A retrospective: Karl Marx

Karl Heinrich Marx was born in Trier, Prussia, Germany in 1818, he became well renowned for being a social revolutionary, political theorist, sociologist, philosopher, historian, and economist. At 30 years old he wrote ‘Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei’, and ‘Das Kapital’, with Friedrich Engels, which was the birth of what is known as Marxism, and would lead to him being exiled to London.

Karl was the oldest of nine children, his father was a successful lawyer, and his Dutch born mother were both of Jewish Descent and from a long line of rabbis, but Karl was baptised at the local Lutheran Evangelical Church when he was six years old. Despite this, his obvious Jewish background led to prejudice and racism, and at a young age he questioned the need for religion in society. From 1830 – 1835 he studied at a Jesuit high school in Trier, before moving to Bonn to attend university, but he was easily influenced, and became a trouble-maker which led him to be arrested several times. His father took the decision to relocate him to the university in Berlin, which was considerable more serious. In Berlin he studied law and philosophy, and soon joined the Young Hegelians who were a group of revolutionaries who wished to change political and religious motivation.

“Christian Gospels were a record not of history but of human fantasies arising from emotional needs” – Bruno Bauer

He received a doctorate after completing his studies but was unable to gain employment due to his strengthening radicalisedopinions, so he moved to Paris to seek a fresh start with his new wife, Jenny von Westphalen. At the time Paris was heavily influenced by socialism, and Marx quickly became a revolutionary and a communist. To understand Marx’s position, you have to understand the world he resided in, and it wasn’t terribly pretty. Workforces were poorly paid, they worked in horrendous and dangerous conditions and the majority lived in poverty, and Marx saw Capitalism as the reason poverty became modern slavery. He thought that the only solution was to introduce communism into society (the theory that the means of production ought to be owned in common and managed for the good of society as a whole). People so often claim that he was a tyrant, and that his ideas were too radical, but many who criticise didn’t understand Europe in the nineteenth century, and how many struggled financially, or didn’t understand Marx as a man who essentially wanted to help humanity and free them from capitalism.

A dictatorship of the proletariat’ is where the state have control of the government and the economy is nationalised, which means socialization of the major means of production, or the service of social needs of a population. The Paris Commune was described by Marx as the first example of this, followed by the Russian Revolution, where the public seized power over the government.

“For Marx and Engels, from beginning to end of their careers and without exception, “dictatorship of the proletariat” meant nothing more and nothing less than “rule of the proletariat,” the “conquest of political power” by the working class, the establishment of a workers’ state in the immediate postrevolutionary period.” – E-flux

Marx’s major concern was the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer, and an elite few holding all of the purse strings. Whilst Marx discusses socialism, much of his work wasn’t published until after his death, which begs the question – was he convinced in his theories, or were they just ramblings of a thinker? Going against popular belief, Marx remained a democrat throughout his life, and never once endorsed a strategy like the Bolshevik Revolution under Lenin’s control. Of course Lenin, Stalin and Mao adopted some of the ideas from Marx’s literature, he never suggested a totalitarian dictatorship.

“Religion is the impotence of the human mind to deal with occurrences it cannot understand” – Karl Marx

In 1844 Marx met Friedrich Engels in the Café de la Régence in Paris, and this would result in a life-long friendship where they became each other’s mentor, where they worked together on Marxism.

“It assumes that the form of economic organization, or mode of production, influences all other social phenomena—including wider social relations, political institutions, legal systems, cultural systems, aesthetics, and ideologies. The economic system and these social relations form a base and superstructure. – Wikipedia

Marx was exiled from Paris and moved to Belgium where he hoped to continue his work on socialism, and he became associated with a number of other exiled socialists around Europe. In 1945 both Marx and Engels travelled to England to meet the Chartists who were a socialist movement, and with Engels having already established himself in Manchester in years previous, he was familiar with the language. Marx spent his time scouring the libraries for useful literature on economics. In 1846 they both started work on the book, The German Ideology, which was considered their best work on historical materialism. Like many of their work, it wouldn’t see the light of day until part way into the following century. Several books led the way towards their most important book, The Communist Manifesto, and shortly after set up the Communist League, a political party based in London. The party’s main focus was class struggle , and especially between between the bourgeoisie (the wealthy capitalist class) and the proletariat (the industrial working class).

As their ideas became worlds apart, Marx distanced himself from the Communist League, and as well as continuing to write literature, he became friends with the editor of The New York Tribune, where he wrote many articles about the political universe to a new audience. He continued to come up with revolutionary theories, and for involved with several movements, but as he entered his twilight years, he lost his creativeness, and suffered severe bouts of depression. He still consulted, but his revolutionary days were over, and in 1883 he died of a lung abscess.

Marx‘s legacy has been tainted by people who used brutality, violence and oppression under the guise of Marxism. Marxism has splintered off in many directions since his death, and the flaws aren’t Marx’s fault, as the regimes that sprung up around the world, where at one point four out of every ten on the planet claimed to be a Marxist, weren’t condoned by him, and his only crime was underestimating human behaviour, and its need for control.

“Capitalism: Teach a man to fish, but the fish he catches aren’t his. They belong to the person paying him to fish, and if he’s lucky, he might get paid enough to buy a few fish for himself.” – Karl Marx