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Karl Marx

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Karl Marx : A Profile


Karl Marx was born and educated in Prussia, where he fell under the influence of Ludwig Feuerbach and other radical Hegelians. Although he shared Hegel's belief in dialectical structure and historical inevitability, Marx held that the foundations of reality lay in the material base of economics rather than in the abstract thought of idealistic philosophy. He earned a doctorate at Jena in 1841, writing on the materialism and atheism of Greek atomists, then moved to Köln, where he founded and edited a radical newspaper, Rheinische Zeitung. Although he also attempted to earn a living as a journalist in Paris and Brussels, Marx's participation in unpopular political movements made it difficult to support his growing family. He finally settled in London in 1849, where he lived in poverty while studying and developing his economic and political theories. Above all else, Marx believed that philosophy ought to be employed in practice to change the world.

The core of Marx's economic analysis found early expression in the Ökonomisch-philosophische Manuskripte aus dem Jahre 1844 (Economic and Political Manuscripts of 1844) (1844). There, Marx argued that the conditions of modern industrial societies invariably result in the estrangement (or alienation) of workers from their own labor. In his review of a Bruno Baier book, On the Jewish Question (1844), Marx decried the lingering influence of religion over politics and proposed a revolutionary re-structuring of European society. Much later, Marx undertook a systematic explanation of his economic theories in Das Capital (Capital) (1867-95) and Theorien Über den Mehrwert (Theory of Surplus Value) (1862).

Marx and his colleague Friedrich Engels issued the Manifest der kommunistischen Partei (Communist Manifesto) (1848) in the explicit hope of precipitating social revolution. This work describes the class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie, distinguishes communism from other socialist movements, proposes a list of specific social reforms, and urges all workers to unite in revolution against existing regimes. (You may wish to compare this prophetic document with the later exposition of similar principles in Lenin's State and Revolution (1919).)

History is economics in action


History is economics in action.

—Karl Marx

"And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic anatomy of classes. What I did that was new was to prove:

(1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with the particular, historical phases in the development of production [See: Historical Materialism]
(2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
(3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.

Karl Marx
Letter to Weydemeyer
March 5, 1852

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 , in the city of Trier in Rheinish Prussia. His family was Jewish, but converted to Protestanism in 1824. The family was petty-bourgeois; his father was a lawyer. After graduating from a Gymnasium (High School) in Trier, Marx entered the university, first at Bonn and later in Berlin, where he read law, majoring in history and philosophy. He concluded his university course in 1841, submitting a doctoral thesis on the philosophy of Epicurus. At the time Marx was a Hegelian idealist in his views. In Berlin, he belonged to the circle of "Left Hegelians" (with Bruno Bauer and others) who sought to draw atheistic and revolutionary conclusions from Hegel’s philosophy. Ludwig Feuerbach began to criticize theology, particularly after 1836, and he began his turn to materialism, which in 1841 gained ascendancy in his philosophy (The Essence of Christianity).

After graduating from university, Marx moved to Bonn, hoping to become a professor. However, the reactionary policy of the government made Marx abandon the idea of an academic career, after Ludwig Feuerbach had been deprived of his chair in 1832 (and who was not allowed to return to the university in 1836); and in 1841 the government had forbade the young Professor Bruno Bauer to lecture at Bonn.

At the begining on 1842, some radical bourgeois in the Rhineland (Cologne), who were in touch with the Left Hegelians, founded a paper in opposition to the Prussian government, called the Rheinische Zeitung. Marx and Bruno Bauer were invited to be the chief contributors, and in October 1842 Marx became editor-in-chief and moved from Bonn to Cologne.

The newspaper’s revolutionary-democratic trend became more and more pronounced under Marx’s editorship, and the government first imposed double and triple censorship on the paper, and then on January 1 1843 suppressed it. Marx was forced to resign the editorship before that date, but his resignation did not save the paper, which suspended publication in March 1843. Of the major articles Marx contributed to Rheinische Zeitung, Engels notes, an article on the condition of peasant winegrowers in the Moselle Valley. Marx’s journalistic activities convinced him that he was insufficiently acquainted with political economy, and he zealously set out to study it. (See: Marx’s articles for the Rheinische Zeitung)

In 1843, Marx married, at Kreuznach, a childhood friend he had become engaged to while still a student. His wife came from a bourgeois family of the Prussian nobility, her elder brother being Prussia’s Minister of the Interior during an extremely reactionary period — 1850-58.

In the autumn of 1843, Marx went to Paris in order to publish a radical journal abroad, together with Arnold Ruge (1802-1880). Only one issue of this journal, Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, appeared. Publication was discontinued owing to the difficulty of secretly distributing it in Germany, and to disagreement with Ruge. Marx’s articles in this journal showed that he was already a revolutionary who advocated "merciless criticism of everything existing", and in particular the "criticism by weapon", and appealed to the masses and to the proletariat.

Also in 1843, Feuerbach wrote his famous Principles of the Philosophy of the Future. "One must have experienced for oneself the liberating effect" of these books, Engels subsequently wrote. "We [i.e., the Left Hegelians] all became at once Feuerbachians."

In September 1844, Frederick Engels came to Paris for a few days, and from that time on became Marx’s closest friend. Shortly after meeting, Marx and Engels worked together to produce the first mature work of Marxism The German Ideology. In this work, largely produced in response to Feuerbach’s materialism, Marx and Engels set down the foundations of Marxism with the materialistic conception of history, and broke from Left Hegelian idealism with a critique against Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways;" Marx wrote in an outline for the begining of the book, " the point is to change it."

In the mid to late-1840s both Marx and Engels took a most active part in the then seething life of the revolutionary groups in Paris (of particular importance at the time was Proudhon's doctrine), which Marx broke into pieces in his Poverty of Philosophy, (1847).

