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Western Philosophers
19th-century philosophy
Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Name: Karl Marx
Birth: May 5, 1818 (Trier, Germany)
Death: March 14, 1883 (London, England)
School/tradition: Founder of Marxism
Main interests
Politics, Economics, class struggles
Notable ideas
Co-founder of Marxism (with Engels), alienation and exploitation of the worker, The Communist Manifesto
Influences Influenced
Hegel, Kant, Smith, Ricardo, Rousseau |
Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Keynes, Mao, Guevera, Sartre, Debord

Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818 Trier, Germany – March 14, 1883 London) was an influential German philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary organizer of the International Workingmen's Association. While Marx addressed a wide range of issues, he is most famous for his analysis of history in terms of class struggles, summed up in the opening line of the introduction to the Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle."


Early life

Karl Marx was born into a progressive and wealthy Jewish family in Trier, Prussia. His father Herschel, descending from a long line of rabbis, although harboring many deistic tendencies, converted to the Christian religion, joining the relatively liberal Lutheran denomination, in order to become a lawyer. The Marx household hosted many visiting intellectuals and artists during Karl's early life.


In 1835 at the age of 17 Marx enrolled in the University of Bonn to study law, where he joined the Trier Tavern Club and at one point served as its president; his grades suffered as a result. The following year, his father forced him to transfer to the far more serious and academically oriented Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin. During his stead, Marx wrote much poetry and essays concerning life, using the theological language acquired from his liberal, deistic father, such as "the Deity." It was during this period that he absorbed the atheistic philosophy of the left-Hegelians. Marx earned a doctorate in 1841 with a thesis titled The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. As he grew older, he developed into a highly educated economist, a historian, a social scientist and, eventually, a revolutionary.

The younger Karl Marx

Marx and the Young Hegelians

In Berlin, Marx's interests turned to philosophy, and he joined the circle of students and young professors known as the "Young Hegelians". For many of them, the so-called left-Hegelians, Hegel's dialectical method, separated from its theological content, provided a powerful weapon for the critique of established religion and politics. Some members of this circle drew an analogy between post-Aristotelian philosophy and post-Hegelian philosophy. Another Young Hegelian, Max Stirner, applied Hegelian criticism and argued that stopping anywhere short of nihilistic egoism was mysticism. His views were not accepted by most of his colleages; nevertheless, Stirner's book was the main reason Marx abandoned the Feuerbachian view and developed the basic concept of historical materialism. One of Karl Marx's teachers of Hegelian Society was Baron Von Westphalen, father of Jenny Von Westphalen whom Karl Marx later married.


When his mentor, Bruno Bauer, was dismissed from Friedrich-Wilhelms' philosophy faculty in 1842, Marx abandoned a university career and moved into journalism. In October of 1842, became editor, in Cologne, of the influential Rheinische Zeitung, a liberal newspaper. After the newspaper was shut down in 1843 by Prussian government, in part due to Marx's conflicts with government censors, Marx returned to philosophy, turned to political activism, and made his living as a freelance journalist. Marx was soon forced to move, something he would do often as a result of his views.

Marx's life-long friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels.

Marx first moved to France, where he re-evaluated his relationship with Bauer and the Young Hegelians, and wrote On the Jewish Question, mostly a critique of current notions of civil rights and political emancipation that also includes several critical references to Judaism and Jewish culture, from an atheistic standpoint. It was in Paris that he met and began working with his life-long close friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels, a committed communist, who kindled Marx's interest in the situation of the working class and guided Marx's interest in economics. It was during his time in Paris that Marx became a communist and set down his views in a series of writings known as the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, which remained unpublished until the 1930s. In the Manuscripts, Marx outlined a humanist conception of communism, influenced by the philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach and based on a contrast between the alienated nature of labor under capitalism and a communist society in which human beings freely developed their nature in cooperative production. After he was forced to leave Paris for his writings, Marx and Engels moved to Brussels, Belgium.

