Hi everyone, my name is Robius and today I’m
here to present to you the tenth episode in the new iteration of Assassin’s Creed the
Real History. In this series I review the depiction of characters in the Assassin’s
Creed franchise and use that as a launching point to compare it with the historical source
material and start a discussion. Consequently, be aware of potential story spoilers ahead.
Today’s episode will center on Karl Marx, the controversial 19th century philosopher,
journalist and political economist best known for pioneering the school of thought commonly
referred to as Marxism. To begin, we’ll start the video by exploring
the history behind the man, prior to his first appearance in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.
Born on May 5th, 1818 in the Kingdom of Prussia, Karl was a homeschooled student until the
age of 12. He then attended a progressive high school, and experienced the government’s
influence against dissenting ideologies when the police raided the establishment, clearing
it of what they called liberal propaganda. In his early adult life, Marx wished to study
philosophy, but was instead pushed towards law by his father and, by 1836, he was engaged
to a long-term friend, the Prussian baroness Jenny von Westphalen.
As an adult, Marx continued his studies of law and philosophy, later moving to Berlin.
Here, Karl joined the Young Hegelians, a group of anti-establishment students labelled as
radical thinkers, who admired the works of G. W. F. Hegel. Marx collaborated with fellow
Hegelians on philosophical works, while also completing his thesis, which earned him a
PhD in mid-1841. With his ideologies limiting potential career
options, in 1842 Marx instead became a journalist for a radical newspaper based in Köln. Embracing
his new position, Karl used it to level heavy criticisms towards European governments and
politicians with whom he disagreed, eventually leading the Prussian government to step in
and insist they would review the written content prior to its publication, thus censoring any
radical thoughts. In mid-1843, after seven years of engagement,
Marx finally married his long-time fiancé Jenny. Thereafter, they moved to France and
had their first of seven children. While in Paris he worked for two different radical
leftist newspapers. In August of 1844, an important meeting occurred
at a French café where Marx encountered a fellow socialist named Friedrich Engels. Together,
they shared ideas and views on the class system. These common interests led to collaborative
efforts between the individuals. Throughout this time, it is believed that Marx developed
the early outline for what would eventually become known as Marxism, concentrating on
economic theories, the role of labour, materialism and socialism. However, by mid-1845 Marx’s
paper was shut down and he was expelled from the country when the French government complied
with a request from the Prussian monarchy, thus forcing him to move to Brussels on the
condition he abstain from publishing contemporary political works.
In this new space, Marx instead wrote a general criticism towards certain popular schools
of philosophy for being too rooted in the theoretical and not making a connection to
actual, physical results. Within a few months of his arrival, he was joined by Friedrich
Engels and together they visited England to learn about the English economy and their
views on socialism. Soon after, the pair collaborated on a book
entitled “The German Ideology”, a satirical piece that was censored by the government,
which concentrated on the importance of materialism when understanding history. Building upon
the momentum of this initial product, the two developed the idea that for the socialist
ideology to succeed, it needed to appeal to an entire societal class and not simply a
large group of individuals. It became clear that if a revolution would ever occur, it
had to be desired and fueled by the working class. Creating a few manuscripts that embodied
these ideas, Marx became further involved with the secret socialist organisation known
as the League of the Just. Sharing his theories, the members were convinced that by making
themselves into a public entity, a de-facto political party, only then would they be able
to reach the working class and establish a movement. Having won them over, in mid-1847
the League of the Just re-branded itself and entered the public eye as the Communist League,
with Marx and Engels authoring much of its literature. Ultimately, this led to the 1848
publication of the pair’s most recognized work, The Communist Manifesto. Fundamentally,
this pamphlet held within the core tenements of this society and expressed that the Communist
League was the sole entity that fought for the proletariat with the goal of overthrowing
capitalism and replacing it with socialism. It is important to understand that this was
a tumultuous time with rebellions and protests erupting around Europe that year, with the
French overthrowing their monarchy in favor of a Second Republic being one example. While
residing in Belgium, Marx was accused of funding the armament of local workers who sought revolution.
