Karl Marx Biography

Karl Marx was born 5 May 1818. Born in Trier, Germany, Marx studied law and philosophy at university.

He married Jenny von Westphalen in 1843. Marx and von Westphalen had seven children together, but partly owing to the poor conditions in which they lived whilst in London, only three survived to adulthood.

Due to his political publications, Marx became stateless and lived in exile with his wife and children in London for decades.

He continued to develop his thought in collaboration with German thinker Friedrich Engels and publish his writings, researching in the reading room of the British Museum.

Karl Marx
Karl Marx

His best-known titles are the 1848 pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto, and the three-volume Das Kapital.

Marx political and philosophical thought had enormous influence on subsequent intellectual, economic and political history. His name has been used as an adjective, a noun and a school of social theory.

Marx was afflicted by poor health (what he himself described as “the wretchedness of existence”) and various authors have sought to describe and explain it.

His biographer Werner Blumenberg attributed it to liver and gall problems which Marx had in 1849 and from which he was never afterwards free, exacerbated by an unsuitable lifestyle.

Following the death of his wife Jenny in December 1881, Marx developed a catarrh that kept him in ill health for the last 15 months of his life.

It eventually brought on the bronchitis and pleurisy that killed him in London on 14 March 1883 (age 64), dying a stateless person.

Family and friends in London buried his body in Highgate Cemetery (East), London, on 17 March 1883 in an area reserved for agnostics and atheists (George Eliot’s grave is nearby). There were between nine and eleven mourners at his funeral.

Karl Marx Quotes

Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite!

Social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex.

From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.

Without doubt, machinery has greatly increased the number of well-to-do idlers.

Religion is the opium of the masses.

Karl Marx Theory

Marx’s view of history, which historian called historical materialism (controversially adapted as the philosophy of dialectical materialism by Engels and Lenin). This certainly shows the influence of Hegel’s claim that one should view reality (and history) dialectically.

Marx believed that he could study history and society scientifically.  He noticed tendencies of history and the resulting outcome of social conflicts.

Some followers of Marx therefore concluded that a communist revolution would inevitably occur.

However, Marx famously asserted in the eleventh of his “Theses on Feuerbach” that “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point however is to change it” and he clearly dedicated himself to trying to alter the world.

He criticised speculative philosophy, equating metaphysics with ideology. By adopting this approach, Marx attempted to separate key findings from ideological biases. This set him apart from many contemporary philosophers.

Karl Marx Books

The Philosophical Manifesto of the Historical School of Law, 1842
Wage Labour and Capital, 1847
Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848
Theories of Surplus Value, 3 volumes, 1862
Value, Price and Profit, 1865
Capital, Volume I (Das Kapital), 1867

Karl Marx Historical Materialism

Historical materialism is materialist as it does not believe that history has been driven by individual’s consciousness or ideals.

He ascribes to the philosophical monism that matter is the fundamental substance of nature and henceforth the driving force in all of world history; this drove Marx and other historical materialists to abandon ideas such as rights.

In contrast, idealists believe that human consciousness creates reality rather than the materialist conception that material reality creates human consciousness.

This put Marx in direct conflict with people like Max Stirner and liberals who believed that some set of ideals governed reality.

Karl Marx Sociology

From an academic perspective, Marx’s work contributed to the birth of modern sociology.

Later historian cited him as one of the 19th century’s three masters of the “school of suspicion” alongside Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. As one of the three principal architects of modern social science along with Émile Durkheim and Max Weber.

In contrast to other philosophers, Marx offered theories that could often be tested with the scientific method.

Both Marx and Auguste Comte set out to develop scientifically justified ideologies in the wake of European secularisation and new developments in the philosophies of history and science.

Working in the Hegelian tradition, Marx rejected Comtean sociological positivism in an attempt to develop a science of society.

Karl Löwith considered Marx and Søren Kierkegaard to be the two greatest Hegelian philosophical successors.

In modern sociological theory, socialist recognized Marxist sociology as one of the main classical perspectives. Isaiah Berlin considers Marx the true founder of modern sociology “in so far as anyone can claim the title”.

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