16 Nov 2013: The Marx-Engels Reader (“Circular Letter to Bebel, Liebknecht, Bracke, and Others,” 1879, Marx)
It’s rare to see something nowadays that so forcefully denounces compromise, gradualism and political correctness from a radical thinker when present-day figures like Noam Chomsky and most left-leaning mass-audience artists and intellectuals regularly endorse Democratic candidates for president and all refuse to even consider tactical violence or unpleasantness. Marx 130 years ago ferrets out those who claim to lead or represent a vanguard workers’ party of the left but advocate for the domination and spokesmanship of that party by refined and well-mannered bourgeois figures, as people who essentially castrate and bring down the movement into nothingness, dragging out immediate desires unto eternity and converting all energetic actions of resistance into polite appeasement of the proper authorities. He also convincingly rejects the idea of forgiving those people who should be fought against based on their position as “children of their age” – this is the same man who in Capital considers the individual capitalist as only a representative of his broader economic environs – by stating the obvious, that all men are such children of the times, but that they yet can make choices and should stand accountable, and that real rebels should be “repaying their kicks with interest.” The most noteworthy thought this letter evokes seems to be the realization that there is no such thing as a workers’ party in the United States, which is probably essentially true in most industrialized countries in the modern world, even though of course lower-class workers on a global scale at least far outnumber middle and upper classes. Most political outreach is done among the wealthy or self-selectingly politically engaged, as opposed to moving among the hardest-strapped working people on the lower levels of society, and even “radical” thinkers and publications clearly address themselves to well-educated, “intellectual” audiences rather than to the working people they use in their arguments. Marx recognizes that the workers themselves are the force for revolution, that is insultingly condescending to pretend that those more intelligent must figure it out for them, and it would do well for much of modern discursive energy to bear this in mind.