On the one hand he spent entire decades of his life amassing facts, which accumulated in over a hundred enormous notebooks. But these were the facts to be found in libraries, Blue Book facts. The kind of facts which did not interest Marx were the facts to be discovered by examining the world and the people who live in it with his own eyes and ears. He was totally and incorrigibly desk-bound. Nothing on earth would get him out of the library and the study. His interest in poverty and exploitation went back to the autumn of 1842, when he was twenty-four and wrote a series of articles on the laws governing the right of local peasants to gather wood. According to Engels, Marx told him ‘it was his study of the law concerning the theft of wood, and his investigation of the Moselle peasantry, which turned his attention from mere politics to economic conditions and thus to socialism.’ But there is no evidence that Marx actually talked to the peasants and the landowners and looked at the conditions on the spot.
Again, in 1844 he wrote for the financial weekly Vorwärts (forward) an article on the plight of the Silesian weavers. But he never went to Silesia or, so far as we know, ever talked to a weaver of any description: it would have been very uncharacteristic of him if he had. Marx wrote about finance and industry all his life but he only knew two people connected with financial and industrial processes. One was his uncle in Holland, Lion Philips, a successful businessman who created what eventually became the vast Philips Electric Company. Uncle Philips’ views on the whole capitalist process would have been well-informed and interesting, had Marx troubled to explore them. But he only once consulted him, on a technical matter of high finance, and though he visited Philips four times, these concerned purely personal matters of family money. The other knowledgeable man was Engels himself. But Marx declined Engels’s invitation to accompany him on a visit to a cotton mill, and so far as we know Marx never set foot in a mill, factory, mine or other industrial workplace in the whole of his life.
What is even more striking is Marx’s hostility to fellow revolutionaries who had such experience-that is, working men who had become politically conscious. He met such people for the first time only in 1845, when he paid a brief visit to London, and attended a meeting of the German Workers’ Education Society. He did not like what he saw. These men were mostly skilled workers, watchmakers, printers, shoemakers; their leader was a forester. They were self-educated, disciplined, solemn, well-mannered, very anti-bohemian, anxious to transform society but moderate about the practical steps to this end. They did not share Marx’s apocalyptic visions and, above all, they did not talk his academic jargon. He viewed them with contempt: revolutionary cannon-fodder, no more. Marx always preferred to associate with middle-class intellectuals like himself.