelmingly rich look back at the revolutions of 1848, it was given at a celebration supper for Ernest Jones’ ‘People’s Paper’ in 1856, and ends with one of Marx’s immortal lines. The speech exemplifies the often missed reality that Marx’s theoretical work was forged to be a weapon in the class war, and that Marx wielded those weapons in battle himself.

‘The Revolutions of 1848 and the Proletariat: A Speech by Karl Marx’ (1856) from Karl Marx: Man, Thinker, and Revolutionist; a Symposium edited by David Riazanov, Translations by Eden and Paul Cedar. International Publishers, New York. 1927.

On the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the founding of the “People’s Paper,” Ernest Jones entertained the compositors and the staff of the paper at a supper, which was joined by a large number of the leading democrats of England, France, and Germany, now in London. After supper, Ernest Jones, as chairman, proposed the toast “the Proletarians of Europe,” ….which was responded to by Dr. Marx as follows:

“The so-called revolutions of 1848 were but poor incidents, small fractures and fissures in the dry cruft of European society. However, they denounced the abyss. Beneath the apparently solid surface, they betrayed oceans of liquid matter, only needing expansion to rend into fragments continents of hard rock. Noisily and confusedly they proclaimed the emancipation of the proletarian, i.e., the secret of the nineteenth century, and of the revolution of that century. The social revolution, it is true, was no novelty invented in 1848. Steam, electricity, and the self-addling mule were revolutions of a rather more dangerous character than even Citizens Barbes, Raspail, and Blanqui! But, although the atmosphere in which we live weighs upon every one with a twenty thousand pound force, do you feel it? No more than European society before 1848 felt the revolutionary atmosphere enveloping it and pressing it from all sides.

“There is one great fact characteristic of this our nineteenth century, a fact which no party dares deny. On the one hand there have started into life industrial and scientific forces which no epoch of the former human history had ever suspected. On the other hand there exist symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors recorded of the latter times of the Roman Empire. In our days, everything seems pregnant with its contrary. Machinery, gifted with the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labour, we behold starving and overworking it. The newfangled sources of wealth, by some strange, weird spell, are turned into sources of want. The victories of art seem bought by the loss of character. At the same pace that mankind masters nature, man seems to become enslaved to other men or to his own infamy. Even the pure life of science seems unable to shine but on the dark background of ignorance. All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force. This antagonism between modern industry and science, on the one hand, and modern misery and dissolution, on the other hand; this antagonism between the productive forces and the social relations of our epoch is a fact, palpable, overwhelming, and not to be controverted. Some may wail over it; others may wish to get rid of modern arts, in order to get rid of modern conflicts. Or they may imagine that so signal a progress in industry wants to be completed by as signal a regress in politics.

“For our part, we do not mistake the shape of the shrewd spirit that continues to mark all these contradictions. We know that if the newfangled forces of society are to work satisfactorily, they need only be mastered by new-fangled men — and such are the working men. They are as much the invention of modern time as machinery itself. In the signs that bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy, and the poor prophets of regression, we recognise our old friend Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer — the revolution. The English working men are the firstborn sons of modern industry. Certainly, then, they will not be the last to aid the social revolution produced by that industry — a revolution which means the emancipation of their class all over the world, which is as universal as capital-rule and wage-slavery. I know the heroic struggles the English working class has gone through since the middle of the last century; Struggles not less glorious because they are shrouded in obscurity and burked by middle-class historians. To take vengeance for the misdeeds of the ruling class, there existed in the Middle Ages in Germany a secret tribunal called the Vehmgericht. If a red cross was seen marked on a house, people knew that its owner was doomed by the Vehm. All the houses of Europe are now marked by the mysterious red cross. History is the judge; its executioner, the proletarian.”

Karl Marx: Man, Thinker, and Revolutionist; a Symposium edited by David Riazanov, Translations by Eden and Paul Cedar. International Publishers, New York. 1927.

Contents: Introduction by D. Ryazanoff, Karl Marx by Friedrich Engels, Engels’s Letter to Sorge concerning the Death of Marx, Speech by Engels at Marx’s Funeral, Karl Marx by Eleanor Marx, The June Days by Karl Marx, The Revolution of 1848 and the Proletariat A Speech by Karl Marx, Karl Marx by G. Plehanoff, Karl Marx and Metaphor by Franz Mehring, Stagnation and Progress of Marxism by Rosa Luxemburg, Marxism by Nikolai Lenin, Darwin and Marx by K. Timiryazeff, Personal Recollections of Karl Marx  by Paul Lafargue, A Worker’s Memories of Karl Marx by Friedrich Lessner, Marx and the Children by Wilhelm Liebknecht, Sunday Outings on the Heath by Wilhelm Liebknecht, Hyndman on Marx by Nikolai Lenin, Karl Marx’s “Confessions” by D. Ryazanoff.

PDF of book: https://archive.org/download/in.ernet.dli.2015.54746/2015.54746.Karl-Marx-Man-Thinker-And-Revolutionist_text.pdf

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