Overview of life
Karl Heinrich Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a Prussian-German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the establishment of the social sciences and the development of the socialist movement. He is also considered one of the greatest economists of all time. He published numerous books during his lifetime, the most notable being The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Capital (1867–1894). He worked closely with his friend and fellow revolutionary socialist, Friedrich Engels.
Born into a wealthy middle-class family in Trier in the Prussian Rhineland, Marx studied at the University of Bonn and the University of Berlin, where he became interested in the philosophical ideas of the Young Hegelians. In 1836 he became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, whom he married in 1843. After his studies, he wrote for a radical newspaper in Cologne, and began to work out his theory of dialectical materialism. After moving to Paris in 1843, he began writing for other radical newspapers. He met Engels in Paris, and the two men worked together on a series of books. Exiled to Brussels, he became a leading figure of the Communist League, before moving back to Cologne and founding his own newspaper. In 1849 he was exiled again and moved to London together with his wife and children. In London, where the family was reduced to poverty, Marx continued writing and formulating his theories about the nature of society and how he believed it could be improved. He also campaigned for socialism and became a significant figure in the International Workingmen’s Association.
Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics—collectively known as Marxism—hold that human societies progress through the dialectic of class struggle: a conflict between an ownership class that controls production and a proletariat that provides the labour for production. He called capitalism the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, believing it to be run by the wealthy classes purely for their own benefit; and he predicted that, like previous socioeconomic systems, capitalism would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system: socialism. He argued that under socialism society would be governed by the working class in what he called the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, the “workers’ state” or “workers’ democracy”. He believed that socialism would, in its turn, eventually be replaced by a stateless, classless society called communism. Along with believing in the inevitability of socialism and communism, Marx actively fought for the former’s implementation, arguing that social theorists and underprivileged people alike should carry out organised revolutionary action to topple capitalism and bring about socio-economic change.
Revolutionary socialist governments espousing Marxist concepts took power in a variety of countries in the 20th century, leading to the formation of such socialist states as the Soviet Union in 1922 and the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Many labour unions and workers’ parties worldwide were also influenced by Marxist ideas, while various theoretical variants, such as Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, and Maoism, were developed from them. Marx is typically cited, with Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science. Marx has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history.
Childhood and early education: 1818–1835
Karl Heinrich Marx was born on 5 May 1818 at 664 Brückergasse in Trier, a town in the Kingdom of Prussia’s Province of the Lower Rhine. Ancestrally Ashkenazi Jewish, his maternal grandfather was a Dutch rabbi, while his paternal line had supplied Trier’s rabbis since 1723, a role taken by his grandfather Meier Halevi Marx. Karl’s father, Herschel Marx, was the first in the line to receive a secular education; becoming relatively wealthy and middle-class, his family owned a number of Moselle vineyards. To escape the constraints of anti-semitic legislation, he converted from Judaism to the Protestant Christian denomination of Lutheranism prior to his son’s birth, taking on the German forename of Heinrich over the Yiddish Herschel.
Largely non-religious, Herschel was a man of the Enlightenment, interested in the ideas of the philosophers Immanuel Kant and Voltaire. A classical liberal, he took part in agitation for a constitution and reforms in Prussia, then governed by an absolute monarchy. In 1815 Herschel began work as an attorney, in 1819 moving his family to a ten-room property near the Porta Nigra. His wife, Henrietta Pressburg, was a semi-literate Dutch Jew who claimed to suffer from “excessive mother love”, devoting much time to her family and insisting on cleanliness within her home. Retaining her Jewish faith, her beliefs would have some influence on her children.
Little is known of Karl Marx’s childhood. The third of nine children, he became the oldest son when his brother Moritz died in 1819, and was baptised into the Lutheran Church along with his surviving siblings Sophie, Hermann, Henriette, Louise, Emilie and Karoline in August 1824. He was privately educated until 1830, when he entered Trier High School, whose headmaster Hugo Wyttenbach was a friend of his father. Wyttenbach had employed many liberal humanists as teachers, angering the government. Police raided the school in 1832, discovering that literature espousing political liberalism was being distributed among the students; considering it seditious, the authorities instituted reforms and replaced several staff.
Aged 17, in October 1835, Marx traveled to the University of Bonn; although wishing to study philosophy and literature, his father insisted on law as a more practical field. Young Marx was deemed unavailable for military service when he turned eighteen due to a condition referred to as a “weak chest,” he joined the Poets’ Club, a group containing political radicals which was monitored by the police. Marx’s student days also contained a fair share of frivolity. Marx joined the Trier Tavern Club drinking society (Landsmannschaft der Treveraner), and at one point served as co-president of the Club. Additionally, Marx was involved in certain disputes, some of which became serious, as in August 1836, when he took part in a duel with a member of the university’s Borussian Korps. Although his grades in the first term were good, they soon deteriorated, leading his father to force a transfer to the more serious and academically oriented University of Berlin.
Hegelianism and early activism: 1836–1843
Spending summer and autumn 1836 in Trier, Marx soon became more serious about his studies and his life. Over the summer of 1836, Marx became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, an educated baroness of the Prussian ruling class who had known Marx since childhood. Having broken off her engagement with a young aristocrat to be with Marx, their relationship was unusual due to the differences between their ethnic and class origins, but Marx befriended her father, the liberal aristocrat Ludwig von Westphalen, later dedicating his doctoral thesis to him. In October 1836 he arrived in Berlin, matriculating in the university’s faculty of law and renting a room in the Mittelstrasse. Although studying law, he was fascinated by philosophy, and looked for a way to combine the two, believing that “without philosophy nothing could be accomplished.” Marx became interested in the recently-deceased German philosopher G.W.F Hegel, whose ideas were then widely debated among European philosophical circles. During a convalescence in Stralau, he joined the Doctor’s Club ( Doktorklub), a student group who discussed Hegelian ideas, and through them became involved with a group of radical thinkers known as the Young Hegelians in 1837; they gathered around Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, with Marx developing a particularly close friendship with Adolf Rutenberg. Like Marx, the Young Hegelians were critical of Hegel’s metaphysical assumptions, but adopted his dialectical method in order to criticise established society, politics, and religion from a leftist perspective. Disapproving of his son’s drunken behaviour, Marx’s father died in May 1838, resulting in a diminished income for the family.