Despite the legitimacy of this claim still being argued to this day, Marx was nonetheless
forced to escape the country to avoid incarceration, at which point he fled to the newly re-established
French Republic. Subsequently, the Communist League was relocated to Paris and was joined
by the newly established German Workers’ Club.
Marx then travelled to Köln, hoping to spark a domino effect whereby the bourgeoisie would
turn on the monarchy and then make way for the proletariat to overthrow the bourgeoisie.
To this effect, he funded the publication of a new radical newspaper to help spread
his message across Europe. Marx’s efforts were met with heavy resistance. He was brought
on trial multiple times, his newspaper was censored and finally he was identified as
a political threat and was ordered to leave. This exile translated into an 1849 move to
London which was paralleled by the re-location of the Communist League.
Unfortunately, within the following year the Communist League was nearly usurped by an
internal movement that wished to inspire spontaneous uprisings within the working class, leading
to Europe-wide revolutions. Marx and Engels, staunch believers that societal changes must
occur in stages, first through the support of the bourgeoisie in ousting the monarchy
and then secondly in the proletariat’s uprising against the bourgeoisie, adamantly maintained
that this new, radical, disorganized method would lead to catastrophic failure and the collapse
of the Communist League. In the end, the pair succeeded in rallying the organization to
their way of thinking, and the radical members split from the Communist League.
Throughout this period, Marx became an international correspondent for multiple newspapers, using
this position to help spread his message to the working class around the world. In addition,
he and Engels came into conflict with other socialists, whom they criticism for their
unrealistic view that a revolution could simply occur at any time, whereas this pair had determined
that it would likely only develop successfully during a period of economic downfall. These
discussions led Marx to invest more time into his economic and capitalist studies, feeling
that a lack of understanding in these topics hindered their progress.
These studies culminated in the 1859 publication of his first large-scale economic piece, which
quickly gained public traction for its analytical views on currency in a capitalist economy.
Fueled by the interest in his recent publication, Marx spent the following years preparing what
many consider to be his life’s work, a three-part political, economic and philosophical series
originally named Das Kapital, and an additional manuscript known as the Theories of Surplus
Value. Anecdotally, Karl then acquired a copy of
The Origin of Species, authored by Charles Darwin, within a year of its release and upon
reading it developed an admiration for the Englishman. Marx saw parallels between their
writings in terms of similar forms of analysis and interpretation, within different contexts.
This led him to quote Darwin in some of his works and even have a brief correspondence
with the man about their shared desire in seeking knowledge.
Around this time Marx also applauded the works of Charles Dickens for bringing to light social
issues and realities he felt were ignored by the existing political structure. In 1864,
Marx then became a founding member of the International Workingmen’s Association.
Nevertheless, the first manuscript in his collection, which was published in 1867 contained
Karl’s views on capitalist production and its effects on the labour force, how the contemporary
economy was established around this system and how he felt this would ultimately fail.
This first volume exploded in popularity. Although only the first of these volumes was
published during Marx’s lifetime, his friend Friedrich Engels would be the once to share
the remaining works with the public after Karl’s eventual passing.
Historically speaking, it was after this initial publication that we first met Karl Marx in
Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. According to the game, in 1868, he identified the twin
Assassins Jacob and Evie Frye as defenders of the people, and requested their assistance
in supporting the working class. The twins cooperated, warding off the police who were
spying on Marx and allowed him to organize a meeting with his allies. Unfortunately,
Karl was betrayed by another ally who gave away the location of their assembly. After
evading capture, Marx then spoke with the traitor and expresses his disappointment,
emphasizing the idea that success is only attained through unity, before letting the
man leave. Following this initial encounter, a series
of side missions with an indirect timeline become available, in which the Frye twins
continue to support Marx’s efforts in London. These include acquiring undeniable proof highlighting
a factory’s abusive behavior and neglect of workplace safety, preventing a member of
Marx’s organization from attacking the house of parliament with explosives in response
to his son’s labour-related death, and ensuring that one of his reformation rallies does not
devolve into violence by silently removing anarchists who’d been planted in the crowd
in hopes of creating a bloody outcome. Nonetheless, the Frye twins succeeded in helping
their ally, with him finally asking if they would like to join the Worker’s Party. Although
they appreciated the offer, the Assassins each declined for their own reasons, with
Marx still thanking them for helping him and the working class.