While in Brussels Marx devoted himself to an intensive study of history and elaborated what came to be known as the materialist conception of history. He developed this in a manuscript (published posthumously as The German Ideology), of which the basic thesis was that "the nature of individuals depends on the material conditions determining their production." Marx traced the history of the various modes of production and predicted the collapse of the present one -- industrial capitalism -- and its replacement by communism.

Next, Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), a critique of French socialist thought. These works laid the foundation for Marx and Engels' most famous work, The Communist Manifesto, first published on February 21, 1848, which was commissioned by the Communist League (formerly, the League of the Just), an organization of German émigrés whom Marx had converted in London.

That year Europe experienced revolutionary upheaval; a working-class movement seized power from King Louis Philippe in France and invited Marx to return to Paris. When this government collapsed in 1849, Marx moved back to Cologne and restarted the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, only to be swiftly expelled again and his paper suppressed. He sought refuge in London in May 1849 to begin the "long, sleepless night of exile" that was to last for the rest of his life.

Settling in London, Marx was optimistic about the imminence of a new revolutionary outbreak in Europe. He rejoined the Communist League and wrote two lengthy pamphlets on the 1848 revolution in France and its aftermath, The Class Struggles in France and The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. He was soon convinced that "a new revolution is possible only in consequence of a new crisis" and then devoted himself to the study of political economy in order to determine the causes and conditions of this crisis.

Marx's major work on political economy made slow progress. By 1857 he had produced a gigantic 800 page manuscript on capital, landed property, wage labor, the state, foreign trade and the world market. The Grundrisse was not published until 1941. In the early 1860s he broke off his work to compose three large volumes, Theories of Surplus Value, which discussed the theoreticians of political economy, particularly Adam Smith and David Ricardo. It was not until 1867 that Marx was able to publish the first results of his work in volume 1 of Capital, a work which analyzed the capitalist process of production. In Capital, Marx elaborated his version of the labor theory value and his conception of surplus value and exploitation which he argued would ultimately lead to a falling rate of profit in the collapse of industrial capitalism. Volumes II and III were finished during the 1860s but Marx worked on the manuscripts for the rest of his life and they were published posthumously by Engels.

One reason why Marx was so slow to publish Capital was that he was devoting his time and energy to the First International, to whose General Council he was elected at its inception in 1864. He was particularly active in preparing for the annual Congresses of the International and leading the struggle against the anarchist wing led by 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. On the bloody suppression of this rebellion, Marx wrote one of his most famous pamphlets, The Civil War in France, an enthusiastic defense of the Commune.

During the last decade of his life, Marx's health declined and he was incapable of the sustained effort that had characterized his previous work. He did manage to comment substantially on contemporary politics, particularly in Germany and Russia. In Germany, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, he opposed the tendency of his followers Karl Liebknecht (1826-1900) and August Bebel (1840-1913) to compromise with the state socialism of Lasalle in the interests of a united socialist party. In his correspondence with Vera Zasulich, 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.

Family life

Karl Marx's engagement to Jenny von Westphalen, an aristocrat, was kept secret at first, and for several years was opposed by both the Marxes and Westphalens. Jenny and Karl had many children, several of whom died young. Their daughter Eleanor (1855-1898), who was born in London, was a committed socialist who helped edit her father's works.

During the first half of the 1850s the Marx family lived in poverty in a three room flat in the Soho quarter of London. Marx and Jenny already had four children and two more were to follow. Of these only three survived. Marx's major source of income at this time was Engels who was trying a steadily increasing income from the family business in Manchester. This was supplemented by weekly articles written as a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune.

There is a disputed rumour that Marx was the father of Frederick Demuth, the son of Marx's housekeeper, Lenchen Demuth. Allegedly, the bachelor Engels assumed paternity of the boy, sparing the married Marx some embarrassment [1]. The rumour lacks any direct evidence [2] - "there is no sense that Marx was intimately implicated, nor that Frau Marx saw him any differently, nor that Engels himself was going to be seriously put out, because the comments that do survive indicate that everyone involved was on much the same terms as usual."

