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Book Review: Marx & Engels: An Introduction by Che Guevara

Book Review: Marx & Engels: An Introduction by Che Guevara
FILE PHOTO: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan - February 28, 2023: Closeup of Karl Marx monument having conversation with Friedrich Engels in the park © Envato


English Title: Marx & Engels: A Biographical Introduction

ISBN: 9781920888923

Language: English

Publisher: Ocean Press

(October 1, 2008)

Marx & Engels

Che Guevara wrote this booklet as a draft to complete as part of a political economic writing project for both Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels during 1965 to 1966 in Tanzania, Prague, and Congo. In short, Che Guevara dealt with two major concerns in this booklet about the subjects, Marx and Engels, which are 1) ideological purity; 2) quality and dilemma of the revolutionary moral. Thus, it is unlike mediocre Marxist introductory books written by parasitic ideologues in the capitalist establishment. It’s highly recommended for readers to understand why Marx, Engels, and Che themselves are still esteemed by the people of the world in 2023. 


A simple, exact answer is that those true revolutionaries sacrificed themselves and died for ideas, not for properties. 


I briefly review this remarkable booklet by elaborating on two key points of the content which are still meaningful to today. And the viewpoint of the mid 1960s should be updated to the present political circumstances at the same time.  

1.     Ideological Purity 


Aware of the great challenge of writing a book that would cover both the main propositions of political economy and past and future debates, Che warned: Marx’s statement in the first few pages of Capital about the inability of bourgeois science to criticize itself, using apologetics instead, can unfortunately be applied to Marxist economics today. (p.3)


Ethical purity is in crisis under the present neoliberalism in which both warring sides, monopolization and multi-polarization are exerting dual-faced or multi-faced politics. One thing is common among them, that they all represent the capitalist class, not the genuine working class. Thus, ideological purity means that being faithful to the class interest of the exploited in both theory and action against particular social issues they face in their particular circumstances. From this principle, it is easy to understand that the revolutionary quality of Communists is this one-sidedness in the class struggle in the capitalist class society. Without this, the so-called Communists are just another wing of capitalist forces. Hence, conscious one-sidedness is either revolutionary or reactionary in a class war. It depends on which side you take, while the ruling class inevitably takes the latter.

In contrast to Che’s era, there are several kinds of fraudsters who evolved like Marxists: 


1.     ‘Marxian’ economists: The capitalist establishment created the army of so-called Marxian economics which is self-distinctive to the Marxist economics in the socialist establishment. Workers of the world are difficult to distinguish the difference between the so-called ‘Marxian’ economics and Marxist economics. First, Marxian economists or Marxian critics in general are right-wing anti-Communists because they abandoned the class war theory of Marx and Engels. And the major distortions to Das Capital were made as ‘authoritative’ interpretations of Marx and Engels. Why is it possible? Because those official Marxians are academics in the capitalist establishment and backed by major advertising giants and mainstream publishers. Second, they themselves claim they are neither Marxists nor socialists while exploiting their outfit of it. There is no such kind of ‘dissident’ in the service of the establishment. Thus, they are simply plants to prevent true dissidents. 

2.     Revisionists: The earliest revisionism appeared in 1879 while both Marx and Engels were still alive. In general, all pro-capitalist Communists fall into this category in practice. In other words, all Communist parties in the present world which represent or execute capitalist policies are inevitably revisionists. It is easy to assume that Che could have rejected all of them as traitors. Remember, class nature is always the matter of the reason for existence (“Raison d'être”), not a matter of dogma. We can super easily name those parties today. In this booklet, Che fought both Stalinist dogmatism and revisionism simultaneously. Anyway, leftists should treat all Soviet leaders and Marxist figures of the world equally with the holistic learning attitude, not in sectarian antagonism of the twentieth century. The only thing that matters is the class nature in the class war. Stick to the universal dialectics, not any sectarian, partisan barriers and costumes. Besides this, as we know, the name of revisionist was used as a libel against true Marxists in the past, hence it is necessary to distinguish their class nature one by one. 

3.     Speculators: this type of critic is relatively new. They criticize the capitalist establishment as if a leftist while they simultaneously sell their stock market speculative advices to readers. And the latter is definitely in service to the economic base of the ruling parties they criticize. This ridiculous illogicalness in its entirety is a total lack of ideological purity. In fact, those ‘dissident-like’ critics are just satellites of the establishment, while they themselves are financial speculators highly dependent on the major conglomerates, the economic and political basis of the establishment they proclaimed to be acting against.  These types of critics are basically right wings in class nature. They are just exploiting leftism for their personal business interests and positioning them in the establishment skillfully while acting like oppressed ‘dissidents’ themselves. Of course, no radical change in the establishment can be generated by following this type of critic. Again, true dissidents are not in the sphere of the establishment.  