Writing non-fiction and fiction, in 1837 Marx completed a short novel, Scorpion and Felix, the drama Oulanem, and a number of love poems dedicated to Jenny; Abandoning fiction for other pursuits, including learning English and Italian, studying art history and translating Latin classics, he was engaged in writing his doctoral thesis, The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, which he finished in 1841. Described as “a daring and original piece of work in which he set out to show that theology must yield to the superior wisdom of philosophy”, the essay was controversial, particularly among the conservative professors at the University of Berlin. Marx decided to submit it to the more liberal University of Jena, whose faculty awarded him his PhD based on it in April 1841. He began co-operating with Bruno Bauer on editing Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion in 1840, and in July 1841 the duo scandalised their class on a visit to Bonn by getting drunk, laughing in church, and galloping through the streets on donkeys. Both militant atheists, in March 1841 they began plans for a journal entitled Atheistic Archives; it never came to fruition.
Considering an academic career, this path was barred by the government’s growing opposition to classical liberalism and the Young Hegelians. Moving to Cologne in 1842, he became a journalist, writing for radical newspaper Rheinische Zeitung (“Rhenish Newspaper”) and in October becoming editor-in-chief; expressing his increasingly socialist views and interest in economics, he criticised both right-wing European governments as well as figures in the liberal and socialist movements whom he thought ineffective or counter-productive. The paper attracted the attention of the Prussian government censors, who checked every issue for potentially seditious material before printing; Marx remarked that “Our newspaper has to be presented to the police to be sniffed at, and if the police nose smells anything un-Christian or un-Prussian, the newspaper is not allowed to appear.” After the paper published an article strongly criticising the Russian monarchy, Tsar Nicholas I requested that the Rheinische Zeitung be banned; Prussia’s government shut down the paper in 1843. Seven years after their engagement, on 19 June 1843 Marx married Jenny in a Protestant church in Kreuznach.
Marx and von Westphalen had seven children together, but partly owing to the poor living conditions they were forced to live in whilst in London, only three survived to adulthood. The children were: Jenny Caroline (m. Longuet; 1844–83); Jenny Laura (m. Lafargue; 1845–1911); Edgar (1847–1855); Henry Edward Guy (“Guido”; 1849–1850); Jenny Eveline Frances (“Franziska”; 1851–52); Jenny Julia Eleanor (1855–98) and one more who died before being named (July 1857). There are allegations that Marx also fathered a son, Freddy, out of wedlock by his housekeeper, Helene Demuth.
Marx frequently used pseudonyms, often when renting a house or flat, apparently to make it harder for the authorities to track him down. While in Paris, he used that of ‘Monsieur Ramboz’, whilst in London he signed off his letters as ‘A. Williams’. His friends referred to him as ‘Moor’, owing to his dark complexion and black curly hair, something which they believed made him resemble the historical Moors of North Africa, whilst he encouraged his children to call him ‘Old Nick’ and ‘Charley’. He also bestowed nicknames and pseudonyms on his friends and family as well, referring to Friedrich Engels as ‘General’, his housekeeper Helene as ‘Lenchen’ or ‘Nym’, while one of his daughters, Jennychen, was referred to as ‘Qui Qui, Emperor of China’ and another, Laura, was known as ‘Kakadou’ or ‘the Hottentot’.
According to Sylvia Nasar, Marx never properly learned English and never went to an English factory.
Marx became co-editor of a new radical leftist newspaper, the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals), then being set up by German socialist Arnold Ruge to bring together German and French radicals. Based in Paris, France, it was here that Marx and his wife moved in October 1843. Initially living with Ruge and his wife communally at 23 Rue Vaneau, they found the living conditions difficult, so moved out following the birth of their daughter Jenny in 1844. Although intended to attract writers from both France and the German states, the Jahrbücher was dominated by the latter; the only non-German writer was the exiled Russian anarcho-communist Michael Bakunin. Marx contributed two essays to the paper, “Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” and “On the Jewish Question,” the latter introducing his belief that the proletariat were a revolutionary force and marking his embrace of communism. Only one issue was published, but it was relatively successful, largely owing to the inclusion of Heinrich Heine’s satirical odes on King Ludwig of Bavaria, leading the German states to ban it and seize imported copies; Ruge nevertheless refused to fund the publication of further issues, and his friendship with Marx broke down. After the paper’s collapse, Marx began writing for the only uncensored German-language radical newspaper left, Vorwärts!. Based in Paris, the paper was connected to the utopian socialist League of the Just; Marx attended some of their meetings, but did not join. In Vorwärts!, Marx refined his views on socialism based upon Hegelian and Feuerbachian ideas of dialectical materialism, at the same time criticising liberals and other socialists operating in Europe.
On 28 August 1844, Marx met German socialist Friedrich Engels at the Café de la Régence, beginning a lifelong friendship. Engels showed Marx his recently published The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, convincing Marx that the working class would be the agent and instrument of the final revolution in history.