Later life

Karl Marx Tomb in London

Marx was generally impoverished during the later period of his life, depending on financial contributions from close friend and fellow author, Friedrich Engels, to help with his family's living expenses and debts. Following the death of his wife Jenny in 1881, Marx's health did not improve and he died in London in 1883, and is buried in Highgate Cemetery, London. The message carved on Marx's tombstone – a monument built in 1954 by the British Communist Party – is: "Workers of all lands, unite". Marx's original tomb was humbly adorned.

His collaborator and close friend Friedrich Engels delivered the following eulogy:

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 for ever.

An immeasurable loss has been sustained both by the militant proletariat of Europe and America, and by historical science, in the death of this man. The gap that has been left by the departure of this mighty spirit will soon enough make itself felt.

Just as Darwin discovered the law of development or organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means, and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.

But that is not all. Marx also discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production, and the bourgeois society that this mode of production has created. The discovery of surplus value suddenly threw light on the problem, in trying to solve which all previous investigations, of both bourgeois economists and socialist critics, had been groping in the dark.

Two such discoveries would be enough for one lifetime. Happy the man to whom it is granted to make even one such discovery. But in every single field which Marx investigated -- and he investigated very many fields, none of them superficially -- in every field, even in that of mathematics, he made independent discoveries.

Such was the man of science. But this was not even half the man. Science was for Marx a historically dynamic, revolutionary force. However great the joy with which he welcomed a new discovery in some theoretical science whose practical application perhaps it was as yet quite impossible to envisage, he experienced quite another kind of joy when the discovery involved immediate revolutionary changes in industry, and in historical development in general. For example, he followed closely the development of the discoveries made in the field of electricity and recently those of Marcel Deprez.

For Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival. His work on the first Rheinische Zeitung (1842), the Paris Vorwarts (1844), the Deutsche Brusseler Zeitung (1847), the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (1848-49), the New York Tribune (1852-61), and, in addition to these, a host of militant pamphlets, work in organisations in Paris, Brussels and London, and finally, crowning all, the formation of the great International Working Men's Association -- this was indeed an achievement of which its founder might well have been proud even if he had done nothing else.

And, consequently, Marx was the best hated and most calumniated man of his time. Governments, both absolutist and republican, deported him from their territories. Bourgeois, whether conservative or ultra-democratic, vied with one another in heaping slanders upon him. All this he brushed aside as though it were a cobweb, ignoring it, answering only when extreme necessity compelled him. And he died beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow workers -- from the mines of Siberia to California, in all parts of Europe and America -- and I make bold to say that, though he may have had many opponents, he had hardly one personal enemy.

His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work.''

Influences on Marx's thought

Marx's thought was strongly influenced by:

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 is inevitable. 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. Consequently, most followers of Marx are not fatalists, but activists who believe that revolutionaries must organize social change.

G.W.F. Hegel

Marx's view of history, which came to be called the materialist interpretation of history (and which was developed further as the philosophy of dialectical materialism) is certainly influenced by Hegel's claim that reality (and history) should be viewed dialectically. Hegel believed that the direction of human history is characterized in the movement from the fragmentary toward the complete and the real (which was also a movement towards greater and greater rationality). Sometimes, Hegel explained, this progressive unfolding of the Absolute involves gradual, evolutionary accretion but at other times requires discontinuous, revolutionary leaps — episodal upheavals against the existing status quo. For example, Hegel strongly opposed the ancient institution of legal slavery that was practiced in the United States during his lifetime, and he envisioned a time when Christian nations would radically eliminate it from their civilization. While Marx accepted this broad conception of history, Hegel was an idealist, and Marx sought to rewrite dialectics in materialist terms. He wrote that Hegelianism stood the movement of reality on its head, and that it was necessary to set it upon its feet. (Hegel's philosophy remained and remains in direct opposition to Marxism on this key point.)

