In Two Souls of Socialism (1966), Hal Draper remarked that Karl Marx came from a far-left liberal background, focusing on the unconditional freedom of individuals. When he encountered the primitive embryo of socialist and communist ideas, his contribution was to combine democracy and socialism. This was connected with his heavy influence from radical humanist ideas in general, which holds that the human experience should be unrestrained by institutions.
When Marx and Engels joined the Communist League, this group was still based on a secret, elitist society which tried to model an utopian society and take power through a coup. But Marx and Engels won the Communist League to their approach, noting that:
We are not among those communists who are out to destroy personal liberty, who wish to turn the world into one huge barrack or into a gigantic workhouse. There certainly are some communists who, with an easy conscience, refuse to countenance personal liberty and would like to shuffle it out of the world because they consider that it is a hindrance to complete harmony. But we have no desire to exchange freedom for equality. We are convinced … that in no social order will personal freedom be so assured as in a society based upon communal ownership… [Let us put] our hands to work in order to establish a democratic state wherein each party would be able by word or in writing to win a majority over to its ideas …
Marx’s entire life was one of opposing every authoritarian and/or repressive culture, structure and environment which fosters restraints against free thought and the questioning of assumed principles, one of opposing every dogma, taboo and hypocrisy. His line is one that holds that socialist revolution is impossible through a coup, through indiscriminate terrorism in regular bourgeois conditions or through the spreading of false information. One that would consider that printing lies against capitalism damages first of all the revolutionary movement, and therefore that opposes every violation of human values, for being counter-productive and repressive.
Necessarily therefore a line that ran into conflict with many parties and tendencies of the day, and whose upholders today run into conflict with many so-called “Marxists”. Whether these are of the kind that, in sharp contrast to much of what Marx stood for, worship a portrait of Stalin, or claim to be opposed to Stalinist politics, for the right reasons or otherwise, many left-wing parties, groups and environment today have a repressive atmosphere, one that tries to keep people from doubting what they are told.
We see this in the section of the left which adheres to bourgeois-feminism and adopts sex-negative notions, the modus operandi of which is to adopt an anti-Marxist program of identity politics with a mix of gendered thinking and harass everyone who might object; equally we see it in some parties which entirely reject such notions, but force their members to spew some unquestionable dogma as the reasoning why. We see it in those who are supposedly tolerant of all but refuse to see racism and call it that when it happens, as well as those who reduce everything to identity politics. We see it both in those who support any sort of cruelty and brand it as revolutionary, and those who claim that the violence which keeps the oppressed in chains is the same as the violence that would free them. We see it in those whose fight against discrimination reduces to a politically-correct hack-job which places more emphasis in a dogma than in real experiences for what they are, as well as in those who criticize “political correctness” in order to support evil discriminatory politics.
Marx’s political trajectory is therefore one that runs into constant controversy, that necessarily supports the most controversial notions, for it is not the popularity of an idea but only truth that matters, for rational principle, unwavering to any fad, is the only deity. One that is seen as evil and persecuted by the right, and runs into conflict with many left-wing groups: some for not having the right positions, others for having them but the wrong tactics and strategy, and then some more for creating authoritarian structures within their groups.
One could have the supposedly the most “Marxist” positions, to have read the most books of Marx and be able to quote him on every issue, but hate criticism and doubt, and take knowledge as a dogma, and therefore be an individual that ultimately stands in the way of the revolution, that Marx would undoubtedly have held in disdain. One could have the right position on an issue but be unable to defend it through arguments and seek to bully those who have a different one; undoubtedly this is the attitude that Marx would have held most contempt for and viewed as entirely unacceptable and non-revolutionary.
For Marx was a man that above all needed evidence if he was to believe anything, a man who, if he had stated a falsehood, even if this falsehood was against capitalism, would have published a retraction against it, knowing that this would benefit first of all the revolutionary movement. A rational man who knew that hate, lies, and indiscriminate violence gets nobody anywhere, no matter what ideas they may hold.
The working class cannot be lied to. If we believe the working class should do something that nobody would currently accept if it was stated plainly, then what we must do is convince them to do so openly, through truth and honesty, and not through any manipulation or lies.
Whereas we say to the workers: ‘You will have to go through fifteen or twenty or fifty years of civil wars and international wars, not only in order to change extant conditions, but also in order to change yourselves and to render yourselves fit for political dominion,’ you, on the other hand, say to the workers: ‘We must attain to power at once, or else we may just as well go to sleep.’