Marx in 1875
||Karl Heinrich Marx
5 May 1818
Trier, Kingdom of Prussia,German Confederation
||14 March 1883 (aged 64)
London, England, United Kingdom
||Germany, France, Belgium, United Kingdom
||Western Philosophy, German philosophy
||None (Atheist) (FormerlyLutheranism)
||Marxism, Communism,Socialism, Materialism
||Politics, economics,philosophy, sociology, labour, history, class struggle, natural sciences
||Co-founder of Marxism (withEngels), surplus value, contributions to the labour theory of value, class struggle,alienation and exploitation of the worker, The Communist Manifesto, Das Kapital,materialist conception of history
Born into a wealthy middle-class family in Trier in the Prussian Rhineland, Marx studied at the University of Bonn and the University of Berlin, where he became interested in the philosophical ideas of the Young Hegelians. After his studies, he wrote for a radical newspaper in Cologne, and began to work out his theory of dialectical materialism. He moved to Paris in 1843, where he began writing for other radical newspapers and met Friedrich Engels, who would become his lifelong friend and collaborator. In 1849 he was exiled and moved to London together with his wife and children where he continued writing and formulating his theories about social and economic activity. He also campaigned for socialism and became a significant figure in the International Workingmen’s Association.Karl Heinrich Marx (German pronunciation: [kaːɐ̯l ˈhaɪnʀɪç ˈmaːɐ̯ks], 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher,economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. Marx’s work in economics laid the basis for the current understanding of labour and its relation to capital, and has influenced much of subsequent economic thought. He published numerous books during his lifetime, the most notable being The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867–1894).
Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics – collectively known as Marxism – hold that human societies progress through class struggle: a conflict between an ownership class that controls production and a dispossessed labouring class that provides the labour for production. He called capitalism the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” believing it to be run by the wealthy classes for their own benefit; and he predicted that, like previous socioeconomic systems, capitalism produced internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system: socialism. He argued that class antagonisms under capitalism between the bourgeoisie and proletariat would eventuate in the working class’ conquest of political power in the form of a dictatorship of the proletariat and eventually establish a classless society, socialism or communism, a society governed by a free association of producers. Along with believing in the inevitability of socialism and communism, Marx actively fought for their implementation, arguing that social theorists and underprivileged people alike should carry out organised revolutionary action to topple capitalism and bring about socio-economic change.
Marx has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history. Revolutionary socialist governments espousing Marxist concepts took power in a variety of countries in the 20th century, leading to the formation of such socialist states as the Soviet Union in 1922 and the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Many labour unions and workers’ parties worldwide are influenced by Marxism, while various theoretical variants, such as Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, and Dengism were developed from them. Marx is typically cited, with Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science.
Childhood and early education: 1818–1835
Karl Heinrich Marx was born on 5 May 1818 to Heinrich Marx and Henrietta Pressburg. He was born at 664 Brückergasse in Trier, a town then part of the Kingdom of Prussia‘s Province of the Lower Rhine. Ancestrally Ashkenazi Jewish, his maternal grandfather was a Dutch rabbi, while his paternal line had supplied Trier’s rabbis since 1723, a role taken by his grandfather Meier Halevi Marx. Karl’s father, as a child known as Herschel, was the first in the line to receive a secular education; he became a lawyer and lived a relatively wealthy and middle-class existence, with his family owning a number of Moselle vineyards. Prior to his son’s birth, and to escape the constraints of anti-semitic legislation, Herschel converted from Judaism to the Protestant Christian denomination of Lutheranism, the predominant sect in Germany and Prussia at the time, taking on the German forename of Heinrich over the Yiddish Herschel.
Largely non-religious, Heinrich was a man of the Enlightenment, interested in the ideas of the philosophers Immanuel Kant and Voltaire. A classical liberal, he took part in agitation for a constitution and reforms in Prussia, then governed by an absolute monarchy. In 1815 Heinrich Marx began work as an attorney, in 1819 moving his family to a ten-room property near the Porta Nigra. His wife, Henrietta Pressburg, was a semi-literate Dutch Jew who claimed to suffer from “excessive mother love”, devoting much time to her family and insisting on cleanliness within her home. She was from a prosperous business family that later founded the company Philips Electronics: she was great-aunt to Anton and Gerard Philips, and great-great-aunt to Frits Philips. Her brother, Marx’s uncle Benjamin Philips (1830–1900), was a wealthy banker and industrialist, upon whom Karl and Jenny Marx would later often come to rely for loans while they were exiled in London. In contrast to her husband, Henrietta retained her Jewish faith.
Little is known of Karl Marx’s childhood. The third of nine children, he became the oldest son when his brother Moritz died in 1819.Young Karl was baptised into the Lutheran Church in August 1824. His surviving siblings, Sophie, Hermann, Henriette, Louise, Emilie and Karoline, were also baptised as Lutherans.Young Karl was privately educated, by Heinrich Marx, until 1830, when he entered Trier High School, whose headmaster, Hugo Wyttenbach, was a friend of his father. By employing many liberal humanists as teachers, Wyttenbach incurred the anger of the local conservative government. Subsequently, police raided the school in 1832, and discovered that literature espousing political liberalism was being distributed among the students. Considering the distribution of such material a seditious act, the authorities instituted reforms and replaced several staff during Marx’s attendance.
In October 1835 at the age of 17, Marx travelled to the University of Bonn wishing to study philosophy and literature: however, his father insisted on law as a more practical field. Due to a condition referred to as a “weak chest,” Karl was excused from military duty when he turned 18. While at the University at Bonn, Marx joined the Poets’ Club, a group containing political radicals that was being monitored by the police. Marx also joined the Trier Tavern Club drinking society (Landsmannschaft der Treveraner), at one point serving as club co-president. Additionally, Marx was involved in certain disputes, some of which became serious: in August 1836 he took part in a duel with a member of the university’s Borussian Korps.Although his grades in the first term were good, they soon deteriorated, leading his father to force a transfer to the more serious and academic University of Berlin.
