Who was he: Karl Marx helped organize the Socialist movement and is the creator of a philosophy called Marxism. Marxism arguea that all historical events are caused by economic forces, the most important of these being class conflict between owners and workers. Marx outlined an inevitable evolution from feudalism to capitalism to socialism.
Depicted in writings as a philosopher, social scientist, historian and revolutionary, Karl Marx was largely ignored by scholars in his own lifetime. After his death in 1883, his social, economic and political ideas began to gain rapid acceptance. This success, however, has been due to the fact that Marx's original ideas have often been modified and their meanings adapted to a great variety of political circumstances.
Marx was especially influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach's book The Essence of Christianity. Marx responded with Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law. The introduction includes Marx's famous line translated as "religion is the opiate of the masses."
While Marx is still deemed influential, he based his theories on classical economics. This is static economics that holds that human beings are plot-points on a graph and will not change their behavior. Neo-classical economics emphasizes human action and embraces the concept that human beings have free-will. Marx's perspective endorsed government action to cure social problems, which is why it has remained popular even though in practice his confused ideas have never increased prosperity anywhere.
There is also speculation among the free-market "conspiracy crowd" that much of Marx's warmed-over authoritarian perspectives were taken from earlier Illuminati doctrines and that his partner, Friedrich Engels, was part of an elite conspiracy to emphasize government over markets and socialism over anarcho-capitalism. Marx, in other words, was a willing tool of the elite.
Background: Karl Heinrich Marx was born in Germany on May 5, 1818. His family was comfortably middle-class and came from a long line of rabbis on both sides of his family. His father, a lawyer, had his family converted to Lutheranism in 1824 in order to save his job. For all intents and purposes, Marx was Protestant, not Jewish.
As a youth, Marx received a good classical education and at the age of 17 enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Bonn. At age 18 he became engaged to aristocrat Jenny von Westphalen, daughter of Baron Ludwig von Westphalen, a prominent member of Trier society, and they were married six years later. It is through her influence that Marx became interested in romantic literature and the socialist Saint-Simonian movement.
The following year Marx went to study at the University of Berlin where he remained for four years, abandoning romanticism for the Hegelianism popular in Berlin at the time. Marx became a member of the Young Hegelian movement. This movement produced a radical critique of Christianity and, by implication, the liberal opposition to the Prussian autocracy. Marx gravitated to journalism and in October 1842 became editor, in Cologne, of the influential Rheinische Zeitung, a liberal newspaper. Marx's articles, particularly those on economic questions, resulted in the Prussian government shutting the paper down.
Marx then emigrated to France and upon arriving in Paris made contact with organized groups of emmigrant German workers and with French socialists. During his first few months in Paris, Marx became a communist and in a series of writings known as the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts began making his views known. It was also in Paris that Marx developed his lifelong partnership with Friedrich Engels (1820-1895).
Marx was expelled from Paris at the end of 1844 and with Engels, moved to Brussels where he remained for the next three years. While living in Brussels Marx renewed an intensive study of economics and history and joined the Communist League, within which Marx and Engels became the major theoreticians. At an 1847 League conference Marx and Engels were commissioned to write a succinct declaration of their position. The Communist Manifesto was published just before the 1848 wave of revolutions broke out in Europe.
Early in 1848 Marx moved back to Paris and then on to Germany before ultimately settling in London. During the first half of the 1850s in London, Marx's family life was characterized by grinding poverty. Marx's major source of income at this time was from Engels and was supplemented by weekly articles written as a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. This poverty was exacerbated by Marx's inability to manage his finances.
In 1856 a small legacy alleviated some of the financial pressure. However, his need to "keep up appearances" soon renewed his financial difficulties. It was not until 1864, upon the death of his mother, and receipt of a legacy from an old Communist comrade, that his financial difficulties finally lifted.
As Marx's money troubles receded, his health deteriorated. He was, during this period, not capable of the sustained effort that had so characterized his previous work. His best-known works are the classic The Communist Manifesto, cowritten with Engels, which called for the working classes to rise in rebellion, and Das Kapital (Capital).
In Das Kapital Marx sought to explain that the worker creates profits due to exploitation by the owners. According to Marx, when the value of the goods produced by workers is much more than the wages paid, it creates a "surplus value" and thus exploits the worker. Marx sought to create class envy by alleging that competition amongst owners forced them to exploit their workers as much as possible.
In the The Communist Manifesto Marx went into greater detail about how this revolution would unfold. Marx died March 14, 1883 and was buried at Highgate Cemetery in North London.