Karl Heinrich Marx was the oldest surviving boy of nine children. His father, Heinrich, a successful lawyer, was a man of the Enlightenment, devoted to Kant and Voltaire, who took part in agitations for a constitution in Prussia. His mother, born Henrietta Pressburg, was from Holland. Both parents were Jewish and were descended from a long line of rabbis, but, a year or so before Karl was born, his father–probably because his professional career required it–was baptized in the Evangelical Established Church. Karl was baptized when he was six years old.
Although as a youth Karl was influenced less by religion than by the critical, sometimes adical social policies of the Enlightenment, his Jewish background exposed him to prejudice and discrimination that may have led him to question the role of religion in society and contributed to his desire for social change. Marx was educated from 1830 to 1835 at the high school in Trier. Suspected of harbouring liberal teachers and pupils, the school was under police surveillance. Marx’s writings during this period exhibited a spirit of Christian devotion and a longing for self-sacrifice on behalf of humanity.
In October 1835 he matriculated at the University of Bonn. The courses he attended were exclusively in the umanities, in such subjects as Greek and Roman mythology and the history of art. He participated in customary student activities, fought a duel, and spent a day in jail for being drunk and disorderly. He presided at the Tavern Club, which was at odds with the more aristocratic student associations, and joined a poets’ club that included some political activists. A politically rebellious student culture was, indeed, part of life at Bonn.
Many students had been arrested; some were still being expelled in Marx’s time, particularly as a result of an effort by students to disrupt a session of the Federal Diet at Frankfurt. Marx, however, left Bonn after a year and in October 1836 enrolled at the University of Berlin to study law and philosophy. Marx’s crucial experience at Berlin was his introduction to Hegel’s philosophy, regnant there, and his adherence to the Young Hegelians. At first he felt a repugnance toward Hegel’s doctrines; when Marx fell sick it was partially, as he wrote his father, “from intense vexation at having to make an idol of a view I detested.
The Hegelian pressure in the revolutionary student culture was powerful, however, and Marx joined a society called the Doctor Club, whose embers were intensely involved in the new literary and philosophical movement. Their chief figure was Bruno Bauer, a young lecturer in theology, who was developing the idea that the Christian Gospels were a record not of history but of human fantasies arising from emotional needs and that Jesus had not been a historical person. Marx enrolled in a course of lectures given by Bauer on the prophet Isaiah.
Bauer taught that a new social catastrophe “more tremendous” than that of the advent of Christianity was in the making. The Young Hegelians began moving rapidly toward atheism and also talked vaguely of political action. The Prussian government, fearful of the subversion latent in the Young Hegelians, soon undertook to drive them from the universities. Bauer was dismissed from his post in 1839. Marx’s “most intimate friend” of this period, Adolph Rutenberg, an older journalist who had served a prison sentence for his political radicalism, pressed for a deeper social involvement.
By 1841 the Young Hegelians had become left republicans. Marx’s studies, meanwhile, were lagging. Urged by his friends, he submitted a doctoral dissertation to the university at Jena, which was known to be lax in its academic requirements, and received his degree in April 841. His thesis analyzed in a Hegelian fashion the difference between the natural philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus. More distinctively, it sounded a note of Promethean defiance: Philosophy makes no secret of it. Prometheus’ admission: “In sooth all gods I hate,” is its own admission, its own motto against all gods,…
Prometheus is the noblest saint and martyr in the calendar of philosophy. In 1841 Marx, together with other Young Hegelians, was much influenced by the publication of Das Wesen des Christentums (1841; The Essence of Christianity) by Ludwig Feuerbach. Its uthor, to Marx’s mind, successfully criticized Hegel, an idealist who believed that matter or existence was inferior to and dependent upon mind or spirit, from the opposite, or materialist, standpoint, showing how the “Absolute Spirit” was a projection of “the real man standing on the foundation of nature.
Henceforth Marx’s philosophical efforts were toward a combination of Hegel’s dialectic–the idea that all things are in a continual process of change resulting from the conflicts between their contradictory aspects–with Feuerbach’s materialism, which placed material conditions above ideas. See dialectical materialism. ) In January 1842 Marx began contributing to a newspaper newly founded in Cologne, the Rheinische Zeitung.
It was the liberal democratic organ of a group of young merchants, bankers, and industrialists; Cologne was the centre of the most industrially advanced section of Prussia. To this stage of Marx’s life belongs an essay on the freedom of the press. Since he then took for granted the existence of absolute moral standards and universal principles of ethics, he condemned censorship as a moral evil that entailed spying into people’s minds and hearts and assigned to weak and malevolent ortals powers that presupposed an omniscient mind.
