Karl Marx

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Historical Introduction to Philosophy

Welcome to the Karl Marx learning project.

Karl Marx was born in 1818 in the town of Treves in the Rhineland (Germany), and died in 1883. He was born to Jewish parents who later converted to Christianity when Karl was six. Marx studied at the University of Berlin and in 1841 he recieved his doctorate for his dissertation on the philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus. Afterwards, Marx became a journalist, since his radical views and ideas were incompatable with an academic career, and in 1842 he became the editor of the newspaper called Rheinische Zeitung.

One year after becoming editor of the newspaper it was suppressed (1843), and he then moved to Paris to study the theory and practice of socialism. It was here that he met Friedrich Engels, and the two would go on to write several works together, including the seminal work Manifesto of the Communist Party.

Marx, along with Engels, took part in the Revolution of 1848, and during this time, Marx edited the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which would also become suppressed. However, along with the suppression of the paper, Marx was also indicted with Treason. Thus, Marx was forced to live in England in exile.

In 1864, the International Workingmen's Association was formed, and Marx returned to the political arena. Marx became a member of the organization, and would find himself an influential member of it's General Council.

Karl Marx eventually became ill, and he died in 1883.

Marxist Theory in Summary[edit]

"The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. Theory is capable of gripping the masses as soon as it demonstrates ad hominem, and it demonstrates ad hominem as soon as it becomes radical. To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But, for man, the root is man himself."[1]

One of the most viable critiques of capitalism comes from Karl Marx. In Das Kapital, Marx elucidated how capitalism creates two things for the person of in such a system: First, it creates a gap between those who have money and those who do not, and second, it fosters the individual alienation that exists in the bureaucratic workplace. In doing this the capitalist hegemony remains in place through influencing the state - that is, since the ideas of society are those of the post powerful, the state is a reflection of the economic majority, and not necessarily the actual majority (which, according to Marx - and history - is the working class). This was sustained by "the power of [capitalism's] ideology and the durability and versatility of its economy."[2]

Marx also subscribes - and indeed encourages - the idea of a working class that stands divorced from the necessary bonds of society that hold them down. In order to improve their situation the workers, acting as a union against the capitalists and owners of the means of production, must rise up in unity and revolt against those of a more supreme economic class. It is this difference in economic class, as Marx explained, that would create a difference in political ideology. Because the capitalists (and the societal hegemony) limits the freedom and exercise of power by the state, revolutions become the only manifestable end-state in one of three ways: "critical economic factors, social factors, and emergence of class consciousness among the working class."[3]

All of Marx's writings assume that once someone owns the means of produaction they will be reluctant to offer up to their fellow citizen the fruits of their efforts. There are absolutely some of the capitalist hegemony who side with the working class, and often in times of great moments in history, as Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto, "[So] now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole."[4]

Additional resources[edit]

  1. Marx, K. (1843). A contribution to the critique of Hegel's philosophy of right. Deutsch-Franzoosische Jahrbuecher, vol 7
  2. Orum, A. M. & Dale, J. G. (2009). Introduction to Political Sociology: power and participation in the modern world (5th edition). New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. Orum, A. M. & Dale, J. G. (2009). Introduction to Political Sociology: power and participation in the modern world (5th edition). New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Karl Marx. The Communist Manifesto.