Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels 1852

Heroes of the Exile

Heroes of the Exile

Written: May - June 1852;
Published: in Russian in 1930; the first edition of the German original in Werke in 1960;
Translator: Rodney Livingston;
HTML Mark-up: Andy Blunden, 2002.


I Gottfried Kinkel

II The February Revolution

III Kinkel's Trial and Escape

IV Kinkel in London

V Draft Circular to German Democrats

VI Karl Heinzen

VII Gustav and the Colony of Renunciation

VIII Arnold

IX Harro Harring

X Exiles from France, Switzerland and Belgium

XI Ruge and the Anniversary of the March Revolution

XII The Great Industrial Exhibition

XIII The Great War between the Frogs and the Mice

XIV Agitation and Emigration

XV London and New York

The notes

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).

Here's a snippet from translator 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.