He believed that censorship could have only evil consequences. On Oct. 15, 1842, Marx became editor of the Rheinische Zeitung. As such, he was obliged to write editorials on a variety of social and economic issues, ranging from the housing of the Berlin poor and the theft by peasants of wood from the forests to the new phenomenon of communism. He found Hegelian idealism of little use in these matters. At the same time he was becoming estranged from his Hegelian friends for whom shocking the bourgeois was a sufficient mode of social activity.
Marx, friendly at this time to the “liberal-minded practical men” who were “struggling step-by-step for freedom within constitutional limits,” succeeded in trebling his newspaper’s circulation and making it a leading journal in Prussia. Nevertheless, Prussian authorities suspended it for being too outspoken, and Marx agreed to coedit with the liberal Hegelian Arnold Ruge a new review, the Deutsch-franz sische Jahrb cher (”German-French Yearbooks”), which was to be published in Paris.
First, however, in June 1843 Marx, after an engagement of seven years, married Jenny von Westphalen. Jenny was an attractive, ntelligent, and much-admired woman, four years older than Karl; she came of a family of military and administrative distinction. Her half-brother later became a highly reactionary Prussian minister of the interior. Her father, a follower of the French socialist Saint-Simon, was fond of Karl, though others in her family opposed the marriage. Marx’s father also feared that Jenny was destined to become a sacrifice to the demon that possessed his son.
Their next work, Die deutsche Ideologie (written 1845-46, published 1932; The German Ideology), contained the fullest exposition of their important materialistic conception of history, which set out to show how, historically, societies had been structured to promote the interests of the economically dominant class. But it found no publisher and remained unknown during its authors’ lifetimes. During his Brussels years, Marx developed his views and, through confrontations with the chief leaders of the working-class movement, established his intellectual standing.
In 1846 he publicly excoriated the German leader Wilhelm Weitling for his moralistic appeals. Marx insisted that the stage of bourgeois society could not be skipped over; the proletariat could not just leap into communism; the workers’ movement required a scientific basis, not moralistic phrases. He also polemicized against the French socialist thinker Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in Mis re de la philosophie (1847; The Poverty of Philosophy), a mordant attack on Proudhon’s book subtitled Philosophie de la mis re (1846; The Philosophy of Poverty).
Proudhon wanted to unite the best features of such contraries as competition and monopoly; he hoped to save the good features in economic institutions while eliminating the bad. Marx, however, declared that no equilibrium was possible between the antagonisms in any given economic system. Social structures were transient historic forms determined by the productive forces: “The handmill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steammill, society ith the industrial capitalist. ” Proudhon’s mode of reasoning, Marx wrote, was typical of the petty bourgeois, who failed to see the underlying laws of history.
An unusual sequence of events led Marx and Engels to write their pamphlet The Communist Manifesto. In June 1847 a secret society, the League of the Just, composed mainly of emigrant German handicraftsmen, met in London and decided to formulate a political program. They sent a representative to Marx to ask him to join the league; Marx overcame his doubts and, with Engels, joined the organization, which thereupon changed its name to the Communist League and enacted a democratic constitution. Entrusted with the task of composing their program, Marx and Engels worked from the middle of December 1847 to the end of January 1848.
The London Communists were already impatiently threatening Marx with disciplinary action when he sent them the manuscript; they promptly adopted it as their manifesto. It enunciated the proposition that all history had hitherto been a history of class struggles, summarized in pithy form the materialist conception of history worked out in The German Ideology, and asserted that the forthcoming victory of the proletariat would put an nd to class society forever. It mercilessly criticized all forms of socialism founded on philosophical “cobwebs” such as “alienation.
It rejected the avenue of “social Utopias,” small experiments in community, as deadening the class struggle and therefore as being “reactionary sects. ” It set forth 10 immediate measures as first steps toward communism, ranging from a progressive income tax and the abolition of inheritances to free education for all children. It closed with the words, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, nite! ” Revolution suddenly erupted in Europe in the first months of 1848, in France, Italy, and Austria.
Marx had been invited to Paris by a member of the provisional government just in time to avoid expulsion by the Belgian government. As the revolution gained in Austria and Germany, Marx returned to the Rhineland. In Cologne he advocated a policy of coalition between the working class and the democratic bourgeoisie, opposing for this reason the nomination of independent workers’ candidates for the Frankfurt Assembly and arguing strenuously against the program for proletarian revolution dvocated by the leaders of the Workers’ Union.
