Karl Marx

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Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818 – March 14, 1883) was a German born philosopher, economist, and humanist. Marx is commonly referred to as the father of modern socialism, and was voted the greatest mind of the 2nd millennium
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in a BBC poll.[1] He is notable as a founder of the communist movement and for his political economic analysis of the dynamics of capitalism, Das Kapital and by his proclamation together with Frederich Engels in 1848 of The Communist Manifesto.

Childhood and Youth

Marx was born on 5th May 1818 into a middle class, protestant family in Thier in the Rhine Province of Prussia. His father, an attorney, had converted from Judaism and adopted enlightenment ideals. Thier had been incorporated first into the French Republic, then into the Napoleonic Empire, until Napoleon's defeat when it passed to Prussia. Thus Marx's father, and then entire community of Thier, had been exposed to the liberal ideas and practices of the French Revolution and its aftermath. Marx was home-schooled until the age of 13 when he enrolled at the university of Bonn to study at Berlin, until his father forced him to move to Berlin in the hope of his grades improving. It was at the Berlin University that Marx encountered a philosphical group named the 'Young Hegelians' whose dialectic outlook was a source of fascination and inspiration for the young Marx. Hegel had died by the time Marx studied in Berlin.

Cologne

Marx's life centered on Cologne from 1842 to 1853, although for much of that decade he was lived in exile in other European countries.

After leaving Berlin University and the death of his father from tuberculosis Marx, desiring to marry after a long engagement, found employment in Cologne the principal city in the Rhineland as a writer and acting editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, Rhineland News, a new newspaper funded by liberal investors. It was as a working journalist that Marx first encountered questions of public policy such as unauthorized woodcutting by the poor in Rhineland forests and the economic situation of vintners in the Moselle Valley. In his work as editor Marx, whose political orientation at that time could fairly be described as classic liberalism, opposed the excesses of Young Hegelians who advocated atheism and communism. However, despite Marx's successful efforts to build circulation his efforts to engage in moderate political journalism were beyond the bounds of the conservative Prussian state which suppressed the paper in April, 1843.[2]

It was while he lived in Cologne that he was introduced by a small study group to socialism and to the ideas of the early utopian communists. His initial reaction was skeptical, even negative. Other participants in the study group included Moses Hess, its leader, and other young Hegelians such as Robert Jung. Some of the participants in this small study group such as Karl d'Ester and Friedrich Anneke would be associated with Marx in his Cologne activities during the Revolution of 1848.[2]

Political involvement

After encountering Engels, and at the end of 1843 Marx moved to Paris , where he became co-editor of a new radical leftist newspaper, the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals), [3] 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.[4] Marx contributed two essays to the paper, "Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right"[5] and "On the Jewish Question,"[6] the latter introducing his belief that the proletariat were a revolutionary force and marking his embrace of communism.[7] 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.[8] After the paper's demise from lack of funds, Marx began writing for the only uncensored German-language radical newspaper left, Vorwärts! (Forward!). Based in Paris, the paper was connected to the League of the Just, a utopian socialist secret society of workers and artisans. Marx attended some of their meetings, but did not join.[9] 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.[10]

Friedrich Engels, whom Marx met in 1844; they became lifelong friends and collaborators.

On 28 August 1844, at the Café de la Régence, Marx again encountered Engels, and the two began a lifelong friendship.[11] Engels showed Marx his recently published The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844,[12][13] convincing Marx that the working class would be the agent and instrument of the final revolution in history.[14] 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.[15][16] Although critical of Bauer, Marx was increasingly influenced by the ideas of the Young Hegelians Max Stirner and Ludwig Feuerbach, but eventually Marx and Engels abandoned Feuerbachian materialism as well.

It was during his few years in France that Marx laid down the basics of what we now know as `Marxist' theory: his materialist approach to history, the central role of class and class struggle, analysis of surplus value and exploitation as keys to the behavior of the [Capitalist mode of production|capitalist economy]], and a concern with psychological and social alienation and reification. At the same time he began his involvement with revolutionary workers' organisations: first the League of the Just – which became the Communist League in 1847 – and then, beginning in 1864, the International Workingmen's Association (also known as the First International).

From his time in France onward, Marx was first and foremost a revolutionary, dedicated to the liberation of the working people from the exploitation and waste of human potential he saw as endemic to capitalism. His theoretical works were intended as a means toward that revolutionary objective. He envisioned transforming society into a free association of workers where the means of production would not be privately owned but held in common by all.

Later life

In June 1843, after a long engagement, Marx married Jenny Von Westphalen, a daughter of minor Prussian aristocrats. They would later conceive seven children. Jenny was a few years older then Marx and had been his older sister's best friend.

In 1849, Marx moved to the British Isles with a subsidy from Jenny's parents where he remained for the rest of his life in extreme poverty. It is thought that the conditions he encountered where responsible for undermining his health thus shortening his life, nonetheless he witnessed some of the worst abuses of 19th century capitalism, which perhaps inspired some of his scathing works on the subject. Marx joined the 1st international where he championed the debate against the anarchist wing against individuals such as Bakunin. The first volume of his major economic work, Capital was published in 1867.

Marx's work concentrated on contemporary politics for the last decade of his life, until he succumbed to ill health in March 1883. Marx's grave can be found in Highgate Cemetery, London.

References

  1. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/461545.stm
  2. 2.0 2.1 Chapter 3 "The Editor", pages 71 to 107, Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life, Liveright Publishing, a division of W.W. Norton (2013), hardcover, 648 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0-87140-467-1
  3. Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen 1976, pp. 68–69, 72; Wheen 2001, p. 48; McLellan 2006, pp. 59–61.
  4. Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen 1976, p. 72; Wheen 2001, pp. 64–65; McLellan 2006, pp. 71–72.
  5. Marx, Karl, "Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law" contained in the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 3 (International Publishers: New York, 1975) p. 3.
  6. Marx, Karl, "On the Jewish Question" contained in the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 3, p. 146.
  7. McLellan 2006, pp. 65–70, 74–80.
  8. Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen 1976, pp. 72, 75–76; Wheen 2001, p. 65; McLellan 2006, pp. 88–90.
  9. Wheen 2001, pp. 66–67, 112; McLellan 2006, pp. 79–80.
  10. Wheen 2001, p. 90.
  11. Wheen 2001. p. 75.
  12. Mansel, Philip: Paris Between Empires, p.390 (St. Martin Press, NY) 2001
  13. Frederick Engels, "The Condition of the Working Class in England" contained in the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 4 (International Publishers: New York, 1975) pp. 295–596.
  14. P. N. Fedoseyev, Karl Marx: A Biography (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1973) p. 82.
  15. Wheen 2001. pp. 85–86.
  16. Karl Marx, "The Holy Family" contained in the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Volume 4, pp. 3–211.


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