Karl Heinrich Marx
Report for the Economics Class
Description of the life and works of the Prussian revolutionist, sociologist and economist Karl Heinrich Marx. Summarization of his idea of the perfect political and economical system, Marxism.
The Life of Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was born in May, 1818, in the city of Trier in the Rhine province of Prussia, today a part of Germany. His father, Heinrich Marx, a Jewish lawyer and his mother, born Henrietta Pressburg, baptized Karl in the Evangelical Established Church when he was six years old.
In 1835 Marx matriculated at the University of Bonn. In Bonn he spent one day in prison ‑ the only imprisionment he suffered in his life. However, he left Bonn after one year and enrolled at the University of Berlin to study law and philosophy. During the time as a student in Berlin, Marx was strongly influenced by Georg W. F. Hegel. Marx recieved his doctor's degree in 1841 from the University of Jena.
Marx considered Journalism as a career and in 1842 he became an editor of the 'Rheinische Zeitung'. As such he was obligated to write editorials on a variety of social and economic issues and about the new phenomenon of Communism. In the year 1843 Karl married Jenny von Westphalen, a close friend of his boyhood and the daughter of a high government official. A short time afer his marrige the newspaper, at which he worked, was suppressed and he emigrated with his wife to Paris where he became acquainted with French socialists. After being expelled from the French government, Marx left for Brussls in 1845.
In Brussls Marx established the lifelong friendship with Friedrich Engels, finding that they shared the same political views. They wanted to combine their intellectual resources and, as a result, they published several books together.
Marx was fascinated by Ludwig Feuerbachs idea that man had 'alienated himself from himself' by creating God in his image. So he applied the idea of 'alienation' to his thougts of private property, which he said causes men to work only for themseves and not for the whole society.
In 1847 Marx visited London, where he and Engels prepared a program for a secret organization of Workers. It appeared in 1848 as the 'Communist Manifesto' and declared that the struggle between the working class and the business class, under Capitalism, had to end in a self‑destruction of society and a change to Communism.
When a revolution suddenly erupted in Europe in the first month of 1848, Marx returned to the Rhineland. Now he pressed his policy throught the pages of the newly founded 'Neue Rheinische Zeitung'.
Expelled once more, Marx went to London in 1849. From 1851 to 1862 Marx and his family lifed in poverty, with only the little help from Engels and the relatives of his wife. Marx refused to work for money like a proletarian. During all these years he had one relatively steady source of earned income. He wrote about 400 articles and editorials for the 'New York Tribune' as the European correspondent.
In 1864 Marx's ideas had begun to influence a group of workers and German emigres in London, who founded the International Working Men's Association, later known as the First International. This new organization set up a committee to produce a program and a constitution. Marx, invited as the representative of the German workers, used his immense journalistic experience to present his political views to the committee. After various other drafts had been submitted, his ideas were taken.
Marx's name was still unknown in 1870, but he became famous in political circles of Europe, when the French‑Prussian War broke out. He and Engels disagreed with followers in Germany who refused to vote in favour of the war. The General Council declared that 'on the German side the war is a war of defense'. But after the defeat of the French armies, they felt that the German terms amounted to aggrandizement at the expense of the French people. When an insurrection broke out in Paris and the Paris Commune was proclaimed, Marx gave it his unswerving support. Engels judged the Paris Commune as the first example of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. Marx's name, as the leader of the First International, became synonymous throughout Europe with the revolutionary spirit symbolized by the Paris Commune.
In 1867, Marx published, together with Engels, 'Das Kapital', dealing with the economic system of Capitalism. The body of thoughts and belief known as Marxism is based one this book, also known as the 'Bible of the working class'.
During his lifetime Karl Marx wrote two major works together with Friedrich Engels. In both of them he described and discussed his views of politic and economic systems. The first one is 'The Communist Manifesto', a pamphlet, writen in 1848. It embodied the authors' materialistic conception of the stuggle between the classes in history. Also it surveyed history from the age of feudalism down to 19th‑century. Capitalism was destined to be overthrown and replaced by a workers' society. Communism would accomplish the 'abolition of private property' and 'raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class'. The Manifesto ends with the dramatic words 'The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite.'
The other famous work is 'Das Kapital', written by Marx and Engels in 1867. Much of 'Das Kapital' deals with Marx concept of the 'surplus value' of labor and its consequences for Capitalism. In Marx mind the large army of unemployed was blamed on the system of Capitalism. He explains in his book that the introduction of machines is profitable for the individual entrepreneur, to whom they give an advantage over his competitors. But as outlay for machinery grows in relation to outlay of wages, profit declines in relation to the total capital outlay. The capitalist will recieve less and less per hundred dollars of capital and can only try to postpone his bankruptcy by pressure upon the workers. Finally the 'capitalist class becomes unfit to rule, because it is incompetent to assure an existence to it's slave within his slavery'. Consequently, the system collapses and the working class inherits the power.
Marx spent most of his lifetime studying economic and social history in the British Museum in London to develop his theories. In the last years of his life, marked by illness and depression, his creativity declined, caused by the death of his wife and his eldest daughter. Finally, he died in March 1883 and was buried in the Highgate Cemetery in London.
Afer his death Engels published the second and third edition of 'Das Kapital'. Today his studies on economics and sociology themes are still very influential in academic circles and often discussed by those who do not share his political oppinions.
Marxism was developed in the middle of the 19th‑century by Karl Marx and, to a lesser extent, by Friedrich Engels. With time the content of Marxism changed, because other philosopher like Lenin and Stalin added their oppinion to the thoughts of Marx. Originally it is consisted of three main interrelated ideas: a philosophical view of man, a theory of history and an economic and political program.