Hegelianism and early activism: 1836–1843
Spending summer and autumn 1836 in Trier, Marx became more serious about his studies and his life. He became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, an educated baroness of the Prussian ruling class who had known Marx since childhood. Having broken off her engagement with a young aristocrat to be with Marx, their relationship was socially controversial due to the differences between their ethnic and class origins, but Marx befriended her father, a liberal aristocrat, Ludwig von Westphalen, and later dedicated his doctoral thesis to him.In October 1836 he arrived in Berlin, matriculating in the university’s faculty of law and renting a room in the Mittelstrasse. Although studying law, he was fascinated by philosophy, and looked for a way to combine the two, believing that “without philosophy nothing could be accomplished.” Marx became interested in the recently deceased German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, whose ideas were then widely debated among European philosophical circles. During a convalescence in Stralau, he joined the Doctor’s Club (Doktorklub), a student group which discussed Hegelian ideas, and through them became involved with a group of radical thinkers known as the Young Hegelians in 1837; they gathered around Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, with Marx developing a particularly close friendship with Adolf Rutenberg. Like Marx, the Young Hegelians were critical of Hegel’s metaphysical assumptions, but adopted his dialectical method in order to criticise established society, politics, and religion from a leftist perspective. Marx’s father died in May 1838, resulting in a diminished income for the family. Marx had been emotionally close to his father, and treasured his memory after his death.
Jenny von Westphalen in the 1830s
By 1837 Marx was writing both fiction and non-fiction, having completed a short novel, Scorpion and Felix, a drama, Oulanem, and a number of love poems dedicated to Jenny von Westphalen, though none of this early work was published during his lifetime. Marx soon abandoned fiction for other pursuits, including the study of both English and Italian, art history and the translation of Latin classics. He began co-operating with Bruno Bauer on editing Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion in 1840. Marx was also engaged in writing his doctoral thesis, The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, which he completed in 1841. It was described as “a daring and original piece of work in which Marx set out to show that theology must yield to the superior wisdom of philosophy”: the essay was controversial, particularly among the conservative professors at the University of Berlin. Marx decided, instead, to submit his thesis to the more liberal University of Jena, whose faculty awarded him his PhD in April 1841. As Marx and Bauer were both atheists, in March 1841 they began plans for a journal entitled Archiv des Atheismus (Atheistic Archives), but it never came to fruition. In July, Marx and Bauer took a trip to Bonn from Berlin. There they scandalised their class by getting drunk, laughing in church, and galloping through the streets on donkeys.
Considering an academic career, this path was barred by the government’s growing opposition to classical liberalism and the Young Hegelians.Marx moved to Cologne in 1842, where he became a journalist, writing for the radical newspaper Rheinische Zeitung (“Rhineland News“), expressing his early views on socialism and his developing interest in economics. He criticised both right-wing European governments as well as figures in the liberal and socialist movements whom he thought ineffective or counter-productive. The newspaper attracted the attention of the Prussian government censors, who checked every issue for seditious material before printing; Marx lamented that “Our newspaper has to be presented to the police to be sniffed at, and if the police nose smells anything un-Christian or un-Prussian, the newspaper is not allowed to appear.” After the Rheinische Zeitung published an article strongly criticising the Russian monarchy, Tsar Nicholas I requested it be banned; Prussia’s government complied in 1843. Seven years after their engagement, on 19 June 1843 Marx married Jenny in a Protestant church in Kreuznach.
Marx became co-editor of a new radical leftist newspaper, the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals), then being set up by the German socialist Arnold Ruge to bring together German and French radicals. Based in Paris, France, it was here that Marx and his wife moved in October 1843. Initially living with Ruge and his wife communally at 23 Rue Vaneau, they found the living conditions difficult, so moved out following the birth of their daughter Jenny in 1844. Although intended to attract writers from both France and the German states, the Jahrbücher was dominated by the latter; the only non-German writer was the exiled Russian anarcho-communist Mikhail Bakunin. Marx contributed two essays to the paper, “Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” and “On the Jewish Question,” the latter introducing his belief that the proletariat were a revolutionary force and marking his embrace of communism. Only one issue was published, but it was relatively successful, largely owing to the inclusion of Heinrich Heine‘s satirical odes on King Ludwig of Bavaria, leading the German states to ban it and seize imported copies; Ruge nevertheless refused to fund the publication of further issues, and his friendship with Marx broke down. After the paper’s collapse, Marx began writing for the only uncensored German-language radical newspaper left, Vorwärts! (Forward!). Based in Paris, the paper was connected to the League of the Just, a utopian socialist secret society of workers and artisans. Marx attended some of their meetings, but did not join. In Vorwärts!, Marx refined his views on socialism based upon Hegelian and Feuerbachian ideas of dialectical materialism, at the same time criticising liberals and other socialists operating in Europe.
Friedrich Engels, whom Marx met in 1844; they became lifelong friends and collaborators.
On 28 August 1844, Marx met the German socialist Friedrich Engels at the Café de la Régence, beginning a lifelong friendship. Engels showed Marx his recently published The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, convincing Marx that the working class would be the agent and instrument of the final revolution in history. Soon Marx and Engels were collaborating on a criticism of the philosophical ideas of Marx’s former friend, Bruno Bauer. This work was published in 1845 as The Holy Family.Although critical of Bauer, Marx was increasingly influenced by the ideas of the Young Hegelians Max Stirner and Ludwig Feuerbach, but eventually Marx and Engels abandoned Feuerbachian materialism as well.
During the time that he lived at 38 Rue Vanneau in Paris (from October 1843 until January 1845), Marx engaged in an intensive study of “political economy” (Adam Smith, David Ricardo, James Mill etc.), the French socialists (especially Claude Henri St. Simon and Charles Fourier) and the history of France.” The study of political economy is a study that Marx would pursue for the rest of his life and would result in his major economic work – the three-volume series called “Capital.” Marxism is based in large part on three influences – Hegel’s dialectics, French utopian socialism and English economics. Together with his earlier study of Hegel’s dialectics, the studying that Marx did during this time in Paris meant that all major components of “Marxism” (or political economy as Marx called it) were in place by the autumn of 1844. Although Marx was constantly being pulled away from his study of political economy by the usual daily demands on his time that everyone faces, and the additional special demands of editing a radical newspaper and later by the demands of organising and directing the efforts of a political party during years in which popular uprisings of the citizenry might at any moment become a revolution, Marx was always drawn back to his economic studies. Marx sought “to understand the inner workings of capitalism.”
