Karl Marx - Figures in History

By Justin Findlay on August 1 2017 in Society

A statue constructed to resemble the likeness of Karl Marx.
A statue constructed to resemble the likeness of Karl Marx.

5. Early life

Karl Marx was born in Trier of the former Prussian Empire (now a German village near Luxembourg) on May 5th, 1818. Although details on Marx's childhood are hard to come by, we know that Marx was baptized into the Lutheran Church in 1824 at the age of 6. Marx was also home-schooled by his father, Heinrich, until high school. Marx's Father laid the foundation for his own critical thinking and liberal thought to develop, as he absorbed and applied ideas from philosophers Kant and Voltaire.

After high school, Marx studied at the University of Bonn in Germany. His grades were not consistent here which forced a transfer to a more prestigious and academically renowned college, The University of Berlin. While at the university, Marx wrote both fiction as well as non-fiction, publishing both genres before giving up his fictional writing for language, art, and history. However, Marx's thinking became too radical for his conservative university at the time, causing him to submit his PhD thesis in 1841 to the University of Jenna, a more liberal college. After university, Marx considered becoming a career academic. However, this goal became complicated due to the institutional and governmental opposition to the philosophies of Marx and other liberal thinkers at the time.

Instead, Marx moved to Cologne, Germany and became a journalist. He began writing for a left-wing newspaper that criticized the conservative government and even criticized liberal movements in Germany for being ineffective. In 1843, after a 7 year engagement, Marx married wealthy aristocrat named Jenny von Westphalen. Their relationship was controversial at the time due to the difference in class and status. Marx and Westphalen would have 7 children together.

4. Career

After his early work in journalism, Marx decided to continue in this field, starting his role as the editor for a French based newspaper (Vorwärts!; meaning forward march, or go forward) that aimed to bring French and German liberals together through socialist rhetoric. Marx and his wife Jenny relocated to Paris in 1843. In Paris, Marx met influential German thinker Freidrich Engels, and together they collaborated academically, laying the foundations for their most famous work, The Communist Manifesto. When writing for his newspaper in Paris, Marx would often criticize the materialism of society as well as other philosophers. Marx was forced to leave France under the order of the French Interior Minister, Francois Guizot, after a request from the King of Prussia due to this criticism.

Marx then traveled to Belgium, hoping to continue his writings. He settled in Brussels in February 1845. In April of the same year, Engels joined Marx in Belgium. After traveling together to England to observe the socialist movement there, Engels and Marx continued writing together, and in 1847 began working on The Communist Manifesto. On the 21st of February, 1848, it was released. Marx would briefly move back to Germany (Cologne) in 1849 until 1850. After that, he would base himself in London for the rest of his life after constant threats and political pressure from German, Belgian, French, and Prussian authorities. While in London, Marx continued writing and even wrote for the New York Tribune, which managed to provide a decent income. At this point in his life, his health was deteriorating year by year and he could not work as obsessively as he was accustom to. Marxist scholars maintain that during this time of his life his writing matured and evolved, producing some of his best work.

3. Challenges

As mentioned earlier, Marx was faced with censorship and resistance from the conservative governments of Europe thanks to his seemingly "radical" ideas. Marx was forced to relocate in order to continue his writing, even going as far as using false names and changing his appearance. Marx endured squalid conditions throughout his life - his academic pursuits did not pay well, if anything. Consequently, Marx began to develop various illnesses during the late 1840s and throughout the 1850s. This constant relocation, as well as living in poor conditions, contributed to the death of 4 of his 7 children before they ever reached adulthood. In Marx's view, communism would advance human society and culture, but in reality and application, the world experienced an era of "socialist" leaders who used these theories to advance their own geo-political agendas. Academics who write in a positive manner about Marx today will always separate Marx's theoretical ideas from the actions of these leaders.

2. Major contributions

Marx's studies contributed greatly to the birth of sociology, which is the study of society and various sectors within it. His works are widely cited today within academic research and have been expanded upon theoretically an extensive amount. Sociologists, historians, and political scientists still use Marxist theories of class, work, capital, and economics among others. Many scholars also consider Marx to be the modern "father" of 20th and 21st Century political discourse as well as fathering various ideologies that can still be seen in politics today.

1. Death and Legacy

Marx died on March 14, 1883 in London, England. After battling bronchitis for a few years, among other illnesses, he passed at the age of 64. Karl Marx died "stateless", meaning he had been exiled by Germany, and had not yet been accepted as a citizen of France, Britain, or any other country. Marx contributed greatly to the study of government, society and class structures and institutions. His influential works besides The Communist Manifesto include: The German Ideology (1845), The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844), Das Kapital (1867), and Wage, Labor, and Capital (1847), among others. His philosophies have been interpreted and applied by various socialist group leaders as well as governments including those of Lenin and Stalin (USSR), Castro (Cuba), the Kim dynasty in North Korea, as well as Mao (China). His philosophies have had a dramatic legacy on international political discourse (debate), even to this day.

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