In this booklet, the ideological purity of Karl Marx are depicted many times as follows: 


[…] when Che observed Marx’s evolution, he emphasized 1849, the year in which Marx’s exile and political persecution began. (P.6) 


Marx used his time in Paris to delve deeper into his study of history, reading bourgeois writers such as Thierry and Guizot, from whom he took a key theoretical concept: class struggle. [read The History of the Formation of the Third Estate of 1853] (p.23) 


Che cited the complete historical-dialectical materialism that was first given its clear comprehensive outline in The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) while recognizing a concrete preoccupation of social problems that brought both Marx and Engels together and made them close to the communists of that era: 


If you assume given stages of development in production, commerce and consumption, you will have a corresponding form of social constitution, a corresponding organization, whether of the family, of the estates or the classes – in a word, a corresponding society, you will have this or that political system, which is but the official expression of civil society. 


[…] In England, all the earlier economic forms, the social relations corresponding to them and the political system, which was the official expression of the old civil society, were destroyed. Thus, the economic forms in which man produces, consumes, and exchanges are transitory and historical. 


[…] those who produce social relations in conformity with their material productivity also produce the ideas, categories, i.e., the ideal abstract expressions of those same social relations. Indeed, the categories are no more eternal than the relations they express. They are historical and transitory products. (pp.32-33)


In contrast to the so-called ‘Marxian economics,’ Marxist economics, including Karl Marx’s economics, is composed of both the dialectic studies of capitalism and the theory of class war inseparably. Neither of them can be separated as long as it is Marxism. Moreover, the most important fact of today is that capitalist economics and the establishment in general see Marxist economics as philosophy, not recognize it as official economics while cultivating so-called “Marxian economists”, on the other hand. This is the anti-communist manipulation of today. 

2.     Quality and Dilemma of the Revolutionary Moral


Dedication to the class interest of the working class and their own families was and still is a moral issue for revolutionaries. Are both requirements compatible or totally exclusive from each other? Which one should be and can be prioritized? This dilemma is the nexus of this short biography, because having and overcoming this dilemma is the quality of being a revolutionary. Marx, Engels, and even Che suffered from this moral issue throughout their revolutionary lives. And this one could have torn them apart or forced them to compromise with the ruling establishment just for survival, as most ordinary people and so-called elites choose without hesitation. 


On this gravest issue, the most serious psychological issue for all revolutionaries and saints, Marx perfectly answered after he was forced to apply for a railroad worker job under imminent poverty: 


In a letter to Ludwig Kugelmann in 1862, he wrote: 


In 1861 [Marx was 43 years old], I lost my chief source of income, the New York Tribune, as a result of the American Civil War. My contributions to that paper have remained in abeyance up to the present. Thus, I have been, and still am, forced to undertake a large amount of hack work to prevent myself and my family from actually being relegated to the streets. I had even decided to become a ‘practical man’ and had intended to enter a railway office at the beginning of the next year. Luckily-or perhaps I should say unluckily-I did not get the post because of my bad handwriting. So you will see that I had little time left and a few quiet moments for theoretical work.   


In 1867, he wrote to Meyer-a letter which is exceptional for its emotional tone-turning furiously on everything: 


Well, why didn’t I answer you? Because I was constantly hovering at the edge of the grave. Hence, I had to make use of every moment when I was able to work to complete my book to which I have sacrificed my health, happiness and family. I trust that I need not add anything to this explanation. I laugh at the so-called ‘practical’ men with their wisdom. If one chose to be an ox, one could of course turn one’s back on the suffering of humankind and look after one’s own skin. But I should really have regarded myself as impractical if I had pegged out without completely finishing my book at least in manuscript. (pp.45-46)


As we know, Marx finished the complete book, Das Capital 1, and all manuscripts for Das Capital 2 to 4, which were later published by Friedrich Engels and Karl Kautsky. The latter citation is my long-time favorite and the best literal expression of the core spiritual quality of revolutionaries. Marx crystalized it in the letter. 


Finally, Che himself reflected on the death of Marx. And this can be seen as the motive behind the writing of this booklet: 


Such a humane man whose capacity for affection extended to all those suffering throughout the world, offering a message of committed struggle and indomitable optimism, has been distorted by history and turned into a stone idol. For example, to be even more luminous, we must rescue him and give him a human dimension. Marxism is still waiting for the biography that will complete Mehring’s magnificent work with greater perspective and correct the few mistakes in interpretation from which it suffers. My outline is simply an introduction to his work, dedicated to those who may not be acquainted with Marxist economics and who may not know of the vicissitudes of its founders. (p.59) 


One thing must be indicated in this remark that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, so-called ‘Marxian’ academics propagandized the slogan, ‘Back to Marx.’ This means that they abandoned all socialist experiences of the twentieth-century to the dust bin of history. Apparently, it is anti-communism in nature and fruitless in theory and practice. On the contrary, a comprehensive and non-sectarian attitude to both the pros and cons of the socialist experiences of the twentieth century is only meaningful and preparable for the future synthesis. In this dialectical approach, Marx can be seen multidimensionally as a human, a vivid revolutionary not a stoned idol for bourgeois theologians, the so-called ‘Marxians’. In the last letter cited above, what Marx faced and felt at his time of difficulty is exactly the same as what job applicants of today universally feel under the market economic pressure utilized by capitalists. 


In conclusion, this booklet is not only the best biography of Marx and Engels, but it is also a spiritual biography of the author, Che Guevara himself. Highly recommended for all socially conscious readers. 




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