A Few Lines From Young Marx



It was 1830, the July Revolution forced abdication of king Charles X in France, and Louis Philippe became constitutional monarch. Twenty-eight years prior to this development in France, in 1802, the first factory law was introduced in England; and the law pertained to child labor. In the same year, John Dalton introduced atomic theory into chemistry. In the Congress of Vienna in 1814-’15, Metternich of Austria, Talleyrand of France, Alexander I of Russia, Frederick William I of Prussia and Castlereagh of England attempted to attain balance of power in Europe, reestablished monarchies, redrew their boundaries to the advantage of Prussia, Austria and Russia, organized German Confederation. British conquest of Dutch and French colonies was recognized. Works by the Young Germany writers were banned in Germany. But the reactionaries failed to stop spread of liberal ideas. On December 7, 1835, the first German train powered by a steam engine completed its journey of 7 kilometers in 12 minutes from Nuremberg to Furth.

A young man emerged within the scene. He was Karl Marx (born: May 5, 1818).

At the age of seventeen, Marx reflected:

“Nature herself has determined the sphere of activity in which the animal should move, and it peacefully moves within that sphere, without attempting to go beyond it, without even an inkling of any other. To man, too, the Deity gave a general aim, that of ennobling mankind and himself, but he left it to man to seek the means by which this aim can be achieved; he left it to him to choose the position in society most suited to him, from which he can best uplift himself and society.” (“Reflections of a young man on the choice of a profession”, Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, vol. I, Progress Publishers, Moscow, erstwhile USSR, 1975)

His essay continued:

“This choice is a great privilege of man over the rest of creation, but at the same time it is an act which can destroy his whole life, frustrate all his plans, and make him unhappy. Serious consideration of this choice, therefore, is certainly the first duty of a young man who is beginning his career and does not want to leave his most important affairs to chance.”

In the essay, Marx proposed:

“We must therefore seriously examine whether we have really been inspired in our choice of a profession, whether an inner voice approves it, or whether this inspiration is a delusion”.

He expresses caution:

“What is great glitters, its glitter arouses ambition, and ambition can easily have produced the inspiration, or what we took for inspiration; but reason can no longer restrain the man who is tempted by the demon of ambition, and he plunges headlong into what impetuous instinct suggests: he no longer chooses his position in life, instead it is determined by chance and illusion.”

The young man suggests:

“[H]e who is unable to reconcile the warring elements within himself, how can he resist life’s tempestuous stress, how can he act calmly? And it is from calm alone that great and fine deeds can arise; it is the only soil in which ripe fruits successfully develop.”

He again cautions:

“Self-contempt is a serpent that ever gnaws at one’s breast, sucking the life-blood from one’s heart and mixing it with the poison of misanthropy and despair.”

His suggestion includes:

“Worth is that which most of all uplifts a man, which imparts a higher nobility to his actions and all his endeavors, which makes him invulnerable”.

He describes the worth:

“[W]orth can be assured only by a profession in which we are not servile tools, but in which we act independently in our own sphere. It can be assured only by a profession that does not demand reprehensible acts, even if reprehensible only in outward appearance, a profession which the best can follow with noble pride. A profession which assures this in the greatest degree is not always the highest, but is always the most to be preferred.”

“But just as a profession which gives us no assurance of worth degrades us, we shall as surely succumb under the burdens of one which is based on ideas that we later recognize to be false”, writes Marx.

The young writer tells:

“There we have no recourse but to self-deception, and what a desperate salvation is that which is obtained by self-betrayal!”

On profession, the student writes:

“Those professions which are not so much involved in life itself as concerned with abstract truths are the most dangerous for the young man whose principles are not yet firm and whose convictions are not yet strong and unshakeable.”

Marx writes:

“[T]he chief guide which must direct us in the choice of a profession is the welfare of mankind and our own perfection.”

The young man observes:

“[M]an’s nature is so constituted that he can attain his own perfection only by working for the perfection, for the good, of his fellow men.”


“If he works only for himself, he may perhaps become a famous man of learning, a great sage, an excellent poet, but he can never be a perfect, truly great man.”

At the conclusion, the student, who was going to be a Man of Science, a Man of Philosophy, and a Man of Politics and Revolution, writes:

“History calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good; experience acclaims as happiest the man who has made the greatest number of people happy; religion itself teaches us that the ideal being whom all strive to copy sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind, and who would dare to set at nought such judgments?

“If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.”

The essay was composed at the school-leaving examination in August 1835. The essay “may be regarded as the starting point of his intellectual development….[T]his composition reveals his resolve not to withdraw into the narrow circle of personal interests but to devote his activities to the interests of humanity. At the same time the young Marx, swayed by the ideas of the French Enlightenment concerning the influence of the social environment on man, had begun to think also about the objective conditions determining human activity.” (ibid. “Preface”)

So, he writes in the essay:

“Our relations in society have to some extent already begun to be established before we are in a position to determine them.”

The young student stepped into active political activities at the age of twenty-four. At that time, he began playing his role as a journalist. With the passage of time and political activity, Marx emerged as, according to Wilhelm Liebknecht, a man of science. With carrying on working people’s struggles over years, Marx emerged as a man of philosophy and politics, a man of revolution. Marx writes: “present-day philosophy can become truth” only through politics. (ibid., Letter to Arnold Ruge, March 13, 1843) Politics of toilers can’t ignore findings and teachings of Marx as long as classes and class struggle are there in society, as long as propertied classes exploit the toilers as he provides the scientific analysis of issues related to toilers’ life and politics.

Farooque Chowdhury, writing from Dhaka, authored/edited no other books in English till today other than the following books: Micro Credit: Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis, and What Next? The Great Financial Crisis (ed.).


Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

On the Marxist Critique of Heidegger

How Marxists should approach the critique of Martin Heidegger Martin Heidegger is undoubtedly one of the most creative and influential philosophers of the 20th century. Virtually all areas of philosophy,…

2024: Rebuilding the Global Left 

Writing about the passing year, a friend of mine recently lamented the state of the world, expressing a very bleak view of the future. It was doom and gloom everywhere…

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News