Marx's acceptance of this notion of materialist dialectics which rejected Hegel's idealism was greatly 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' 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

As the American Marx scholar Hal Draper remarked, there are few thinkers in modern history whose thought has been so badly misrepresented, by Marxists and anti-Marxists alike. Indeed, shortly before his death, Marx himself said, in response to so-called 'marxists' who supported reform instead of revolution, something to the effect of "if that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist". Subsequently, the merger of Marxist thought with Leninism, forming the official state ideology (Marxism-Leninism) of the Soviet bloc, arguably departed further from Marx's own beliefs and analyses. However, following the 1989-91 collapse of the Soviet bloc there has been a return by non-Marxists to Marx's own writing, in particular for insights in his analysis of capitalism that are still relevant today.

The notion of labour is fundamental in Marx's thought. Basically, Marx argued that it is human nature to transform nature, and he calls this process of transformation "labour" and the capacity to transform nature labour 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. (Capital, Vol. I, Chap. 7, Pt. 1)

Karl Marx inherits that Hegelian dialectic and, with it, a disdain for the notion of an underlying invariant human nature. Sometimes Marxists express their views by contrasting “nature” with “history”. Sometimes they use the phrase “existence precedes consciousness”. The point, in either case, is that who a person is, is determined by where and when he is — social context takes precedence over innate behavior; or, in other words, one of the main features of human nature is adaptability.

Marx 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 / forces of production, literally those things, such as land, natural resources, and technology, that are necessary for the production of material goods, and the relations of production, in other words, the social and technical 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 (economic) base and (social) 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. For Marx, different classes have divergent interests, which is another source of social disruption and conflict.

Marx was especially concerned with how people relate to that most fundamental resource of all, their own labour-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 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 in terms of 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. This disguises the fact that the exchange and circulation of commodities really are the product and reflection of social relationships among people. Under capitalism, social relationships of production, such as among workers or between workers and capitalists, are mediated through commodities, including labor, that are bought and sold on the market.

Commodity fetishism is an example of what Engels called false consciousness, which is closely related to the 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 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). 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 produce them is literally absurd, it does reflect the fact (according to Marx and Engels) that people under capitalism are alienated from their own labour-power. Another 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.

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, thereby maintaining the status quo.

Critique of capitalism

Marx argued that this alienation of human work (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 do so 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." (Marx considered this an objective description of capitalism, distinct from any one of a variety of ideological claims of or about capitalism). The proletarians inevitably outnumber the capitalists.

Marx distinguished industrial capitalists from merchant capitalists. 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, then, practice arbitrage, and 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 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 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 argued 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 enrichment and empowerment of the capitalist class and the impoverishment of the proletariat. 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. In general, Marx thought that peaceful negotiation of this problem was impracticable, and that a massive, well-organized and violent revolution would in general be required, because the ruling class would not give up power without violence. He theorized that to establish the socialist system, a dictatorship of the proletariat - a period where the needs of the working-class, not of capital, will be the common deciding factor - must be created on a temporary basis. 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." [3]

Critique of bourgeois democracy and of anti-Semitism

Some scholars have presented an alternative reading of Marx, primarily based on his essay On the Jewish Question. Economist Tyler Cowen, historian Marvin Perry, and political scientist Joshua Muravchik have suggested that what they see as an intense hatred for the "Jewish Class" was 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 dislike 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 thus calling for the emancipation of the Jews.

At the same time, many argued that Christianity is a more enlightened and advanced religion than Judaism. For example, Marx's former mentor, Bruno Bauer, allegedly 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 ethnocentrism, if not anti-Semitic. Marx proceeds 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 alienating. Although Bauer and other liberals believe that emancipation means freedom to choose, Marx argues that this is at best a very narrow notion of freedom. Thus, what Bauer believes would be the emancipation of the Jews is for Marx actually alienation, not emancipation. After explaining that he is not referring to real Jews or to the Jewish religion, Marx appropriates this anti-Semitic rhetoric against itself (in a way that parallels his Hegelian argument that capitalism 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

See also: Marxism

Statue of Marx and Engels in Alexanderplatz, Berlin.The statues acquired the unofficial nickname "the Pensioners", and were also said to be sitting on their suitcases waiting for permission to emigrate to the West.

