"Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you." – William Blake (1757-1827) from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Sunday 14 March 2021

Karl Marx: the Man and the Myths

On this day in 1883, "at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes and when we came back, we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep – but forever."

The words of Friedrich Engels, in the funeral oration that he delivered at the graveside of his friend and collaborator, Karl Heinrich Marx, on 17 March 1883. He concluded with the plain yet lofty assertion that "his name will endure through the ages and so also will his work", a prediction that has been vindicated with the passage of time.

For those who knew Marx, no legend is funnier than that which portrays him as a morose, embittered, unbending and unapproachable person, a sort of Jupiter Tonans, ceaselessly hurling his thunderbolts with never a smile on his lips, enthroned alone and aloof in Olympus. Such a description of the merriest, gayest person who ever lived, the man bubbling over with fun, whose laughter irresistibly won one's heart, the most friendly, gentle and sympathetic of all companions, is a constant source of amazement and amusement to all who knew him. – Eleanor Marx (1855-1898), youngest daughter of Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen

For 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. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival. – Friedrich Engels (from his Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx, Highgate Cemetery, London, 17 March 1883)

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