He concurred in Engels’ judgment that The Communist Manifesto should be shelved and the Communist League disbanded. Marx pressed his policy through the pages of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, newly founded in June 1849, urging a constitutional democracy and war with Russia. When the more revolutionary leader of the Workers’ Union, Andreas Gottschalk, was arrested, Marx supplanted him and organized the first Rhineland Democratic Congress in August 1848. When the king of Prussia dissolved the Prussian Assembly in Berlin, Marx called for arms and men to help the resistance.
Bourgeois liberals withdrew their support from Marx’s newspaper, and he himself was indicted on several charges, including advocacy of the nonpayment of taxes. In his trial he defended himself with the argument that the crown was engaged in making an unlawful counterrevolution. The jury acquitted him unanimously and with thanks. Nevertheless, as the last hopeless fighting flared in Dresden and Baden, Marx was ordered banished as an alien on May 16, 1849. The final issue of his newspaper, printed in red, caused a great sensation. Early years in London Expelled once more from Paris, Marx went to London in August 849.
It was to be his home for the rest of his life. Chagrined by the failure of his own tactics of collaboration with the liberal bourgeoisie, he rejoined the Communist League in London and for about a year advocated a bolder revolutionary policy. An “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,” written with Engels in March 1850, urged that in future revolutionary situations they struggle to make the revolution “permanent” by avoiding subservience to the bourgeois party and by setting up “their own revolutionary workers’ governments” alongside any new bourgeois one.
Marx hoped that the economic crisis would shortly lead to a revival of the revolutionary movement; when this hope faded, he came into conflict once more with those whom he called “the alchemists of the revolution,” such as August von Willich, a communist who proposed to hasten the advent of revolution by undertaking direct revolutionary ventures. Such persons, Marx wrote in September 1850, substitute “idealism for materialism” and regard pure will as the motive power of revolution instead of actual conditions.
While we say to the workers: “You have got to go through fifteen, twenty, fifty years of ivil wars and national wars not merely in order to change your conditions but in order to change yourselves and become qualified for political power,” you on the contrary tell them, “We must achieve power immediately. ” The militant faction in turn ridiculed Marx for being a revolutionary who limited his activity to lectures on political economy to the Communist Workers’ Educational Union.
The upshot was that Marx gradually stopped attending meetings of the London Communists. In 1852 he devoted himself intensely to working for the defense of 11 communists arrested and tried in Cologne on harges of revolutionary conspiracy and wrote a pamphlet on their behalf. The same year he also published, in a German-American periodical, his essay “Der Achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Napoleon” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte), with its acute analysis of the formation of a bureaucratic absolutist state with the support of the peasant class.
In other respects the next 12 years were, in Marx’s words, years of “isolation” both for him and for Engels in his Manchester factory. From 1850 to 1864 Marx lived in material misery and spiritual pain. His funds were gone, and except on one occasion he could not ring himself to seek paid employment. In March 1850 he and his wife and four small children were evicted and their belongings seized. Several of his children died–including a son Guido, “a sacrifice to bourgeois misery,” and a daughter Franziska, for whom his wife rushed about frantically trying to borrow money for a coffin.
For six years the family lived in two small rooms in Soho, often subsisting on bread and potatoes. The children learned to lie to the creditors: “Mr. Marx ain’t upstairs. ” Once he had to escape them by fleeing to Manchester. His wife suffered breakdowns. During all these years Engels loyally contributed to Marx’s financial support. The sums were not large at first, for Engels was only a clerk in the firm of Ermen and Engels at Manchester. Later, however, in 1864, when he became a partner, his subventions were generous.
Marx was proud of Engels’ friendship and would tolerate no criticism of him. Bequests from the relatives of Marx’s wife and from Marx’s friend Wilhelm Wolff also helped to alleviate their economic distress. Marx had one relatively steady source of earned income in the United States. On the invitation of Charles A. Dana, managing ditor of The New York Tribune, he became in 1851 its European correspondent. The newspaper, edited by Horace Greeley, had sympathies for Fourierism, a Utopian socialist system developed by the French theorist Charles Fourier.
From 1851 to 1862 Marx contributed close to 500 articles and editorials (Engels providing about a fourth of them). He ranged over the whole political universe, analyzing social movements and agitations from India and China to Britain and Spain. In 1859 Marx published his first book on economic theory, Zur Kritik der politischen +konomie (A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy). In its preface he again summarized his materialistic conception of history, his theory that the course of history is dependent on economic developments.
At this time, however, Marx regarded his studies in economic and social history at the British Museum as his main task. He was busy producing the drafts of his magnum opus, which was to be published later as Das Kapital. Some of these drafts, including the Outlines and the Theories of Surplus Value, are important in their own right and were published after Marx’s death. Role in the First International Marx’s political isolation ended in 1864 with the founding of the International Working Men’s Association.