An outline of “Marxism” had definitely formed in the mind of Karl Marx by late 1844. Indeed, many features of the Marxist view of the world’s political economy had been worked out in great detail. However, Marx needed to write down all of the details of his economic world view to further clarify the new economic theory in his own mind. Accordingly, Marx wrote the The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. These manuscripts covered numerous topics, detailing Marx’s concept of alienated labour. However, by the spring of 1845 his continued study of political economy, capital and capitalism had led Marx to the belief that the new political economic theory that he was espousing – scientific socialism – needed to be built on the base of a thoroughly developed materialistic view of the world.
The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 had been written between April and August 1844. Soon, though, Marx recognised that the Manuscripts had been influenced by some inconsistent ideas of Ludwig Feuerbach. Accordingly, Marx recognised the need to break with Feuerbach’s philosophy in favour of historical materialism. Thus, a year later, in April 1845, after moving from Paris to Brussels, Marx wrote his eleven Theses on Feuerbach, The Theses on Feuerbach are best known for Theses 11, which states that “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it”. This work contains Marx’s criticism of materialism (for being contemplative), idealism (for reducing practice to theory) overall, criticising philosophy for putting abstract reality above the physical world. It thus introduced the first glimpse at Marx’s historical materialism, an argument that the world is changed not by ideas but by actual, physical, material activity and practice. In 1845, after receiving a request from the Prussian king, the French government shut down Vorwärts!, with the interior minister, François Guizot, expelling Marx from France. At this point, Marx moved from Paris to Brussels, where Marx hoped to, once again, continue his study of capitalism and political economy.
The first edition ofThe Manifesto of the Communist Party, published in German in 1848
Unable either to stay in France or to move to Germany, Marx decided to emigrate to Brussels in Belgium in February 1845. However, to stay in Belgium, Marx had to pledge not to publish anything on the subject of contemporary politics. In Brussels, he associated with other exiled socialists from across Europe, including Moses Hess, Karl Heinzen, and Joseph Weydemeyer, and soon, in April 1845, Engels moved from Barmen in Germany to Brussels to join Marx and the growing cadre of members of the League of the Just now seeking home in Brussels. Later, Mary Burns, Engels long-time companion, left Manchester, England, to join Engels in Brussels.
In mid-July 1845, Marx and Engels left Brussels for England to visit the leaders of the Chartists, a socialist movement in Britain. This was Marx’s first trip to England and Engels was an ideal guide for the trip. Engels had already spent two years living in Manchester, from November 1842 to August 1844. Not only did Engels already know the English language, he had developed a close relationship with many Chartist leaders. Indeed, Engels was serving as a reporter for many Chartist and socialist English newspapers. Marx used the trip as an opportunity to examine the economic resources available for study in various libraries in London and Manchester.
In collaboration with Engels, Marx also set about writing a book which is often seen as his best treatment of the concept of historical materialism, The German Ideology. In this work, Marx broke with Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner and the rest of the Young Hegelians, and also broke with Karl Grun and other “true socialists” whose philosophies were still based in part on “idealism.” In German Ideology Marx and Engels finally completed their philosophy, which was based solely on materialism as the sole motor force in history.
German Ideology is written in a humorously satirical form. But even this satirical form did not save the work from censorship. Like so many other early writings of his, German Ideology would not be published in Marx’s lifetime and would be published only in 1932.
After completing German Ideology, Marx turned to a work that was intended to clarify his own position regarding “the theory and tactics” of a truly “revolutionary proletarian movement” operating from the standpoint of a truly “scientific materialist” philosophy. This work was intended to draw a distinction between the utopian socialists and Marx’s own scientific socialist philosophy. Whereas, the utopians believed that people must be persuaded one person at a time to join the socialist movement, the way a person must be persuaded to adopt any different belief, Marx knew that people would tend on most occasions to act in accordance with their own economic interests. Thus, appealing to an entire class (the working class in this case) with a broad appeal to the class’s best material interest would be the best way to mobilise the broad mass of that class to make a revolution and change society. This was the intent of the new book that Marx was planning. However, to get the manuscript past the government censors, Marx called the book The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) and offered it as a response to the “petty bourgeois philosophy” of the French anarcho-socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon as expressed in his book The Philosophy of Poverty (1840).
Marx, Engels and Marx’s daughters
These books laid the foundation for Marx and Engels’s most famous work, a political pamphlet that has since come to be commonly known asThe Communist Manifesto. While residing in Brussels in 1846, Marx continued his association with the secret radical organisation called the League of the Just. As noted above, Marx thought the League to be just the sort of radical organisation that was needed to spur the working class of Europe toward the mass movement that would bring about a working class revolution. However, to organise the working class into a mass movement, the League had to cease its “secret” or “underground” orientation and operate in the open as a political party.Members of the League eventually became persuaded in this regard. Accordingly, in June 1847 the League of the Just was reorganised by its membership into a new open “above ground” political society that appealed directly to the working classes. This new open political society was called the “Communist League.” Both Marx and Engels participated in drawing the programme and organisational principles of the newCommunist League.
In late 1847, Marx and Engels began writing what was to become their most famous work – a programme of action for the Communist League. Written jointly by Marx and Engels from December 1847 to January 1848, The Communist Manifesto was first published on 21 February 1848. The Communist Manifesto laid out the beliefs of the new Communist League. No longer a secret society, the Communist League, wanted to make aims and intentions clear to the general public rather than hiding its beliefs as the League of the Just had been doing. The opening lines of the pamphlet set forth the principal basis of Marxism, that “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” It goes on to examine the antagonisms that Marx claimed were arising in the clashes of interest between the bourgeoisie (the wealthy middle class) and theproletariat (the industrial working class). Proceeding on from this, the Manifesto presents the argument for why the Communist League, as opposed to other socialist and liberal political parties and groups at the time, was truly acting in the interests of the proletariat to overthrow capitalist society and to replace it with socialism.
