“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point, however, is to change it.” Marx, #11 “Thesis on Feuerbach.” These were written in 1845 but undiscovered until sometime after Marx’s death in 1883 when they were encountered in a notebook by Friedrich Engels. They were published in 1888 by Engels, the friend, patron, co-author and caring compatriot of the great Marx.
In its simplest sense, Marx is stating that the intellectual should do more than merely analyse but participate as a change agent in the social order. Today the right and even so-called liberals are quite critical of activist philosophers or if you will academics. Stanley Fish for years in the New York Times has proclaimed political activism as inappropriate activity for professors. David Horowitz has stated that it is “unprofessional” for academicians in the United States to even join advocacy organizations such as Historians Against the War.
Marx of course is correct and the critics of academic activism are just wrong. The Ivory Tower is not where professors belong but in the streets. The Ivory Tower was a pejorative term that referred to the Ivy League or cloistered professor who sits around all day talking about Aristotle and Hegel and never really experiences the real world around them. I have no criticism of that activity and certainly would support it. Yet, most professors don’t teach at elite schools and have never seen ivy-covered campus buildings.
Professors should return to society her knowledge, skills of analysis and capacities of articulating ideas by becoming fully engaged in the issues of the day. The classroom is not enough; it is too confining; it is too static for a professor who wishes to make an impact either through service learning with her students or through other forms of direct action. Indeed the bulk of student learning is outside of the classroom, and professors can join them outside in protest or demonstrations or working for some social action.
Marx was a thinker, a scholar, a habitue of the British Museum where he wrote his epic works such as Das Kapital. He was a scholar and a brilliant intellectual. Yet he participated in the praxis and dynamism of the social order. As a journalist he was frequently expelled from European countries. His first forays into journalism were articles on the oppression of peasants gathering wood for heat from private spaces. An arrest warrant was issued in April 1844 by Prussia; he was expelled from Paris in 1845 for his incendiary writings. He was a founder of the Working Men’s Association in London in 1864 and very active in its General Council until 1871. Such activities represent the archetypal scholar-activist.
A risk taker and a heroic figure in his call for revolution and proletarian justice was Marx, although I prefer peaceful outcomes to societal contradictions. Any analysis of economic oppression begins with Marx. Any analysis of contemporary criticisms of social classes begins with Marx. Any analysis of 19th Century European socialism begins with Marx, taking into account the utopians such as Fourier and Owen. Any analysis of contemporary revolution begins with Marx particularly class-based popular uprisings. Any analysis of communism begin with Marx.
His greatness, his courage, his ethics, his magisterial writngs place him in the front ranks of human beings who changed the world.
A source: Robert C. Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd ed