Marx and Engels' work 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 1883, 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 ism) to understand capitalist and other societies, or to describe those who believe that a workers' revolution is the only means to a communist society. The clash between Marx's own theoretical framework and the umbrella term "Marxist" is often misconstrued, a prime example being the bias placed against studying Marx’s writings during the Cold War period in American academic institutions.

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 ascendance 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, rose to a position of immense power in 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 its own country. It was Stalin's Soviet Union and its policies that undermined the concept of Marxism in the Western world, where, for many years, especially during the Cold War period, it was popularly equated with the system in the USSR - which in turn was understood as a political totalitarianism disregarding civil rights.

In 1929, Leon Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union and in 1938 founded the competing "Fourth International." Some followers of Trotsky argued that Stalin had created a bureaucratic state rather than a socialist state.

Marx believed that the communist revolution would take place in advanced industrial societies such as France, Germany and England, but Lenin argued that in the age of imperialism, and due to the "law of uneven development", where Russia had on the one hand, an antiquated agricultural society, but on the other hand, some of the most up-to-date industrial concerns, the "chain" might break at its weakest points, that is, in the so-called "backward" countries.

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 departure from Marx and Lenin's view of revolution, which maintained that the proletariat must have the leading role. Marxism-Leninism as espoused by Mao came to be internationally known as Maoism.

Statue of Marx and Engels in Budapest.

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 has been criticized by both orthodox Marxists and some Marxists involved in political practice for divorcing Marxist theory from practical struggle and turning Marxism into a purely academic enterprise.

Other influential non-Bolshevik Marxists at that time include Georg Lukacs, Walter Benjamin and Antonio Gramsci, who along with the Frankfurt School are often known by the term Western Marxism. Henryk Grossman, who elaborated the mathematical basis of Marx's 'law of capitalist breakdown', was another affiliate of the Frankfurt School. Also prominent during this period was the Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg.

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

In 1978, G. A. Cohen attempted to defend Marx's thought as a coherent and scientific theory of history by reconstructing it through the lens of analytic philosophy. This gave birth to Analytical Marxism, an academic movement which also included Jon Elster, Adam Przeworski and John Roemer. Bertell Ollman is another Anglophone champion of Marx within the academy.

Marx was ranked #27 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history.

In July 2005 Marx was the surprise winner of the 'Greatest Philosopher of All Time' poll by listeners of BBC Radio 4.[4]


Many proponents of capitalism have argued that capitalism is a more effective means of generating and redistributing wealth than socialism or communism, or that the gulf between rich and poor that concerned Marx and Engels was a temporary phenomenon. Some suggest that self-interest and the need to acquire capital 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. The Austrian School of economics has criticized Marx's use of the labor theory of value. In addition, the political repression and economic problems of several historical Communist states have done much to destroy Marx's reputation in the Western world, particularly following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, as the Soviet bureaucracy often invoked him in their propaganda. Although others argue that the former USSR was a varient of state capitalism whose collapse does not affect the veracity Marxism, but vindicates it.

Marx has also been criticized from the Left. Democratic socialists and social democrats reject the idea 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. However, Marxists argue that these inequalities are linked to class and therefore will largely cease to exist after the formation of a classless society.

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. Critics of this analysis retort that the top 1% of wage earners still own more than 50% of the nation's publicly traded company stocks.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Still others criticize Marx from the perspective of philosophy of science. Karl Popper has criticized Marx's theories as he believed they were not falsifiable, which he argued would render some particular aspects of Marx’s historical and socio-political arguments unscientific, although Popper's falsifiability standard has been largely rejected.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Primarily, this stems from Marx's assertion that class revolt will be part of the process in overcoming capitalism. The argument goes that the critic says "this will not happen" to which the reply is "but it will." However it has been argued that such statements show a simplistic understanding or a deliberate misinterpretation, because the reply has no basis in what Marx actually said.