Later that year, Europe experienced a series of protests, rebellions, and often violent upheavals that became known as the Revolution of 1848. In France, a revolution led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the French Second Republic. Marx was supportive of such activity, and having recently received a substantial inheritance from his father of either 6000 or 5000 francs, allegedly used a third of it to arm Belgian workers who were planning revolutionary action. Although the veracity of these allegations is disputed, the Belgian Ministry of Justice accused him of it, subsequently arresting him, and he was forced to flee back to France, where, with a new republican government in power, he believed that he would be safe.
Temporarily settling down in Paris, Marx transferred the Communist League executive headquarters to the city and also set up a German Workers’ Club with various German socialists living there. Hoping to see the revolution spread to Germany, in 1848 Marx moved back to Cologne (Köln) where he began issuing a handbill entitled the Demands of the Communist Party in Germany, in which he argued for only four of the ten points of the Communist Manifesto, believing that in Germany at that time, the bourgeoisie must overthrow the feudal monarchy and aristocracy before the proletariat could overthrow the bourgeoisie. On 1 June, Marx started publication of the daily Neue Rheinische Zeitung (“New Rhenish Newspaper”), which he helped to finance through his recent inheritance from his father. Designed to put forward news from across Europe with his own Marxist interpretation of events, Marx remained one of its primary writers, accompanied by other fellow members of the Communist League who wrote for the paper, although despite their input it remained, according to Friedrich Engels, “a simple dictatorship by Marx”, who dominated the choice of content.
Whilst editor of the paper, Marx and the other revolutionary socialists were regularly harassed by the police, and Marx was brought to trial on several occasions, facing various allegations including insulting the Chief Public Prosecutor, committing a press misdemeanor, and inciting armed rebellion through tax boycotting, although each time he was acquitted. Meanwhile, the democratic parliament in Prussia collapsed, and the king, Frederick William IV, introduced a new cabinet of his reactionary supporters, who implemented counter-revolutionary measures to expunge leftist and other revolutionary elements from the country. Consequently, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was soon suppressed and Marx was ordered to leave the country on 16 May.Marx returned to Paris, which was then under the grip of both a reactionary counter-revolution and a cholera epidemic, and was soon expelled by the city authorities, who considered him a political threat. With his wife, Jenny, expecting their fourth child, and not able to move back to Germany or Belgium, in August 1849 he sought refuge in London.
Life in London
Marx moved to London in May 1849 and would remain based in the city for the rest of his life. The headquarters of the Communist League also moved to London. However, in the winter of 1849–1850, a split within the ranks of the Communist League occurred when a faction within it led by August Willich and Karl Schapper began agitating for an immediate uprising. Willich and Schapper believed that once the Communist League had initiated the uprising, the entire working class from across Europe would rise “spontaneously” to join it, thus, creating revolution across Europe. Marx and Engels protested that such an unplanned uprising on the part of the Communist League was “adventuristic” and would be suicide for the Communist League. Such an uprising, as that recommended by the Schapper/Willich group would easily be crushed by the police and the armed forces of the reactionary governments of Europe. This, Marx maintained, would spell doom for the Communist League itself. Changes in society, Marx argued, are not achieved overnight through the efforts and will power of “a handful of men.” Instead, they are brought about through a scientific analysis of economic conditions of society and by moving toward revolution through different stages of social development. In the present stage of development (circa 1850), following the defeat of the uprisings across Europe in 1848, Marx felt that the Communist League should encourage the working class to unite with progressive elements of the rising bourgeoisie to defeat the feudal aristocracy on issues involving demands for governmental reforms, e.g. a constitution republic with freely elected assemblies and universal (male) suffrage. In other words, the working class must join with the bourgeois and democratic forces to bring about the successful conclusion of the bourgeois revolution before stressing the working class agenda and a working class revolution.
After a long struggle which threatened to ruin the Communist League, Marx’s opinion prevailed and, eventually, the Willich/Schapper group left the Communist League. London became the new headquarters of the Communist League. Meanwhile, Marx also became heavily involved with the socialist German Workers’ Educational Society. TheGerman Workers’ Educational Society held their meetings in Great Windmill Street, Soho, central London’s entertainment district. The German Workers’ Educational Society also was racked with an internal struggle between its members, part of which followed Marx and another part which followed the Schapper/Willich faction. The issues in this internal split were the same issues raised in the internal split within the Communist League. Marx, however, lost the fight with the Schapper/Willich faction within the German Workers’ Educational Society and, on 17 September 1850, resigned from the Society.
Writing for the New York Tribune
While in London, Marx devoted himself to the task of revolutionary organising of the working class. For the first few years he and his family lived in extreme poverty.His main source of income was his colleague, Engels, who derived much of his income from his family’s business. Later Marx and Engels both began writing for six different newspapers around the world; in England, the United States, Prussia, Austria and South Africa. Most of Marx’s journalistic writing, however, was as a European correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. In earlier years, Marx had been able to communicate with the broad masses of the working class by editing his own newspaper or editing a newspaper financed by others sympathetic to his philosophy. Now in London, Marx was unable to finance his own newspaper and unable to put together financing from others. Thus, Marx sought to communicate with the public by writing articles for the New York Tribune and other bourgeois newspapers. At first Wilhelm Pieper translated Marx’s articles from German into English. Eventually, however, Marx learned English well enough to write without translation.
The New York Daily Tribune had been founded in New York City in the United States of America by Horace Greeley in April 1841. Marx’s main contact on the “Tribune” wasCharles Dana. Later, in 1868, Charles Dana would leave the Tribune to become the owner and editor-in-chief of the New York Sun a competing newspaper in New York City.However, at this time Charles Dana served on the editorial board of the Tribune.
Several things about the Tribune made the newspaper an excellent vehicle for Marx to reach a sympathetic public in across the Atlantic Ocean. Since its founding the Tribunewas an inexpensive newspaper – two cents per copy. Accordingly, the newspaper was popular with the broad masses of the common working class of the United States. With a run of about 50,000 issues, the Tribune was the most widely circulated journal in the United States. Editorially, the Tribune reflected Greeley’s own anti-slavery opinions. Not only did the Tribune have wide readership with the United States and not only did that readership come from the working classes, but the readers seemed to be from the progressive wing of the working class. Marx’s first article for the New York Tribune was on the British elections to Parliament and was published in the Tribune on 21 August 1852.
