Karl Marx

Marx

Contemporary philosophy

Marx was a German philosopher of the 19th century (1818-1883). Born in Trier, he studied law at the University of Bonn, then history and philosophy at the University of Berlin. He was awarded a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Jena. He became editor-in-chief of the Gazette Rhénane, a journal deemed subversive by the authorities. He fled to Paris, met Engels, and together they published The Holy Family, The German Ideology, etc. Driven out, they joined the League of Communists in Brussels. He died in London.


The works of Marx summarised on this site

coming soon

The Communist Manifesto

Marx develops here an acerbic critique of the capitalist system and the bourgeoisie, the social class that owns the means of production


Bibliography

Here are the essential books if you wish to better understand this author's thought:

Mehring, Franz. Karl Marx: The Story of His Life (Routledge, 2003)
Bottomore, Tom, ed. A Dictionary of Marxist Thought. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998
Harvey, David. A Companion to Marx's Capital. London: Verso Books, 2010.
Saad-Filho, Alfredo. The Value of Marx: Political Economy for Contemporary Capitalism. London: Routledge, 2002.
Little, Daniel. The Scientific Marx, (University of Minnesota Press, 1986

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Biography: life of Marx

Youth

Karl Marx was born in Trier, in south-west Germany, in 1818. His father, a lawyer, was Jewish but converted to Protestantism in order to practise his profession. Karl Marx, the second of eight siblings, was baptised according to the Protestant rite.

At the age of 12, he entered the Gymnasium in his home town.

He studied law at the University of Bonn, then history and philosophy at the University of Berlin.

In 1841, Marx defended his thesis The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, at the University of Jena.

Politically, at this period, he was Left Hegelian, that is, he sought to draw revolutionary consequences from Hegel's writings.

He hoped to become a professor, but quickly abandoned this hope when he saw the bullying and persecution endured by Feuerbach or Bruno Bauer, other figures of this political current, at the hands of the Prussian government.


In 1842, Marx wrote several articles for the Rhenish Newspaper, an opposition newspaper founded in Cologne, and then became its editor-in-chief. This was quickly censored and then banned, even after his resignation.

In 1843, he married Jenny von Westphalen, with whom he had seven children.

He wrote the famous Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, composed mainly of notes taken during his readings of economists such as Ricardo, Adam Smith, Say... He was in fact able to realise his shortcomings in this field in the course of his work as a journalist.

In France and Belgium

Marx did not give up his career in the press. He moved to Paris, where censorship was likely to be less severe. He launched the German–French Annals, of which only one issue appeared, following disagreements with his collaborators.

He met Engels, and the two men struck up a deep friendship.

United by their reading of Feuerbach's works, which had just appeared, they in turn decided to write a work, The Holy Family. This was soon followed by The German Ideology and The Poverty of Philosophy.

With these three books, Marx and Engels broke with Feuerbach, Max Stirner and Proudhon, in other words with other conceptions of materialism and the revolutionary left.

Considered dangerous, Marx was expelled from France and went to take refuge in Belgium, in Brussels. There, in 1847, he organised a network of revolutionary groups, scattered throughout Europe, of which he took the lead: the Communist Committees of Correspondence.

These unified under the name Communist League, and Marx and Engels were invited to write the Manifesto of this association: this is the famous Communist Manifesto.

the statue of Marx in Kaliningrad
The bust of Marx in Russia, in Kaliningrad

In London

The 1848 Revolution broke out in France, then spread to Germany. Marx followed it: he settled in Paris, then in Cologne, where he founded a new newspaper: the New Rhenish Newspaper. His front page glorified the Parisian workers. Marx was arrested, tried and deported. After a brief stay in Paris, from where he was also expelled, he finally found his place of residence in London, where he remained until his death.

Living in poverty, despite financial help from Engels, he began to write The Capital. This work would last twenty years, since the work would not be published until 1867 (at least its first part: two volumes were to follow, which remained unfinished).

During this interval, Marx wrote food articles for the New York Tribune, and engaged in research into history, economics and politics. In contact with revolutionaries throughout Europe, he was nevertheless isolated, working alone.


The International Working Men's Association came into being in 1864: it was the "First International". It sought to unify the various components of the European workers' movement. Marx had the privilege of writing his inaugural speech, and then a text adopted by the International after the crushing of the Paris Commune: The Civil War in France. Following this text, he began to acquire a certain renown, within the workers' movement.


However, conflicts between Marx and Bakunin undermined this first International; Bakunin's supporters were excluded, which weakened the Association itself, which practically ceased its activities and was then dissolved.


Marx continued to write the next two volumes of Capital. Left unfinished, they were reworked and edited by Engels.

His ideas began to spread in progressive intellectual circles, and his reputation grew. Some people began to proclaim themselves Marxists; for all that, he was wary of these "disciples", who were often caught up in naive revolutionary messianism: If this is Marxism, what is certain is that I am not a Marxist he would say.

In reality Marx's name only became truly famous after his death, with the rise of the workers' movement. His thought, often summed up in superficial slogans, then spread in wide circles.


In his final years, Marx faced many physical ailments. After the death of his wife and then a trip to Algiers for health reasons, he died in London in 1883.

Main works

The Holy Family
The German Ideology
Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right
Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844
Theses on Feuerbach
Capital