Who was Karl Marx?
Karl Heinrich Marx, or Carlos Enrique Marx, was a 19th century German philosopher, whose thought, on the political, social and economic sphere, has transcended and influenced numerous historical events of the 20th century.
He is considered a revolutionary activist for his criticism of the capitalist system and the social inequality it generates.
His efforts were focused on trying to change the world through a system without social classes and without inequalities, which he called communism and which, in his opinion, was a more just system.
Karl Marx biography
Youth: begin studies in philosophy
Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 in Trier, Germany, into a Jewish family and in an environment influenced by the ideas of the French Revolution. In 1835 he began studying law at the University of Bonn, a time when his first revolutionary ideas began to emerge.
He continued his career at the University of Berlin in 1836, where he immersed himself in Hegelian thought and abandoned the law to dedicate himself to philosophy. It was at the university of Jena that he received his doctorate in philosophy thanks to his thesis Difference between Democritus ‘and Epicurus’ philosophy of nature in 1841.
Paris and Brussels: social struggle and expulsion
In 1843 he married Jenny von Westphalen, who was a childhood friend and with whom he had six children. It was during this year that he moved to Paris and met Friedrich Engels, friend and intellectual collaborator, with whom he wrote his most important works.
In 1845 he was expelled from Paris accused of writing revolutionary articles in an official newspaper and moved to Brussels. He manages to enter the city under the promise of not publishing anything related to the politics of the time. In this period Marx and Engels began to write The German Ideology and participate in the first Communist League in London, who commissioned the writing of The Communist Manifesto.
After the publication of The Communist Manifesto, he was expelled from continental Europe and took refuge in London in 1849, where he lived until the end of his days.
London: The Capital newsroom
In 1864 the AIT (International Association of Workers) was founded, also known as the First International. Marx would become director of the association and it served him to spread his doctrine through the labor movement worldwide.
Marx delves into his studies on economics and writes numerous newspaper articles. In 1867 the first volume of his masterpiece, El Capital, was published. In 1871, European governments put an end to the First International after the Revolt of the Communards, also known as the Paris Commune.
During his last years he worked on volumes II and III of El Capital, which would not see the light of day until after his death.
Karl Marx died on March 14, 1883, two years after his wife, due to his physical and mental deterioration. His remains rest in Highgate Cemetery, London.
Contributions of Karl Marx
Karl Marx’s thinking was influenced by the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach. From Hegel he took dialectics, history, and the concept of alienation. De Feuerbach adopted the theory of materialism and atheism.
He became interested in classical economics, hand in hand with Adam Smith, and in the ideas of the utopian socialists, which will serve as the basis for his doctrine. Also the labor movement, active since the Industrial Revolution, will have its influence on Marxian theory.
His ideas are within the socialist ideology, although he preferred to call it scientific socialism to differentiate it from previous currents. The scientific socialism analyzes the behavior of people to the effects of the economy throughout history.
His anthropological conception perceives the human being as a natural being, who transforms nature through work, and as a historical being, whose essence changes as history changes.
Karl Marx’s philosophy has a theoretical intention, which aims to explain reality from a scientific point of view, and a practical intention, which seeks the transformation of that reality.
Marx developed a series of fundamental concepts on which his doctrine is based, which constitute a great contribution to philosophy and a basis for some social transformations that occurred in the 20th century.
Historical Materialism explains the relationship of the human being with society and nature through work. Analyze how humans produce livelihoods. The mode of production conditions social, political and spiritual life, and is determined by two elements:
- The economic infrastructure is the economic system by which the production and satisfaction of material needs is organized. It is formed by the material forces of production (the environment, the means and the workforce) and the relations of production (the relationship between employers and workers).
- The ideological superstructure is the set of ideas of a society (culture, beliefs, etc.) that try to maintain the economic system. The economy, according to Marx, defines the way of being and thinking of human beings.
Alienation is a situation in which the human being is alien to his essence. Marxist thought maintains that the essence of the human being is work.
Alienation is caused because the worker and his workforce are treated as merchandise in exchange for a salary. Marx points out that the value of the commodity depends on the amount of work it took to produce it.
There are several types of alienation:
- Alienation in terms of the product, the product obtained through work is attributed to the employer and not to the worker. The value of objects increases as the essence of the worker decreases.
- Alienation in terms of activity, the activity carried out does not allow the worker to fulfill himself and contributes to the loss of his essence. Due to the class division between the dominant, the bourgeoisie, and the dominated, the proletariat, and the situations of inequality that it causes, the sense of community disappears to give way to competition.
- Alienation in terms of his person, the worker ceases to have a human perception of his person and begins to see himself as part of the work machinery. This alienation is due to the fact that working conditions are so precarious that they do not allow him to lead a fully human life.
The capital gain is the value of more that the employer earns by paying the worker a salary less than the value of his work. The employer accumulates wealth through the part of the salary that he does not pay to the worker. This mechanism of capitalism is known as exploitation and contributes to the accumulation of capital by entrepreneurs.
Marx points out the existence of two social classes, the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, and the dominated class, the proletariat.
The class struggle is considered by Marx as the engine of history and is born from the dissatisfaction of one of the social classes, generally the dominated class, with the economic system.
The class struggle resulted in the transition from slavery to feudalism and from feudalism to capitalism, so Marx envisions that it will also serve as a transition from capitalism to communism.