Marx was just one of the reporters in Europe that the New York Tribune employed. However, with the slavery crisis coming to a head in the late 1850s and with the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, the American public’s interest in European affairs declined. Thus Marx very early began to write on issues affecting the United States – particularly the “slavery crisis” and the “War Between the States.”
Marx continued to write articles for the New York Daily Tribune as long as he was sure that the Tribune’s editorial policy was still progressive. However, the departure of Charles Dana from the paper in late 1861 and the resultant change in the editorial board brought about a new editorial policy. No longer was the Tribune to be a strong abolitionist paper dedicated to a complete Union victory. The new editorial board supported an immediate peace between the Union and the Confederacy in the Civil War in the United States with slavery left intact in the Confederacy. Marx strongly disagreed with this new political position and, in 1863, was forced to withdraw as a writer for the Tribune.
From December 1851 to March 1852, Marx wrote The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, a work on the French Revolution of 1848, in which he expanded upon his concepts of historical materialism, class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat, advancing the argument that victorious proletariat has to smash the bourgeois state.
The 1850s and 1860s also mark the line between what some scholars see as idealistic, Hegelian young Marx from the more scientifically minded mature Marx writings of the later period. This distinction is usually associated with the structural Marxism school, and not all scholars agree that it exists. The years of revolution from 1848 to 1849 had been a grand experience for both Marx and Engels. They both became sure that their economic view of the course of history was the only valid way that historic events like the revolutionary upsurge of 1848 could be adequately explained. For some time after 1848, Marx and Engels wondered if the entire revolutionary upsurge had completely played out. When time had passed, they began to think that a new revolutionary would not occur until there was another downturn in the national economy. It became a point of contention between Marx and certain other revolutionaries that an economic recession would be necessary to create a new revolutionary situation in society. Marx would accuse these other revolutionaries as “adventurists” because of their belief that a revolutionary situation could be created out of thin air by the sheer “will power” of the revolutionaries without regard to the economic realities of the current situation.
The downturn in the United States economy in 1852 set Marx and Engels to wonder if a revolutionary upsurge would soon occur. However, the United States’ economy was too new to play host to a classical revolution. The western frontier in America always provided a relief valve for the pent-up forces that might in other countries cause an economic recession. Any economic crisis which began in the United States would not lead to revolution unless one of the older economies of Europe “caught the contagion” from the United States. In other words, economies of the world were still seen as individual national systems which were contiguous with the national borders of each country. The Panic of 1857broke the mould of all prior thinking on the world economy. Beginning in the United States the Panic spread across the globe. Indeed, the Panic of 1857 was the first truly global economic crisis.
Marx longed to return to his economic studies. He had left these studies in 1844 and had been preoccupied with other projects over the last thirteen years. By returning to his study of economics, he felt he would be able to understand more thoroughly what was occurring in the world.
The First International
In 1864, Marx became involved in the International Workingmen’s Association (also known as First International),to whose General Council he was elected at its inception in 1864. In that organisation, Marx was involved in the struggle against the anarchist wing centred on 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. In response to the bloody suppression of this rebellion Marx wrote one of his most famous pamphlets, The Civil War in France, a defence of the Commune.
Given the repeated failures and frustrations of workers’ revolutions and movements, Marx also sought to understand capitalism, and spent a great deal of time in the reading room of the British Museum studying and reflecting on the works of political economists and on economic data. By 1857 he had accumulated over 800 pages of notes and short essays on capital, landed property, wage labour, the state, and foreign trade and the world market; this work did not appear in print until 1941, under the title Grundrisse.
Finally in 1859 Marx published A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, his first serious economic work. This work was intended merely as a preview of his three-volume Capital on which he intended to publish at a later date. In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx accepts the labour theory of value as advocated byDavid Ricardo, but whereas Ricardo drew a distinction between use value and value in commodities, Ricardo always had been unable to define the real relationship between use value and value. The reasoning Marx laid out in his book clearly delineated the true relationship between use value and value. He also produced a truly scientific theory of money and money circulation in the capitalist economy. Thus, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy created a storm of enthusiasm when it appeared in public. The entire edition of the book was sold out quickly.
The successful sales of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy stimulated Marx in the early 1860s to finish work on the three large volumes that would compose his major life’s work – Capital and the Theories of Surplus Value, which discussed the theoreticians of political economy, particularly Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Theories of Surplus Value is often referred to as the fourth volume book of Das Kapital and constitutes one of the first comprehensive treatises on the history of economic thought. In 1867 the first volume of Das Kapital was published, a work which analysed the capitalist process of production. Here Marx elaborated his labour theory of value, which had been influenced by Thomas Hodgskin. Marx acknowledged Hodgskin’s “admirable work” – the book, Labour Defended against thee Claims of Capital at more than one point inCapital. Indeed, Marx quoted Hodgskin as recognising the alienation of labour that occurred under modern capitalist production. No longer was there any “natural reward of individual labour. Each labourer produces only some part of a whole, and each part having no value or utility of itself, there is nothing on which the labourer can seize, and say: ‘This is my product, this will I keep to myself.'” In this first volume of Capital, Marx outlined his conception of surplus value and exploitation, which he argued would ultimately lead to a falling rate of profit and the collapse of industrial capitalism. Demand for a Russian language edition of Capital soon led to the printing of 3,000 copies of the book in the Russian language, which was published on 27 March 1872. By the autumn of 1871 the entire first edition of the German language edition of Capital had been sold out and a second edition was published.
