|Name: ||Karl Marx |
|Birth: ||May 5, 1818 (Trier, Germany) |
|Death: ||March 14, 1883 (London) |
|School/tradition: ||Marxism |
|Main interests: ||Political philosophy, Social philosophy, Philosophy of economics, Politics, Economics, class struggle |
|Notable ideas: ||Co-founder of Marxism (with Engels), alienation and exploitation of the worker, historical materialism |
|Influences: ||Aristotle, Democritus, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Sismondi, Stirner, Smith, Ricardo, Rousseau, Goethe, Fourier, Spinoza |
|Influenced: ||Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Guevara, Sartre, Debord, Frankfurt School, Negri, Fidel Castro,more... |
Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818, Trier, Germany – March 14, 1883, London) was an immensely influential philosopher from Germany (Although a British Citizen when he died), a political economist, and a socialist revolutionary. While Marx addressed a wide range of issues, he is most famous for his analysis of history in terms of class struggles, summed up in the opening line of the introduction to the Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."
At the same time as Engels, Marx took part in the political and philosophical struggle of his times, writing the Communist Manifesto a year before the Revolutions of 1848, although the two events had nothing to do with each other. Marx had broken with his university environment, German Idealism and the Young Hegelians, and took part in the debates of the European workers' movement, in particular in relation with the First International founded in 1864. He published the first volume of Das Kapital in 1867, a few years before the 1871 Paris Commune. The influence of his ideas, already popular during his life, was given added impetus by the victory of the Russian Bolsheviks in the 1917 October Revolution, and there are few parts of the world which were not significantly touched by Marxian ideas in the course of the twentieth century. The relation of Marx's own thought to the popular "Marxist" interpretations of it during this period is a point of controversy; he himself once said that "the only thing I know is that I'm not a Marxist" (in response to the views of a French Social-Democratic Party calling itself "Marxist"). While Marx's ideas have declined in popularity, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet regime, they are still very influential today, both in academic circles, some worker movements, and in political practice, and Marxism continues to be the official ideology of some Communist states and political movements.
The impact of Karl Marx (1818-83) upon the socialist movement has been unparalleled. Marx was a scholar, economist, and philosopher. After studying law and philosophy in Prussia (Germany) being awarded a doctorate by the (then) University of Jena, he became a journalist. The claims that Marx was initiating what amounted to a religion date from correspondence as early as 1842, when Marx was still at the purely atheistic stage of his development.
With his close friend Friedrich Engels, he wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1848, followed by numerous other works. Although Marx did not invent socialism, he soon dominated the movement, and his theories came to be known as Marxism.
His radical ideas led to successive exiles in Paris, Brussels, and finally London. There, Marx spent years reading, researching, and writing in the British Museum.
While Marx was supported financially by Engels, he nevertheless lived in poverty with his wife Jenny von Westphalen, their children and maid, Helene Demuth. With his wife, Marx had six children, although only three survived into adulthood: Jenny (1844-1883), Laura (1846-1911) and Eleanor (1856-1898), who was a significant socialist in her own right. In addition, Marx fathered a son with Demuth, Frederic (1851-1929), who was put out to adoption; Marx never acknowledged his paternity.
His association with Engels concluded with the three-volume Das Kapital, the last two volumes of which Engels wrote from Marx's rough notes and manuscripts. Other works by Marx were not published until the twentieth century.
Influences on Marx's thought
Marx's thought was strongly influenced by:
- The dialectical method and historical orientation of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel;
- The classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo;
- French socialist and sociological thought, in particular the republican conception of Jean-Jacques Rousseau;
- German Idealism and the young Hegelians, in particular Ludwig Feuerbach.
- Antique materialism (Democritus and Epicure's theory of clinamen)
- The anti-capitalist struggle in the English industrial region of Lancashire
Marx believed that he could study history and society scientifically and discern tendencies of history and the resulting outcome of social conflicts. Some followers of Marx concluded, therefore, that a communist revolution was inevitable. This conception, shared by the young Marx (who formulated it in the Communist Manifesto but later abandoned it), however, did not entail fatalism. In the eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach (1845), Marx had famously asserted that "philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point however is to change it"; he thusly opposed praxis (the unity of theory and practice) to idealist interpretations which opposed themselves as various philosophical Weltanschauung. Marx thus cut with Prussian university in order to work with the labour movement in order to try to alter the world. Consequently, most followers of Marx have been activists who believed that revolutionaries must organize social change.