Process in which workers must become class conscious and unite to fight against their oppressor. For Marx, it is necessary to build a more just society through the revolution of the workers’ movement.
A revolution in which the working class, aware that bourgeois power resides in workers’ labor, rises up against the bourgeoisie.
He sees the need for the socialization of the means of production to end surplus value. If factories, machines and tools become the property of the community, the accumulation of wealth by the entrepreneur can be stopped.
It is the system in which Marx identifies the solution to build a more just society. For Marx, union and international solidarity among workers is the solution to exploitation and inequality.
Capitalism would come to an end as a consequence of its contradictions and the social discontent it generates.
Marx understands the state as an enemy at the service of the bourgeois class.
In the dictatorship of the proletariat, the working class takes the power of the state to organize society through the communist system, to end alienation and social classes. The worker will be able to identify himself, at last, with the product of his work.
Marxist thought holds that the success of an economic system lies in its ability to satisfy the basic needs of societies.
Karl Marx works
These are some of the most important works that Marx wrote, many of them with the collaboration of his friend, Friedrich Engels, with whom he had a great intellectual affinity and a close friendship since his stay in Paris. It will be Engels who will be in charge of completing and publishing the works that his friend left incomplete before he died.
Scorpion and Felix: a humorous novel, is a satirical novel written by the young Marx in 1837.
Difference between the philosophy of nature in Democritus and Epicurus (1841), is his doctoral thesis.
Critique of Hegel’s philosophy of law (1843), criticizes the contradictions that occur in Hegelian thought and accuses religion of being the anesthesia that prevents the people from thinking.
On the Jewish question (1843) is a political essay that he wrote in response to Bruno Bauer in which he maintains the importance of collective sentiment for society.
Economic and philosophical manuscripts (1844) also known as the Paris Notebooks. In them he makes a first approach to his theory and an analysis of the economy and industrial society.
The German Ideology, written by Marx and Engels in 1845 during their stay in Brussels. In it, a philosophical and economic analysis is made, concepts such as alienation and other capitalist concepts are raised.
The Holy Family (1845) is a critique, prepared by Marx in collaboration with Engels, the Bauer brothers and Hegelian philosophy in which they condemn their contemplative character and invite the struggle to improve society.
The misery of philosophy (1847) a polemic criticism of Proudhon’s work The Philosophy of Misery.
Wage Labor and Capital (1847) is an essay in which he scientifically expresses his ideas on alienation.
Manifesto of the Communist Party or Communist Manifesto (1848) is a text created by Marx and Engels, which was commissioned by the League of Communists, where the foundations of Marxism are laid. Concepts such as class struggle, alienation, proletarian revolution are dealt with. It contains a proposal that is made up of ten articles with measures to organize society in the event that workers come to power.
Luis Bonaparte’s 18 Brumaire (1852) written in which he parodies the coup that took place in Paris in 1851 and reviews the politics of the time.
Grundisse or Fundamental Elements for the Critique of Political Economy (1857), are notes on political economy written by Marx that are considered the draft of what would later become Capital.
Theories on surplus value (1862), is an in-depth analysis of surplus value in Europe.
Capital (1867) is considered the most important work of Marx, who had the collaboration of Engels for its elaboration.
The civil war in France (1871), are manifestos of the International Association of Workers that describe the events that occurred between 1870 and 1871 in France, especially the events of the Paris Commune. For the first time in history, workers seized power to try to run society. Through his analysis, Marx made a text that would serve as a manual for future movements.
The Revolt of the Communards was a rebellion of the Parisian workers influenced by the socialist ideas of Karl Marx.
Capital: the great work of Marx
Capital is considered the masterpiece of Karl Marx. It consists of three volumes, the first was published by Marx himself, and two more volumes that were published by his friend Friedrich Engels, who collected the manuscripts to complete, edit and publish them after his death.
Capital, volume I (1867), carries out an analysis on the functioning of capitalism. The wealth of society is originated by an accumulation of merchandise, of capital. Marx develops the concept of commodity fetishism as the basis of capitalist ideology. This concept affirms that mercantile relations influence the ideology of society, which believes that the value of the merchandise resides in itself and not in the labor force used in its production. Identify a clear relationship between capital accumulation and debt accumulation. Marx understands debt as fictitious capital. Capitalism is in permanent imbalance between the systems it produces, since the new destroys the old capital.
Capital, volume II (1885), Marx tries to explain the operation of supply and demand in the capitalist system. It analyzes the rotation of capital and its imbalances, the time and cost required for the circulation of capital in the market.
Capital, volume III (1894) analyzes the process by which profits are produced in capitalism. Formulate a theory about business cycles and the periodic crises that occur at the end of each cycle.
Marxism: the revolutionary ideology
Marxism is an ideology of a philosophical, political, social and economic nature formulated from the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as a critique of the capitalist system.
It is founded on historical materialism that explains the evolution of the human being and its production systems throughout history. In turn, he uses dialectical materialism to explain the changes that have occurred in history through the class struggle.
Marxism seeks a social transformation through revolutionary movements. It considers necessary changes such as the elimination of the State, social classes and private property of the means of production to end exploitation and inequality.
This doctrine became a reference for new currents of thought and relevant events of the 20th century, such as the Russian Revolution of 1917 or the Cuban Revolution of 1959.