Volumes II and III of Capital remained mere manuscripts upon which Marx continued to work for the rest of his life. Both volumes were published by Engels after Marx’s death.Volume II of Capital was prepared and published by Engels in July 1893 under the name Capital II: The Process of Circulation of Capital. Volume III of Capital was published a year later in October 1894 under the name Capital III: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole. Theories of Surplus Value was developed from the Economic Manuscripts of 1861–1863 which compose Volumes 30, 31 32 and 33 of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels and from the Economic Manuscripts of 1861–1864 which composes Volume 34 of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels. The exact part of the Economic Manuscripts of 1861–1863 which makes up the Theories of Surplus Value are the last part of Volume 30 of the Collected Works, the whole of Volume 31 of the Collected Works, and the whole of Volume 32 of the Collected Works. A German language abridged edition of Theories of Surplus Value was published in 1905 and in 1910. This abridged edition was translated into English and published in 1951 in London. However, the complete unabridged edition of Theories of Surplus Value was published as the “fourth volume” of Capital in 1963 and 1971 in Moscow.
During the last decade of his life, Marx’s health declined and he became incapable of the sustained effort that had characterised his previous work. He did manage to comment substantially on contemporary politics, particularly in Germany and Russia. His Critique of the Gotha Programme opposed the tendency of his followers Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel to compromise with the state socialism of Ferdinand Lassalle in the interests of a united socialist party. This work is also notable for another famous Marx’s quote: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
In a letter to Vera Zasulich dated 8 March 1881, 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.While admitting that Russia’s rural “commune is the fulcrum of social regeneration in Russia”, Marx also warned that, in order for the mir to operate as a means for moving straight to the socialist stage without a preceding capitalist stage, it “would first be necessary to eliminate the deleterious influences which are assailing it (the rural commune) from all sides.” Given the elimination of these pernicious influences, Marx allowed that “normal conditions of spontaneous development” of the rural commune could exist. However, in the same letter to Vera Zasulich, Marx points out that “at the core of the capitalist system … lies the complete separation of the producer from the means of production.” In one of the drafts of this letter, Marx reveals his growing passion for anthropology, motivated by his belief that future communism would be a return on a higher level to the communism of our prehistoric past. He wrote that “the historical trend of our age is the fatal crisis which capitalist production has undergone in the European and American countries where it has reached its highest peak, a crisis that will end in its destruction, in the return of modern society to a higher form of the most archaic type – collective production and appropriation”. He added that “the vitality of primitive communities was incomparably greater than that of Semitic, Greek, Roman, etc. societies, and, a fortiori, that of modern capitalist societies”. Before he died, Marx asked Engels to write up these ideas, which were published in 1884 under the title The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
Jenny Carolina and Jenny Laura Marx (1869). All the Marx daughters were named in honour of their mother, Jenny von Westphalen.
Marx and von Westphalen had seven children together, but partly owing to the poor living conditions they were forced to live in whilst in London, only three survived to adulthood. The children were: Jenny Caroline (m. Longuet; 1844–83); Jenny Laura (m. Lafargue; 1845–1911); Edgar (1847–1855); Henry Edward Guy (“Guido”; 1849–1850); Jenny Eveline Frances (“Franziska”; 1851–52); Jenny Julia Eleanor (1855–98) and one more who died before being named (July 1857). There are allegations that Marx also fathered a son, Freddy, out of wedlock by his housekeeper, Helene Demuth.
Marx frequently used pseudonyms, often when renting a house or flat, apparently to make it harder for the authorities to track him down. While in Paris, he used that of ‘Monsieur Ramboz’, whilst in London he signed off his letters as ‘A. Williams’. His friends referred to him as ‘Moor’, owing to his dark complexion and black curly hair, something which they believed made him resemble the historical Moors of North Africa, whilst he encouraged his children to call him ‘Old Nick’ and ‘Charley’. He also bestowed nicknames and pseudonyms on his friends and family as well, referring to Friedrich Engels as ‘General’, his housekeeper Helene as ‘Lenchen’ or ‘Nym’, while one of his daughters, Jennychen, was referred to as ‘Qui Qui, Emperor of China’ and another, Laura, was known as ‘Kakadou’ or ‘the Hottentot‘.
According to the biographer Sylvia Nasar, Marx never learned to properly speak English and never visited an English factory despite living in England during his last thirty years.
Following the death of his wife, Jenny, in December 1881, Marx developed a catarrh that kept him in ill health for the last 15 months of his life. It eventually brought on the bronchitis and pleurisy that killed him in London on 14 March 1883. He died a stateless person; family and friends in London buried his body in Highgate Cemetery, London, on 17 March 1883. There were between nine and eleven mourners at his funeral.
Several of his closest friends spoke at his funeral, including Wilhelm Liebknecht and Friedrich Engels. Engels’s speech included the passage:
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 forever.
Marx’s daughters Eleanor and Laura, as well as Charles Longuet and Paul Lafargue, Marx’s two French socialist sons-in-law, were also in attendance. Liebknecht, a founder and leader of the German Social-Democratic Party, gave a speech in German, and Longuet, a prominent figure in the French working-class movement, made a short statement in French. Two telegrams from workers’ parties in France and Spain were also read out. Together with Engels’s speech, this constituted the entire programme of the funeral. Non-relatives attending the funeral included three communist associates of Marx: Friedrich Lessner, imprisoned for three years after the Cologne communist trial of 1852; G. Lochner, whom Engels described as “an old member of the Communist League”; and Carl Schorlemmer, a professor of chemistry in Manchester, a member of the Royal Society, and a communist activist involved in the 1848 Baden revolution. Another attendee of the funeral was Ray Lankester, a British zoologist who would later become a prominent academic.
Upon his own death in 1895, Engels left Marx’s two surviving daughters a “significant portion” of his $4.8 million estate.
Marx’s tombstone bears the carved message: “WORKERS OF ALL LANDS UNITE“, the final line of The Communist Manifesto, and from the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach (edited by Engels): “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways – the point however is to change it”. The Communist Party of Great Britain had the monumental tombstone built in 1954 with a portrait bust by Laurence Bradshaw; Marx’s original tomb had only humble adornment. In 1970 there was an unsuccessful attempt to destroy the monument using a homemade bomb.
The late Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm remarked that “One cannot say Marx died a failure” because, although he had not achieved a large following of disciples in Britain, his writings had already begun to make an impact on the leftist movements in Germany and Russia. Within 25 years of his death, the continental European socialist parties that acknowledged Marx’s influence on their politics were each gaining between 15 and 47 per cent in those countries with representative democratic elections.