At the insistent request of the Prussian government, Marx was banished from Paris in 1845, considered by both governments a dangerous revolutionary. Marx then moved to Brussels. In the spring of 1847 Marx and Engels joined a secret propaganda society called the Communist League. Marx and Engels took a prominent part in the League’s Second Congress (London, November 1847), at whose request they drew up the Communist Manifesto, which appeared in February 1848. With outstanding clarity, this work outlines a new world-conception based on materialism. This document analysises the realm of social life; the theory of the class struggle; the tasks of the Communists; and the revolutionary role of the proletariat — the creators of a new, communist society.

On the outbreak of the Revolution of February 1848, Marx was banished from Belgium. He returned to Paris, whence, after the March Revolution, he went to Cologne, Germany, where Neue Rheinische Zeitung was published from June 1 1848 to May 19 1849, with Marx as editor-in-chief. The victorious counter-revolution first instigated court proceedings against Marx (he was acquitted on February 9, 1849), and then banished him from Germany (May 16, 1849). First Marx went to Paris, where he was again banished after the demonstration of June 13, 1849, and then went to London, where he lived until his death.

Marx’s life as a political exile was an extremely difficult one, as the correspondence between Marx and Engels clearly reveals. Poverty weighed heavily on Marx and his family; had it not been for Engels’ constant and selfless financial aid, Marx would not only have been unable to complete Capital but would have inevitably have been crushed by hunger and malnutrition.

The revival of the democratic movements in the late fifties and in the sixties thrusted Marx back into political work. In 1864 (September 28) the International Working Men’s Association — the First International — was founded in London. Marx was the heart and soul of this organization, and author of its first address and of a host of resolutions, declaration and manifestos. In uniting the labor movement of various forms of non-proletarian socialism (Mazzini, Proudhon, Bakunin, liberal trade-unionism in Britain, Lassallean deviations to the right, etc.), and in combating the theories of all these sects and schools, Marx here hammered out uniform tactics for the proletarian struggle of the working in the various countries. (See Marx’s writings for the First International)

Following the downfall of the Paris Commune (1871) — of which Marx gave a clear-cut materialistic analysis of these events in The Civil War In France, 1871 — and the Bakunin cleavage in the International (See: Marx’s conflict with Bakunin), the organization could no longer exist in Europe. After the Hague Congress of the International (1872), the General Council of the International had played its historical part, and now made way for a period of a far greater development of the labor movement in all countries in the world, a period in which the movement grew in scope, and mass socialist working-class parties in individual national states were formed.

Marx’s health became undermined by his strenuous work in the International and his still more strenuous writings and organising. He continued work on the refashioning of political economy and on the completion of Capital, for which he collected a mass of new material and studied a number of languages (Russian, for instance; Marx was fully fluent in German, French, and English). However, ill-health prevented him from completing the last two volumes of Capital (which Engels subsequently put together from Marx’s notes).

Marx’s wife died on December 2, 1881, and on March 14, 1883, Marx passed away peacefully in his armchair. He lies buried next to his wife at Highgate Cemetery in London.

by V.I. Lenin (Edited)
Source  :
Granat Encyclopedia: Karl Marx
                Chpt 1: Karl Marx

Works of Frederick Engels 1877


Karl Marx

Written: mid-June 1877;
First published: in Volks-Kalender, Brunswick, 1878;
Source: On Marx;
Publisher: Foreign Languages Press, Peking (1975).

Karl Marx, the man who was first to give socialism, and thereby the whole labour movement of our day, a scientific foundation, was born at Trier in 1818. He studied in Bonn and Berlin, at first taking up law, but he soon devoted himsslf exclusively to the study of history and philosophy, and in 1842 was on the point of establishing himself as an assistant professor in philosophy when the political movement which had arisen since the death of Frederick William III directed his life into a different channel. With his collaboration, the leaders of the Rhenish liberal bourgeoisie, the Camphausens, Hansemanns, etc., had founded the Rheinische Zeitung in Cologne, and in the autumn of 1842, Marx, whose criticism of the proceedings of the Rhenish Landtag (or Provincial Diet) had excited very great attention, was put at the head of the paper. The Rheinische Zeitung naturally appeared under censorship, but the censorship could not cope with it. [The first censor of the Rheinische Zeitung was Police Councillor Dolleschall, the same man who once struck out an advertisement in the Kölnische Zeittung of the translation of Dante's Divine Comedy by Philalethes (later King John of Saxony) with the remark: “One must not make a comedy of divine affairs.” [Note by Engels] The Rheinische Zeitung almost always got the articles which mattered through; the censor was first supplied with insignificant fodder for him to strike out, until he either gave way of himself or was compelled to give way by the threat that then the paper would not appear the next day. Ten newspapers with the same courage as the Rheinische Zeitung and whose publishers would have allowed a few hundred thalers extra to be expended on type setting — and the censorship would have been made impossible in Germany as early as 1843. But the German newspaper-owners were petty-minded, timid philistines and the Rheinische Zeitung carried on the struggle alone. It wore out one censor after another; finally it came under a double censorship; after the first censorship the Regierungspräsident had once more, and finally, to censor it. That also was of no avail. In the beginning of 1843, the government declared that it was impossible to keep this newspaper in check and suppressed it without more ado.

Marx, who in the meanwhile had married the sister of von Westphalen, later a reactionary minister, removed to Paris, and there, in conjunction with A. Ruge, published the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, in which he opened the series of his socialist writings with a Criticism of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right ; and then, together with F. Engels, The Holy Family. Against Bruno Bauer and Co., a satirical criticism of one of the latest forms blunderingly assumed by the German philosophical idealism of that time.

