Karl Marx was the third child of Heinrich Marx and Henrietta Pressburg and was born in 1818 in Germany. He had eight brothers, but two died while he was still a child. Marx’s upbringing is unknown, but it is clear that he was privately educated in the elementary years, attended Trier High School, and later attended the University of Bonn, where he majored in law as instructed by his father. Marx began associating with thinkers at university and eventually entered a community called Young Hegelians, who subscribed to the works of Friedrich Hegel, a German philosopher. Later on, Marx married in 1843 Jenny von Westphalen, a daughter of a wealthy man, and they went on to have seven children (Raddatz and Barry 7).
The 19th century was a period of global transformation in all spheres of life. Notably, it is the time when the industrial revolution was shaping the economic and social landscape of Europe. The western countries of Europe had started the shift from depending on agriculture to industrial production and processing (Marx and Engels 475). Many people were moving from the rural areas to the cities where they worked in the manufacturing industries. Callinicos notes that the period had just followed the Enlightenment era of the masses through education, philosophy, and religion (Callinicos 9). Therefore, young scholars such as Marx had the opportunity to consume various texts on a variety of issues in life. The population was ready to pursue knowledge through education and apply some of the concepts advocated by scientists and philosophers. It was a period when different revolutions took place around the world as state nations gained shape.
In his lifetime, Karl Marx wrote several texts, some were published, but others were never until after his death. The fact that the ideas of Marx and his colleagues rubbed the authorities the wrong way made it a challenge for Marx to publish most of his controversial works. Callinicos believes the most famous of Marx text wads the Communist Manifesto (1848), which he co-authored with Engel (12). The work is popular across the world and is used by economists, philosophers, sociologists, and politicians. Other famous works by Karl Marx include the; The German Ideology (1845), The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), On the Jewish Question (1843), and Das Kapital (1867). Since he worked as a journalist, Marx published many other articles under pseudonyms to avoid victimization (Raddatz and Barry 77).
Contribution to political theory
The ideas of Karl Marx on politics and the society in general shaped the ideologies of many leaders across the world. He developed the Marxist theory that is applied in different ways by leaders and social activists. Political leaders such as Lenin of Russia, Mao of China and Leon Trotsky heavily relied on the teachings of Karl Marx (Callinicos 121) The same applies to the communist states that emerged in different parts of the world that relied on some aspects of Marxism. Therefore, the philosophy of Marx has significantly influenced the politics of the world despite the fact that capitalism prevailed over socialism.
Praises and Condemnations of Capitalism
Karl Marx praises the Bourgeois for the role they played in revolutionizing the means of production and opening the door for free trade. In particular, Marx singles out that the Bourgeois brought an end to the feudal and patriarchal social systems that encouraged exploitation. Instead, they introduced the money economy that ensured everybody deserved payment for work done irrespective of family background or gender. Hence, the brutal exploitation that existed in the world for thousands of years such as slavery were abolished by the new economic and social system of capitalism (Marx and Engels 475).
Marx also commends the capitalist system for upgrading the production system of the world to levels that had never been seen before. Thanks to the ambitious efforts of the Bourgeois, the industrial revolution became a reality in the world. The change of production system necessitated the population to move from the rural areas to the urban areas. The Bourgeois used their powers to create large cities with elaborate social services and infrastructure that was not present when the population was scattered. Hence, Marx gives credit to the capitalist system for bringing the massive changes in the world. The Communist Manifesto acknowledges that the capitalist system was responsible for the development of the world in the 19th century. While previous civilizations relied on free and family labor to drive their economy, the capitalist system introduced paid employment as the driving force of the economy. The free trade system implied that anybody was free to offer services and pay for services. The capitalist system destroyed the feudal and religious strongholds that bound the minds of the masses (Marx and Engels 483).
On the other hand, the Marx blames the Bourgeois for the creation of a class society. With the rise of the upper class who owned the means of production, the workers also formed a distinct class he called the Proletarians. The capitalist took advantage of their positions to exploit the working class the literary built the industries. According to the Communist Manifesto, the number of the proletariats increased and became concentrated in the urban centers. Soon, the Bourgeois started devising ways of preventing the lower class from rising because they depended on their labor to prosper economically. To make it worse, the modern industry saw the ruling class introduce machines that reduced the bargaining power of the workers (Marx and Engels 477).
The Bourgeois went ahead to amass both political and economic power leaving the masses that consisted of proletariats powerless and without property. According to Marx and Engels, the rise of the communist was to advocate the elimination of private property because, in the capitalists’ system, all property belonged to the few in the society (482). The communists argued that capital ought to be socially owned and not private as was the case with Bourgeois. Apparently, Marx forecasted the downfall of the Bourgeois as the proletariats would eventually stage a revolution that would restore power to the masses.
Karl Marx remains one of the greatest political thinkers of the world. His works are not only studied as social, economic, and political theories but are also practiced by leaders and political parties. Even though much of his predictions about the rise of communism did not come true, his views on the society, power, and economy are still relevant in the present world. He was a brave philosopher with the courage to speak against the prevailing system of his period. He died a stateless man because none of the European countries were willing to associate with him. However, today they have all set up museums and other monuments to honor his legacy as a global philosopher.
Callinicos, Alex. The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx. 1st ed., Chicago, Illinois, Haymarket Books, 2011.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The communist manifesto. Penguin, 1848.
Raddatz, Fritz J, and Richard Barry. Karl Marx: A Political Biography. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979.