So the respectable newspapers of the English bourgeoisie assure their twenty-first century readers that I ‘hated a free press’. This is indeed ‘news’ to me. Perhaps these educated wiseacres will soon discover that the scoundrel Marx was also an implacable anti-communist!
The suggestion that ‘Marxism’ is the enemy of press freedom brings to mind my response when some French socialists used my name to describe their fools’ politics: in that case, I only know that I am not a ‘Marxist’.
If my expert modern critics had remembered the wisdom of the old gods, that it is generally advisable to read an author before ridiculing him, they could have learned that, far from an object of hatred, freedom of the press was my first love. More than 170 years ago, a young shaver named Marx made his name in the German press by defending press freedom tooth and nail against Prussian state censorship. My essays, On Freedom of the Press are, I believe, not yet banned in Britain and available to be read on the ‘web’, whatever that may be.
I wrote then, with the florid passion of youth, that ‘The free press is the ubiquitous vigilant eye of a people’s soul, the embodiment of a people’s faith in itself, the eloquent link that connects the individual with the state and the world… It is a people’s frank confession to itself, and the redeeming power of confession is well known… It is all-sided, ubiquitous, omniscient. It is the ideal world which always wells up out of the real world and flows back into it with ever greater spiritual riches and renews its soul.’ These were sentiments that my older and more world-weary self still held to, albeit perhaps expressed in more prosaic terms.
Several lifetimes later, as I am awakened like a Red Rip Van Winkle, the case being advanced for restricting (which is what they mean by ‘regulating’) press freedom in Britain in 2014 has some strangely familiar echoes. In my youth, we fought not only against the brute force of state censorship, but also against those who claimed to support a free press yet insisted it must conform to the narrow-minded morality of the day. A free press must be free to disagree with and question everything, I wrote, ‘to make directly for the truth without looking right or left’ and without being told that it must ‘speak in the prescribed form’.