Vol. XLII No. 24 June 17, 2018

From Revolutionary Democrat to Communist

UNDER Marx’s editorship, the Rheinische Zeitung soon began to flourish. The Prussian authorities imposed strict censorship on the paper and demanded that it change its tune. For a while the paper, before publication, had to be submitted daily to the Government President for his approval. The intellectual level of the Prussian censor in Cologne – very reminiscent of our own censors of the Emergency period – was such that he struck out a notice for Dante’s Divine Comedy saying that it was impermissible to mix comedy with divine things.

Even in such conditions Marx continued for several months his criticism of the anti-democratic policy of the Prussian State and its allies. The government then adopted a decision on January 21 to ban the paper from March 31, 1843. The shareholders decided to renounce the paper’s opposition stand and submit to the government in the hope of obtaining permission to continue its publication. Because of this attitude Marx decided to resign his editorship. And so ended an important stage in the development of the political and world outlook of the young Marx.

His work at the head of Rheinische Zeitung, even only for a short period, had enriched him by way of two significant experiences. He had begun to recognise what a great role material interests play in human society, and he had seen that in the fight for the interests of the dispossessed masses, idealism and bourgeois democracy were inadequate as philosophical and political weapons. That drove him to a fundamental examination of economic and social problems. The Prussian State’s brutality, moral rot and hatred of the people had confirmed him in the belief that democracy and freedom could find no homeland in Germany as long as the Junkers and militarists held sway. He also learnt for the first time that the wavering bourgeoisie – fearful of the “politically and socially dispossessed mass” drew back from an uncompromising struggle against the reactionary feudal regime.


Marx felt a need now for a place to live and openly put forward his political and philosophical ideas. His hopes laid in Paris, where he planned to publish a journal together with Ruge. Before emigrating, Marx went to Krenznach, where Jenny von Westphalen and her mother were living at that time. Karl and Jenny were married here on June 19, 1843.

During his stay in Krenznach, Marx continued his research and set himself the task of disproving the Hegelian idealistic concept.

In October 1843, Karl and Jenny arrived in Paris, the political and cultural centre of Europe in the forties, to begin the hard life of political émigrés who dedicated themselves to the revolutionary struggle.

As distinct from Germany, revolution was in the air in Paris. The ideals of “liberty, equality and fraternity” proclaimed by the Great French Revolution at the end of the 18th Century had proved unrealisable under capitalism. The social system based on capitalist private property allowed only the freedom of capitalists to exploit proletarians, to live off the labour of the toiling masses.

With the development of capitalist production the proletariat grew. The first uprising of the proletariat of France in Lyons, the centre of the textile industry, had the support of workers all over France. Revolutionary ferment was on the rise in Paris among the proletarians, artisans and the middle strata. It was directed against the industrial and financial bourgeoisie that had come to power after the revolution of 1830.


Marx’s achievements in theoretical work, their friendship with many talented people – revolutionaries from various countries – and especially an expectation that the revolution which they worked for was near, all this compensated Marx and his wife for the many hardships of professional revolutionaries which they had to endure.

In the early forties, Marx had already acted as an ardent champion in the interests of the working people. In Paris he established contacts with secret societies which included forward-looking members of the proletariat. He took a special interest in German workers living in Paris. Many had come there in search of work and not infrequently to escape political persecution at home. The most revolutionary minded of them united in the League of the Just.

Marx had great respect for and sympathy with workers; he wrote in a letter to Feuerbach: “…The brotherhood of man is no mere phrase with them, but a fact of life, and the nobility of man shines upon us from their work-hardened bodies.”

With exceptional single-mindedness and intensity, Marx continued his theoretical work. In 1843, when Marx was writing his critique of the Hegelian philosophy, he had come to the conclusion that economic and material relations constituted the basis of social development and hence of class struggle and revolutions.

In January 1844, the journal Deutsh-Franzosische Jahrbucher (German-French, Yearbook), edited by Marx started publication in Paris – Marx’s articles and letters that appeared there showed that he had finally gone over from idealism to materialism and from revolutionary democratism to communism. Marx set himself the task of uniting theory with practice. Theory, he said , “becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” He formulated the general concept of socialist revolution as the emancipation of mankind from all social and political oppression. In his A contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law, which was first printed in the journal, Marx declared war on the existing order and pointed to the proletariat as the social force capable of accomplishing a socialist revolution.


At a time when even the most progressive and humanist minded thinkers regarded the proletariat primarily as a suffering class, as a morbid phenomenon in society. Marx placed all hopes on the rapid growth and consolidation of the working class, on its union with philosophical criticism: “As philosophy finds its material weapons in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its spiritual weapons in philosophy.”

Marx’s strikingly bold philosophical conclusion of the historical role of the proletariat still had to be proved in detail and expanded through fundamental scientific investigations. It was above all necessary to analyse the position of the proletariat in bourgeois society from all sides. That also required, as Marx saw, an investigation of “the anatomy of bourgeois society”, in short, of the capitalist economy and its development. On this question Marx received worthwhile suggestions of the collaborator of the German-French Yearbook, its youngest author: Friedrich Engels. In his article, ‘outlines of a critique of political economy’, Engels had laid the foundation stone for a critique of bourgeois political economy. Engels’ demonstration that all important phenomena in the bourgeois economic system arise inevitably from the rules of private ownership of the means of production, and that a society without poverty could only be a society without this private ownership fascinated Marx immensely. Through a critique of bourgeois political economy, another thinker has come independently to the same conclusion he had with his critique of philosophy. Marx immediately started an exchange of views by mail with Engels, who was working in England.


Marx found during his investigations that the most discerning French bourgeois philosophers and historians had already recognised and described the historical significance of classes and their struggles. These confirmed his own conceptions. But there was as yet no answer to the questions, which factors, what reasons determined the rise of classes, advanced or hampered their development, and led to their final abolition again? What forces influenced the class struggle, and towards what goals did it steer? Marx searched further. He buried himself in economics and studied the works of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the two most important English bourgeois economists.