Marx's view of history, which came to be called historical materialism (controversially adapted as the philosophy of dialectical materialism by Engels and Lenin, a term never used by Marx himself) is certainly influenced by Hegel's claim that reality (and history) should be viewed dialectically. Hegel believed that the direction of human history is characterized in the movement from the fragmentary toward the complete and the real (which was also a movement towards greater and greater rationality). Sometimes, Hegel explained, this progressive unfolding of the Absolute involves gradual, evolutionary accretion but at other times requires discontinuous, revolutionary leaps — episodal upheavals against the existing status quo. For example, Hegel strongly opposed slavery in the United States during his lifetime, and he envisioned a time when Christian nations would radically eliminate it from their civilization. While Marx accepted this broad conception of history, Hegel was an idealist, and Marx sought to rewrite dialectics in materialist terms. He wrote that Hegelianism stood the movement of reality on its head, and that it was necessary to set it upon its feet.
Marx's acceptance of this notion of materialist dialectics which rejected Hegel's idealism was greatly influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach. In The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach argued that God is really a creation of man and that the qualities people attribute to God are really qualities of humanity. Accordingly, Marx argued that it is the material world that is real and that our ideas of it are consequences, not causes, of the world. Thus, like Hegel and other philosophers, Marx distinguished between appearances and reality. But he did not believe that the material world hides from us the "real" world of the ideal; on the contrary, he thought that historically and socially specific ideology prevented people from seeing the material conditions of their lives clearly.
The other important contribution to Marx's revision of Hegelianism was Engels' book, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, which led Marx to conceive of the historical dialectic in terms of class conflict and to see the modern working class as the most progressive force for revolution
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The legacy of Marx's thought is bitterly contested between numerous tendencies who claim to be Marx's most accurate interpreters, including Marxism-Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism, and libertarian Marxism.
Marx's philosophy hinges on his view of human nature. Along with the Hegelian dialectic, Marx inherited a disdain for the notion of an underlying invariant human nature. Sometimes Marxists express their views by contrasting “nature” with “history”. Sometimes they use the phrase “existence precedes consciousness”. The point, in either case, is that who a person is, is determined by where and when he is — social context takes precedence over innate behavior; or, in other words, one of the main features of human nature is adaptability. Nevertheless, Marxist thought rests on the fundamental assumption that it is human nature to transform nature, and he calls this process of transformation "labour " and the capacity to transform nature labour power. For Marx, this is a natural capacity for a physical activity, but it is intimately tied to the active role of human consciousness:
- A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. (Capital, Vol. I, Chap. 7, Pt. 1)
Marx did not believe that all people worked the same way, or that how one works is entirely personal and individual. Instead, he argued that work is a social activity and that the conditions and forms under and through which people work are socially determined and change over time.
Marx's analysis of history is based on his distinction between the means / forces of production, literally those things, such as land, natural resources, and technology, that are necessary for the production of material goods, and the relations of production, in other words, the social and technical relationships people enter into as they acquire and use the means of production. Together these comprise the mode of production; Marx observed that within any given society the mode of production changes, and that European societies had progressed from a feudal mode of production to a capitalist mode of production. In general, Marx believed that the means of production change more rapidly than the relations of production (for example, we develop a new technology, such as the Internet, and only later do we develop laws to regulate that technology). For Marx this mismatch between (economic) base and (social) superstructure is a major source of social disruption and conflict.
Marx understood the "social relations of production" to comprise not only relations among individuals, but between or among groups of people, or classes. As a materialist and claiming to be making a scientific analysis, Marx did not understand classes as purely subjective (in other words, groups of people who consciously identified with one another). He sought to define classes in terms of objective criteria, such as their access to resources. For Marx, different classes have divergent interests, which is a source of social disruption and conflict. Marx proposed to study history (he meant written history; Marx and Engels accepted claims by some contemporary anthropologists that non-literate societies were not class-stratified) in terms of such conflicts:
- The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. (The Communist Manifesto, Chap. 1)
Marx was especially concerned with how people relate to that most fundamental resource of all, their own labour power. Marx wrote extensively about this in terms of the problem of alienation. As with the dialectic, Marx began with a Hegelian notion of alienation but developed a more materialist conception. For Marx, the possibility that one may give up ownership of one's own labour — one's capacity to transform the world — is tantamount to being alienated from one's own nature; it is a spiritual loss. Marx described this loss in terms of commodity fetishism, in which the things that people produce, commodities, appear to have a life and movement of their own to which humans and their behavior merely adapt. This disguises the fact that the exchange and circulation of commodities really are the product and reflection of social relationships among people. Under capitalism, social relationships of production, such as among workers or between workers and capitalists, are mediated through commodities, including labor, that are bought and sold on the market.