The point of departure of human history is living man, who seeks to satisfy certain primary needs:
'Man is first of all a natural being. the ojects of
his instincts exist outside him, independent of him,
but the objects of his need, indispensable and essential
for the realization and confirmation of his substantial
powers.' (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844)
Every human has various needs he tries to satisfy. This satisfaction opens the way to more and new needs. Human activity is essentially a struggle with nature that must furnish man the means of satisfying his needs: food, drink, clothing and then the development of his intellectual and artistic abilities. In this undertaking, man discovers himself as a productive being who humanizes himself by his labor. Furthermore, man humanizes nature while he naturalizes himself. By his labor he realizes his identity with the nature he masters, while at the same time he recieves free consciousness. Born of nature man becomes fully human by opposing it. By appropriating all the creative energies, he discovers that 'all that is called history is nothing else than the process of creating man through human labor'. Fully naturalized, man recaptured his full liberty.
Another basic element that is appears in Marxism is alienation. Living in an capitalistic society man feels not really free. He is an alienated being; he is not home in his world. The causes of alienatien come to have an increasingly economic and social content. The more the worker produces the less he consumes and the more values he creates the more he devalues himself, because his product and his labor are estranged from him. The life of the worker depends on capital: no work, no pay. Under these conditions, labor denies the fullnes of concrete man. 'The genetic being of man is transformed into a being which is alien to him.' Alienated labor is seen as the consequence of market product, the division of labor and the divison of society into antagonistic classes. In Marxism the people are prevented form alienation, because everybody works not for himself but for society.
In Marx's ideas of a perfect economical system, the economy was seen a a whole and not in one or another of its aspects. In the book 'Das Kapital' he analyzes the economy of the 19th century in England to develop a better market system. It is a system of private enterprise and competition that arose in the 16th century from the development of sea routes, international trade and colonialism. Its rise had been facilitated by changes like division of labor and the concentration of workshops. The wealth of society that brought this economy into play had been acquired through an 'enormous accumulation of commodities'. If the capitalist advances funds to buy cotton yarn with which to produce fabrics and sell the prodoct for a larger sum than he paid, he is able to invest the difference in additional production. 'Not only is the value advance kept in circulation, but it changes in its magnitude, adds a plus to itself, makes itself worth more, and it is this movement that transforms it into capital.' The transformation is possible only because the capitalist has appropriated the means of production, including the labor power of the worker. Now the labor power produces more than it is worth. The value of labor power is determined by the amount of labor necessary for its reproduction or, in other words, by the amount needed for the worker to subsist and beget children. But in the hands of the capitalist the labor power employed in the course of a day produces more than the value of the sustenance required by the worker and his family. The difference between the two values is appropriated by the capitalist and it corresponds exactly to the surplus value realized by capitalists in the market. The introduction of machinery is profitable for the individuel capitalist because it enables him to produce more goods at a lower cost, but new techniques are soon taken by his competitors. The outlay for machinery grows faster than the outlay for wages. Since only labor can produce surplus value from which profit is derived, this means that the capitalist's rate of profit on his total outlay tends to decline. Along with the declining rate of profit goes an increase in unemployment. The equilibrium of the system is percarious, subject as it is to the internal pressures resulting from its own development. Crisis shake it at regular intervals, preludes to the general crisis that will sweep it away. This instability is increased by the formation of a reserve army of workers, both factory workers and peasants, whose pauperization keeps increasing. 'Capitalist production develops the technique of social production only by exhausting the two sources of wealth: the earth and the worker.'
Marxism calls itself to be the only economical system to avoid class stuggle. There are two basic classes, which are combined with other less important but similar classes: the class of the owners, or the bourgeoisie and the workers, or the proletariat. 'The bourgeoisie produces its own grave‑diggers. The fall of the bourgeoisie and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.' In other words that means that the bourgeoisie is getting richer and richer but most of the residents of this country are getting poorer. Because of this fact they would have to work more, which results in more profit for the bourgeoisie. This struggle of the classes has to end in a switch of society to a communist system.
Russia adopted Marxism as its constitution in the year 1917, when after a revolution, Lenin, who believed in Marx's thoughts, came to power. Since then the gouvernment acted in the way of Marxism. Its political system was called Marxism‑Leninism, a variation of the originall Marxism. After World War II some other countries adopted the same system as Russia and formed a wide society. With the time the economy of all these countries began to collapse. In 1989 the people of East Germany demonstated that they wanted to live in a democratic country, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian president opened the borders. Since then most of these countries were more west‑oriantated and wanted to join the European Union. It will take many years to bring these counties on the same economic level with the U.S.A., Japan or Germany, because all machines are old. Also, power sources are missing or so old that it is impossible to use them. Marx tried to avoid all these problems im his system. The worst mistake he made was that Capitalism does not self‑destruct.
In my oppinion Democrazy is a better political system than Marxism or similar systems. People in a Democrazy are allowed to say and to do much more than the people in a Marxism society. In both systems the people are allowed to vote, but in a Communist country there is only one party to elect. Another possibility is that the gouvernment tells the people that they live in a Democrazy but in reallity it is a kind Marxist system. When the people go to vote then they can choose between various parties. But all votes against the gouverning party are canceled out. Also the students in school are thought to act in the way of the system and not to get their own oppinion about politics.
Britannica Macropaedia 15th ed., s.v. 'Marxism',
s.v. 'Marx, Karl'
Britannica Micropaedia 15th ed., s.v. 'Marxism',
s.v. 'Marx, Karl',
s.v. 'Friedrich Engels',
s.v. 'Das Kapital',
s.v. 'Communist Manifesto',
s.v. 'First International'
Multimedia Encyclopedia, s.v. 'Marxism',
s.v. 'Marx, Karl'