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Marx, Karl (1818-1883)
"And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic anatomy of classes. What I did that was new was to prove:
(1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with the particular, historical phases in the development of production [See: Historical Materialism]
(2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
(3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.
Letter to Weydemeyer
March 5, 1852
Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 , in the city of Trier in Rheinish Prussia. His family was Jewish, but converted to Protestanism in 1824. The family was petty-bourgeois; his father was a lawyer. After graduating from a Gymnasium (High School) in Trier, Marx entered the university, first at Bonn and later in Berlin, where he read law, majoring in history and philosophy. He concluded his university course in 1841, submitting a doctoral thesis on the philosophy of Epicurus. At the time Marx was a Hegelian idealist in his views. In Berlin, he belonged to the circle of "Left Hegelians" (with Bruno Bauer and others) who sought to draw atheistic and revolutionary conclusions from Hegel’s philosophy. Ludwig Feuerbach began to criticize theology, particularly after 1836, and he began his turn to materialism, which in 1841 gained ascendancy in his philosophy (The Essence of Christianity).
After graduating from university, Marx moved to Bonn, hoping to become a professor. However, the reactionary policy of the government made Marx abandon the idea of an academic career, after Ludwig Feuerbach had been deprived of his chair in 1832 (and who was not allowed to return to the university in 1836); and in 1841 the government had forbade the young Professor Bruno Bauer to lecture at Bonn.
At the begining on 1842, some radical bourgeois in the Rhineland (Cologne), who were in touch with the Left Hegelians, founded a paper in opposition to the Prussian government, called the Rheinische Zeitung. Marx and Bruno Bauer were invited to be the chief contributors, and in October 1842 Marx became editor-in-chief and moved from Bonn to Cologne.
The newspaper’s revolutionary-democratic trend became more and more pronounced under Marx’s editorship, and the government first imposed double and triple censorship on the paper, and then on January 1 1843 suppressed it. Marx was forced to resign the editorship before that date, but his resignation did not save the paper, which suspended publication in March 1843. Of the major articles Marx contributed to Rheinische Zeitung, Engels notes, an article on the condition of peasant winegrowers in the Moselle Valley. Marx’s journalistic activities convinced him that he was insufficiently acquainted with political economy, and he zealously set out to study it. (See: Marx’s articles for the Rheinische Zeitung)
In 1843, Marx married, at Kreuznach, a childhood friend he had become engaged to while still a student. His wife came from a bourgeois family of the Prussian nobility, her elder brother being Prussia’s Minister of the Interior during an extremely reactionary period ?1850-58.
In the autumn of 1843, Marx went to Paris in order to publish a radical journal abroad, together with Arnold Ruge (1802-1880). Only one issue of this journal, Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, appeared. Publication was discontinued owing to the difficulty of secretly distributing it in Germany, and to disagreement with Ruge. Marx’s articles in this journal showed that he was already a revolutionary who advocated "merciless criticism of everything existing", and in particular the "criticism by weapon", and appealed to the masses and to the proletariat.
Also in 1843, Feuerbach wrote his famous Principles of the Philosophy of the Future. "One must have experienced for oneself the liberating effect" of these books, Engels subsequently wrote. "We [i.e., the Left Hegelians] all became at once Feuerbachians."
In September 1844, Frederick Engels came to Paris for a few days, and from that time on became Marx’s closest friend. Shortly after meeting, Marx and Engels worked together to produce the first mature work of Marxism ?The German Ideology. In this work, largely produced in response to Feuerbach’s materialism, Marx and Engels set down the foundations of Marxism with the materialistic conception of history, and broke from Left Hegelian idealism with a critique against Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways;" Marx wrote in an outline for the begining of the book, " the point is to change it."
In the mid to late-1840s both Marx and Engels took a most active part in the then seething life of the revolutionary groups in Paris (of particular importance at the time was Proudhon's doctrine), which Marx broke into pieces in his Poverty of Philosophy, (1847).
At the insistent request of the Prussian government, Marx was banished from Paris in 1845, considered by both governments a dangerous revolutionary. Marx then moved to Brussels. In the spring of 1847 Marx and Engels joined a secret propaganda society called the Communist League. Marx and Engels took a prominent part in the League’s Second Congress (London, November 1847), at whose request they drew up the Communist Manifesto, which appeared in February 1848. With outstanding clarity, this work outlines a new world-conception based on materialism. This document analysises the realm of social life; the theory of the class struggle; the tasks of the Communists; and the revolutionary role of the proletariat ?the creators of a new, communist society.
On the outbreak of the Revolution of February 1848, Marx was banished from Belgium. He returned to Paris, whence, after the March Revolution, he went to Cologne, Germany, where Neue Rheinische Zeitung was published from June 1 1848 to May 19 1849, with Marx as editor-in-chief. The victorious counter-revolution first instigated court proceedings against Marx (he was acquitted on February 9, 1849), and then banished him from Germany (May 16, 1849). First Marx went to Paris, where he was again banished after the demonstration of June 13, 1849, and then went to London, where he lived until his death.
Marx’s life as a political exile was an extremely difficult one, as the correspondence between Marx and Engels clearly reveals. Poverty weighed heavily on Marx and his family; had it not been for Engels?constant and selfless financial aid, Marx would not only have been unable to complete Capital but would have inevitably have been crushed by hunger and malnutrition.
The revival of the democratic movements in the late fifties and in the sixties thrusted Marx back into political work. In 1864 (September 28) the International Working Men’s Association ?the First International ?was founded in London. Marx was the heart and soul of this organization, and author of its first address and of a host of resolutions, declaration and manifestos. In uniting the labor movement of various forms of non-proletarian socialism (Mazzini, Proudhon, Bakunin, liberal trade-unionism in Britain, Lassallean deviations to the right, etc.), and in combating the theories of all these sects and schools, Marx here hammered out uniform tactics for the proletarian struggle of the working in the various countries. (See Marx’s writings for the First International)
Following the downfall of the Paris Commune (1871) ?of which Marx gave a clear-cut materialistic analysis of these events in The Civil War In France, 1871 ?and the Bakunin cleavage in the International (See: Marx’s conflict with Bakunin), the organization could no longer exist in Europe. After the Hague Congress of the International (1872), the General Council of the International had played its historical part, and now made way for a period of a far greater development of the labor movement in all countries in the world, a period in which the movement grew in scope, and mass socialist working-class parties in individual national states were formed.
Marx’s health became undermined by his strenuous work in the International and his still more strenuous writings and organising. He continued work on the refashioning of political economy and on the completion of Capital, for which he collected a mass of new material and studied a number of languages (Russian, for instance; Marx was fully fluent in German, French, and English). However, ill-health prevented him from completing the last two volumes of Capital (which Engels subsequently put together from Marx’s notes).
Marx’s wife died on December 2, 1881, and on March 14, 1883, Marx passed away peacefully in his armchair. He lies buried next to his wife at Highgate Cemetery in London.
See Also: The Marx/Engels Biographical Archive.