“At the Tomb of Karl Marx”, an article by Dr. Leonel FernándezFebruary 29, 2016
Despite the resounding collapse of the socialist model at the end of the 80s, nearly 200 years after the birth of Karl Marx, his ideas have begun to be vindicated by a diverse and renewed intellectual thought.
Given his global ideological, political, and intellectual prominence throughout the years of my education, I always contemplated the idea of one day visiting the tomb of one of the most influential thinkers of all time: Karl
And I finally did, during a recent visit with a group of friends to Highgate cemetery, in north London, England, where his mortal remains are found.
The day of our visit, a freezing wind blew through the cemetery. A dull light, as if sifting through a fog, shone there, and an air of solemnity, respect, and decorum prevailed.
Among the other distinguished figures whose remains lie at Highgate are the renowned philosopher,
anthropologist, and sociologist Herbert Spencer; the scientist Michael Faraday; the parents and siblings of the great English novelist Charles Dickens; the historian Eric Hobsbawm; and the sociologist Ralph Miliband.
But of all the mortals buried there, the one who attracts the most visitor attention, prompts the greatest curiosity, and provokes the most comments is undoubtedly Karl Marx.
Marx, known as a renowned German
philosopher, economist, sociologist, journalist, and revolutionary activist, was born in Prussia, now Germany, on May 5, 1818.
In 1835, at age 17, he enrolled in the University of Bonn to study philosophy and literature. Nonetheless, his father, a prestigious lawyer of Jewish origins, insisted that he study law.
Hence the following year, in 1836, Marx joined the Faculty of Law at the University of Berlin. However, he immediately became fascinated with
philosophy, particularly the ideas of German philosopher Friedrich Hegel, whose opinions were widely debated in the intellectual circles of that era.
Marx joined a group of radical thinkers known as the Young Hegelians who, despite being very critical of what they saw as Hegel’s metaphysical premises, nonetheless adopted his dialectical method.
This dialectical method underpinned their criticism, from a leftist perspective, of the economy,
politics, and established social order of that time.
In 1841, at age 23, Marx wrote his doctoral thesis: Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. The following year, he moved to Cologne, Germany, and later to Paris, where he launched a career as a journalist in the radical media, which eventually led to his expulsion from both cities.
In the development of his revolutionary thinking, he leaned on the
study of English political economy, especially the texts of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, as well as French utopian socialism from Saint Simon, Proudhon, and Charles Fourier, and classic German philosophy from Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.
These factors constitute the fundamental pillars on which Marxist theory is based, which seeks to elaborate a materialist interpretation of history, a critique of the capitalist system, and the promotion of the working class, or
proletariat, as the nucleus of the vanguard in the creation of socialism.
From 1844 (the year the Dominican Republic declared its national independence), Karl Marx cultivated a close friendship, lasting till his final days, with another renowned German philosopher, economist, and sociologist: Friedrich Engels.
Together they wrote several foundational texts, among them The Communist Manifesto, published in February
1848 and considered one of the most important writings in the history of political thought.
This document, in unforgettable poetic language displaying the hallmarks of the German romanticism of that era, begins with the words: “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism.”
Then, in the form of synthesis, is expounds a complete vision of historical materialism, noting: “The history of all hitherto existing
society is the history of class struggle.”
Throughout his intellectual trajectory, Karl Marx wrote, among other texts, The Class Struggles in France, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, and Capital (the famous Das Kapital), in three volumes.
Despite recognizing that
capitalism had been a revolutionary force throughout history, Karl Marx concluded that as a result of the development of its forces of production, it would at some point disappear as a system, to be substituted by socialism.
In reality, socialism was not first established in a country with a high level of development of its forces of production. This was not the case in Russia, with the triumph of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917; nor in the countries of Eastern Europe,
at the end of the Second World War; nor in the Chinese Revolution; nor with any of the revolutions that took place in several countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America during the second half of the twentieth century.
All this resulted, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing collapse of the so-called people’s democracies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, in the theory of Marxism falling into disrepute.
But today we understand
that Marxism constitutes an entire universe of multiple currents of analysis and reflection. Besides classical Marxism, there are various schools of Western Marxism, including French, Italian, Austrian, German, British, and as many other national variants as one can think of.
There’s also neo-Marxism, a new left, a critical theory from the Frankfurt School, and other lines of structuralist, modernist, and post-modernist thought with their initial roots in
But even within originally non-Marxist currents of thought, the concept has arisen that capitalism, just as Marx claimed, is not immutable, but is experiencing continuous transformations that could lead to its extinction.
Foremost among these thinkers is celebrated Harvard researcher Daniel Bell, who since the 60s and 70s has elaborated the concept of the post-industrial society, in which the services sector generates greater wealth than
Later, different researchers have elaborated the concepts of post-Fordism, referring to a higher stage of production after the vehicle assembly-line model applied by Henry Ford in the first decades of the twentieth century; of the information society; of the knowledge economy; and of late (or liquid) modernity.
Peter Drucker, the maestro of management studies, has written widely on post-capitalist society. Renowned Catalan sociologist
Manuel Castells characterizes the current era as a society of networks, due to the impact of the digital revolution; and Jeremy Rifkin, in his latest book The Zero Marginal Cost Society, concludes that due to its own spectacular development, capitalism will be replaced by new forms of social relations.
Despite the resounding collapse of the socialist model at the end of the 80s, nearly 200 years after the birth of Karl Marx his ideas have begun to be
vindicated by diverse and renewed lines of thought that see progress, not delay, in the gradual process of extinction of the capitalist system.
Marx was buried in the eastern segment of Highgate cemetery after his 64 years of life. Upon the lowering of his body into the ground, his dear friend Engels pronounced these words:
“On the 14th of March, 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.”
With the recent visit to the tomb of Karl Marx to pay tribute to his creative genius, his admirable intellectual work, and his commitment to the oppressed, a personal aspiration, long contemplated, was at last satisfied.