During after dinner chat last night, we got onto talking about how well Karl Marx, the journalist, wrote. We had been looking for his quote on historical events repeating themselves, and I went back to my much abused copy of ‘Basic Writings’ to look up his take on the 1848 revolution in France… I was sure it was in there somewhere. Eventually, this morning, I found it at the beginning of his extensive essay ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon’ – a fabulous piece of sustained journalistic polemic.
Marx was so much better as a journalist than he was as an economist, his incisive analytical commentaries on the key events of the day based directly on his deeper philosophical writings, but not weighed down with the ponderous prose of economic theory. Racy, exciting, opinionated but often right on the button. Here are some sample quotes: the first is the one I was looking up, from the start of his essay on the seizure of power by Louis Napoleon, mimicking his uncle’s seizure of power in the 1790s:
“Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. Caussidiere for Danton, Louis Blanc for Robespierre, the ‘Montagne’ of 1848-1851 for the ‘Montagne’ of 1793-1795, the nephew for the uncle.”
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please.. but under circumstances encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living..”
“It is not enough to say, as the French do that their nation was taken unawares… It remains to be explained how a nation of thirty-six million can be surprised and delivered unresisting into captivity by three swindlers.”
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”
Pure political and philosophical gold.