A common critique of Marx points out that the increasing class antagonisms he predicted never actually developed in the Western world following industrialization. While socioeconomic gaps between the bourgeoisie and proletariat remained, industrialization in countries such as the United States and Great Britain also saw the rise of a middle class not inclined to violent revolution, and of a welfare state that helped contain any revolutionary tendencies among the working class. While the economic devastation of the Great Depression broadened the appeal of Marxism in the developed world, future government safeguards and economic recovery led to a decline in its influence. In contrast, Marxism remained extremely influential in feudal and industrially underdeveloped societies such as Czarist Russia, where the Bolshevik Revolution was successful. [5] This problem with classical Marxist theory was known from the beginning of the 20th century, and much of the work of Vladimir Lenin was dedicated to answering it. In essence, Lenin argued that, through imperialism, the bourgeoisie of wealthy countries is exploiting the proletariat of underdeveloped societies and sharing some of the profits with the working class back home (in the wealthy countries) in order to appease it. See Leninism for more information. It has also been noted that violent class struggles were part of the labor struggles within industrial countries like the United States, much as Marx described.

Marxist political parties and movements have significantly declined since the fall of the Soviet Union. Critics argue that the Soviet Union's numerous internal failings and subsequent collapse were a direct result of the practical failings of Marxism, but many past and present Marxists, especially Trotskyists, respond to this by pointing out that the Soviet Union's political system did not actually resemble true socialism at all. Marx analyzed the world of his day and refused to draw up plans of how a future socialist society should be run saying he did not "write recipes...for cook-shops of the future." Outside Europe and the United States, communism has generally been superseded by anti-colonialist and nationalist struggles which sometimes appeal to Marx for theoretical support. In India, the southern province of Kerala was the first in the world to elect a coalition of Communist parties (see Communist Party of India) to power at the state level, in 1957. In the eastern state of West Bengal a coalition of Communist parties led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been democratically elected to power at the provincial level continuously since 1977.

Contemporary supporters of Marx argue most generally that Marx was correct that human behavior reflects historical and social conditions (and is therefore changing and can not be understood in terms of some universal "human nature"). More specifically, they argue his analysis of social class and commodities is still very useful, that his critique of capitalism can easily be applied to the current global situation, and that alienation is still a problem.


  • Stephen Jay Gould, A Darwinian Gentleman at Marx's Funeral - E. Ray Lankester, Page 1, Find (1999). (Marx's tomb)
  • Daniel Little, The Scientific Marx, University of Minnesota Press (1986), trade paperback, 244 pages, ISBN 0816615055 (Marx's work considered as science)
  • Duncan, Ronald, with Wilson, Colin, (editors) Marx Refuted, Bath, U.K.,(1987) ISBN 0906798-71-X
  • David McLellen, Karl Marx: His Life and Thought
  • Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution (4 volumes). Monthly Review Press.
  • Boris Nicolaevski & Otto Maenchen-Helfen, Karl Marx: Man and Fighter, Penguin books.
  • Maximilien Rubel, Marx without myth: A chronological study of his life and work, Blackwell, 1975, ISBN 0631157808
  • Francis Wheen, Karl Marx, Fourth Estate (1999), ISBN 1857026373 (biography of Marx)
  • Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx: His Life and Environment by Isaiah Berlin

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The works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Marx: Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1843), On the Jewish Question (1843), Notes on James Mill (1844), Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 (1844), Theses on Feuerbach (1845), The Poverty of Philosophy (1845), Wage-Labor and Capital (1847), The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852), Grundrisse (1857), Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), Theories of Surplus Value, 3 volumes (1862), Value, Price and Profit (1865), Capital vol. 1 (1867), The Civil War in France (1871), Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), Notes on Wagner (1883)

Marx and Engels: The German Ideology (1845), The Holy Family (1845), Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), Writings on the U.S. Civil War (1861), Capital, vol. 2 [posthumously, published by Engels] (1885), Capital, vol. 3 [posthumously, published by Engels] (1894)

Engels: The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (1844), The Peasant War in Germany (1850), Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany (1852), Anti-Dühring (1878), Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880), Dialectics of Nature (1883), The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1886)

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