The study of political economy and of the history of the Great French Revolution still allowed Marx time enough for occasional attacks on the Prussian Government; the latter revenged itself in the spring of 1845 by securing from the Guizot ministry — Herr Alexander von Humboldt is said to have acted as intermediary — his expulsion from France. Marx shifted his domicile to Brussels and published there in French in 1847 The Poverty of Philosophy, a criticism of Proudhon's Philosophy of Poverty, and, in 1848, Discourse on Free Trade. At the same time he made use of the opportunity to found a German workers’ society in Brussels and so commenced practical agitation. The latter became still more important for him when he and his political friends in 1847 joined the secret Communist League, which had already been in existence for a number of years. Its whole structure was now radically changed; this association, which previously was more or less conspiratorial, was transformed into a simple organization for communist propaganda, which was only secret because necessity compelled it to be so, the first organization of the German Social-Democratic Party. The League existed wherever German workers’ societies were to be found; in almost all of these societies in England, Belgium, France and Switzerland, and in very many of the societies in Germany, the leading members belonged to the League and the share of the League in the incipient German labour movement was very considerable. Moreover, our League was the first which emphasized the international character of the whole labour movement and realized it in practice, which had Englishmen, Belgians, Hungarians, Poles, etc., as members and which organized international labour meetings, especially in London.

The transformation of the League took place at two congresses held in 1847, the second of which resolved on the elaboration and publication of the fundamental principles of the Party in a manifesto to be drawn up by Marx and Engels. Thus arose the Manifesto of the Communist Party, which first appeared in 1848, shortly before the February Revolution, and has since been translated into almost all European languages.

The Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, in which Marx participated and which mercilessly exposed the blessings of the police regime of the Fatherland, caused the Prussian Government to try to effect Marx's expulsion once more, but in vain. When, however, the February Revolution resulted in popular movements in Brussels, too, and a radical change appeared to be imminent in Belgium, the Belgian Government arrested Marx without ceremony and deported him. In the meanwhile, the French Provisional Government had sent him an invitation through Flocon to return to Paris, and he accepted this call.

After the March Revolution, Marx went to Cologne and founded there the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which was in existence from June 1, 1848 to May 19, 1849 — the only paper which represented the standpoint of the proletariat within the democratic movement of the time, as shown in its unreserved championship of the Paris June insurgents of 1848, which cost the paper the defection of almost all its shareholders. In vain the Kreuz-Zeitung pointed to the “Chimborazo impudence” with which the Neue Rheinische Zeitung attacked everything sacred, from the king and vice-regent of the realm down to the gendarme, and that, too, in a Prussian fortress with a garrison of 8,000 at the time. In vain was the rage of the Rhenish liberal philistines, who had suddenly become reactionary. In vain was the paper suspended by martial law in Cologne for a lengthy period in the autumn of 1848. In vain the Reich Ministry of Justice in Frankfort denounced article after article to the Cologne Public Prosecutor in order that judicial proceedings should be taken. Under the very eyes of the police the paper calmly went on being edited and printed, and its distribution and reputation increased with the vehemence of its attacks on the government and the bourgeoisie. When the Prussian coup d'etat took place in November 1848, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung called upon the people, at the head of each issue, to refuse to pay taxes and to meet violence with violence. In the spring of 1849, both on this account and because of another article, it was made to face a jury, but on both occasions was acquitted. Finally, when the May risings of 1849 in Dresden and the Rhine Province had been suppressed, and the Prussian campaign against the Baden-Palatinate rising had been inaugurated by the concentration and mobilization of considerable masses of troops, the government believed itself strong enough to suppress the Neue Rheinische Zeitung by force. The last number — printed in red ink — appeared on May 19.

An attempt to continue issuing the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in the form of a review (in Hamburg, 1850) had to be given up after a while in view of the ever-increasing violence of the reaction. Immediately after the coup d'etat in France in December 1851, Marx published The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York, 1852; second edition, Hamburg, 1869, shortly before the war). In 1853 he wrote Revelations About the Cologne Communist Trial (first printed in Basle, later in Boston, and again recently in Leipzig).

After the conviction of the members of the Communist League in Cologne, Marx withdrew from political agitation and for ten years devoted himself, on the one hand, to the study of the rich treasures offered by the library of the British Museum in the sphere of political economy, and, on the other hand, to writing for the New York Tribune, which up to the outbreak of the American Civil War published not only contributions signed by him but also numerous leading articles from his pen on conditions in Europe and Asia. His attacks on Lord Palmerston, based on an exhaustive study of British official documents, were reprinted in London in pamphlet form.

As the first fruit of his many years of study of economics, there appeared in 1859 A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Part I (Berlin, Duncker). This work contains the first coherent exposition of the Marxian theory of value, including the doctrine of money. During the Italian War Marx, in the German newspaper Das Volk, appearing in London, attacked Bonapartism, which at that time posed as liberal and playing the part of liberator of the oppressed nationalities, and also the Prussian policy of the day, which under the cover of neutrality was seeking to fish in troubled waters. In this connection it was necessary to attack also Herr Karl Vogt, who at that time, on the commission of Prince Napoleon (Plon Plon) and in the pay of Louis Napoleon, was carrying on agitation for the neutrality, and indeed the sympathy, of Germany. When Vogt heaped upon him the most abominable and deliberately false calumnies, Marx answered with Herr Vogt (London, 1860), in which Vogt and the other gentlemen of the imperialist sham-democratic gang were exposed, and Vogt himself on the basis of both external and internal evidence was proved guilty of taking bribes from the December empire. The confirmation came just ten years later: in the list of the Bonaparte hirelings, found in the Tuileries in 1870 and published by the September government, there was the following entry under the letter V: “Vogt — in August 1859 there were remitted to him — Frs. 40,000."

