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As I said, Mehring's relatively brief first five chapters will help you understand "The Young Karl Marx", especially as it sizes up two of the main characters in the film:

Weitling and Proudhon were both born in the ranks of the proletariat. Both were blessed with healthy and vigorous characters, both were generously talented and both were so favoured by outward circumstances that they might well have been amongst those rare exceptions which help to create the Philistine legend that anyone of real talent in the ranks of the working class may rise to the ranks of the possessing classes. Both men scorned to take this path, and instead they remained voluntarily in poverty and devoted themselves to fighting for their class and for their fellow sufferers.

They were both well-built men, strong and vigorous, and made to enjoy the good things of life, but instead they gladly suffered the severest privations in order to pursue their aims. “A modest bed, often with three persons in the same room, a piece of board as a writing desk, and now and then a cup of black coffee” – that was the life Weitling was living at a time when his name was already a sound of fear in the ears of the great ones of the earth, and Proudhon was living similarly in a Paris attic, “clothed in a knitted woolen jacket with his feet in clattering wooden clogs,” at a time when he already enjoyed a European reputation.

French and German culture went into the making of both men. Weitling was the son of a French officer and when he grew old enough he hurried to Paris to study French socialism at the source. Proudhon came from the old free county of Burgundy, which had been annexed to France under Louis XIV. His associates always declared that he had a German head, and occasionally, a German thick head. But, one way or the other, when he awakened to intellectual activity Proudhon felt drawn to German philosophy, whose representatives Weitling regarded as nothing but hazy “confusionists,” whilst on the other hand Proudhon condemned with extreme severity the great utopians who had meant so much to Weitling.

The two men shared the same fame and the same fate. They were the first members of the modern proletariat to provide historical proof of the intellect and vigour of the proletariat, proof that it could free itself, and they were the first to break down the vicious circle in which the working-class movement and socialism revolved. To this extent therefore they opened up a new epoch, and their work and their activity were exemplary and exercised a fruitful influence on the development of scientific socialism. No one has praised the beginnings of Weitling and Proudhon more generously than Marx. That which the critical analysis of Hegelian philosophy had given him as the result of speculative thought, he now saw confirmed in real life chiefly by Weitling and Proudhon.

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