Parisian Days:Marx Becomes a Socialist

The Paris years, from 1843 to 1845, were as decisive forMarx's intellectual development as the years of association withthe Young Hegelians in Berlin. Under the relatively tolerant Julymonarchy, Paris had become the center of social, political, andartistic activity and the gathering place of radicals andrevolutionaries from all over Europe.

During the Paris years, Marx plunged into the study of variousreformist and socialist theories that had been inaccessible inGermany. He read Proudhon and Louis Blanc, Cabet and Fourier,Saint-Simon and the Saint-Simonians, as well as the revolutionarydisciples of Babeuf such as Blanqui. In addition, he becamefamiliar with the British political economists from Adam Smith toRicardo and with their liberal and radical critics such asSismondi.

In Paris Marx not only had an opportunity to study noveldoctrines, but he also was able to meet a number of radicals inperson. Among the emigres, he was especially attracted to theRussian revolutionary Michael Bakunin, and among the Germans, hefrequented the radical poets Heinrich Heine and FerdinandFreiligrath, the revolutionary itinerant tailor Wilhelm Weitling,and the radical left-Hegelian writer Arnold Ruge. Among theFrenchmen Marx met in person, Proudhon may have made thestrongest impression. Marx had already read his What IsProperty? in Cologne and had praised it very highly. At firstthe two seemed to be made for each other, but after a fairlyshort period the friendship dissolved. A few years later Marxsavagely attacked Proudhon's Philosophy of Misery in his TheMisery of Philosophy, charging him with a misuse of Ricardo'seconomic concepts and with doing away with the movement ofhistory by neglecting and neutralizing the thrust of dialecticalcontradictions.

Above all, it was in Paris that the remarkable lifelongfriendship with Friedrich Engels began. Here Marx became intimatewith the textile manufacturer's son who had turned socialist fromrevulsion about the conditions of the working class, which he hadobserved both in his native Rhineland and in England, where hewas now a manager of one of his father's enterprises. It wasthrough Engels and his work that Marx was introduced to anunderstanding of the concrete conditions and the misery ofworking-class life.

Besides the leading intellectuals of the radical and liberalmovement whom Marx had an occasion to meet in Paris, he alsoencountered for the first time those artisan and craftsmanradicals, German and French, who, in alliance with intellectuals,were the mainstay of the socialist and revolutionary movement. Inalmost daily commerce with them, Marx, although oftencontemptuous of their simple-mindedness and lack of intellectualdistinction, was impressed by this new type of man, so verydifferent from the academically trained intellectual with whom hehad associated before.

Marx, the radical liberal, completed his conversion tosocialism in the heady atmosphere of Paris. It was here that,sometimes alone and sometimes in collaboration with Engels, hewrote those early works that served to define his newphilosophical and political position and helped to sever the tiesthat had bound him to his erstwhile Young Hegelian companions.Some of these writings appeared as articles in a short-livedreview, Deutsch-Franzoesische Jahrbuecher, which he editedwith Arnold Ruge. Most, however, like the now famous Economicand Philosophical Manuscripts and The German Ideology(which was completed in Brussels), were never published duringhis lifetime, having been written primarily as a means forintellectual self-clarification. The Holy Family, hisfinal settling of accounts with the key figures of the YoungHegelian "family," appeared in Frankfort in 1845. Itreceived little attention since it appeared to most readers, notwithout reason, as a tedious family quarrel within the ranks ofthe Hegelian Left. The Misery of Philosophy was publishedin French in 1847.

In the beginning of 1845 Marx was expelled from Paris by theGuizot government. Just as the Prussian government had onceterminated Marx's editorial career as a result of protests fromRussia, so the French government now acted to expel him uponrepresentations of Prussia, which had been offended by theantiroyalist comments of the socialist paper Vorwaerts onwhich he collaborated. Marx moved to Brussels and establishedcontacts with the German refugees who had taken shelter there. Inparticular, he sought out the remaining members of the dissolvedLeague of the Just, an international revolutionary movement andeagerly cultivated relations not only with German but also withBelgian and other socialist individuals and organizations. He hadbecome a professional revolutionary, writing, lecturing, andconspiring in the service of a revolution which he, like hisnewly found comrades, believed imminent. From then on, as IsaiahBerlin has said, "His personal history which up to thispoint can be regarded as a series of episodes in the life of anindividual [became] inseparable from the general history ofsocialism in Europe."53


From Lewis A. Coser, Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideasin Historical and Social Context, 2nd Ed., Fort Worth:Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1977: 61-62.

ENDNOTES

 

  1. Berlin, op. Cit., p. 146


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