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Karl Marx: Life and Legacy

Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian History.

Portrait of Karl Marx.

Portrait of Karl Marx.

Quick Facts

  • Birth Name: Karl Marx
  • Birth Place: Trier, Prussia
  • Date of Birth: 5 May 1818
  • Death: 14 March 1883
  • Cause of Death: Pleurisy
  • Resting Place: Tomb of Karl Marx (Located in Highgate Cemetary, London)
  • Spouse(s): Jenny von Westphalen
  • Parents: Heinrich Marx (father) and Henriette Pressburg (mother)
  • Children: Jenny, Laura, and Eleanor
  • Siblings: Louise Juta Marx (sister); Sophie; Hermann, Henriette, Emilie, Karoline.
  • Occupation: Economist; Philosopher; Historian; Theorist; Sociologist; Socialist; Journalist
  • Nationality: German; Jewish
  • Education: University of Bonn; University of Berlin; University of Jena (PhD)
Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels

Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels

Marx's Life

Fact #1: Karl Marx was Jewish, and had many ancestors who were rabbis. Prior to his birth, however, Marx’s father (Heinrich) converted to Lutheranism. Although Marx was baptized at the age of 6, he later became an atheist. It is believed that Marx’s father converted to Lutheranism for political and social reasons. Following the Napoleonic Wars, Jews were not allowed to serve in higher professions. Through conversion, historians believe that Heinrich wished to provide himself (and his family) with an opportunity for advancement.

Fact #2: In his first year of college (at the University of Bonn), Marx was imprisoned by local authorities for public drunkenness, and for fighting a duel with a fellow student. After the humiliating experience, Marx’s parents enrolled him at the University of Berlin where he began an in-depth study of law and philosophy. It was here that Marx first learned about the teachings of G.W.F. Hegel; an individual whose ideas helped to inspire Marx to challenge all ideas concerning education, religion, and politics.

Fact #3: Marx eluded military service in the early to mid-1800s due to a supposed “weak chest.”

Fact #4: In his college years, Marx had poor relations with his father and mother, who were ashamed of his early mishaps at the University of Bonn. Marx even refused to attend his father’s funeral in 1838, choosing to remain in Berlin.

Fact #5: Marx suffered from poor health for much of his life; facing liver problems, insomnia, headaches, tooth and dental pain, and arthritis.

Fact #6: Aside from his philosophical contributions, Marx was a noted poet and author; publishing numerous novels, poems, and plays. Later works (most notably, The Communist Manifesto) resulted in his banishment from Germany (and later France). Marx later relocated to London, where he lived out the rest of his life.

Fact #7: In 1836, Marx became engaged to baroness, Jenny von Westphalen. They later married on 19 June 1843. The pair had known one another since childhood. Due to social class differences (as well as the fact that Westphalen was several years older than Marx), the marriage between the pair was relatively scandalous for the time period.

Fact #8: Marx met Friedrich Engels while living in Paris (following his banishment from Germany). It was here that the pair began to shape their ideas concerning the proletariat and bourgeoisie. Until Marx’s death, Engels provided his friend with monetary aid on a regular basis. Both Engels and Marx collaborated on numerous projects, including The Communist Manifesto.

Fact #9: Marx’s ideas were relatively unknown during his lifetime; spreading only after his death in the 1870s and 1880s. A large component of Marx’s theories center around the idea of “class struggle,” in which he argues that society develops along a dialectical path. Marx believed that capitalism, which evolved from the failures of mercantilism, would eventually wither away given the inherent discord between the bourgeoisie and proletariat (working class). In its place, Marx believed that socialism would replace capitalist society as the dominant economic force in world affairs; setting the stage for a communist future (the pinnacle of human progression).

"The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people."

— Karl Marx

Quotes by Marx

Quote #1: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”

Quote #2: “The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”

Quote #3: “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!”

Quote #4: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

Quote #5: “Necessity is blind until it becomes conscious. Freedom is the consciousness of necessity.”

Quote #6: “The meaning of peace is the absence of opposition to socialism.”

Quote #7: “The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: abolish all private property.”

Quote #8: “Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form.”

Quote #9: “In bourgeois society, capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.”

Quote #10: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Notable Works by Karl Marx

The Philosophical Manifesto of the Historical School of Law (1842)

Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy or Right (1843)

The Holy Family (1845)

The German Ideology (1845)

Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848)

Theories of Surplus Value (1862)

Das Kapital (1867)

Conclusion

To this day, Karl Marx remains one of the most influential modern thinkers to have ever existed in world history. In the decades and century that followed his death, Marx’s ideas helped to inspire numerous revolutionary movements, particularly in Russia, China, and Cuba during the long twentieth-century; sparking repressive movements, dictatorial regimes, as well as a broad swathe of social movements. Historians and scholars, alike, continue to uncover new facts about Marx with each passing year. Only time will tell what new information can be gleaned about Marx’s life and political thought patterns.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Jones, Gareth Stedman. Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2016.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. 1848.

McLellan, David. Karl Marx: A Biography, 4th Edition. New York, New York. Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.

Sperber, Jonathan. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Wheen, Francis. Karl Marx: A Life. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.

Works Cited:

"Karl Marx." Wikipedia. August 18, 2018. Accessed August 18, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Marx.

© 2018 Larry Slawson

Comments

Khal Rasdam from Penang but occasionally traveling. on November 27, 2018:

Great article. In my opinion Karl Marx's ideals of communism was a utopian dream but unachievable in the real world. Communism only works among the ants and bees living in their colonies.

The communist party rules China but its economy is capitalist and money rules. North Korea supposedly has communist ideologies but ruled by a few living a life of luxury while the masses live in poverty and tyranny. The masses, which communism is all about, don't have much of a say.

Karl Marx to me was all talk but no substance to offer the real world. He had to depend on Engels for money. He never had a real job like the working masses.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 19, 2018:

This is a well-collated article on Karl Marx. You have nailed a great format for these articles.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on August 18, 2018:

Very well done. It brings me to look at his life and his differing stages of enligtenment. Our world made better by him.

Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on August 18, 2018:

I've read quite a bit of Marx and have found his thoughts useful and also his life interesting. It's interesting he wrote a satirical piece called "The Jewish Question" which some people mistakenly took to be anti-Semitic. I think his work on Alienated Labor is applicable to this day. He was a great thinker, no doubt. It was interesting here to get more info about his life.