Heroes of the Exile

zodiac zodiac at interlog.com
Sun May 5 19:12:07 MDT 1996

You might also take a peek at Marx and Engels often hilarious work _Heroes
of the Exile_ -- also in the Archive, at
http://csf.colorado.edu/psn/marx/Archive/1852-Exiles .

Not often one can use a word like hilarious with Karl and Fred (though Fred
was usually a much more lively and rapid writer), but _Heroes of the Exile_
can be very funny. Wasn't published in his lifetime, though he intended it
to be... (that is, it wasn't an "unfinished work" in the sense the Economic
and Philsophical Manuscripts were, say). Written in 1852.

Here's a snippet from Rodney Livingstone's 1970 intro to "Heroes" --

    This pamphlet is one of Marx's most brilliant satirical
    achievements. Its excellence as satire stands out all the more
    clearly for the fact that, unlike many of his other works which
    have a satirical element, the prime purpose of the work is
    satirical: a polemic on the world of German emigres with its
    venomous internecine struggles, its petty personality conflicts,
    complicated intrigues, pretentious political manoeuvres and sordid
    compromises with the realities of living in exile with "dubious
    sources of income".

    It would be a mistake to suppose that the work was actuated by
    malice, that it was merely a series of personal attacks on people
    who irritated Marx. It is often supposed that Marx was essentially
    a heavy, humourless man and that if his works contain humour it is
    the expression only of a ponderous, "Germanic" predilection for
    sarcasm without true wit or feeling. His talent for polemic is then
    seen as springing from an almost obsessive compulsion to win, to be
    in the right, to beat down all opposition. That is to say, his
    scorn, often couched in scatological imagery, is held to be violent
    and authoritarian, and rooted in an emotionally impoverished
    psyche. Of course, it is thought permissible for him to inveigh
    against the evils of the capitalist system. It is when, as here,
    his heaviest cannon are summoned up to demolish unimportant,
    perhaps mistaken but often very sincere fellow revolutionaries,
    that his irony is called in question.

    This view of Marx is perhaps more often felt than stated, more
    often stated than reasoned. I feel that it is based on a
    misunderstanding, often wilful, on the part of his detractors. But
    even his admirers may in part be responsible for the misconception
    in that their own practice on occasion emulates this stereotype
    rather than Marx's own manner of writing. Thus one often observes a
    sarcasm uttered in a tone of didactic complacency, as if the
    speaker were somehow privileged always to be in the right. Such
    complacency is, I feel, alien to Marx who is at once too humorous
    and too passionate to have room for self-congratulation. Moral
    feeling is certainly very powerful in him but it is prevented from
    degenerating into dogmatism by the fact that his moral perceptions
    are bound up so completely with the dialectic with its ironies and
    its "ruses of reason". Of course, there is anger and indignation in
    the Heroes: the Kinkels and Ruges are not just figures of fun. They
    were often irresponsible and dangerous enough to constitute a real
    threat in the treacherous, spy-ridden emigration.

    Thus the Heroes should not be regarded as an act of personal
    revenge. If it were so it would have lost much of its interest for
    us if only because the objects of Marx's polemic are now largely
    forgotten. Kinkel may have been a "great man" in his day, but who
    knows of Kinkel now? This situation is often met with in satire and
    here as everywhere we must search for a deeper underlying theme.
    For there is no doubt that the pamphlet still lives today and if
    that is true its survival must be due to themes of greater
    permanence than their ostensible subjects.

It's full of insights... ;-)


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