Commodity fetishism is an example of what Engels called false consciousness, which is closely related to the understanding of ideology. By ideology they meant ideas that reflect the interests of a particular class at a particular time in history, but which are presented as universal and eternal. Marx and Engels' point was not only that such beliefs are at best half-truths; they serve an important political function. Put another way, the control that one class exercises over the means of production includes not only the production of food or manufactured goods; it includes the production of ideas as well (this provides one possible explanation for why members of a subordinate class may hold ideas contrary to their own interests). Thus, while such ideas may be false, they also reveal in coded form some truth about political relations. For example, although the belief that the things people produce are actually more productive than the people who produce them is literally absurd, it does reflect the fact (according to Marx and Engels) that people under capitalism are alienated from their own labour-power. Another example of this sort of analysis is Marx's understanding of religion, summed up in a passage from the preface to his 1843 Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right:
- Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
Whereas his Gymnasium senior thesis argued that the primary social function of religion was to promote solidarity, here Marx sees the social function as a way of expressing and coping with social inequality, thereby maintaining the status quo.
Marx argued that this alienation of human work (and resulting commodity fetishism) is precisely the defining feature of capitalism. Prior to capitalism, markets existed in Europe where producers and merchants bought and sold commodities. According to Marx, a capitalist mode of production developed in Europe when labor itself became a commodity — when peasants became free to sell their own labor-power, and needed to do so because they no longer possessed their own land. People sell their labor-power when they accept compensation in return for whatever work they do in a given period of time (in other words, they are not selling the product of their labor, but their capacity to work). In return for selling their labor power they receive money, which allows them to survive. Those who must sell their labor power are "proletarians." The person who buys the labor power, generally someone who does own the land and technology to produce, is a "capitalist" or "bourgeoise." The proletarians inevitably outnumber the capitalists.
Marx distinguished industrial capitalists from merchant capitalists. Merchants buy goods in one market and sell them in another. Since the laws of supply and demand operate within given markets, there is often a difference between the price of a commodity in one market and another. Merchants, then, practice arbitrage, and hope to capture the difference between these two markets. According to Marx, capitalists, on the other hand, take advantage of the difference between the labor market and the market for whatever commodity is produced by the capitalist. Marx observed that in practically every successful industry input unit-costs are lower than output unit-prices. Marx called the difference "surplus value" and argued that this surplus value had its source in surplus labour, the difference between what it costs to keep workers alive and what they can produce.
The capitalist mode of production is capable of tremendous growth because the capitalist can, and has an incentive to, reinvest profits in new technologies. Marx considered the capitalist class to be the most revolutionary in history, because it constantly revolutionized the means of production. But Marx argued that capitalism was prone to periodic crises. He suggested that over time, capitalists would invest more and more in new technologies, and less and less in labor. Since Marx believed that surplus value appropriated from labor is the source of profits, he concluded that the rate of profit would fall even as the economy grew. When the rate of profit falls below a certain point, the result would be a recession or depression in which certain sectors of the economy would collapse. Marx understood that during such a crisis the price of labor would also fall, and eventually make possible the investment in new technologies and the growth of new sectors of the economy.
Marx believed that this cycle of growth, collapse, and growth would be punctuated by increasingly severe crises. Moreover, he believed that the long-term consequence of this process was necessarily the enrichment and empowerment of the capitalist class and the impoverishment of the proletariat. He believed that were the proletariat to seize the means of production, they would encourage social relations that would benefit everyone equally, and a system of production less vulnerable to periodic crises. In general, Marx thought that peaceful negotiation of this problem was impracticable, and that a massive, well-organized and violent revolution would in general be required, because the ruling class would not give up power without violence. He theorized that to establish the socialist system, a dictatorship of the proletariat - a period where the needs of the working-class, not of capital, will be the common deciding factor - must be created on a temporary basis. As he wrote in his Critique of the Gotha Program, "between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat."  Yet he was aware of the possibility that in some countries, with strong democratic institutional structures (e.g. Britain, the US and the Netherlands) this transformation could occur through peaceful means, while in countries with a strong centralized state-oriented traditions, like France and Germany, the upheaval will have to be violent.
Das Kapital (or Capital in English) is written over three volumes, of which only the first was complete at the time of Marx's death. As a finished work, it represents Marx's most important and comprehensive work of economics.