Marx’s thought demonstrates influences from many thinkers, including but not limited to:
Marx’s view of history, which came to be called historical materialism (controversially adapted as the philosophy of dialectical materialism by Engels and Lenin) certainly shows the influence of Hegel’s claim that one should view reality (and history)dialectically. However, Hegel had thought in idealist terms, putting ideas in the forefront, whereas Marx sought to rewrite dialectics in materialist terms, arguing for the primacy of matter over idea. Where Hegel saw the “spirit” as driving history, Marx saw this as an unnecessary mystification, obscuring the reality of humanity and its physical actions shaping the world. He wrote that Hegelianism stood the movement of reality on its head, and that one needed to set it upon its feet. Despite his dislike of mystical terms Marx used Gothic language in several of his works. In Das Kapital he refers to capital as “necromancy that surrounds the products of labour”.
Though inspired by French socialist and sociological thought, Marx criticised utopian socialists, arguing that their favoured small-scale socialistic communities would be bound to marginalisation and poverty, and that only a large-scale change in theeconomic system can bring about real change.
The other important contribution to Marx’s revision of Hegelianism came from 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 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 would inevitably occur. 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.
Marx’s polemic with other thinkers often occurred through critique, and thus he has been called “the first great user of critical method in social sciences.” He criticised speculative philosophy, equating metaphysics with ideology. By adopting this approach, Marx attempted to separate key findings from ideological biases. This set him apart from many contemporary philosophers.
Like Tocqueville, who described a faceless and bureaucratic despotism with no identifiable despot, Marx also broke with classical thinkers who spoke of a single tyrant and with Montesquieu, who discussed the nature of the single despot. Instead, Marx set out to analyse “the despotism of capital”. Fundamentally, Marx assumed that human history involves transforminghuman nature, which encompasses both human beings and material objects. Humans recognise that they possess both actual and potential selves. For both Marx and Hegel, self-development begins with an experience of internal alienationstemming from this recognition, followed by a realisation that the actual self, as a subjective agent, renders its potential counterpart an object to be apprehended. Marx further argues that, by moulding nature in desired ways, the subject takes the object as its own, and thus permits the individual to be actualised as fully human. For Marx, then, human nature – Gattungswesen, or species-being – exists as a function of human labour. Fundamental to Marx’s idea of meaningful labour is the proposition that, in order for a subject to come to terms with its alienated object, it must first exert influence upon literal, material objects in the subject’s world. Marx acknowledges that Hegel “grasps the nature of work and comprehends objective man, authentic because actual, as the result of his own work“, but characterises Hegelian self-development as unduly “spiritual” and abstract. Marx thus departs from Hegel by insisting that “the fact that man is a corporeal, actual, sentient, objective being with natural capacities means that he has actual, sensuous objects for his nature as objects of his life-expression, or that he can only express his life in actual sensuous objects.”Consequently, Marx revises Hegelian “work” into material “labour“, and in the context of human capacity to transform nature the term “labour power“.
Labour, class struggle, and false consciousness
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Marx had a special concern with how people relate to that most fundamental resource of all, their own labour power. He wrote extensively about this in terms of the problem ofalienation. As with the dialectic, Marx began with a Hegelian notion of alienation but developed a more materialist conception. Capitalism mediates social relationships of production (such as among workers or between workers and capitalists) through commodities, including labour, that are bought and sold on the market. 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 as 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 behaviour merely adapt.
Commodity fetishism provides an example of what Engels called “false consciousness“, which relates closely to the understanding of ideology. By “ideology”, Marx and Engels meant ideas that reflect the interests of a particular class at a particular time in history, but which contemporaries see as universal and eternal. Marx and Engels’s 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). An 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. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.
Whereas his Gymnasium senior thesis argued that religion had as its primary social aim the promotion of solidarity, here Marx sees the social function of religion in terms of highlighting/preserving political and economic status quo and inequality.
Economy, history and society
Marx’s thoughts on labour were related to the primacy he gave to the economic relation in determining the society’s past, present and future (see also economic determinism).Accumulation of capital shapes the social system. Social change, for Marx, was about conflict between opposing interests, driven, in the background, by economic forces. This became the inspiration for the body of works known as the conflict theory. In his evolutionary model of history, he argued thathuman history began with free, productive and creative work that was over time coerced and dehumanised, a trend most apparent under capitalism. Marx noted that this was not an intentional process; rather, no individual or even state can go against the forces of economy.
The organisation of society depends on means of production. Literally those things, like land, natural resources, and technology, necessary for the production of material goods and the relations of production, in other words, the social relationships people enter into as they acquire and use the means of production. Together these compose themode of production, and Marx distinguished historical eras in terms of distinct modes of production. Marx differentiated between base and superstructure, with the base (or substructure) referring to the economic system, and superstructure, to the cultural and political system. Marx regarded this mismatch between (economic) base and (social)superstructure as a major source of social disruption and conflict.
Despite Marx’s stress on critique of capitalism and discussion of the new communist society that should replace it, his explicit critique of capitalism is guarded, as he saw it as an improved society compared to the past ones (slavery and feudal). Marx also never clearly discusses issues of morality and justice, although scholars agree that his work contained implicit discussion of those concepts.
Marx’s view of capitalism was two-sided. On one hand, Marx, in the 19th century’s deepest critique of the dehumanising aspects of this system, noted that defining features of capitalism include alienation, exploitation, and recurring, cyclical depressions leading to mass unemployment; on the other hand capitalism is also characterised by “revolutionising, industrialising and universalising qualities of development, growth and progressivity” (by which Marx meant industrialisation, urbanisation, technological progress, increased productivity and growth,rationality and scientific revolution), that are responsible for progress. Marx considered the capitalist class to be one of the most revolutionary in history, because it constantly improved the means of production, more so than any other class in history, and was responsible for the overthrow of feudalism and its transition to capitalism. Capitalism can stimulate considerable growth because the capitalist can, and has an incentive to, reinvest profits in new technologies and capital equipment.
