Karl Marx was a man whose renown grew all over the globe. Of all the social theorists of the 19th century, Karl Marx is the most influential. Now let us take a journey back in time into the life of this great German-born economist, journalist, sociologist, philosopher, thinker and political activist.
Early Life of Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was born in Trier, part of the Kingdom of Prussia (now Germany) on the 5th of May 1818. His parents, Heinrich Marx and Henrietta Pressburg were both wealthy. Karl’s father was a lawyer who got converted from Judaism to Lutheranism before the birth of Karl to escape persecution.
At 17, Marx moved to the University of Bonn with the aim of studying philosophy and literature, but his father made him study law in Bonn and Berlin. At Berlin, he met G. W.F. Hegel who introduced him to philosophy. Karl at a young age got involved in radicalism through a radical group of students called Young Hegelians.
He later bagged his doctorate from the University of Jena in 1841. Due to his radical beliefs, he got a journalist job as against a lecturing job. Much later he became the editor of Rheinische Zeitung, a liberal newspaper in Cologne.
From Prussia, Marx moved to France then Belgium (after ejection from France). He later moved from Belgium to London where he lived with his wife until his death on 14th of March 1883.
Marx’s philosophical views are as follows:
- Human nature: Marx held that Human nature exists as a function of human labor.
- Labor: He sees labor as one’s capacity to transform the world.
- Class struggle: Marx said that one class exercises control over the means of production.
- Economy: He held that social change is about the conflict between opposing interests, driven, in the background by economic forces.
- Capitalism: He said that capitalism was unstable and prone to periodic crises and will end by the coordinated actions of an international working class.
- Communism: He stated that communism is a society (utopian world) that is free from self-alienation and offers workers freedom to act without being bound by the labor market.
Marx had a weighty impact on global politics, intellectual thought, social science, philosophy, literature, arts and humanities.
Political realm: Marx’s ideas led to the Russian Revolution and others. World leaders like Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, Kwame Nkrumah, etc. were Marxists.
Academic realm: Marx’s work led to the birth of modern sociology. He has the edge over other philosophers because his theories could be tested with the scientific method. He was called the true founder of modern sociology by Isaiah Berlin.
Marx’s Global Impacts
All Marx’s works and theories (Marxism) challenged capitalism and gave birth to revolutionary schools of thought. He made an impact on this world more in his death than when he was alive.
Marx’s work, The Communist Manifesto contributed to the revolution in France after it was published on February 21, 1848. What precipitated the revolt was the banning of political meetings held by socialists. King Louis-Philippe, as a result of the uprising, abdicated after two days. But that same year the bourgeoisie dowsed the upheaval.
Karl Marx’s involvement with the First International in 1871 fueled another small uprising, the Paris Commune of 1871. The people of Paris protested against their government and held the city hostage for two months straight. Marx from his writing (The Civil War in France, in support of the Commune) on the matter supported the standoff wholeheartedly.
In the 20th century, Marx’s legacy rang louder. Communism started spreading around the early 1900s with the Bolshevik Revolution. The Revolution was led by Vladimir Lenin, a radical thinker, and a Marxist. He led the Social Democratic Worker’s Party to cease control over Russia in 1917. The success of this revolution triggered off revolutions in other countries. According to Marx’s theories, economically superior states were predicted to adopt communism, shockingly developing countries like Angola, Ethiopia, Kenya and Senegal made an exception by embracing the idea.
China, through the Communist leader, Mao Zedong’s declaration became a communist state. The statement terminated the long-standing conflict between the Chinese Communist Party and the Nationalist Party.
In Cuba, a man by the name Che Guevara, an Argentinian Marxist revolutionary, guerrilla warfare strategist was a prominent communist figure in the Cuban Revolution. He grew up with the same notion like Marx that the solution to ending the class struggle was a violent revolution. He succeeded in ceasing power from the then Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista by joining forces with Fidel and Raul Castro. Cuba established a Marxist government in 1959. Guevara continues to develop his political view and Cuban policies in speeches and writing especially his book Man and Socialism in Cuba.
In the United States, communism was seen as a threat and was opposed aggressively by Joseph McCarthy, a U.S. senator. He opined that since dictators controlled communist nations, it was politically threatening to the freedom the North American country enshrined as one of their values. However, despite the negative publicity given communism in the US in the 1950s, thinkers like Max Weber, Max Horkheimer, Bertolt Brecht, Joan Robinson, Theodor Adorno, and Frederic Jameson all championed the Marxist school of thought.
Alienation as a concept is applicable to present-day North American values of jurisprudence and sociology. Reification and commodification, examples of Marxist theories which are borrowed and used in literature to scrutinize and evaluate texts. The book Animal Farm by George Orwell criticized communism in the USSR and Karl Marx’s theories.
Famous Quotations of Karl Marx
- “Religion is the soul of soulless conditions, the heart of a heartless world, the opium of the people.”
- “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”
No thinker has a far-reaching global effect like Marx. He should be called Karl Marx, the Great because his thinking helped shaped the world!
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