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Karl Marx

Karl Marx Karl Marx[1†]

Karl Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German-born philosopher, economist, political theorist, historian, sociologist, journalist, and revolutionary socialist[1†]. His best-known works are the 1848 pamphlet The Communist Manifesto (with Friedrich Engels) and the three-volume Das Kapital (1867–1894); the latter employs his critical approach of historical materialism in an analysis of capitalism and represents his greatest intellectual achievement[1†]. Marx’s ideas and theories and their subsequent development, collectively known as Marxism, have exerted enormous influence on modern intellectual, economic, and political history[1†].

Born in Trier to an originally Jewish family in the Kingdom of Prussia, German Confederation, Marx studied at the universities of Bonn, Berlin, and Jena, and received a doctorate in philosophy from the latter in 1841[1†]. A Young Hegelian, he was influenced by the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and both critiqued and developed Hegel’s ideas in works such as The German Ideology (written 1846) and the Grundrisse (written 1857–1858)[1†]. While in Paris in 1844, Marx wrote his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts and met Engels, a lifelong friend and collaborator[1†]. After moving to Brussels in 1845, they were active in the Communist League, and in 1848 wrote The Communist Manifesto, which expresses Marx’s ideas and lays out a programme for revolution[1†]. Marx was expelled from Belgium and Germany, and in 1849 moved to London, where he wrote The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) and Das Kapital[1†]. In 1864, Marx helped found the International Workingmen’s Association (First International), in which he sought to fight the influence of anarchists led by Mikhail Bakunin[1†].

Early Years and Education

Karl Heinrich Marx was born in Trier, Rhenish Prussia (present-day Germany), on May 5, 1818[2†][3†]. He was the son of Heinrich Marx, a lawyer, and Henriette Presburg Marx, a Dutchwoman[2†][3†]. Both Heinrich and Henriette were descendants of a long line of rabbis[2†][3†]. Barred from the practice of law because he was Jewish, Heinrich Marx converted to Lutheranism about 1817[2†]. Karl was baptized in the same church in 1824 at the age of six[2†].

Karl attended a Lutheran elementary school but later became an atheist and a materialist, rejecting both the Christian and Jewish religions[2†]. He attended the Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium in Trier for five years, graduating in 1835 at the age of seventeen[2†]. The gymnasium’s program was the usual classical one—history, mathematics, literature, and languages, particularly Greek and Latin[2†]. Karl became very skillful in French and Latin, both of which he learned to read and write fluently[2†]. In later years he taught himself other languages, so that as a mature scholar he could also read Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Scandinavian, Russian, and English[2†].

In October 1835 Marx enrolled in Bonn University in Bonn, Germany, where he attended courses primarily in law[2†]. Marx, however, was more interested in philosophy and literature than in law[2†]. He wanted to be a poet and dramatist[2†]. He spent a year at Bonn, studying little but partying and drinking a lot[2†]. He also piled up heavy debts[2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Karl Marx’s career was marked by a strong commitment to his philosophical and political ideals, which often led to conflicts with authorities and resulted in frequent relocations[4†][5†].

As a university student, Marx joined a movement known as the Young Hegelians, who strongly criticized the political and cultural establishments of the day[4†][5†]. He became a journalist, and the radical nature of his writings would eventually get him expelled by the governments of Germany, France, and Belgium[4†][5†].

After his newspaper was shut down in 1843, largely due to his conflicts with government censors, Marx returned to philosophy, turned to political activism, and made his living as a freelance journalist[4†]. Marx was soon forced into exile, something he would do often as a result of his views[4†].

Marx’s most famous works include the Communist Manifesto, one of the world’s most influential political manuscripts; and Das Kapital, the foundational theoretical text of communist philosophy, economics, and politics[4†][6†]. These writings and others by Marx and Engels form the basis of the body of thought and belief known as Marxism[4†][3†].

Among the most influential theories of Marx are the theory of historical materialism based on class struggle; and the theory of alienation of workers under capitalist conditions[4†][6†]. Marx is considered the father of modern sociology and his work in economics laid the foundation for understanding labor and its relation to capital[4†][6†].

Marx took up the very different versions of socialism current in the early 19th century and welded them together into a doctrine that continued to be the dominant version of socialism for half a century after his death[4†][7†]. His emphasis on the influence of economic structure on historical development has proved to be of lasting significance[4†][7†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Karl Marx’s most significant works have had a profound impact on political and socioeconomic thought. Here are some of his main works:

  1. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844[8†]: Also known as the Paris Manuscripts or 1844 Manuscripts, these were a series of nine notebooks produced by Marx in the summer of 1844. They were intended for publication, but Marx got distracted and moved on to other projects. The manuscripts were finally edited and published in 1932[8†]. They form the starting point for Marx’s critique of political economy, and they are full of his musings and critical analysis[8†]. Among these essential ideas is Marx’s concept of alienation[8†].
  2. The Communist Manifesto (1848)[8†][1†][6†][9†][3†]: This is one of the world’s most influential political manuscripts, written with Friedrich Engels. It expresses Marx’s ideas and lays out a programme for revolution[8†][1†].
  3. Das Kapital (1867–1894)[8†][1†][6†][9†][3†]: This three-volume work is the foundational theoretical text of communist philosophy, economics, and politics. It employs Marx’s critical approach of historical materialism in an analysis of capitalism and represents his greatest intellectual achievement[8†][1†].
  4. The German Ideology (written 1846)[8†][1†]: This work critiques and develops Hegel’s ideas[8†][1†].
  5. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852)[8†][1†]: Written after Marx moved to London, this work is a historical account of the 1851 coup that led to the ascension of Napoleon III[8†][1†].
  6. Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875)[8†][1†]: In this work, Marx wrote on revolution, the state, and the transition to communism[8†][1†].

