KARL MARX: LIFE AND THEORY OF A SICK AND ANGRY MAN
Karl Marx is one of the most disputed men in the history of our modern world. Revolutions have been fought, millions have died, and nuclear war threatened over what people thought he said. The writings and philosophies of Karl Marx are the most misused, misquoted, and altogether misunderstood documents of the 19th and 20th centuries. Karl Marx has been called the father of communism. I personally disagree. The ideas and ideals of Socialism and along with it communism had existed a long time before Marx.
Marx, when accused early on in his career as a philosopher of being communist, denied this but said, " I do not know communism, but a social philosophy which has as its aim the defense of the oppressed cannot be readily condemned".
Karl Marx was born on May 5th 1818 in the town of Tier in Prussian controlled Rhineland to Heinrich Marx, a lawyer, and Henriette nèe Pressburg. Both parents came from Jewish families but before Karl was five the entire family had converted to Protestantism. The Marx family consisted of eight children, four of which died in childhood. In 1830 Karl entered the Friedrich Wilhelm gymnasium(1) in his hometown. In 1835 after passing his final exams he wrote his first major composition Reflections of a Young Man On the Choice of a Profession in which he writes, "the main idea which should guide us in choosing a profession is the good of humanity and our own perfection... Man’s nature is such that he can attain his own perfection by working for the welfare and perfection of his fellows."
Heinrich Marx wanted his son to become a lawyer like himself, and enrolled him to study law at the university of Bonn. In the summer of 1836, after attaining a leaving certificate from the University in Bonn, Marx became secretly engaged to childhood playmate Jenny von Westphalen who is a descendent of the Scottish Campbells of Argyle. In October of ’36 Karl enrolled himself in the faculty of law at the university of Berlin were he studied criminal law and anthropology, and begun to write poetry. After joining a group of poets Marx began to take a strong interest in philosophy and began to study the works of many philosophers, especially the philosopher George Fredriech Hegel and attended lectures in history and philosophy as well as keeping abreast in his law studies. These extensive studies made his life a mad rush and as he described in a letter to his father "I lead a tormented life of solitude, illness and sleep deprivation."
In 1838, while in Berlin, Marx was declared unfit for military service owing to a weak chest and the fact that he coughed blood. Later on that year he finally married his fiancée Jenny. After leaving University Marx decided that both his philosophy and his law degrees would not give him the life he wanted and he decided to go into journalism and took the position of editor offered to him by a liberal Rhenish(2) newspaper called Rheinish Zeitung.
Marx began to write very critical editorials on the poverty and state of oppression of some of the German workers. This irritated the Prussian Government and eventually, after Marx continued to print biting articles directed at the government of Prussia and other European nations about their political policies and treatment of their working class, they censored his newspaper and eventually had it suppressed.
Marx spent most of his life reading philosophy and criticizing it, joining political movements and writing economic and revolutionary texts. Wherever Marx went he seemed to stir up trouble after joining several revolutionary movements in Prussia, trying to make a united German republic. He even belonged to several democratic leagues but mostly the groups he stuck to most were the working- man’s party and laborer’s league. The Prussian government, afraid of what he might do, threw him out of Germany. Gradually this angry young philosopher began to warm up to the ideas of communism and became an active member in the communist league. After being thrown out of Germany, Marx moved in with a group of fellow revolutionary philosophers to a house in the center of Paris where he lived until the uneasy French government threw him out. For a time the Marxes lived with Karl’s mother in Belgium where he established a strong friendship with another revolutionary, Friedrich Engels. Marx continued his reading of philosophers and his organization of communist activities. After the riotous unrest of 1848, when the monarch of Belgium decided it would be prudent to force Marx to leave, Marx then moved to London where he would live out the rest of his days and write his two major works: Das Capital, and The Communist Manifesto(3).
Karl Marx believed strongly in a concept called Dialectical Materialism. Dialectical because of the philosopher Hegel’s theory of inherent change,(4) and materialism because it has its base in the terrain of social and physical environment and not in the world of ideas, Marx’s partner Friedrich Engels once wrote "In every society that has appeared in history the distribution of products, and with it the division of society into classes or estates, is determined by what is produced and how it is produced, and how the product is exchanged." He then wrote, "The ultimate causes of all social change and political revolutions are to be sought not in the minds of men, in their increasing insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the mode of production and exchange; they are to be sought not in the philosophy but in the economics of the epoch concerned."
Marx’s Das Capital(5) was Marx’s dream book were he could really focus on what his true passion which was economy. In das capital Marx speaks in depth on the economic conditions of his time. Marx tries to explain what is wrong with the economic system that had come into place as a result of the industrial revolution. Marx while criticizing the system did layout solutions.
Das capital is only really applicable to the economics of the time in which he wrote it.
Marx’s other great work of genius The Communist Manifesto was finished and published in 1848 and was done with the assistance of Marx’s friend and literary partner as co-author. The manifesto starts by outlining the relationship of classes in history and then specifically the antagonistic relationship of the bourgeois(6) capitalist towards the working proletariat. The next chapter describes the relation of the communist party to the proletariat. Then Marx goes on to speak of the new ideas of the communists in a strange writing style where he holds a rather one sided conversation with the reader telling of the propositions of the communists as well as acknowledging their objections and putting a legitimate argument to justify his own point. In the next chapter Marx goes on to talk about other socialist and communist groups and pointing out exactly where they fail. Marx continues by speaking about other opposition parties and their political aims in relations to the communists.
Karl Marx preached that the proletariat revolution was a factual reality and inevitability, part of a history formed solely by economics. He said that in the process of history the bourgeoisie would overthrow the monarchy and in turn be overthrown by the proletariat, and he said this is the only progression in which the inevitable proletariat revolution could take place. It wasn’t until 35 years after Marx’s death, and 70 years after the Manifesto was first published that any form of communist revolution took place. My opinion is that what is seen, as modern communism is really the result of Lenin taking what he wanted of what Marx said and disregarding anything that didn’t fit with his own political agenda, so you could really say that the real father of modern communism was in fact Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin. Lenin justified himself by canonizing Marx within the party where Marx was seen as not only a genius but a prophet and a saint and the patriarch of communism.
First and foremost Karl Marx would never have even considered Russia as a candidate for the start of the revolution. According to Marx’s theory of history the bourgeoisie would have to overthrow the monarchy, which had not happened in Russia(7).
Secondly Russia was not really an industrialized nation and didn’t have the industrial proletariat that Marx had envisioned. Instead Russia had the feudal agrarian serf, which didn’t fit Marx’s sequence of history monarch, bourgeois, proletariat. Marx had really envisioned the revolution taking place within his life time in places like England and his homeland Germany were the industrial revolution had sowed seeds of economic and social unrest.
1 Gymnasium basically a German high school
2 Rhenish being of the origin of the part of what in modern Germany, and in that time Prussia, was called Rhineland
3 The Communist Manifesto was written in collaboration with his friend and partner Friedrich Engels.
4 According to Hegel’s theory one idea or side always has its opposite or opposing force, and when those opposites collide they form a 3rd idea or side which forms its opposite and on Ad infinitum. Therefore creating an atmosphere of constant movement and change.
5 Written in the original German, which was his native tongue, Marx’s book would have been spelled Das Kapital and pronounced Ka-pee-tall. I thought that the English version of the word would give more of a clue to the books subject.
6 Bourgeois coming from the burghers or middle class towns people of the medieval and renaissance times which in Marx’s times were the non-aristocratic wealthy property and factory owners and overseers and capitalists.
7 The first Russian revolution was to close to really count in my opinion and was really just the first part of communist one.
By Theodore Groh
The article in MS Word format.