Soon Marx and Engels were collaborating on a criticism of the philosophical ideas of Marx’s former friend, Bruno Bauer. This work was published in 1845 as The Holy Family. Although critical of Bauer, Marx was increasingly influenced by the ideas of Young Hegelians Max Stirner and Ludwig Feuerbach, but eventually Marx and Engels became aware that also abandoned Feuerbachian materialism as well.
During the time that he lived at 38 Rue Vanneau in Paris (from October, 1843 until January 1845), Marx engaged in an intensive study of “political economy” (Adam Smith, David Ricardo, James Mill etc.), the French socialists (especially Claude Henri St. Simon and Charles Fourier and the history of France.” The study of political economy is a study that Marx would pursue for the rest of his life and would result in his major economic work–the three volumes series called “Capital.” Marxism is based in large part on three influences—Hegel’s dialectics, French utopian socialism and English economics. Together with his earlier study of Hegel’s dialectics, the studying that Marx did during this time in Paris meant that all major components of “Marxism” (or political economy as Marx called it) were in place by the autumn of 1844. Although Marx was constantly being pulled away from his study of political economy by the usual daily demands on his time that everyone faces, and the additional special demands of editing a radical newspaper and later by the demands of organizing and directing the efforts of a political party during years in which popular uprisings of the citizenry might at any moment become a revolution, Marx was always drawn back to his economic studies. Marx sought “to understand the inner workings of capitalism.”
An outline of “Marxism” had definitely formed in the mind of Karl Marx by late 1844. Indeed, many features of the Marxist view of the world’s political economy had been worked out in great detail. However, Marx needed to write down all of the details of his economic world view to further clarify the new economic theory in his own mind. Accordingly, Marx wrote the The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. These manuscripts, covered numerous topics, detailing Marx’s concept of alienated labour. However, by the spring of 1845, his continued study of political economy, capital and capitalism had led Marx to the belief that the new political economic theory that he was espousing–scientific socialism–needed to be built on the base of a thoroughly developed materialistic view of the world.
The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 had been written between April and August of 1844 still Marx recognized that the Manuscripts had been influenced by some inconsistent ideas of Ludwig Feuerbach. Accordingly, Marx recognized the need to break with Feuerbach philosophy in favor of historical materialism. Thus, a year later, in April of 1845, after moving from Paris to Brussels, Marx authored his eleven (11) Theses on Feuerbach, The Theses on Feuerbach is best known for Theses 11, which states that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it”. This work contains Marx’s criticism of materialism (for being contemplative), idealism (for reducing practice to theory) overall, criticising philosophy for putting abstract reality above the physical world. It thus introduced the first glimpse at Marx’s historical materialism, an argument that the world is changed not by ideas but by actual, physical, material activity and practice. In 1845, after receiving a request from the Prussian king, the French government shut down Vorwärts!, with the interior minister François Guizot expelling Marx from France. At this point, Marx moved from Paris, to Brussels where Marx hoped to, once again, pick up his study of capitalism and political economy.
Unable either to stay in France or to move to Germany, Marx decided to emigrate to Brussels in Belgium in February of 1845. However, to stay in Belgium, Marx had to pledge not to publish anything on the subject of contemporary politics in order to enter. In Brussels, he associated with other exiled socialists from across Europe, including Moses Hess, Karl Heinzen, and Joseph Weydemeyer, and soon, in April of 1845, Engels moved from Barmen in Germany to Brussels to join Marx and the growing cadre of scientific socialists in Brussels.<Heinrich Gemkow et al., Frederick Engels: A Biography (Verlag Zeit im Bild : Dresden, 1972) p. 101</ref> Later, Mary Burns, Engels long-time companion, left Manchester, England, to join Engels in Brussels.
In mid-July of 1845, Marx and Engels left Brussels for England to visit the leaders of the Chartists, a socialist movement in Britain. This was Marx’s first trip to England and Engels was an ideal guide for the trip. Not only, had Engels already spent two years living in Manchester, England from November 1842 until August of 1844. Not only did he already know the English language, but Engels had developed a close relationship with many Chartist leaders. Indeed, Engels was serving as a reporter for many Chartist and socialist English newspapers. Marx used the trip as an opportunity to examine the economic resources available for study in various libraries in London and Manchester.
In collaboration with Engels, Marx also set about writing a book which is often seen as his best treatment of the concept of historical materialism,The German Ideology; the work, like many others, would not see publication in Marx’s lifetime, being published only in 1932. He followed this with The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), a response to the French anarcho-socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty and a critique of French socialist thought in general.
These books laid the foundation for Marx and Engels’s most famous work, a political pamphlet that has since come to be commonly known as The Communist Manifesto. While residing in Brussels 1846, Marx had joined a secret radical organisation called the League of the Just. The League of the Just had been active in radical “underground” politics since the 1830s. Members of the League of the Just were active in Germany, England, and Switzerland as well as France. In June 1847, the League of the Just was reorganized by its membership into a new open “above ground” political society that appealed directly to the working classes. This new open political society was called the “Communist League.” Both Marx and Engels participated in drawing the program and organisational principles of the new Communist League.
Written jointly by Marx and Engels for the Communist League from December 1847 through January 1848, “The Communist Manifesto” was first published on 21 February 1848. The “Communist Manifesto” laid out the beliefs of the new Communist League. No longer a secret society, the Communist League, wanted to make aims and intentions clear to the general public rather than hiding its beliefs as the League of the Just had been doing. The opening lines of the pamphlet set forth the principal basis of Marxism, that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” It goes on to look at the antagonisms that Marx claimed were arising between the clashes of interest between the bourgeoisie (the wealthy middle class) and the proletariat (the industrial working class). Proceeding on from this, the Manifesto presents the argument for why the Communist League, as opposed to other socialist and liberal political parties and groups at the time, was truly acting in the interests of the proletariat to overthrow capitalist society and replace it with socialism.