Finally, in 1861 there appeared in Hamburg Capital, a Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production, Volume I, Marx's chief work, which expounds the foundations of his economlc socialist conceptions and the main features of his criticism of existing society, the capitalist mode of production and its consequences. The second edition of this epoch-making work appeared in 1872; the author is engaged in the elaboration of the second volume.

Meanwhile the labour movement in various countries of Europe had so far regained strength that Marx could entertain the idea of realizing a long-cherished wish: the foundation of a Workers’ Association embracing the most advanced countries of Europe and America, which would demonstrate bodily, so to speak, the international character of the socialist movement both to the workers themselves and to the bourgeois and the governments — for the encouragement and strengthening of the proletariat, for striking fear into the hearts of its enemies. A mass meeting in favour of Poland, which had just then again been crushed by Russia, held on September 28, 1864 in St. Martin's Hall in London, provided the occasion for bringing forward the matter, which was enthusiastically taken up. The International Working Men's Association was founded; a Provisional General Council, with its seat in London, was elected at the meeting, and Marx was the soul of this as of all subsequent General Councils up to the Hague Congress. He drafted almost every one of the documents issued by the General Council of the International, from the Inaugural Address, 1864, to the Address on the Civil War in France, 1871. To describe Marx's activity in the International is to write the history of this Association, which in any case still lives in the memory of the European workers.

The fall of the Paris Commune put the International in an impossible position. It was thrust into the forefront of European history at a moment when it had everywhere been deprived of all possibility of successful practical action. The events which raised it to the position of the seventh Great Power simultaneously forbade it to mobilize its fighting forces and employ them in action, on pain of inevitable defeat and the setting back of the labour movement for decades. In addition, from various sides elements were pushing themselves forward that sought to exploit the suddenly enhanced fame of the Association for the purpose of gratifying personal vanity or personal ambition, without understanding the real position of the International or without regard for it. A heroic decision had to be taken, and it was again Marx who took it and who carried it through at the Hague Congress. In a solemn resolution, the International disclaimed all responsibility for the doings of the Bakuninists, who formed the centre of those unreasonable and unsavoury elements. Then, in view of the impossibility of meeting, in the face of the general reaction, the increased demands which were being imposed upon it, and of maintaining its complete efficacy other than by a series of sacrifices which would have drained the labour movement of its life-blood — in view of this situation, the International withdrew from the stage for the time being by transferring the General Council to America. The results have proved how correct was this decision — which was at the time, and has been since, so often censured. On the one hand, it put a stop then and since to all attempts to make useless putsches in the name of the International, while, on the other hand, the continuing close intercourse between the socialist workers’ parties of the various countries proved that the consciousness of the identity of interests and of the solidarity of the proletariat of all countries evoked by the International is able to assert itself even without the bond of a formal international association, which for the moment had become a fetter.

After the Hague Congress, Marx at last found peace and leisure again for resuming his theoretical work, and it is to be hoped he will be able before long to have the second volume of Capital ready for the press.

Of the many important discoveries through which Marx has inscribed his name in the annals of science, we can here dwell on only two.

The first is the revolution brought about by him in the whole conception of world history. The whole previous view of history was based on the conception that the ultimate causes of all historical changes are to be looked for in the changing ideas of human beings, and that of all historical changes political changes are the most important and dominate the whole of history. But the question was not asked as to whence the ideas come into men's minds and what the driving causes of the political changes are. Only upon the newer school of French, and partly also of English, historians had the conviction forced itself that, since the Middle Ages at least, the driving force in European history was the struggle of the developing bourgeoisie with the feudal aristocracy for social and political domination. Now Marx has proved that the whole of previous history is a history of class struggles, that in all the manifold and complicated political struggles the only thing at issue has been the social and political rule of social classes, the maintenance of domination by older classes and the conquest of domination by newly arising classes. To what, however, do these classes owe their origin and their continued existence? They owe it to the particular material, physically sensible conditions in which society at a given period produces and exchanges its means of subsistence. The feudal rule of the Middle Ages rested on the self-sufficient economy of small peasant communities, which themselves produced almost all their requirements, in which there was almost no exchange and to which the arms-bearing nobility lent protection from without and national or at least political cohesion. When the towns arose and with them a separate handicraft industry and commercial intercourse, at first internal and later international, the urban bourgeoisie developed, and already during the Middle Ages achieved, in struggle with the nobility, its inclusion in the feudal order as likewise a privileged estate. But with the discovery of the extra-European world, from the middle of the fifteenth century onwards, this bourgeoisie acquired a far more extensive sphere of trade and therewith a new spur for its industry; in the most important branches handicrafts were supplanted by manufacture, now on a factory scale, and this again was supplanted by large-scale industry, which had become possible owing to the discoveries of the previous century, especially that of the steam-engine. Large-scale industry, in its turn, reacted on trade by driving out the old manual labour in backward countries, and creating the present-day new means of communication: steam-engines, railways, electric telegraphy, in the more developed ones. Thus the bourgeoisie came more and more to combine social wealth and social power in its hands, while it still for a long period remained excluded from political power, which was in the hands of the nobility and the monarchy supported by the nobility. But at a certain stage — in France since the Great Revolution — it also conquered political power, and now in turn became the ruling class over the proletariat and small peasants. From this point of view all historical phenomena are explicable in the simplest possible way — with sufficient knowledge of the particular economic condition of society, which it is true is totally lacking in our professional historians, and in the same way the conceptions and ideas of each historical period are most simply to be explained from the economic conditions of life and from the social and political relations of the period, which are in turn determined by these economic conditions. History was for the first time placed on its real basis; the palpable but previously totally overlooked fact that men must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, and therefore must work, before they can fight for domination, pursue politics, religion, philosophy and so on — this palpable fact at last came into its historical rights.