According to Marx capitalists take advantage of the difference between the labour market and the market for whatever commodity the capitalist can produce. 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 difference between what it costs to keep workers alive and what they can produce. Marx’s dual view of capitalism can be seen in his description of the capitalists: he refers to them as to vampires sucking worker’s blood, but at the same time, he notes that drawing profit is “by no means an injustice” and that capitalists simply cannot go against the system. The true problem lies with the “cancerous cell” of capital, understood not as property or equipment, but the relations between workers and owners – the economic system in general.
At the same time, Marx stressed that capitalism was unstable, and prone to periodic crises. He suggested that over time, capitalists would invest more and more in new technologies, and less and less in labour. Since Marx believed that surplus value appropriated from labour is the source of profits, he concluded that the rate of profit would fall even as the economy grew. Marx believed that increasingly severe crises would punctuate this cycle of growth, collapse, and more growth. Moreover, he believed that in the long-term this process would necessarily enrich and empower the capitalist class and impoverish the proletariat. In section one of The Communist Manifesto Marx describes feudalism, capitalism, and the role internal social contradictions play in the historical process:
We see then: the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society. At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged … the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder. Into their place stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political constitution adapted in it, and the economic and political sway of the bourgeois class. A similar movement is going on before our own eyes … The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring order into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property.
Marx believed that industrial workers (the proletariat) would rise up around the world.
Marx believed that those structural contradictions within capitalism necessitate its end, giving way to socialism, or a post-capitalistic, communist society:
The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
Thanks to various processes overseen by capitalism, such as urbanisation, the working class, the proletariat, should grow in numbers and develop class consciousness, in time realising that they have to and can change the system. Marx believed that if the proletariat were to seize the means of production, they would encourage social relations that would benefit everyone equally, abolishing exploiting class, and introduce a system of production less vulnerable to cyclical crises. Marx argued in The German Ideology that capitalism will end through the organised actions of an international working class:
Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”
In this new society the self-alienation would end, and humans would be free to act without being bound by the labour market. It would be a democratic society, enfranchising the entire population. In such a utopian world there would also be little if any need for a state, which goal was to enforce the alienation. He theorised that between capitalism and the establishment of a socialist/communist system, a dictatorship of the proletariat – a period where the working class holds political power and forcibly socialises the means of production – would exist. 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.” While he allowed for the possibility of peaceful transition in some countries with strong democratic institutional structures (such as Britain, the US and the Netherlands), he suggested that in other countries with strong centralised state-oriented traditions, like France and Germany, the “lever of our revolution must be force.”
Marx’s ideas have had a profound impact on world politics and intellectual thought. His work gave birth to modern sociology, has had a lasting legacy in economic thought, and profoundly affected philosophy, literature, the arts, and almost all of the academic disciplines. Such widespread influence is postulated to be a result of his work’s “morally empowering language of critique” against the dominant capitalist society. Paul Ricœur calls Marx one of the masters of the “school of suspicion”, alongsideFriedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. Karl Löwith considered Marx and Søren Kierkegaard to be the two greatest Hegelian philosophical successors.
In social theory, twentieth and twenty-first centuries thinkers have pursued two main strategies in response to Marx. One move has been to reduce it to its analytical core, known as Analytical Marxism, which came at the cost of sacrificing its most interesting and perplexing ideas. Another, more common move has been to dilute the explanatory claims of Marx’s social theory and to emphasise the “relative autonomy” of aspects of social and economic life not directly related to Marx’s central narrative of interaction between the development of the “forces of production” and the succession of “modes of production.” Such has been, for example, the neo-marxist theorising adopted by historians inspired by Marx’s social theory, such as E. P. Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm. It has also been a line of thinking pursued by thinkers and activists like Antonio Gramsci who have sought to understand the opportunities and the difficulties of transformative political practice, seen in the light of Marxist social theory.
A third response is to harvest the key insights of Marx’s social theory while offering a radical alternative to Marx’s account of societies and of the ways in which they change. One of the most developed alternatives in contemporary thought is the work of Roberto Mangabeira Unger. Unger takes Marx as a point of departure for rethinking social, political, and economic arrangements,crediting him for recognising that institutions treated as universal and eternal are in fact the “laws” of particular social formation—what Marx called capitalism. However, for Unger, Marx compromised the power of this insight by allowing it to be tainted by three sets of necessitarian assumptions. The first such assumption holds that there is a closed list of fundamental types of social, political, and economic organisation, such as feudalism and capitalism—Marx’s modes of production. As a result, the space for innovation in social life is very limited. The second assumption claims that each of these types is an indivisible unit: all its parts stand or fall together. As a result, politics is either the revolutionary substitution of one type for another, or a reformist management of one of the types. The third assumption supposes the succession of these indivisible social and economic systems (Marx’s modes of production) to be driven forward in history by irresistible laws of transformation. As a result, programmatic thinking about alternatives has a restricted field of application; history supplies the only realistic program of change.
In East Germany until the fall of the Berlin Wall, Karl Marx portrait was on the banknotes of the highest value.
Followers of Marx have frequently debated amongst themselves over how to interpret Marx’s writings and apply his concepts to the modern world. The legacy of Marx’s thought has become contested between numerous tendencies, each of which sees itself as Marx’s most accurate interpreter. In the political realm, these tendencies include Leninism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Luxemburgism, and libertarian Marxism. Various currents have also developed in academic Marxism, often under influence of other views, resulting in structuralist Marxism, historical Marxism, phenomenological Marxism, Analytical Marxism and Hegelian Marxism. The Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara summed up his own appeal to Marxism by stating that Marx produced “a qualitative change in the history of social thought. He interprets history, understands its dynamic, predicts the future, but in addition to predicting it, he expresses a revolutionary concept: the world must not only be interpreted, it must be transformed.”
Marx is typically cited, along with Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science. In contrast to philosophers, Marx offered theories that could often be tested with the scientific method. Both Marx and Auguste Comte set out to develop scientifically justified ideologies in the wake of Europeansecularisation and new developments in the philosophies of history and science. Working in the Hegelian tradition, Marx rejected Comtean sociological positivism in attempt to develop a science of society. In modern sociological theory, Marxist sociology is recognised as one of the main classical perspectives. Isaiah Berlin considers Marx the true founder of modern sociology, “in so far as anyone can claim the title.”