Later that year, Europe experienced a series of protests, rebellions, and often violent upheavals, the Revolutions of 1848. In France, a revolution led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the French Second Republic. Marx was supportive of such activity, and having recently received a substantial inheritance from his father of either 6000 or 5000 francs, allegedly used a third of it to arm Belgian workers who were planning revolutionary action. Although the veracity of these allegations is disputed, the Belgian Ministry of Justice accused him of it, subsequently arresting him, and he was forced to flee back to France, where, with a new republican government in power, he believed that he would be safe.
Temporarily settling down in Paris, Marx transferred the Communist League executive headquarters to the city and also set up a German Workers’ Club with various German socialists living there. Hoping to see the revolution spread to Germany, in 1848 Marx moved back to Cologne (Köln) where he began issuing a handbill entitled the Demands of the Communist Party in Germany, in which he argued for only four of the ten points of the Communist Manifesto, believing that in Germany at that time, the bourgeoisie must overthrow the feudal monarchy and aristocracy before the proletariat could overthrow the bourgeoisie. On 1 June, Marx started publication of the daily Neue Rheinische Zeitung (“New Rhenish Newspaper”), which he helped to finance through his recent inheritance from his father. Designed to put forward news from across Europe with his own Marxist interpretation of events, Marx remained one of its primary writers, accompanied by other fellow members of the Communist League who wrote for the paper, although despite their input it remained, according to Friedrich Engels, “a simple dictatorship by Marx”, who dominated the choice of content.
Whilst editor of the paper, Marx and the other revolutionary socialists were regularly harassed by the police, and Marx was brought to trial on several occasions, facing various allegations including insulting the Chief Public Prosecutor, committing a press misdemeanor, and inciting armed rebellion through tax boycotting, although each time he was acquitted. Meanwhile, the democratic parliament in Prussia collapsed, and the king, Frederick William IV, introduced a new cabinet of his reactionary supporters, who implemented counter-revolutionary measures to expunge leftist and other revolutionary elements from the country. Consequently, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was soon suppressed and Marx was ordered to leave the country on 16 May. Marx returned to Paris, which was then under the grip of both a reactionary counter-revolution and a cholera epidemic, and was soon expelled by the city authorities who considered him a political threat. With his wife Jenny expecting their fourth child, and not able to move back to Germany or Belgium, in August 1849 he sought refuge in London.
Life in London
Marx moved to London in May 1849 and would remain based in the city for the rest of his life. The headquarters of the Communist League also moved to London. However, in the winter of 1849-1850, a split within the ranks of the Communist League occurred when a faction within the Communist League led by August Willich and Karl Schapper began agitating for an immediate uprising on the part of the Communist League. Willich and Schapper believed that once the Communist League had initiated the uprising, the entire working class from across Europe would rise “spontaneously” to join the uprising, thus, creating revolution across Europe. Marx and Frederick Engels protested that such an unplanned uprising on the part of the Communist League was “adventuristic” and would be suicide for the Communist League. Such an uprising, as that recommended by the Schapper/Willich group would easily be crushed by the police and the armed forces of the reactionary governments of Europe. This, Marx maintained, would spell doom for the Communist League itself. Changes in society, Marx argued, are not achieved overnight through the efforts and will power of “a handful of men.” Instead, changes in society are brought about through a scientific analysis of economic conditions of society and by moving toward revolution through different stages of social development. In the present stage of development (circa 1850), following the defeat of the 1848 uprisings across Europe, Marx felt that the Communist League should encourage the working class to unite with progressive elements of the rising bourgeoisie in order to defeat the feudal aristocracy on issues involving demands for governmental reforms, e.g. a constitution republic with freely elected assemblies and universal (male) suffrage. In other words, the working class must join with the bourgeois/democratic forces to bring about the successful conclusion of the bourgeois revolution before stressing the working class agenda and a working class revolution.
After a long struggle, which threatened to ruin the Communist League, Marx’s viewpoint prevailed and, eventually, the Willich/Schapper group left the Communist League. London became the new headquarters of the Communist League. Meanwhile, Marx also became heavily involved with the socialist German Workers’ Educational Society. The German Workers’ Educational Society held their meetings in Great Windmill Street, Soho, central London’s entertainment district. The German Workers’ Educational Society also was racked with an internal struggle between its members, part of which followed Marx and another part which followed the Schapper/Willich faction. The issues in this internal split were the same issues raised in the internal split within the Communist League. Marx, however, lost the fight with the Schapper/Willich faction within the German Workers’ Educational Society and on September 17, 1850, resigned from the Society.
While in London, Marx devoted himself to task revolutionary organizing of the working class. For the first few years he and his family lived in extreme poverty. His main source of income was his colleague, Engels, who derived much of his income from his family’s business. Marx also worked as correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. In earlier years, Marx had been able to communicate with the broad masses of the working class by editing his own newspaper or editing a newspaper financed by others sympathetic to his plilosophy. Now in London, Marx was unable to finance his own newspaper and unable to put together finacing from others. Thus, Marx sought to communicate with the public by writing articles for the New York Tribune.
The New York Daily Tribune had been founded in New York City in the United States of America by Horace Greeley in April 1841. Marx’s main contact on the “Tribune” was Charles Dana. Later in 1868, Charles Dana would leave the Tribune to become the owner and editor in chief of the New York Sun a competing newspaper in New York City. However, at this time Charles Dana served on the editorial board of the Tribune.
