Karl Heinrich Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in the city of Trier in Prussia, now, Germany. He was one of seven children of Jewish Parents. His father was fairly liberal, taking part in demonstrations for a constitution for Prussia and reading such authors as Voltaire and Kant, known for their social commentary. His mother, Henrietta, was originally from Holland and never became a German at heart, not even learning to speak the language properly. Shortly before Karl Marx was born, his father converted the family to the Evangelical Established Church, Karl being baptized at the age of six. Marx attended high school in his hometown (1830-1835) where several teachers and pupils were under suspicion of harboring liberal ideals.
Marx himself seemed to be a devoted Christian with a “longing for self-sacrifice on behalf of humanity.” In October of 1835, he started attendance at the University of Bonn, enrolling in non-socialistic-related classes like Greek and Roman mythology and the history of art. During this time, he spent a day in jail for being “drunk and disorderly-the only imprisonment he suffered” in the course of his life. The student culture at Bonn included, as a major part, being politically rebellious and Marx was involved, presiding over the Tavern Club and joining a club for poets that included some politically active students. However, he left Bonn after a year and enrolled at the University of Berlin to study law and philosophy. The Hegelian doctrines exerted considerable pressure in the “revolutionary student culture” that Marx was immersed in, however, and Marx eventually joined a society called the Doctor Club, involved mainly in the “new literary and philosophical movement” who’s chief figure was Bruno Bauer, a lecturer in theology who thought that the Gospels were not a record of History but that they came from “human fantasies arising from man’s emotional needs” and he also hypothesized that Jesus had not existed as a person. Bauer was later dismissed from his position by the Prussian government. By 1841, Marx’s studies were lacking and, at the suggestion of a friend, he submitted a doctoral dissertation to the university at Jena, known for having lax acceptance requirements. Unsurprisingly, he got in, and finally received his degree in 1841. His thesis “analyzed in a Hegelian fashion the difference between the natural philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus” uses his knowledge of mythology and the myth of Prometheus in his chains. In October of 1842, Marx became the editor of the paper Rheinische Zeitung, and, as the editor, wrote editorials on socio-economic issues such as poverty, etc. During this time, he found that his “Hegelian philosophy was of little use” and he separated himself from his young Hegelian friends who only shocked the bourgeois to make up their “social activity.” Marx helped the paper to succeed and it almost became the leading journal in Prussia. However, the Prussian government suspended it because of “pressures from the government of Russia.” So, Marx went to Paris to study “French Communism.”
In June of 1843, he was married to Jenny Von Westphalen, an attractive girl, four years older than Marx, who came from a prestigious family of both military and administrative distinction. Although many of the members of the Von Westphalen family were opposed to the marriage, Jenny’s father favored Marx. In Paris, Marx became acquainted with the Communistic views of French workmen. Although he thought that the ideas of the workmen were “utterly crude and unintelligent,” he admired their camaraderie. He later wrote an article entitled “Toward the Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right” from which comes the famous quote that religion is the “opium of the people.” Once again, the Prussian government interfered with Marx and he was expelled from France. He left for Brussels, Belgium, and, in 1845, renounced his Prussian nationality.
During the next two years in Brussels, the lifelong collaboration with Engels deepened further. He and Marx, sharing the same views, pooled their “intellectual resources” and published The Holy Family, a criticism of the Hegelian idealism of Bruno Bauer. In their next work, they demonstrated their materialistic conception of history but the book found no publisher and “remained unknown during its author’s lifetimes.”
It is during his years in Brussels that Marx really developed his views and established his “intellectual standing.” From December of 1847 to January of 1848, Engels and Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto, a document outlining 10 immediate measures towards Communism, “ranging from a progressive income tax and the abolition of inheritances to free education for all children.”
When the Revolution erupted in Europe in 1848, Marx was invited to Paris just in time to escape expulsion by the Belgian government. He became unpopular to German exiles when, while in Paris, he opposed Georg Hewegh’s project to organize a German legion to invade and “liberate the Fatherland.” After traveling back to Cologne, Marx called for democracy and agreed with Engels that the Communist League should be disbanded. During this time, Marx got into trouble with the government; he was indicted on charges that he advocated that people not pay taxes. However, after defending himself in his trial, he was acquitted unanimously. On May 16, 1849, Marx was “banished as an alien” by the Prussian government.
Marx then went to London. There, he rejoined the Communist League and became bolder in his revolutionary policy. He advocated that the people try to make the revolution “permanent” and that they should avoid subservience to the bourgeois peoples. The faction that he belonged to ridiculed his ideas and he stopped attending meetings of the London Communists, working on the defense of 11 communists arrested in Cologne, instead. He wrote quite a few works during this time, including an essay entitled “Der Achtzenhnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte) and also a pamphlet written on the behalf of the 11 communists he was defending in Cologne.