Although he was neither its founder nor its head, he soon became its leading spirit. Its first public meeting, called by English trade union leaders and French workers’ representatives, took place at St. Martin’s Hall in London on Sept. 28, 1864. Marx, who had been invited through a French intermediary to attend as a representative of the German workers, sat silently on the platform. A committee was set up to produce a program and a constitution for the new organization.
After various drafts had been submitted that were felt to be unsatisfactory, Marx, erving on a subcommittee, drew upon his immense journalistic experience. His “Address and the Provisional Rules of the International Working Men’s Association,” unlike his other writings, stressed the positive achievements of the cooperative movement and of parliamentary legislation; the gradual conquest of political power would enable the British proletariat to extend these achievements on a national scale.
As a member of the organization’s General Council, and corresponding secretary for Germany, Marx was henceforth assiduous in attendance at its meetings, which were sometimes held several times a week. For several years he showed a rare diplomatic tact in composing differences among various parties, factions, and tendencies. The International grew in prestige and membership, its numbers reaching perhaps 800,000 in 1869. It was successful in several interventions on behalf of European trade unions engaged in struggles with employers.
In 1870, however, Marx was still unknown as a European political personality; it was the Paris Commune that made him into an international figure, “the best calumniated and most menaced man of London,” as he wrote. When the Franco-German War broke out in 870, Marx and Engels disagreed with followers in Germany who refused to vote in the Reichstag in favour of the war.
The General Council declared that “on the German side the war was a war of defence. After the defeat of the French armies, however, they felt that the German terms amounted to aggrandizement at the expense of the French people. When an insurrection broke out in Paris and the Paris Commune was proclaimed, Marx gave it his unswerving support. On May 30, 1871, after the Commune had been crushed, he hailed it in a famous address entitled Civil War in France: History has no comparable example of such greatness. .. Its martyrs are enshrined forever in the great heart of the working class.
In Engels’ judgment, the Paris Commune was history’s first example of the “dictatorship of the proletariat. ” Marx’s name, as the leader of The First International and author of the notorious Civil War, became synonymous throughout Europe with the revolutionary spirit symbolized by the Paris Commune. The advent of the Commune, however, exacerbated the antagonisms within the International Working Men’s Association and thus brought about its downfall. English trade unionists such as George Odger, former president of the General Council, opposed
Marx’s support of the Paris Commune. The Reform Bill of 1867, which had enfranchised the British working class, had opened vast opportunities for political action by the trade unions. English labour leaders found they could make many practical advances by cooperating with the Liberal Party and, regarding Marx’s rhetoric as an encumbrance, resented his charge that they had “sold themselves” to the Liberals. A left opposition also developed under the leadership of the famed Russian revolutionary Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin.
A veteran of tsarist prisons and Siberian exile, Bakunin could move men by his ratory, which one listener compared to “a raging storm with lightning, flashes and thunderclaps, and a roaring as of lions. ” Bakunin admired Marx’s intellect but could hardly forget that Marx had published a report in 1848 charging him with being a Russian agent. He felt that Marx was a German authoritarian and an arrogant Jew who wanted to transform the General Council into a personal dictatorship over the workers.
He strongly opposed several of Marx’s theories, especially Marx’s support of the centralized structure of the International, Marx’s view that the proletariat class should act as a political party against prevailing arties but within the existing parliamentary system, and Marx’s belief that the proletariat, after it had overthrown the bourgeois state, should establish its own regime. To Bakunin, the mission of the revolutionary was destruction; he looked to the Russian peasantry, with its propensities for violence and its uncurbed revolutionary instincts, rather than to the effete, civilized workers of the industrial countries.
The students, he hoped, would be the officers of the revolution. He acquired followers, mostly young men, in Italy, Switzerland, and France, and he organized a secret society, he International Alliance of Social Democracy, which in 1869 challenged the hegemony of the General Council at the congress in Basel, Switz. Marx, however, had already succeeded in preventing its admission as an organized body into the International. To the Bakuninists, the Paris Commune was a model of revolutionary direct action and a refutation of what they considered to be Marx’s “authoritarian communism.
Bakunin began organizing sections of the International for an attack on the alleged dictatorship of Marx and the General Council. Marx in reply publicized Bakunin’s embroilment with an unscrupulous Russian student leader, Sergey Gennadiyevich Nechayev, who had practiced blackmail and murder. Without a supporting right wing and with the anarchist left against him, Marx feared losing control of the International to Bakunin. He also wanted to return to his studies and to finish Das Kapital. At the congress of the International at The Hague in 1872, the only one he ever attended, Marx managed to defeat the Bakuninists.