Several things about the Tribune made the newspaper an excellent vehicle for Marx to use in order to reach a sympathetic public in across the Atlantic Ocean. First of all, since its founding the Tribune was an inexpensive newspaper—two (2) cents per copy. Accordingly, the newspaper was popular with the broad masses of the common working class of the United States. With a run of about 50,000 issues, the Tribune was the most widely circulated journal in the United States. Editorially, the Tribune reflected Greeley’s own anti-slavery opinions. Accordingly, not only did the Tribune have wide readership with the United States and not only did that readership come from the working classes, but the readers seemed to be from the progressive wing of the working class. Marx’s first article for the New York Tribune was on the British elections to Parliament and was published in the August 21, 1852 issue of the Tribune.
Marx was just one of the reporters in Europe that the New York Tribune employed. However, with the slavery crisis coming to a head in the late 1850s and with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the American public’s interest in European affairs declined. Marx recognized this deterioration of interest in European subjects within American readership and very early began to write on issues affecting the United States—particularly the “slavery crisis” and the “War Between the States.”
Marx continued to write articles for the New York Daily Tribune as long as Marx was sure that the Tribune’seditorial policy was still a progressive policy. n until a change in the editorial board at the Tribune brought about a new editorial policy at the Tribune. No longer was the Tribune to be a strong abolitionist paper and a paper dedicated to a complete union victory in the War Between the States. The new editorial board supported an immediate peace between the union and the confederacy with slavery left intact in the confederacy. Accordingly, in 1863, Marx was forced to withdraw as a writer for the Tribune.
From December 1851 to March 1852, Marx wrote The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, a work on the French Revolution of 1848, in which he expanded upon his concepts of historical materialism, class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat, advancing the argument that victorious proletariat has to smash the bourgeois state.
The 1850s and 1860s also mark the line between what some scholars see as idealistic, Hegelian young Marx from the more scientifically minded mature Marx writings of the later period. This distinction is usually associated with the structural Marxism school, and not all scholars agree that it exists. The years of revolution from 1848 through 1849 had been a grand experience for both Marx and Engels. They both became sure that their economic view of the course of history was the only valid way that historic events like the revolutionary upsurge of 1848 could be adequately explained. For some time after 1848, Marx and Engels wondered if the entire revolutionary upsurge had completely played out. When time had passed, they began to think that a new revolutionary would occur when there was another downturn in the national economy. The downturn in the United States economy in 1852 set them to wonder if a revolutionary upsurge would soon occur. The United States economy was too new to play host to a classical revolution. Any economic crisis which began in the United States would not lead to revolution unless one of the older economies of Europe “caught the contagion” from the United States. In other words, economies of the world were still seen as individual national systems which were contiguous with the national borders of each country. The “Panic of 1857” broke the mold of all prior thinking on the world economy. The Panic of 1857 was truly the first world-wide economic depression.
Marx longed to return to his economic studies. He had left these studies in 1844 and had been preoccupied with other projects over the last thirteen (13) years. By returning to his study of economics, he felt he would be able to understand more thoroughly what was occurring in the world.
In 1864, Marx became involved in the International Workingmen’s Association (also known as First International)., to whose General Council he was elected at its inception in 1864. In that organisation, Marx was involved in the struggle against the anarchist wing centred around Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876). Although Marx won this contest, the transfer of the seat of the General Council from London to New York in 1872, which Marx supported, led to the decline of the International. The most important political event during the existence of the International was the Paris Commune of 1871 when the citizens of Paris rebelled against their government and held the city for two months. In response to the bloody suppression of this rebellion Marx wrote one of his most famous pamphlets, The Civil War in France, a defense of the Commune.
Given the repeated failures and frustrations of workers’ revolutions and movements, Marx also sought to understand capitalism, and spent a great deal of time in the reading room of the British Museum studying and reflecting on the works of political economists and on economic data. By 1857 he had accumulated over 800 pages of notes and short essays on capital, landed property, wage labour, the state, and foreign trade and the world market; this work did not appear in print until 1941, under the title Grundrisse. In 1859 Marx published Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, his first serious economic work. In the early 1860s he worked on composing three large volumes, the Theories of Surplus Value, which discussed the theoreticians of political economy, particularly Adam Smith and David Ricardo. This work is often seen as the fourth book of Capital and constitutes one of the first comprehensive treatises on the history of economic thought. In 1867 the first volume of Capital was published, a work which analyzed the capitalist process of production. Here Marx elaborated his labour theory of value (influenced by Thomas Hodgskin) and his conception of surplus value and exploitation, which he argued would ultimately lead to a falling rate of profit and the collapse of industrial capitalism. Volumes II and III remained mere manuscripts upon which Marx continued to work for the rest of his life and were published posthumously by Engels.
