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Quotes / Karl Marx

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By Marx:

Books, Pamphlets, Essays

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, famous definition of "historical materialism"

Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification...The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.
A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.
Theses On Feuerbach; also engraved on his tomb.


Someday the worker must seize political power in order to build up the new organization of labor; he must overthrow the old politics which sustain the old institutions, if he is not to lose Heaven on Earth, like the old Christians who neglected and despised politics.

But we have not asserted that the ways to achieve that goal are everywhere the same.

You know that the institutions, mores, and traditions of various countries must be taken into consideration, and we do not deny that there are countries — such as America, England, and if I were more familiar with your institutions, I would perhaps also add Holland — where the workers can attain their goal by peaceful means. This being the case, we must also recognize the fact that in most countries on the Continent the lever of our revolution must be force; it is force to which we must some day appeal in order to erect the rule of labor.
La Liberté Speech (1872), The Hague, International Workingmen's Association.

Personal Correspondence

Q: "Your chief characteristic?"
A: Singleness of purpose.
Q: "Your favourite occupation?"
A: Bookworming
Q: "The vice you hate most"
A: Servility
Q: "The vice you excuse most"
A: Gullibility
Q: "Your idea of happiness"
Q: "Your idea of misery"
Q: "Your hero"
Q: "Your heroine"
Q: "The poet you like best"
Q "The prose writer you like best"
Q: "Your Maxim"
A: Nihil humani a me alienum puto [Nothing human is alien to me]
Q: "Your motto"
A: De omnibus dubitandum [doubt everything]
Q: "Your favourite colour"
A: Red
Karl Marx's Confession, an 1865 Q&A he filled as part of a popular Victorian past-time.

It’s possible that I shall make an ass of myself. But in that case one can always get out of it with a little dialectic. I have, of course, so worded my proposition as to be right either way.
— Letter to Friedrich Engels, dated 15 August 1857.

About Marx

That jerk Karl Marx said opium was the... religion of people. I got news for him, it's money.
— "Timothy Carey" (the actor) in John Cassavetes' The Killing of the Chinese Bookie

Try to imagine Rousseau, Voltaire, Holbach, Lessing, Heine and Hegel all rolled into one -— truly united so as to make a unified whole and you will get an idea of Marx's makeup.
Moses Hess

Karl Marx, lovely geezer, very humane, a bit middle class but we’ll gloss over that, but his big flaw was that when he said “The reins of society will inevitably rest in the hands of those who control the means of production” didn’t take into account middle management. All the people who get between those with the means of production and the society.

In short, you can put Marx back into the nineteenth century, but you can’t keep him there. He wasted a ridiculous amount of his time feuding with rivals and putting out sectarian brush fires, and he did not even come close to completing the work he intended as his magnum opus, “Capital.” But, for better or for worse, it just is not the case that his thought is obsolete. He saw that modern free-market economies, left to their own devices, produce gross inequalities, and he transformed a mode of analysis that goes all the way back to Socrates—turning concepts that we think we understand and take for granted inside out—into a resource for grasping the social and economic conditions of our own lives.

You know, I don’t regard Lenin as part of the Marxist tradition, frankly. What the Marxist tradition is, who knows...Marx had a lot of different views. For example, he thought it might be possible to reach socialism by parliamentary means in the more bourgeois democratic societies. England was his model, of course, he didn’t rule it out. In fact, Marx didn’t have very much to say about socialism or communism. Take a look at Marx’s work. Very deep, analytic critique of a variety of capitalism, capitalist markets, properties, imperialism and so on, but about the future society a couple of scattered sentences, and I think, my guess is for good reasons. His picture was, as I understand it, that when working people liberate themselves, and can make their own decisions, they will determine what kind of society it will be. He is not going to dictate it to them. I think that’s a pretty wise stand frankly.
Noam Chomsky

A problem which still requires further explanation is why the workers' movement in Germany became increasingly Marxist towards the turn of the century, formulating all its problems and aims in its struggle for emancipation in the language of Marxism, whereas this did not occur at all in the USA, and in England and the rest of Western Europe only in a much more limited form...It was in Prussia, in particular, that this modern class differentiation was so pronounced, and up until 1918 the political struggle of the Social Democrats was mainly directed against surviving feudal institutions. This marked division of classes appeared, however, to confirm socialist class theory even before the class structure of an industrial society had fully developed...Conversely, American industrial workers were probably unreceptive to Marxism because The American Revolution made possible the institutional realisation of equal rights, thus robbing socialism of a good deal of the ideological appeal it had in Germany by holding out the promise of an egalitarian society.
Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire 1871-1918

It is the paradox of the U.S.S.R. that, in its death, it provided one of the strongest arguments for the analysis of Karl Marx, which it had claimed to exemplify...Rarely has there been a clearer example of Marx's forces of production coming into conflict with the social, institutional and ideological superstructure which had transformed backward agrarian economies into advanced industrial ones — up to the point where they turn from forces into fetters of production...But what would replace it? Here we can no longer follow the nineteenth-century optimism of Marx, who argued that the overthrow of the old system must lead to a better one, because "mankind always sets itself only such problems as it can solve." The problems which "mankind," or rather the Bolsheviks, set themselves in 1917 were not soluble in the circumstances of their time and place, or only very incompletely soluble. And today it would take a high degree of confidence to argue that in the foreseeable future a solution is visible for the problems arising out of the collapse of Soviet communism...With the collapse of the U.S.S.R the experiment of "really existing socialism" came to an end...Will this experiment ever be renewed? Clearly not in the form developed in the U.S.S.R., or probably in any form...The failure of revolution elsewhere left the U.S.S.R. committed to build socialism alone, in a country in which, by the universal consensus of Marxists in 1917, including the Russian ones, the conditions for doing so were simply not present. The attempt to do so produced remarkable achievements — not least the ability to defeat Germany in the Second World War — but at quite enormous and intolerable human cost, and at the cost of what proved eventually to be a dead-end economy and a political system for which there was nothing to be said.
Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes, pp. 496-498.

I've never read Marx's Capital, but I've got the marks of capital all over my body.
Big Bill Haywood


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