From 1850 to 1864, Marx lived in poverty and “spiritual pain,” only taking a job once. He and his family were evicted from their apartment and several of his children died, his son, Guido, who Marx called “a sacrifice to bourgeois misery” and a daughter named Franziska. They were so poor that his wife had to borrow money for her coffin.
Frederich Engels was the one who gave Marx and his family money to survive on during these years. His only other source of money was his job as the European correspondent for The New York Tribune, writing editorials and columns analyzing everything in the “political universe.” Marx published his first book on economic theory in 1859, called A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Marx’s “political isolation” ended when he joined the International Working Men’s Association. Although he was neither the founder nor the leader of this organization, he “became its leading spirit” and as the corresponding secretary for Germany, he attended all meetings. Marx’s distinction as a political figure really came in 1870 with the Paris Commune. He became an international figure and his name “became synonymous throughout Europe with the revolutionary spirit symbolized by the Paris Commune.”
During the next decade of his life, his last few years, Marx was beset by what he called “chronic mental depression” and “his life turned inward toward his family.” He never completed any substantial work during this time although he kept his mind active, reading and learning Russian. In 1879, Marx dictated the preamble of the program for the French Socialist Workers’ Federation and shaped much of its content. During his last years, Marx spent time in health resorts and dies in London of a lung abscess on March 14, 1883, after the death of his wife and daughter.
Marx’s work seems to be more of a criticism of Hegelian and other philosophy, than as a statement of his own philosophy. While Hegel felt that philosophy explained reality, Marx felt that philosophy should be made into reality, a hard thing to do.
Marx is unique from other philosophers in that he chooses to regard man as an individual, a human being. This is evident in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. There, he declares that man is a “natural being” who is endowed with “natural [and] vital powers” that “exist in him as aptitudes [and] instincts.” Humans simply struggle with nature for the satisfaction of man’s needs. From this struggle comes man’s awareness of himself as an individual and as something separate from nature. So, he seeks to oppose nature. He sees that history is just the story of man creating and re-creating himself and sees that man creates himself, and that a “god” has no part in it. Thus, the communist believes in no religion. Marx also says that the more man works as a laborer, the less he has to consume for himself because his “product and labor are estranged” from him. Marx says that because the work of the laborer is taken away and does not belong to the laborer, the laborer loses his “rightful existence” and is made alien to himself. Private property becomes a product and cause of “alienated labor” and through that, causes disharmony. “Alienated labor is seen as the consequence of market product, the division of labor, and the division of society into antagonistic classes.”
So, capitalism, which encourages the possession of private property, encourages alienation of man. Capitalism, which encourages the amassment of money, encourages mass production, to optimize productivity. Mass production also intensifies the alienation of labor because it encourages specialization and it makes people view the workers not as individuals but as machines to do work. It is this attitude that incites the uprisings of the lower classes against the higher classes, namely, the nobility.
Regarding Marx’s attitude toward religion, he thought that religion was simply a “product of man’s consciousness” and that it is a reflection of the situation of a man who “either has not conquered himself or has already lost himself again.” Marx sums it all up in a famous quote, stating that religion is “an opium for the people.” Marx’s hypothesis of historical materialism contains this maxim; that “It is not the consciousness of men which determines their existence; it is on the contrary their social existence which determines their consciousness.” Marx has applied his theory of historical materialism to capitalist society in both The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, among others. Marx never really explained his entire theory through but taking the text literally, “social reality” is arranged in this way: That underlying our society is economic structure; and That above the foundation of economy rises “legal and political…forms of social consciousness” that relate back to the economic foundation of society.
An interesting mark of Marx’s analysis of economy is evidenced in Das Kapital, where he “studies the economy as a whole and not in one or another of its” parts and sections. His analysis is based on the precept of man being a productive entity and that “all economic value comes from human labor.”
Marx speaks of capitalism as an unstable environment. He says that its development is accompanied by “increasing contradictions” and that the equilibrium of the system is precarious as it is to the internal pressures resulting from its development. Capitalism is too easy to tend to a downward spiral resulting in economic and social ruin. An example of the downward spiral in a capitalist society is inflation. Inflation involves too much currency in circulation. Because of inflation and the increase in prices of goods resulting from it, the people of the society hoard their money, which, because that money is out of circulation, causes more money to be printed. The one increases the effect of the other and thus, the downward spiral. Marx views revolution with two perspectives. One takes the attitude that revolution should be a great uprising like that of the French revolution. The other “conception” is that of the “permanent revolution” involving a “provisional coalition” between the low and higher classes. However, an analysis of the Communist Manifesto shows inconsistencies between the relationship of permanent and violent revolution; that Marx did not exactly determine the exact relationship between these two yet.
Aside from the small inconsistencies in Marx’s philosophy, he exhibits sound ideas that do seem to work on paper but fail in the real world where millions of uncertainties contribute to the error in every social experiment on Earth. Communism never gets farther than socialism in its practice in the real world and that is where the fault lies, in the governments that try to cheat the system while still maintaining their ideal communist society.