During the last decade of his life, Marx’s health declined and he became incapable of the sustained effort that had characterised his previous work. He did manage to comment substantially on contemporary politics, particularly in Germany and Russia. His Critique of the Gotha Programme opposed the tendency of his followers Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel to compromise with the state socialism of Ferdinand Lassalle in the interests of a united socialist party. This work is also notable for another famous Marx’s quote: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
In a letter to Vera Zasulich dated 8 March 1881, Marx contemplated the possibility of Russia’s bypassing the capitalist stage of development and building communism on the basis of the common ownership of land characteristic of the village mir. While admitting that Russia’s rural “commune is the fulcrum of social regeneration in Russia”, Marx also warned that, in order for the mir to operate as a means for moving straight to the socialist stage without a preceding capitalist stage, it “would first be necessary to eliminate the deleterious influences which are assailing it (the rural commune) from all sides.” Given the elimination of these pernicious influences, Marx allowed that “normal conditions of spontaneous development” of the rural commune could exist. However, in the same letter to Vera Zasulich, Marx points out that “at the core of the capitalist system … lies the complete separation of the producer from the means of production.” In one of the drafts of this letter, Marx reveals his growing passion for anthropology, motivated by his belief that future communism would be a return on a higher level to the communism of our prehistoric past. He wrote that “the historical trend of our age is the fatal crisis which capitalist production has undergone in the European and American countries where it has reached its highest peak, a crisis that will end in its destruction, in the return of modern society to a higher form of the most archaic type — collective production and appropriation”. He added that “the vitality of primitive communities was incomparably greater than that of Semitic, Greek, Roman, etc. societies, and, a fortiori, that of modern capitalist societies”. Before he died, Marx asked Engels to write up these ideas, which were published in 1884 under the title The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
Following the death of his wife Jenny in December 1881, Marx developed a catarrh that kept him in ill health for the last 15 months of his life. It eventually brought on the bronchitis and pleurisy that killed him in London on 14 March 1883. He died a stateless person; family and friends in London buried his body in Highgate Cemetery, London, on 17 March 1883. There were between nine and eleven mourners at his funeral.
Several of his closest friends spoke at his funeral, including Wilhelm Liebknecht and Friedrich Engels. Engels’s speech included the passage:
On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep—but forever.
Marx’s daughter Eleanor and Charles Longuet and Paul Lafargue, Marx’s two French socialist sons-in-law, were also in attendance. Liebknecht, a founder and leader of the German Social-Democratic Party, gave a speech in German, and Longuet, a prominent figure in the French working-class movement, made a short statement in French. Two telegrams from workers’ parties in France and Spain were also read out. Together with Engels’s speech, this constituted the entire programme of the funeral. Non-relatives attending the funeral included three communist associates of Marx: Friedrich Lessner, imprisoned for three years after the Cologne communist trial of 1852; G. Lochner, whom Engels described as “an old member of the Communist League”; and Carl Schorlemmer, a professor of chemistry in Manchester, a member of the Royal Society, and a communist activist involved in the 1848 Baden revolution. Another attendee of the funeral was Ray Lankester, a British zoologist who would later become a prominent academic.
Upon his own death, Engels left Marx’s two surviving daughters a “significant portion” of his $4.8 million estate.
Marx’s tombstone bears the carved message: “WORKERS OF ALL LANDS UNITE”, the final line of The Communist Manifesto, and from the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach (edited by Engels): “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways—the point however is to change it”. The Communist Party of Great Britain had the monumental tombstone built in 1954 with a portrait bust by Laurence Bradshaw; Marx’s original tomb had had only humble adornment. In 1970 there was an unsuccessful attempt to destroy the monument using a homemade bomb.
The later Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm remarked that “One cannot say Marx died a failure” because, although he had not achieved a large following of disciples in Britain, his writings had already begun to make an impact on the leftist movements in Germany and Russia. Within 25 years of his death, the continental European socialist parties that acknowledged Marx’s influence on their politics were each gaining between 15% and 47% in those countries with representative democratic elections.
Marx’s thought demonstrates influences from many thinkers, including but not limited to:
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s philosophy;
- the classical political economy (economics) of Adam Smith and David Ricardo;
- French socialist thought, in particular the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Henri de Saint-Simon, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Charles Fourier;
- earlier German philosophical materialism, particularly that of Ludwig Feuerbach;
- the working class analysis by Friedrich Engels.
Marx’s view of history, which came to be called historical materialism (controversially adapted as the philosophy of dialectical materialism by Engels and Lenin) certainly shows the influence of Hegel’s claim that one should view reality (and history) dialectically. However, Hegel had thought in idealist terms, putting ideas in the forefront, whereas Marx sought to rewrite dialectics in materialist terms, arguing for the primacy of matter over idea. Where Hegel saw the “spirit” as driving history, Marx saw this as an unnecessary mystification, obscuring the reality of humanity and its physical actions shaping the world. He wrote that Hegelianism stood the movement of reality on its head, and that one needed to set it upon its feet.
Though inspired by French socialist and sociological thought, Marx criticised utopian socialists, arguing that their favoured small-scale socialistic communities would be bound to marginalisation and poverty, and that only a large-scale change in the economic system can bring about real change.
The other important contribution to Marx’s revision of Hegelianism came from Engels’s book, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, which led Marx to conceive of the historical dialectic in terms of class conflict and to see the modern working class as the most progressive force for revolution.
Marx believed that he could study history and society scientifically and discern tendencies of history and the resulting outcome of social conflicts. Some followers of Marx concluded, therefore, that a communist revolution would inevitably occur. However, Marx famously asserted in the eleventh of his Theses on Feuerbach that “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point however is to change it”, and he clearly dedicated himself to trying to alter the world.
Philosophy and social thought
Marx polemic with other thinkers often occurred through critique, and thus he has been called “the first great user of critical method in social sciences.” He criticised speculative philosophy, equating metaphysics with ideology. By adopting this approach, Marx attempted to separate key findings from ideological biases. This set him apart from many contemporary philosophers.