The work both builds upon and critiques the classical political economy of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, whilst presenting withering criticism both of the economics of "utopian" socialists and "vulgar" bourgeois economists. Alongside the theoretical discussion, there is a detailed empirical and historical account of the capitalism of his day, especially the social and economic conditions of mid-nineteenth century Northern England. The first volume, and especially the first chapter of that volume, contains the core of the analysis and the critique of commodity fetishism. Hegel's methodological legacy is strongly evident, and Marx urges the reader to approach the work with that characteristic thoroughness. According to his prescriptions, the method of presentation proceeds from the most abstract concepts, incorporating one new layer of determination at a time and tracing the effects of each such layer, in an effort to arrive eventually at a total account of the concrete relationships of everyday capitalist society.
Marx was involved in a huge ongoing work-in-progress, which was only published posthumously over a hundred years later as Grundrisse. These sprawling, voluminous notebooks that Marx put together for his research on political economy, particularly those materials associated with the study of "primitive communism" and pre-capitalist communal production, in fact, show a more radical turning "Hegel on his head" than heretofore acknowledged by most mainstream Marxists and Marx-scholars. In lieu of the Enlightenment belief in historical progress and stages that Hegel explicitly stated (often in a racist, Eurocentric manner, as in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History), Marx pursues in these research notes a decidedly empirical approach to analyzing historical changes and different modes of production, emphasizing without forcing them into a teleological paradigm the rich varieties of communal productions throughout the world and the critical importance of collective working-class antagonism in the development of capitalism.
Moreover, Marx's rejection of the necessity of bourgeois revolution and appreciation of the obschina, the communal land system, in Russia in his letter to Vera Zasulich; respect for the egalitarian culture of North African Muslim commoners found in his letters from Algeria; and sympathetic and searching investigation of the global commons and indigenous cultures and practices in his notebooks, including the Ethnological Notebooks that he kept during his last years, all point to a historical Marx who was continuously developing his ideas until his deathbed and does not fit into any pre-existing ideological straitjacket, including that of Marxism itself (a famously telling anecdote is the one in which Marx quipped to Paul Lafargue "All that I know is that I'm not a Marxist").
- See also: Marxism
Statue of Marx and Engels in Alexanderplatz, Berlin.
Marx and Engels' work covers a wide range of topics and presents a complex analysis of history and society in terms of class relations. Followers of Marx and Engels have drawn on this work to propose a grand, cohesive theoretical outlook dubbed Marxism. Nevertheless, there have been numerous debates among Marxists over how to interpret Marx's writings and how to apply his concepts to current events and conditions. Moreover, it is important to distinguish between "Marxism" and "what Marx believed"; for example, shortly before he died in 1883, Marx wrote a letter to the French workers' leader Jules Guesde, and to his own son-in-law Paul Lafargue, accusing them of "revolutionary phrase-mongering" and of denying the value of reformist struggles; "if that is Marxism" — paraphrasing what Marx wrote — "then I am not a Marxist").
Essentially, people use the word "Marxist" to describe those who rely on Marx's conceptual language (e.g. "mode of production", "class", "commodity fetishism") to understand capitalist and other societies, or to describe those who believe that a workers' revolution as the only means to a communist society. Some, particularly in academic circles, who accept much of Marx's theory, but not all its implications, call themselves "Marxian" instead.
Six years after Marx's death, Engels and others founded the "Second International" as a base for continued political activism. This organization was far more successful than the First International had been, containing mass workers' parties, particularly the large and successful German Social Democratic Party, which was predominantly Marxist in outlook. This international collapsed in 1914, however, in part because some members turned to Edward Bernstein's "evolutionary" socialism, and in part because of divisions precipitated by World War I.
World War I also led to the Russian Revolution in which a left splinter of the Second International, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, took power. The revolution influenced workers around the world into setting up their own section of the Bolsheviks' "Third International". Lenin claimed to be both the philosophical and political heir to Marx, and developed a political program, called "Leninism" or "Bolshevism", which called for revolution organized and led by a centrally organized "Communist Party."
Marx believed that the communist revolution would take place in advanced industrial societies such as France, Germany and England, but Lenin argued that in the age of imperialism, and due to the "law of uneven development", where Russia had on the one hand, an antiquated agricultural society, but on the other hand, some of the most up-to-date industrial concerns, the "chain" might break at its weakest points, that is, in the so-called "backward" countries.
In China Mao Zedong also claimed to be an heir to Marx, but argued that peasants and not just workers could play a leading role in a Communist revolution in third world countries still marked by feudalism whose majority of workers were peasants, not industrial workers. This was termed by Mao as the New Democratic Revolution. As a departure from Marx's understanding of the socialist revolution that maintained that the revolution must take place with countries that have already gone through the capitalist stage of development first and have produced the proletarian class as the majority, which is to carry out the revolutionary transformation of society into a socialist country and communist world. Marxism-Leninism as espoused by Mao came to be internationally known as Maoism.