This new conception of history, however, was of supreme significance for the socialist outlook. It showed that all previous history had moved in class antagonisms and class struggles, that there have always existed ruling and ruled, exploiting and exploited classes, and that the great majority of mankind has always been condemned to arduous labour and little enjoyment. Why is this? Simply because in all earlier stages of development of mankind production was so little developed that the historical development could proceed only in this antagonistic form, that historical progress as a whole was assigned to the activity of a small privileged minority, while the great mass remained condemned to producing by their labour their own meagre means of subsistence and also the increasingly rich means of the privileged. But the same investigation of history, which in this way provides a natural and reasonable explanation of the previous class rule, otherwise only explicable by the wickedness of man, also leads to the realization that, in consequence of the tremendously increased productive forces of the present time, even the last pretext has vanished for a division of mankind into ruIers and ruled, exploiters and exploited, at least in the most advanced countries; that the ruling big bourgeoisie has fulfilled its historic mission, that it is no longer capable of the leadership of society and has even become a hindrance to the development of production, as the trade crises, and especially the last great collapse, and the depressed condition of industry in all countries have proved; that historical leadership has passed to the proletariat, a class which, owing to its whole position in society, can only free itself by abolishing altogether all class rule, all servitude and all exploitation; and that the social productive forces, which have outgrown the control of the bourgeoisie, are only waiting for the associated proletariat to take possession of them in order to bring about a state of things in which every member of society will be enabled to participate not only in production but also in the distribution and administration of social wealth, and which so increases the social productive forces and their yield by planned operation of the whole of production that the satisfaction of all reasonable needs will be assured to everyone in an ever-increasing measure.

The second important discovery of Marx is the final elucidation of the relation between capital and labour, in other words, the demonstration how, within present society and under the existing capitalist mode of production, the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist takes place. Ever since political economy put forward the proposition that labour is the source of all wealth and of all value, the question has become inevitable: How is this, then, to be reconciled with the fact that the wage-worker does not receive the whole sum of value created by his labour but has to surrender a part of it to the capitalist? Both the bourgeois economists and the socialists exerted themselves to give a scientifically valid answer to this question, but in vain, until at last Marx came forward with the solution. This solution is as follows: The present day capitalist mode of production presupposes the existence of two social classes — on the one hand, that of the capitalists, who are in possession of the means of production and subsistence, and, on the other hand, that of the proletarians, who, being excluded from this possession, have only a single commodity for sale, their labour power, and who therefore have to sell this labour power of theirs in order to obtain possession of means of subsistence. The value of a commodity is, however, determined by the socially necessary quantity of labour embodied in its production, and, therefore, also in its reproduction; the value of the labour power of an average human being during a day, month or year is determined, therefore, by the quantity of labour embodied in the quantity of means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of this labour power during a day, month or year. Let us assume that the means of subsistence of a worker for one day require six hours of labour for their production, or, what is the same thing, that the labour contained in them represents a quantity of labour of six hours; then the value of labour power for one day will be expressed in a sum of money which also embodies six hours of labour. Let us assume further that the capitalist who employs our worker pays him this sum in return, pays him, therefore, the full value of his labour power. If now the worker works six hours of the day for the capitalist, he has completely replaced the latter's outlay — six hours’ labour for six hours’ labour. But then there would be nothing in it for the capitalist, and the latter therefore looks at the matter quite differently. He says: I have bought the labour power of this worker not for six hours but for a whole day, and accordingly he makes the worker work 8, 10, 12, 14 or more hours, according to circumstances, so that the product of the seventh, eighth and following hours is a product of unpaid labour and wanders, to begin with, into the pocket of the capitalist. Thus the worker in the service of the capitalist not only reproduces the value of his labour power, for which he receives pay, but over and above that he also produces a surplus value which, appropriated in the first place by the capitalist, is in its further course divided according to definite economic laws among the whole capitalist class and forms the basic stock from which arise ground rent, profit, accumulation of capital, in short, all the wealth consumed or accumulated by the non-labouring classes. This, however, proved that the acquisition of riches by the present-day capitalists consists just as much in the appropriation of the unpaid labour of others as that of the slave-owner or the feudal lord exploiting serf labour, and that all these forms of exploitation are only to be distinguished by the difference in manner and method by which the unpaid labour is appropriated. This, however, also removed the last justification for all the hypocritical phrases of the possessing classes to the effect that in the present social order right and justice, equality of rights and duties and a general harmony of interests prevail, and exposed present-day bourgeois society, no less than its predecessors, as a grandiose institution for the exploitation of the huge majority of the people by a small, ever-diminishing minority.

Modern, scientific socialism is based on these two important facts. In the second volume of Capital these and other hardly less important scientific discoveries concerning the capitalist system of society will be further developed, and thereby those aspects of political economy not touched upon in the first volume will also undergo revolutionization. May it be vouchsafed to Marx to be able soon to have it ready for the press

Influences on Marx's philosophy



In general, Marx's thought has been influenced by two often contradictory elements: determinism and activism. On the one hand, Marx believed that he could study history and society scientifically, and derive laws that explain and predict the course of history and the outcome of social conflicts. Some followers of Marx conclude that a communist revolution is inevitable. On the other hand, Marx famously asserted that "philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it," and dedicated himself to trying to change the world. Consequently, some followers of Marx conclude that dedicated revolutionaries must organize social change.