Fundamentally, Marx assumed that human history involves transforming human nature, which encompasses both human beings and material objects. Humans recognise that they possess both actual and potential selves. For both Marx and Hegel, self-development begins with an experience of internal alienation stemming from this recognition, followed by a realisation that the actual self, as a subjective agent, renders its potential counterpart an object to be apprehended. Marx further argues that, by molding nature in desired ways, the subject takes the object as its own, and thus permits the individual to be actualised as fully human. For Marx, then, human nature—Gattungswesen, or species-being—exists as a function of human labour. Fundamental to Marx’s idea of meaningful labour is the proposition that, in order for a subject to come to terms with its alienated object, it must first exert influence upon literal, material objects in the subject’s world. Marx acknowledges that Hegel “grasps the nature of work and comprehends objective man, authentic because actual, as the result of his own work”, but characterises Hegelian self-development as unduly “spiritual” and abstract. Marx thus departs from Hegel by insisting that “the fact that man is a corporeal, actual, sentient, objective being with natural capacities means that he has actual, sensuous objects for his nature as objects of his life-expression, or that he can only express his life in actual sensuous objects.” Consequently, Marx revises Hegelian “work” into material “labour”, and in the context of human capacity to transform nature the term “labour power”.
Labour, class struggle, and false consciousness
Marx had a special concern with how people relate to that most fundamental resource of all, their own labour power. He wrote extensively about this in terms of the problem of alienation. As with the dialectic, Marx began with a Hegelian notion of alienation but developed a more materialist conception. Capitalism mediates social relationships of production (such as among workers or between workers and capitalists) through commodities, including labour, that are bought and sold on the market. For Marx, the possibility that one may give up ownership of one’s own labour—one’s capacity to transform the world—is tantamount to being alienated from one’s own nature; it is a spiritual loss. Marx described this loss as commodity fetishism, in which the things that people produce, commodities, appear to have a life and movement of their own to which humans and their behavior merely adapt.
Commodity fetishism provides an example of what Engels called “false consciousness”, which relates closely to the understanding of ideology. By “ideology”, Marx and Engels meant ideas that reflect the interests of a particular class at a particular time in history, but which contemporaries see as universal and eternal. Marx and Engels’s point was not only that such beliefs are at best half-truths; they serve an important political function. Put another way, the control that one class exercises over the means of production includes not only the production of food or manufactured goods; it includes the production of ideas as well (this provides one possible explanation for why members of a subordinate class may hold ideas contrary to their own interests). An example of this sort of analysis is Marx’s understanding of religion, summed up in a passage from the preface to his 1843 Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.
Whereas his Gymnasium senior thesis argued that religion had as its primary social aim the promotion of solidarity, here Marx sees the social function of religion in terms of highlighting/preserving political and economic status quo and inequality.
Economy, history and society
Marx’s thoughts on labour were related to the primacy he gave to the economic relation in determining the society’s past, present and future (see also economic determinism). Accumulation of capital shapes the social system. Social change, for Marx, was about conflict between opposing interests, driven, in the background, by economic forces. This became the inspiration for the body of works known as the conflict theory. In his evolutionary model of history, he argued that human history began with free, productive and creative work that was over time coerced and dehumanised, a trend most apparent under capitalism. Marx noted that this was not an intentional process; rather, no individual or even state can go against the forces of economy.
The organisation of society depends on means of production. Literally those things, like land, natural resources, and technology, necessary for the production of material goods and the relations of production, in other words, the social relationships people enter into as they acquire and use the means of production. Together these compose the mode of production, and Marx distinguished historical eras in terms of distinct modes of production. Marx differentiated between base and superstructure, with the base (or substructure) referring to the economic system, and superstructure, to the cultural and political system. Marx regarded this mismatch between (economic) base and (social) superstructure as a major source of social disruption and conflict.
Despite Marx’s stress on critique of capitalism and discussion of the new communist society that should replace it, his explicit critique of capitalism is guarded, as he saw it as an improved society compared to the past ones (slavery and feudal). Marx also never clearly discusses issues of morality and justice, although scholars agree that his work contained implicit discussion of those concepts.
Marx’s view of capitalism was two-sided. On one hand, Marx, in the 19th century’s deepest critique of the dehumanising aspects of this system, noted that defining features of capitalism include alienation, exploitation, and recurring, cyclical depressions leading to mass unemployment; on the other hand capitalism is also characterised by “revolutionizing, industrializing and universalizing qualities of development, growth and progressivity” (by which Marx meant industrialisation, urbanisation, technological progress, increased productivity and growth, rationality and scientific revolution), that are responsible for progress. Marx considered the capitalist class to be one of the most revolutionary in history, because it constantly improved the means of production, more so than any other class in history, and was responsible for the overthrow of feudalism and its transition to capitalism. Capitalism can stimulate considerable growth because the capitalist can, and has an incentive to, reinvest profits in new technologies and capital equipment.
According to Marx capitalists take advantage of the difference between the labour market and the market for whatever commodity the capitalist can produce. Marx observed that in practically every successful industry input unit-costs are lower than output unit-prices. Marx called the difference “surplus value” and argued that this surplus value had its source in surplus labour, the difference between what it costs to keep workers alive and what they can produce. Marx’s dual view of capitalism can be seen in his description of the capitalists: he refers to them as to vampires sucking worker’s blood, but at the same time, he notes that drawing profit is “by no means an injustice” and that capitalists simply cannot go against the system. The true problem lies with the “cancerous cell” of capital, understood not as property or equipment, but the relations between workers and owners – the economic system in general.
At the same time, Marx stressed that capitalism was unstable, and prone to periodic crises. He suggested that over time, capitalists would invest more and more in new technologies, and less and less in labour. Since Marx believed that surplus value appropriated from labour is the source of profits, he concluded that the rate of profit would fall even as the economy grew. Marx believed that increasingly severe crises would punctuate this cycle of growth, collapse, and more growth. Moreover, he believed that in the long-term this process would necessarily enrich and empower the capitalist class and impoverish the proletariat. In section one of The Communist Manifesto Marx describes feudalism, capitalism, and the role internal social contradictions play in the historical process:
We see then: the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society. At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged … the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder. Into their place stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political constitution adapted in it, and the economic and political sway of the bourgeois class. A similar movement is going on before our own eyes … The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring order into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property.
