• Mary Smith


Speaking at Marx’s graveside in 1883 Engels said

Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation.

In fact there is a sense in which Marx was a revolutionist from before he was ‘Marxist’ or committed to the proletariat  because  he began his political life as a radical democrat and to be a radical democrat in Prussia or Europe in the early 1840s was to be a revolutionary. But before Marx the revolutionary movement was dominated by the Jacobin tradition inherited from the great French Revolution of 1789-94. This conceived of revolution as an action initiated and conducted by small groups of, mainly middle class, conspirators acting on behalf of ‘the people’ who were to be liberated from above. However, Marx’s discovery of the revolutionary role of the working class in 1843-4, under the influence of the struggle of the Silesian weavers, of his encounters with communist workers in Paris and of his friend Engels in Manchester, enabled him to develop a whole new concept of revolution as mass self-emancipation from below.