Under Lenin, and increasingly after the rise to power of Joseph Stalin, the actions of the Soviet Union (and later of the People's Republic of China) came in many people's mind to be synonymous with Marxism, with its attendant suppression of the rights of individuals and workers in the name of the struggle against capitalism, including the execution of large numbers of people under Stalin, a fact which has been used by anti-Communists against Marxism. However, there were throughout dissenting Marxist voices — Marxists of the old school of the Second International, the left communists who split off from the Third International shortly after its formation, and later Leon Trotsky and his followers, who set up a "Fourth International" in 1938 to compete with that of Stalin, claiming to represent true Bolshevism.
Statue of Marx and Engels in the Statue Park, Budapest.
Coming from the Second International milieu, in the 1920s and '30s, a group of dissident Marxists founded the Institute for Social Research in Germany, among them Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse. As a group, these authors are often called the Frankfurt School. Their work is known as Critical Theory, a type of Marxist philosophy and cultural criticism heavily influenced by Hegel, Freud, Nietzsche, and Max Weber.
The Frankfurt School broke with earlier Marxists, including Lenin and Bolshevism in several key ways. First, writing at the time of the ascendance of Stalinism and fascism, they had grave doubts as to the traditional Marxist concept of proletarian class consciousness. Second, unlike earlier Marxists, especially Lenin, they rejected economic determinism. While highly influential, their work has been criticized by both orthodox Marxists and some Marxists involved in political practice for divorcing Marxist theory from practical struggle and turning Marxism into a purely academic enterprise.
Influential Marxists of the same period include the Third International's Georg Lukacs and Antonio Gramsci, who along with the Frankfurt School are often known by the term Western Marxism.
In 1949 Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman founded Monthly Review, a journal and press, to provide an outlet for Marxist thought in the United States independent of the Communist Party.
In 1978, G. A. Cohen attempted to defend Marx's thought as a coherent and scientific theory of history by restating its central tenets in the language of analytic philosophy. This gave birth to Analytical Marxism, an academic movement which also included Jon Elster, Adam Przeworski and John Roemer. Bertell Ollman is another Anglophone champion of Marx within the academy, as is the Israeli Shlomo Avineri.
The following countries had governments at some point in the twentieth century who at least nominally adhered to Marxism (those in bold still do as of 2006): Albania, Afghanistan, Angola, Bulgaria, China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Ethiopia, Hungary, Laos, Moldova, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, Somalia, the USSR and its republics, Yugoslavia, Vietnam. In addition, the Indian states of Kerala and West Bengal have had Marxist governments.
Marxist political parties and movements have significantly declined since the fall of the Soviet Union, with some exceptions, perhaps most notably Nepal.
According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index, between 1980 and 1992 Karl Marx was the most cited authority overall, followed by a Marxist: Vladimir Lenin.
Marx was ranked #27 on Michael H. Hart's list of the most influential figures in history, and #3 on the German television show "Unsere Besten".
In July 2005 Marx was the surprise winner of the 'Greatest Philosopher of All Time' poll by listeners of the BBC Radio 4 series In Our Time.
- Avineri, Shlomo, 1968. The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx. Cambridge University Press.
- Avineri, Shlomo, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (UK, Cambridge, 1968)
- Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx: His Life and Environment.
- Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution (4 volumes). Monthly Review Press.
- Ronald Duncan, with Wilson, Colin, eds., 1987. Marx Refuted. Bath, UK ISBN 0-906798-71-X
- Stephen Jay Gould, A Darwinian Gentleman at Marx's Funeral - E. Ray Lankester, Page 1, Find Articles.com (1999). (Marx's tomb)
- Sterling Harwood, "Madisonian Democracy and Marxist Analysis: Ryder on the Constitution," in Christopher B. Gray, ed., Philosophical Reflections on the United States Constitution (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1989), pp. 29-36, reprinted in Sterling Harwood, ed., Business as Ethical and Business as Usual (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1996), pp. 341-344.
- Daniel Little, 1986. The Scientific Marx. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-1505-5. Marx's work considered as science.
- David McLellen, Karl Marx: His Life and Thought
- Jerry Z. Muller, 2002. The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought. Anchor Books.
- Boris Nicolaevski & Otto Maenchen-Helfen, Karl Marx: Man and Fighter, Penguin books.
- Maximilien Rubel, 1975. Marx without myth: A chronological study of his life and work. Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-15780-8
- Francis Wheen, Karl Marx, Fourth Estate (1999), ISBN 1-85702-637-3 (biography of Marx)
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