Marx's theory, which he called "historical materialism" and which Engels called "scientific socialism" or "dialectical materialism", is based on Hegel's claim that history occurs through a dialectic, or clash, of opposing forces. Hegel was a philosophical idealist who believed that we live in a world of appearances, and true reality is an ideal. Marx accepted this notion of the dialectic, but rejected Hegel's idealism. In this he was influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach. In The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach argued that God is really a creation of man, and that the qualities people attribute to God are really qualities of humanity. Accordingly, Marx argued that it is the material world that is real, and that our ideas of it are consequences, not causes, of the world. Thus, like Hegel and other philosophers, Marx distinguished between appearances and reality. But he did not believe that the material world hides from us the "real" world of the ideal; on the contrary, he thought that historically and socially specific ideologies prevented people from seeing the material conditions of their lives clearly.

The other important contribution to Marx's revision of Hegelianism was 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's philosophy

The notion of labor is fundamental in Marx's thought. Basically, Marx argued that it is human nature to transform nature, and he calls this process of transformation "labor" and the capacity to transform nature labor power. For Marx, this is a natural capacity for a physical activity, but it is intimately tied to the human mind and human imagination:

A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality.

Beyond his claim about the human capacity to transform nature, Marx makes no other claims about "human nature."

Although "labor power" for Marx is human nature, he did not believe that all people worked the same way, or that how one works is entirely personal and individual. Instead, he argued that work is a social activity, and that the conditions and forms under and through which people work are socially determined and change over time.

Marx's analysis of history is based on his distinction between the means of production, literally those things, like land and natural resources, and technology, that are necessary for the production of material goods, and the social relations of production, in other words, the social relationships people enter into as they acquire and use the means of production. Together these comprise the mode of production; Marx observed that within any given society the mode of production changes, and that European societies had progressed from a feudal mode of production to a capitalist mode of production. In general, Marx believed that the means of production change more rapidly than the relations of production (for example, we develop a new technology, such as the Internet, and only later do we develop laws to regulate that technology). For Marx this mismatch between base and superstructure is a major source of social disruption and conflict.

Marx understood the "social relations of production" to comprise not only relations among individuals, but between or among groups of people, or classes. As a scientist and materialist, Marx did not understand classes as purely subjective (in other words, groups of people who consciously identified with one another). He sought to define classes in terms of objective criteria, such as their access to resources.

Marx was especially concerned with how people relate to that most fundamental resource of all, their own labor-power. Marx 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. For Marx, the possibility that one may give up ownership of one's own labor -- 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 in terms of commodity fetishism, in which people come to believe that it is the very things that they produce that are powerful, and the sources of power and creativity, rather than people themselves. He argued that when this happens, people begin to mediate all their relationships among themselves and with others through commodities.

Commodity fetishism is an example of what Marx and Engels called false consciousness, which is closely related to their understanding of ideology. By ideology they meant ideas that reflect the interests of a particular class at a particular time in history, but which are presented as universal and eternal. Marx and Engels point was not only that such beliefs are wrong; 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). Thus, while such ideas may be false, they also reveal in coded form some truth about political relations. For example, although the belief that the things people produce are actually more productive than the people who produced them is literally absurd, it does reflect the fact (according to Marx and Engels) that people under capitalism are alienated from their own labor-power. Another example of this sort of analysis is Marx's understanding of religion, summed up in a passage from the 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.

Whereas his Gymnasium senior thesis argued that the primary social function of religion was to promote solidarity, here Marx sees the social function as a way of expressing and coping with social inequality.

Marx's critique of capitalism

Marx argued that this alienation of labor power (and resulting commodity fetishism) is precisely the defining feature of capitalism. Prior to capitalism, markets existed in Europe where producers and merchants bought and sold commodities. According to Marx, a capitalist mode of production developed in Europe when labor itself became a commodity -- when peasants became free to sell their own labor-power, and needed to sell their own labor because they no longer possessed their own land or tools necessary to produce. People sell their labor-power when they accept compensation in return for whatever work they do in a given period of time (in other words, they are not selling the product of their labor, but their capacity to work). In return for selling their labor power they receive money which allows them to survive. Those who must sell their labor power to live are "proletarians." The person who buys the labor power, generally someone who does own the land and technology to produce, is a "capitalist" or "bourgeois." (NOTE: Marx considered this an objective description of capitalism, distinct from any one of a variety of ideological claims of or about capitalism).

Marx distinguished capitalists from merchants. Merchants buy goods in one place and sell them in another; more precisely, they buy things in one market and sell them in another. Since the laws of supply and demand operate within given markets, there is often a difference between the price of a commodity in one market and another. Merchants hope to capture the difference between these two markets. According to Marx, capitalists, on the other hand, take advantage of the difference between the labor market and the market for whatever commodity is produced by the capitalist. Marx observed that in practically every successful industry the price for labor was lower than the price of the manufactured good. Marx called this difference "surplus value" and argued that this surplus value was in fact the source of a capitalist's profit.

The capitalist mode of production is capable of tremendous growth because the capitalist can, and has an incentive to, reinvest profits in new technologies. Marx considered the capitalist class to be the most revolutionary in history, because it constantly revolutionized the means of production. But Marx believed that capitalism was prone to periodic crises. He suggested that over time, capitalists would invest more and more in new technologies, and less and less in labor. Since Marx believed that surplus value appropriated from labor is the source of profits, he concluded that the rate of profit would fall even as the economy grew. When the rate of profit falls below a certain point, the result would be a recession or depression in which certain sectors of the economy would collapse. Marx understood that during such a crisis the price of labor would also fall, and eventually make possible the investment in new technologies and the growth of new sectors of the economy.

Marx believed that this cycle of growth, collapse, and growth would be punctuated by increasingly severe crises. Moreover, he believed that the long-term consequence of this process was necessarily the empowerment of the capitalist class and the impoverishment of the proletariat. Finally, he believed that were the proletariat to seize the means of production, they would encourage social relations that would benefit everyone equally, and a system of production less vulnerable to periodic crises.