These works have formed the basis of communism[8†][3†] and have influenced generations of political leaders and socioeconomic thinkers[8†][9†]. They provide a comprehensive critique of capitalism and a powerful theoretical framework for understanding capitalist societies[8†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Karl Marx’s work has been subject to extensive analysis and evaluation. His theories, collectively known as Marxism, argue that capitalism as an economic system is characterized by an exploitative and unequal relationship between a ruling minority (i.e., a capitalist class or bourgeoisie) which controls the means of production and monopolizes wealth, and a powerless majority (i.e., a working-class or proletariat) which has its only resource, i.e., its labor power, exploited by the bourgeois minority[10†].

Marxism is a structuralist theory because it argues that the capitalist infrastructure – the economy – determines the shape of the superstructure, which is made up of all the other social institutions, including the state (government), the law, and the criminal justice system[10†]. Marx’s work offers a way to understand history and economics, as well as an explanation of the global capitalist crisis[10†].

However, one of the biggest criticisms of Marxism is that the revolution that Marx said would cause the development of a communist society has yet to occur[10†]. Marx was very vague on the conditions that would eventually lead to this revolution and also what happens afterward[10†]. It is not guaranteed that there will be social and economic equality in a communist society[10†].

Despite the criticisms, Marx’s work has had a profound impact on political and socioeconomic thought. His writings have influenced generations of political leaders and socioeconomic thinkers[10†][11†]. They provide a comprehensive critique of capitalism and a powerful theoretical framework for understanding capitalist societies[10†].

Personal Life

Karl Marx was married to his childhood sweetheart, Jenny von Westphalen, who was known as the “most beautiful girl in Trier,” on June 19, 1843[2†]. She was totally devoted to him[2†]. They had seven children together, but partly owing to the poor conditions in which they lived whilst in London, only three survived to adulthood[2†][1†]. All the Marx daughters were named Jenny in honour of their mother, Jenny von Westphalen[2†][1†].

Marx was an affectionate father, saying that he admired Jesus for his love of children, but sacrificed the lives and health of his own[2†][7†]. His favourite daughter, Eleanor, worried him with her nervous, brooding, emotional character and her desire to be an actress[2†][7†].

Jenny von Westphalen died of cancer on December 2, 1881, at the age of sixty-seven[2†]. For Marx, it was a blow from which he never recovered[2†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Karl Marx’s legacy is vast and complex, with his theories and concepts having a lasting impact on the fields of sociology, politics, and economics[12†]. His revolutionary ideas scrutinized modern economic systems and social order, including his criticisms of capitalism[12†]. These ideas were disseminated primarily through his published works that now form part of modern sociology literature[12†].

Marx’s most important works include “The Communist Manifesto”, “Das Kapital”, “Wage Labor and Capital”, “The German Ideology”, and "Theories of Surplus Value"[12†]. These works introduced revolutionary ideas, critiqued capitalism, and laid the foundation for Marxism[12†].

However, the economic and political legacy of Karl Marx is complicated. It is easy to argue that he was responsible for millions of deaths due to the failed adaptation of his Marxist ideologies evident in the conflicts during the reign of the Soviet Union, the failed Great Leap Program of China, and the Vietnam War, among others[12†].

Despite the controversies, Marx’s influence remains undeniable. As one source puts it, "Marx the economist is alive and relevant today… Marx has been reassessed, revised, refuted and buried a thousand times but he refuses to be relegated to intellectual history. For better or for worse, his ideas have become part of the climate of opinion within which we all think"[12†][13†].

Key information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Karl Marx [website] - link
  2. Encyclopedia of World Biography - Karl Marx Biography [website] - link
  3. Britannica - Karl Marx: German philosopher [website] - link
  4. Saylor Academy - Karl Marx: Career [website] - link
  5. History - Karl Marx - Communist Manifesto, Theories & Beliefs [website] - link
  6. Learnodo Newtonic - Karl Marx’s 10 Major Contributions And Accomplishments [website] - link
  7. Britannica - Karl Marx - Revolutionary, Communism, Socialism [website] - link
  8. The Collector - Karl Marx in 5 Important Works [website] - link
  9. ThoughtCo - A Brief Biography of Karl Marx [website] - link
  10. Simply Sociology - Evaluation of Marxism: Criticism & Importance [website] - link
  11. eNotes - Karl Marx Analysis [website] - link
  12. Profolus - Legacy of Karl Marx: Accomplishments and Contributions [website] - link
  13. Springer Link - Handbook of the History of Economic Thought - Chapter: The Legacy of Karl Marx [website] - link
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