Marx believed that those structural contradictions within capitalism necessitate its end, giving way to socialism, or a post-capitalistic, communist society:
The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
Thanks to various processes overseen by capitalism, such as urbanisation, the working class, the proletariat, should grow in numbers and develop class consciousness, in time realising that they have to and can change the system. Marx believed that if the proletariat were to seize the means of production, they would encourage social relations that would benefit everyone equally, abolishing exploiting class, and introduce a system of production less vulnerable to cyclical crises. Marx argued in The German Ideology that capitalism will end through the organised actions of an international working class:
Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”
In this new society the self-alienation would end, and humans would be free to act without being bound by the labour market. It would be a democratic society, enfranchising the entire population. In such a utopian world there would also be little if any need for a state, which goal was to enforce the alienation. He theorised that between capitalism and the establishment of a socialist/communist system, a dictatorship of the proletariat—a period where the working class holds political power and forcibly socialises the means of production—would exist. As he wrote in his “Critique of the Gotha Program”, “between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” While he allowed for the possibility of peaceful transition in some countries with strong democratic institutional structures (such as Britain, the US and the Netherlands), he suggested that in other countries with strong centralised state-oriented traditions, like France and Germany, the “lever of our revolution must be force.”
Marx is widely considered one of the most influential thinkers in history, who has had a significant influence on both world politics and intellectual thought. Robert C. Tucker credits Marx with profoundly affecting ideas about history, society, economics, culture, politics, and the nature of social inquiry. Marx’s biographer Francis Wheen considered the “history of the twentieth century” to be “Marx’s legacy”, while philosopher Peter Singer believed Marx’s impact to be comparable with that of Jesus Christ and Muhammad. Singer notes that “Marx’s ideas brought about modern sociology, transformed the study of history, and profoundly affected philosophy, literature and the arts.” BBC polls have consistently found Marx considered as the top “thinker of the millennium.”
Paul Ricœur calls Marx one of the masters of the “school of suspicion”, alongside Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. Karl Löwith considered Marx and Søren Kierkegaard to be the two greatest Hegelian philosophical successors. Erich Fromm identifies Marx, together with Freud and Albert Einstein, as the “architects of the modern age”, but rejects the idea that Marx and Freud were equally significant, emphasizing that he sees Marx as both far more historically important than Freud and a finer thinker. Philip Stokes says that Marx’s ideas led to him becoming “the darling of both European and American intellectuals up until the 1960s”. Marx has influenced disciplines such as archaeology, anthropology, media studies, political science, theater, history, sociological theory, cultural studies, education, economics, geography, literary criticism, aesthetics, critical psychology, and philosophy.
Marx’s widespread influence has been understood to be a result of his work’s “morally empowering language of critique” against the dominant capitalist society. Later commentators agree that no other body of work was so relevant to modern times and simultaneously so outspoken about the need for change.
Followers of Marx have drawn on his work to propose grand, cohesive theoretical outlooks dubbed “Marxism”. This body of works has had significant influence on both politics and science. Nevertheless, Marxists have frequently debated amongst themselves over how to interpret Marx’s writings and apply his concepts to the modern world. The legacy of Marx’s thought has become contested between numerous tendencies, each of which sees itself as Marx’s most accurate interpreter. These tendencies include Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Luxemburgism, and libertarian Marxism. Various currents have also developed in academic Marxism, often under influence of other views, resulting in structuralist Marxism, historical Marxism, phenomenological Marxism, Analytical Marxism and Hegelian Marxism. The Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara summed up his own appeal to Marxism by stating that Marx produced “a qualitative change in the history of social thought. He interprets history, understands its dynamic, predicts the future, but in addition to predicting it, he expresses a revolutionary concept: the world must not only be interpreted, it must be transformed.”
The German philosopher Ernst Bloch attempted to reveal what he considered the hidden metaphysical meaning of Marx’s thought, which Leszek Kołakowski summarizes as, “a picture of the world tending towards a universal synthesis of all forces and factors, not only social phenomena but the cosmos as a whole.” Kołakowski credits Bloch with helping to reveal the neo-Platonic roots of Marxism.
There is a distinction between “Marxism” and “what Marx believed”; for example, shortly before he died in 1883, Marx wrote a letter to the French workers’ leader Jules Guesde, and to his own son-in-law Paul Lafargue, accusing them of “revolutionary phrase-mongering” and of lack of faith in the working class. After the French party split into a reformist and revolutionary party, some accused Guesde (leader of the latter) of taking orders from Marx; Marx remarked to Lafargue, “What is certain to me is I myself am not Marxist” (in a letter to Engels, Marx later accused Guesde of being a “Bakuninist”).
Founder of social science
Marx is typically cited, along with Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science. In contrast to philosophers, Marx offered theories that could often be tested with the scientific method. Both Marx and Auguste Comte set out to develop scientifically justified ideologies in the wake of European secularisation and new developments in the philosophies of history and science. Whilst Marx, working in the Hegelian tradition, rejected Comtean sociological positivism, in attempting to develop a science of society he nevertheless came to be recognised as a founder of sociology as the word gained wider meaning. In modern sociological theory, Marxist sociology is recognised as one of the main classical perspectives. Isaiah Berlin considers Marx the true founder of modern sociology, “in so far as anyone can claim the title.”