A small number of scholars have presented an alternative reading of Marx, based on his essays On the Jewish Question. Economist Tyler Cowen, historian Marvin Perry, and political scientist Joshua Muravchik have suggested that Marx’s intense hatred for the “Jewish Class” as part of Marx’s belief that if he could convince his contemporaries and the public to hate Jewish capitalists, the public would eventually come to hate non-Jewish capitalists as well.

Most scholars reject this claim for two reasons: first, it is based on two short essays written in the 1840s, and ignores the bulk of Marx's analysis of capitalism written in the following years. Second, it distorts the argument of On the Jewish Question, in which Marx deconstructs liberal notions of emancipation. During the Enlightenment, philosophers and political theorists argued that religious authority had been oppressing human beings, and that religion must be separated from the functions of the state for people to be truly free. Following the French Revolution, many people were calling for the emancipation of the Jews. Many argued that Christianity is a more enlightened and advanced religion than Judaism. For example, Marx's former mentor, Bruno Bauer, argued that Christians need to be emancipated only once (from Christianity), and Jews need to be emancipated twice -- first from Judaism (presumably, by converting to Christianity), then from religion altogether.

Marx rejects Bauer's argument as a form of Christian ethnocentricm, if not anti-Semitic. Marx procedes to turn Bauer's language, and the rhetoric of anti-Semites, upside down to make a more progressive argument. First, he points out that Bruno Bauer's argument is too parochial because it considers Christianity to be more evolved than Judaism, and because it narrowly defines the problem that requires emancipation to be religion. Marx instead argues that the issue is not religion, but capitalism. Pointing out that anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews are fundamentally anti-capitalist, Marx provides a theory of anti-Semitism by suggesting that anti-Semites scapegoat Jews for capitalism because too many non-Jews benefit from, or are invested in capitalism, to attack capitalism directly.

Marx also uses this rhetoric ironically to develop his critique of bourgeois notions of emancipation. Marx points out that the bourgeois notion of freedom[ is predicated on choice (in politics, through elections; in the economy, through the market), but that this form of freedom is anti-social and alientating. Although Bauer and other liberals believe that emancipation means freedom to choose, Marx argues that this is at best a very narrow notion of fredom. Thus, when Baur believes would be the emancipation of the Jews is for Marx actually alienation, not emancipation. After explaining that he is not refering to real Jews or to the Jewish religion, Marx appropriates this anti-Semitic rhetoric against itself (in a way that parellels his Hegelian argument that capitslism contains the seeds of its own destruction) by using "Judaism" ironically as a metaphor for capitalism. In this sense, Marx states, all Europeans are "Jewish." This is a pun on two levels. First, if the Jews must be emancipated, Marx is saying that all Europeans must be emancipated. Second, if by "Judaism" one really means "capitalism," then far from Jews needing to be emancipated from Christianity (as Bauer called for), Christians need to be emancipated from Judaism (meaning, bourgeois society). See works by historian Hal Draper and David McLellan.

Marx's influence

The body of work of Marx and Engels covers a wide range of topics and presents a complex analysis of history and society in terms of class relations. Followers of Marx and Engels have drawn on this work to propose a political and economic philosophy dubbed Marxism. Nevertheless, there have been numerous debates among Marxists over how to interpret Marx's writings and how to apply his concepts to current events and conditions (and it is important to distinguish between "Marxism" and "what Marx believed;" for example, shortly before he died in 1880, Marx wrote a letter to the French workers' leader Jules Guesde, and to Marx's son-in-law Paul Lafargue, accusing them of "revolutionary phrase-mongering" and of denying the value of reformist struggles; "if that is Marxism" -- paraphrasing what Marx wrote -- "then I am not a Marxist"). Essentially, people use the word "Marxist" to describe those who rely on Marx's conceptual language (e.g. mode of production, class, commodity fetishism) to understand capitalist and other societies, or to describe those who believe that a worker's revolution is the only means to a communist society.

Six years after Marx's death, Engels and others founded the "Second International" as a base for continued political activism. This organization collapsed in 1914, in part because some members turned to Edward Bernstein's "evolutionary" socialism, and in part because of divisions precipitated by World War I.

World War I also led to the Russian Revolution and the consequent ascendence of Vladimir Lenin's leadership of the communist movement, embodied in the "Third International". Lenin claimed to be both the philosophical and political heir to Marx, and developed a political program, called Leninism or Bolshevism, which called for revolution organized and led by a centrally organized Communist Party.

After Lenin's death, the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, seized control of the Party and state apparatus. He argued that before a world-wide communist revolution would be possible, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had to dedicate itself to building communism in their own country.

At this time, Leon Trotsky left the Soviet Union and in 1934 founded the competing "Fourth International." Some followers of Trotsky argued that Stalin had created a bureaucratic state rather than a socialist state.

In China Mao Zedong also claimed to be an heir to Marx, but argued that peasants and not just workers could play a leading role in a communist revolution. This was a profound departure from Marx's own view of revolution, which focused exclusively on the urban proletariat, and which he believed would take place in advanced industrial societies such as France, Germany and England.

In the 1920s and '30s, a group of dissident Marxists founded the Institute for Social Research in Germany, among them Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse. As a group, these authors are often called the Frankfurt School. Their work is known as Critical Theory, a type of Marxist philosophy and cultural criticism heavily influenced by Hegel, Freud, Nietzsche, and Max Weber.

