Posted May 5, 2010
Today, May 5, is also, of course, Cinco de Mayo, the holiday celebrated by Americans that recognizes the victory over the French colonialist army by a rag-tag army of Mexican peasants in 1862, in the Mexican state of Puebla–truly a people’s victory.
But May 5 is Karl Marx’s birthday as well; Marx was born on this date in 1818 in Trier, Germany. Marx’s family had a long lineage of rabbis, but Karl’s father converted to Lutheranism the year before his birth–a comon “assimilationist” strategy among Jews to avoid persecution and discrimination because they were Jewish. For now they were Christians!
Karl Marx began his active political life after he received his Ph.D. in 1842, becoming the editor of the Rheinisische Zeitung, a liberal newspaper shut down soon thereafter by the authorities. It was also in 1842 that he met Frederick Engels, and their lifelong friendship and political collaboration began in earnest in 1844.
This period (before their joint writing and publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848) is known as the period of the “young Marx.” This is the period that produced the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, the essay "On Hegel’s Philosophy of Right," and the book written jointly by Marx and Engels, The German Ideology. It was during these years, in which Marx lived in exile, first in Paris, then in Brussels, until hounding by the Prussian authorities caused him to move permanently to London, that Engels impressed on the young philosopher Marx the importance of British political economy (as economics was then called).
The period of the “mature Marx” is considered to begin in 1848 with the publication of the Communist Manifesto (written when Marx was only 30!), but if in the earlier works Marx expressed himself in philosophical language while expressing himself later in the language of political economy, there is really little difference in the continuity of ideas.
Of course, it is only in the works of the “mature Marx” that Marx was known to Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Trotsky, as the writings of the “early Marx” were not even known, let alone published, until the 1930s. But while many noted scholars have disparaged the “mature Marx” and exalted the “early Marx,” the “mature Marx” certainly was the producer of notable socialist theory, as evinced by history. Even his detractors and critics have had to acknowledge the power of Marxist theory–from Marx’s anarchist nemesis Bakunin to the neoconservate ideologues of today. Marx’s works were seminal in the development of sociology. Pioneer sociologists such as Max Weber wrote their works under the shadow of Marx’s writings, as they themselves admitted. And today, we still turn to, still find much positive insight in, the intellectual corpus of Karl Marx, both “early” and “mature.”
So Happy, Happy Birthday, Karl Marx!