Karl Marx: the sensitive theorist

The father of socialist theories, Karl Marx was also a great visionary, driven by a fierce desire for equality for mankind.

Engels: a decisive encounter


Born in Trèves on 5th May 1818, the second of eight siblings, Marx grew up in a bourgeois family. His father, who came from a long line of rabbis, was a man of the Enlightenment. A lawyer by profession, he converted to Protestantism to escape persecution. This didn’t prevent the young Karl from suffering discrimination which led to his anticlericalism and his interest in social matters. After secondary school, he left Trèves for Bonn and then Berlin, where he studied law and took an avid interest in history and philosophy. As a journalist, he fought for the freedom of the press. He joined the “Left Hegelians” movement although he rejected their idealism. His marriage to Jenny von Westphalen was not welcomed by his aristocratic in-laws. In 1844, the couple left for Paris where Marx struck up a decisive friendship with Friedrich Engels who became his closest collaborator and friend.

“Das Kapital was published in 1867, the conclusion to more than 2 decades of work.”

Das Kapital: a lifetime achievement


Before he was acclaimed for his writings, Marx lived a life of hardship and anonymity. After living in Brussels and Paris and returning briefly to Germany, from where he was exiled due to his work criticising the authorities, he left for London where he worked for the New York Tribune. He lived in poverty and Engels helped him to pay his rent. The two friends wrote often to each other; their letters gave rise to the Communist Manifesto which put forward the idea of class struggle and established the Ten Planks for the Passage to Communism. This manifesto caused an incredible stir across Europe and was adopted by all labour movements; above all, it foreshadowed Marx’s major work, Das Kapital, which was published in 1867, the conclusion to more than 20 years of work.

A universal legacy


The end of Marx’s life was marked by illness and by the organisation of the International Workingmen’s Association, of which he was not the founder but the “master thinker”. Following the deaths of his wife in 1881 and his eldest daughter in 1883, he gradually retired from political life and died in London the following year. His influence, however, would survive him by over a century. Seen by some as brilliant revolutionary and by others as a “bourgeois lecturer”, Marx will remain one of the greatest theorists of communism. Although the dictatorship of the proletariat did not happen as he had imagined, his observations and his writings are still taught today in university lecture halls all over the world and will continue to be taught for many more years to come.

 

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