The Frankfurt School broke with earlier Marxists, including Lenin and Bolshevism in several key ways. First, writing at the time of the ascendance of Stalinism and Fascism, they had grave doubts as to the traditional Marxist concept of proletarian class consciousness. Second, unlike earlier Marxists, especially Lenin, they rejected economic determinism. While highly influential, their work is often criticized for reducing Marxism to a purely academic enterprise.

Other influential non-Bolshevik Marxists at that time include George Lukacs, Walter Benjamin, Antonio Gramsci, and Rosa Luxemburg. Henryk Grossman, who elaborated the mathematical basis of Marx's 'law of capitalist breakdown', was another contemporary. These figures, including but not limited to the Frankfurt School, are often known by the term Western Marxism.

In 1949 Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman founded Monthly Review, a journal and press, to provide a outlet for Marxist thought in the United States independent of the Communist Party.

Contemporary criticisms

Marxian theory has been criticized from numerous points of view. Many proponents of capitalism have argued that capitalism in fact is ultimately a more effective means of generating and redistributing wealth than socialism or communism, and that the gulf between rich and poor that concerned Marx and Engels was a temporary phenomenon. Some suggest that greed and the need to acquire material wealth is an inherent component of human behavior, and is not caused by the adoption of capitalism or any other specific economic system (although economic anthropologists have questioned this assertion), and that different economic systems reflect different social responses to this fact. Economists generally reject his use of the "labor theory of value," although such critics generally overlook Marx's distinction between value and price.

Marx has also been criticized from the left. Evolutionary Socialists reject his claim that socialism can be accomplished only through class conflict and violent revolution. Others argue that class is not the most fundamental inequality in history, and call attention to patriarchy or race. Some today question the theoretical and historical validity of "class" as an analytic construct or as a political actor. In this line, some question Marx's reliance on 19th century notions that linked science with the idea of "progress" (see social evolution). Many observe that capitalism has changed much since Marx's time, and that class differences and relationships are much more complex -- citing as one example the fact that much corporate stock in the United States is owned by workers through pension funds. (see post-structuralism and postmodernism for discussions of two movements generally aligned with the left that are critical of Marx and Marxism.)

Openly Marxist political parties and movements have significantly declined since the fall of the Soviet Union. Although such a conclusion is hotly debated by Marxists, many have concluded the Soviet Union's numerous internal failings and subsequent collapse is a direct result of the practical failings of Marx's policies. Outside Europe and the United States, communism has generally been superseded by anti-colonialist and nationalist struggles (although they sometimes appeal to Marx for theoretical support).

Contemporary supporters of Marx argue most generally that Marx was correct that human behavior reflects determinate historical and social conditions (and is therefore changing and cannot be understood in terms of some universal "human nature"). More specifically, they argue his analysis of commodities is still useful and that alienation is still a problem. Some argue that capitalism does not exist as an independent system in any one country, and that one must analyze it as a global system. They further argue that when examined as a global system, capitalism is still organizing and exacerbating the gulf between rich and poor that first caught Marx's attention when he read Engels' book on Britain.


In 1953 the German Democratic Republic renamed the city of Chemnitz to Karl-Marx-Stadt. However, in a plebiscite in 1990 the citizens of Karl-Marx-Stadt favoured the old name, so that the city was renamed again.

Supply-side economics advocate Jude Wanniski (who was influential in developing the US President Reagans economic policy) claims Karl Marx as a supply sider. He sees Supply Side economics as a return to production focused economics in keeping with many of the traditions of Marx.

Karl Marx, speech in London to the Fraternal Democrats (29th November, 1847)  


The unification and brotherhood of nations is a phrase which is nowadays on the lips of all parties, particularly of the bourgeois free traders. A kind of brotherhood does indeed exist between the bourgeois classes of all nations. It is the brotherhood of the oppressors against the oppressed, of the exploiters against the exploited. Just as the bourgeois class of one country is united in brotherhood against the proletarians of that country, despite the competition and struggle of its members among themselves, so the bourgeoisie of all countries is united in brotherhood against the proletarians of all countries, despite their struggling and competing with each other on the world market. In order for peoples to become really united their interests must be common. For their interests to be common the existing property relations must be abolished, since the exploitation of one nation by another is caused by the existing property relations.
And it is only in the interests of the working class to abolish existing property relations; only they have the means to achieve it. The victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie represents at the same time the victory over national and industrial conflicts, which at present create hostility between the different peoples. Therefore, the victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie also signifies the emancipation of all downtrodden nations.

The old Poland is certainly lost, and we should be the last to wish for its restoration. But not only is the old Poland lost. The old Germany, the old France, the old England, the old social order in general is lost. The loss of the old social order, however, is not a loss for those who have nothing to lose in the old society, and at the same time this is the case for the large majority of people in all countries. They have, in fact, everything to gain from the destruction of the old society, for it is a precondition for the formation of a new society no longer based on class antagonisms.

Of all countries it is England where the opposition between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is most highly developed. Thus the victory of the English proletariat over the English bourgeoisie is of decisive importance for the victory of all oppressed peoples over their oppressors. Poland, therefore, must be freed, not in Poland, but in England. You Chartists should not express pious wishes for the liberation of nations. Defeat your own enemies at home and then you may be proudly conscious of having defeated the old social order in its entirety.

Related Links




Recommended Reading:

  • Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Gesamtausgabe, ed. by the Institut für Marxismus-Leninismus (Dietz, 1972- )
  • The Portable Karl Marx, ed. by Eugene Kamenka (Viking, 1983) {Order from}
  • The Communist Manifesto, ed. by Frederic L. Bender (Norton, 1988) {Order from}
  • Karl Marx, Early Writings, tr. by Rodney Livingstone (Penguin, 1992) {Order from}
  • Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, tr. by Ben Fowkes (Penguin, 1992) {Order from}

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