Karl Marx - a brief biography

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Historical Introduction to Philosophy

A Brief Biography

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.

Karl Marx and Religion The creation of 'false consciousness' refers to having been led to believe something that is not true, and at the same time is disadventagious to the holder of said belief. According to Marx, religion is a false conciousness embedded into the the minds of the proletariat (the working class) by the bourgeoisie (the ruling class). In other words, the ruling elite in society, promote religion to the masses in order to control them, or to maintain the obedience of the exploited working class. Religion is the Opiate of the Masses is commonly referred to by people trying to convey Marx's view of the repressive nature of relgion, and the intoxicating effect it has on individuals and groups.

The Communist Manifesto

Karl Marx's The Communist Manifesto is the work that Marx is most known for, or in other words it was his semnial piece of work. The fact that the work is still discussed, and argued comtemporarily, just goes to show the impact his work had on the ways in which religion, society, politics, and economics can be thought about.

Historical Relevance/Background (provided by Friedrich Engels in a preface to an 1888 English edition):

The Manifesto was published just a few weeks prior to the French Revolution, which started in February of 1848. The Manifesto was to serve as the platform for the Communist League (a workers association). The Communist League was initially an underground organization, which was due to the radical economic and political ideas of the organization. According to Engels, the French Revolution was "...the first great battle between the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie..."

Summary of the Communist Manifesto:

In the introduction, Marx makes two important claims that help to state the purpose for drafting the Manifesto. First, communism is currently recognized as a power by all European powers. Second, communists should henceforth, be open about and publish their views, be clear about their aims/goals, and the time has come for the party to draft a Manifesto.

Part One of the Communist Manifesto: Bourgeois and Proleatarians

Bourgeois: the owners of the means of production, or the capitalists; the employers.

Proletariat: wage laborers, or those who must sell their labor to survive (workers); the employees.

"The history of hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles." This is the opening statement of the Manifesto and refers to that of all written history. In other words, all the history that has been written since history has been recorded, illustrates how antagonisms between social classes have developed and have become increasingly more complex. (E.g. Feudalism giving way to Merchantalism, which developed into Capitalism). The end of feudalism gave way to the rise of the Bourgeois. With the rise of the bourgeois to power, the antagonisms between class are different than they had previously been under feudalsim. What has become different is that society is becoming a two class society: the bourgeiosie and the proletariat.

The bourgeoisie first started gaining power in the artisan guilds during the Middle Ages, and through the ever increasing world market/economy the industrial class gainded more power as these markets increased. As the world markets and demand grew, so did the power of the owners of production, and industrialisation increased as did the markets and the power of the bouregiosie. As the process continued, so did the process of creating a two class society. In other words, this was sort of revolutionary, in that the world was changing quite drastically. The bourgeois centralized their power partly by putiing control and ownership of property in the hands of the few, the decline of religious aouthority/power, and with the end of feudalism/manorialism. The rise of cities of industry (towns estsablished or saved by industry) also helped to accomidate the power of the bourgeois through centralization, since the citizens were dependent on there wages, which were nothing in comparison to their conditions and treatment.

However, the problem that arises for the bourgeois is that they must constantly grow in order to survive. As the cities grow and so does their desire for local and foreign goods, then the bourgeois must expand by either finding/conquering new markets, and finder more lucrative means of exploiting existing markets. Since capitalism is dependent upon growth (it is the system), then the bourgeois' power is likewise dependent.

Steve Ferguson


Feuer, Lewis S., ed. Marx & Engels: Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books, 1959.