Karl Marx

Read this biographical article about Karl Marx. It also explains a number of his views and gives context to the birth of his ideas about the social impacts of capitalism.



When his mentor, Bruno Bauer, was dismissed from Friedrich-Wilhelms' philosophy faculty in 1842, Marx abandoned philosophy for journalism and in 1842 was chosen to edit the Rheinische Zeitung, a radical Cologne newspaper. After the newspaper was shut down in 1843, to a large extent, 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 into exile, something he would do often as a result of his views.

Cover of the Communist Manifesto 1848 

The Communist Manifesto which was distributed in Germany during the revolution of 1848

Marx first moved to Paris, where he re-evaluated his relationship with Bauer and the Young Hegelians, and wrote his Paris Manuscripts which serve as the fundamental underpinnings of the Communist Manifesto. In those manuscripts, Marx rejects the notion that the Prussian government, through its bureaucracy of civil servants, can serve as the vehicle for genuine social change. He also identified the proletariat rather than the Prussian civil servants as the vehicle through which change could occur. He saw that change as being effected through a social revolution. It was in Paris that he met and began working with his lifelong 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. After he was forced to leave Paris because of his writings, Marx and Engels moved to Brussels, Belgium.

There they co-wrote The German Ideology, a scathing criticism of the philosophy of Bruno Bauer, Hegel, and the Young Hegelians. Marx next 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. It had been 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 Rheinische Zeitung, only to be swiftly expelled again.

In 1864, Marx organized the International Workingmen's Association, later called the First International, as a base for continued political activism. In his inaugural address, he purported to quote Gladstone's speech, to the effect that, "This intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power is entirely confined to classes of property". He repeated the citation in volume 1 of Capital. The discrepancy between Marx's quote and the Hansard version of the speech (which was well-known) was soon employed in an attempt to discredit the International. Marx attempted to rebut the accusations of dishonesty, but the allegation continued to resurface. Marx later gave as his source the newspaper the Morning Star.

Engels devoted a good deal of attention to the affair in the preface to the fourth edition of Capital - which still did not put the matter to rest. Engels claimed that it was not the Morning Star but the Times that Marx was following. Indeed, modern critics of Marx continue to invoke Marx's supposed misquotation as evidence of general dishonesty.