Since that represented the final encounter with Marx in Syndicate, we are now able to
move onto the next, brief portion of the video and discuss his life after the game. Historically
speaking, in his later years, Marx succumbed to illness and lost some of his physical vigour,
thus shifting from a position as an activist in the field, to more of a commentator on
current developments and an advisor to more involved participants. Although the exact
cause of his ailment has been argued, different sources have proposed that he may have suffered
from long-term liver problems, a skin-related infection or perhaps this was simply the product
of his unfortunate habit of drinking and smoking heavily, while not prioritizing sleep or a
proper diet. Throughout these years, he continued working on his written projects, many of which
he wouldn’t publish. In the aftermath of his wife’s death in
late 1881, it is believed Marx developed bronchitis, which consequently led to his own death on
March 14th 1883. Having reached the conclusion of Karl Marx’s
life, we can proceed to the final chapter in the video, review everything we’ve learned
about this individual and compare it to his depiction in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.
Let’s start with the portions of his portrayal that the game got right. First, in a few intervals
Marx makes reference to being harassed by authorities in the past, listing off Paris,
Brussels and Köln as places where he experienced conflict, implying it was the reason why he
moved to London. He can then be seen throughout his side missions as a defender of the proletariat
and the working class, supporting those he felt weren’t represented in government while
pushing a message of solidarity. In contrast, considering how brief his appearance
in the game actually was, short of his relationship with two members of a secret order of Assassins
who helped him during those invented side missions clearly being completely fictionalized,
most of the other points worth discussing center on minor historical variations or different
interpretations of the individual. The major point of discussion when it comes
to Marx’s appearance in Syndicate is his portrayal as more of a reformer than a revolutionary.
Although this may not seem correct to many players, and it could be argued otherwise
based on the vast array of conflicting records on the man, I’d like to explain why I believe
he was shown in this light. Given his previous conflicts with governing bodies, with some
accusing him of funding an armed revolution, if those claims are to be believed they establish
a reasonable interpretation of Marx as a pro-violence revolutionary. However, all of these accusations
and the associated circumstances occurred in his earlier life. As Marx aged and saw
how quick, violent rebellions would rise in certain countries, often only to be quelled
rather quickly, he and Friedrich Engels adopted a different view in which they believed the
revolution could only succeed if it was accomplished in progressive stages. In addition, certain
sources propose that following the passing of the Second Reform Act in 1867, also known
as the Representation of the People Act, the franchise in Britain grew significantly and,
due to these changes for the workers and the so-called class struggle, Marx adapted his
philosophy to the current circumstances. This meant not necessarily concentrating on overthrowing
the government, but rather using democracy as a way of achieving socialism, enacting
change politically, and pushing the benefits of workers’ unions.
Having said all that, when considering whether or not Karl Marx was fairly depicted in Assassin’s
Creed Syndicate, in terms of his personality and behavior I’d have to say that in general
yes, but that depending on which sources you believe, you may think he was a little toned
down politically for the game’s sake. Either way, however you personally interpret this
controversial individual, what can be said is that the game did well in representing
the divisiveness within Marx’s movement, with more progressive, democracy-based approaches
coming into conflict with more anarchy-oriented avenues, as some individuals pursued non-violent
change, while others demanded a radical, bloody revolution. Lastly, I’d like to also quickly
mention that I liked how Syndicate had the Frye twins helping Marx, due to an overlapped
between his politics and their ideologies, however it had them both stop short from actually
joining his movement, thus making them more like allies of opportunity rather than two
parties with the exact same goals. And with that, we have finished today’s
video. If you enjoyed the content, help us spread the word about this series by sharing
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