Then, to the consternation of the delegates, Engels moved that the seat of the General Council be transferred from London to New York City. The Bakuninists were expelled, but the International languished and as finally disbanded in Philadelphia in 1876. Last years During the next and last decade of his life, Marx’s creative energies declined. He was beset by what he called “chronic mental depression,” and his life turned inward toward his family. He was unable to complete any substantial work, though he still read widely and undertook to learn Russian.
He became crotchety in his political opinions. When his own followers and those of the German revolutionary Ferdinand Lassalle, a rival who believed that socialist goals should be achieved through cooperation with the state, coalesced in 1875 to found the German Social Democratic Party, Marx wrote a caustic criticism of their program (the so-called Gotha Program), claiming that it made too many compromises with the status quo. The German leaders put his objections aside and tried to mollify him personally.
Increasingly, he looked to a European war for the overthrow of Russian tsarism, the mainstay of reaction, hoping that this would revive the political energies of the working classes. He was moved by what he considered to be the selfless courage of the Russian terrorists who assassinated the tsar, Alexander II, in 1881; he felt this to be “a historically inevitable means of action. ” Despite Marx’s withdrawal from active politics, he still retained what Engels called his “peculiar influence” on the leaders of working-class and socialist movements.
In 1879, when the French Socialist Workers’ Federation was founded, its leader Jules Guesde went to London to consult with Marx, who dictated the preamble of its program and shaped much of its content. In 1881 Henry Mayers Hyndman in his England for All drew heavily on his conversations with Marx but angered him by being afraid to acknowledge him by name. During his last years Marx spent much time at health resorts and even traveled to Algiers. He was broken by the death of his wife on Dec. 2, 1881, and of his eldest daughter, Jenny Longuet, on Jan. 11, 1883.
He died in London, evidently of a lung abscess, in the following year. Character and significance At Marx’s funeral in Highgate Cemetery, Engels declared that Marx had made two great discoveries, the law of development of human history and the law of motion of bourgeois society. But “Marx was before all else a revolutionist. ” He was “the best-hated and most-calumniated man of his time,” yet he also died “beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow-workers. ” The contradictory emotions Marx engendered are reflected in the sometimes conflicting aspects of his character.
Marx was a combination of the Promethean rebel and the rigorous intellectual. He gave most persons an impression of intellectual arrogance. A Russian writer, Pavel Annenkov, who observed Marx in debate in 1846 recalled that “he spoke only in the imperative, brooking no contradiction,” and seemed to be “the personification of a democratic dictator such as might appear before one in moments of fantasy. ” But Marx obviously felt uneasy before mass audiences and avoided the atmosphere of factional controversies at ongresses.
He went to no demonstrations, his wife remarked, and rarely spoke at public meetings. He kept away from the congresses of the International where the rival socialist groups debated important resolutions. He was a “small groups” man, most at home in the atmosphere of the General Council or on the staff of a newspaper, where his character could impress itself forcefully on a small body of coworkers. At the same time he avoided meeting distinguished scholars with whom he might have discussed questions of economics and sociology on a footing of intellectual equality.
Despite his broad intellectual sweep, he was prey to obsessive ideas such as that the British foreign minister, Lord Palmerston, was an agent of the Russian government. He was determined not to let bourgeois society make “a money-making machine” out of him, yet he submitted to living on the largess of Engels and the bequests of relatives. He remained the eternal student in his personal habits and way of life, even to the point of joining two friends in a students’ prank during which they systematically broke four or five streetlamps in a London street and then fled from the police.
He was great reader of novels, especially those of Sir Walter Scott and Balzac; and the family made a cult of Shakespeare. He was an affectionate father, saying that he admired Jesus for his love of children, but sacrificed the lives and health of his own. Of his seven children, three daughters grew to maturity. His favourite daughter, Eleanor, worried him with her nervous, brooding, emotional character and her desire to be an actress. Another shadow was cast on Marx’s domestic life by the birth to their loyal servant, Helene Demuth, of an illegitimate son, Frederick; Engels as he was dying isclosed to Eleanor that Marx had been the father.
Above all, Marx was a fighter, willing to sacrifice anything in the battle for his conception of a better society. He regarded struggle as the law of life and existence. The influence of Marx’s ideas has been enormous. Marx’s masterpiece, Das Kapital, the “Bible of the working class,” as it was officially described in a resolution of the International Working Men’s Association, was published in 1867 in Berlin and received a second edition in 1873. Only the first volume was completed and published in Marx’s lifetime. The second and third volu