Karl marx

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Karl Heinrich Marxwas born May 5, 1818 and died March 14, 1883 in Trier, Prussia. In early life he studided law at the University of Bonn and then at the University of Berlin. He became distracted by drinking, duelling and love writing. He was aGermanphilosopher,political economist,historian,political theorist,sociologist, communist, andrevolutionary, whose ideas were credited as the foundation of moderncommunism. Marx summarized his approach in the first line of chapter one ofThe Communist Manifesto , which he published jointly with Fredriech Engels, in 1848: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history ofclass struggles." Marx argued thatcapitalism, like previous socioeconomic systems, would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its destruction(Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008)).

Just ascapitalism replaced feudalism, he believedsocialismwould, in its turn, replace capitalism, and lead to astateless, classless societycalledpure communism. This would emerge after a transitional period called the "dictatorship of the proletariat": a period sometimes referred to as the "workers state" or "workers' democracy".

In section one of The Communist Manifesto Marx describes feudalism, capitalism, and the role internal social contradictions play in the historical process. In his life Marx had many key influences that impacted towards his thoughts. Three that I would like to talk about are Enlightenment, Utopian Socialism and French class stuggles.


The Enlightenment was an intellecual movement which marked the rise of the bourgeoisie in Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries, in which ideas of god, reason, nature and human were shaped in adherance to capitalist ideology through revolutionary developments in art, philosophy and politics. Central to Enlightenment was the elevation of Reason.

The rise of empirical and rational natural science (Bacon, Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Leibneiz and Newton), Renaissance art, and the protestant reformation laid the basis for the enlightenment. For Luther, as for Bacon or Descartes, the way to truth lay in the application of human reason, rather than the authority of the Fathers of the Church.

Inevitable, Reason was applied to religion itself leading to Deism, especially in England and France, and the more radical products of the application of reason to religion: scepticism, atheism and materialsim. The Enlightenment produced the first modern theories of psychology, language, political economy and ethics – Locke, Hobbes, David Hume, Adam Smith and Bentham in England, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot and Voltaire in France, Thomas Jefferson in America and Goethe, Schiller, Immanual Kant and Fichte in Germany, for example.

Thus the Enlightenment became critical, reforming and eventually revolutionary with an evolving critique of the arbitrary, authoritarian state and the concept of a higher from of social organisation, based on natural rights and individual freedom which found expression as reform in England and revolution in France and America.

The reaction that followed the Jacobin application of science to social progress in France (Thermidor in 1794) and the growing social agony following the application of science to industry in Britain, confronted the bourgeoisie with the horrified reality of the implementation of their ideas, and brought an end to the Enlightenment period. The following cultural period, known as Romanticism, took a darker view of the human condition, seeking solace in the idealisation of the past and pondering the fall of humankind. (http://www.marxists.org/glossary/terms/e/n.htm#enlightenment)

Marx was simultaneously so much a product of the enlightenment, and so much a product of the romantic revolt again the enlightenment. Like the French materialists of the eighteenth century, Marx believed in progress, believed that history was a linear process, not, as the ancient world had thought, that is was a repetitive cycle of growth and decay; but like the critics of the enlighenment, such as Burke, de Maistre, and Hegel, he thought that social change had not occurred in the past and would not occur in the future merely because some enlightenment persons could see that it would be more reasonable to behave in a different way. It was violent and irrational forces which brought about significant change, and the rationality of the whole historical process was something we could understand only after the event. His encounter with Marx seems to have inspired Berline to grapple with the anti-enlightenment; he has since written at length about the anit-rationalist critics of revolutionary and liberal projects, such as Herder, de Maister and Hamann.

Marxism shares with the enlightenment a belief in the capacity of human reason to both conquer nature and improve the shape our political and social life. The enlightenment can seem to dismiss or downplay the passions that lead men and women to be concerned about more than comfort and commodious living. The objective, analytical and reductionist scientific reasoning of the enlightenment leads us away from recognizing, the beauty of the world in which we live; the unique qualities of individual people and things; the power of our subjective imagination to shape and change our world; the enduring importance of mysterious questions—such as about our origins and place in the world as a whole—that resist hard and fast answers.

Marx supports enlightenment ideas and tries to bring them together with romantic themes. He believed, with the enlightenment, that scientific thought was they key to explaining and manipulating the world to suit human purposes. But these purposes were not just to make life easier, to enable us to work less hard and buy more material goods. Rather, for Marx, scientific thought enables us to help understand the world and ourselves in depth and to revolutionize the political, social and natural worlds in which we live. Rather than neglect deep and mysterious questions, it reveals the answers to us. It explains to us our true nature and destiny as productive species beings. Rather than help us satisfy the desires we have now, it teaches us what desires we would have if we were truly free. It explains to us the origins of our ideas of God and why we should abandon them. It explains to us how our political and social world was formed and where it is heading. It explains not only the force but the source of our subjective ideas about the world. It explains to us the origins of human conflict and the way in which we will be able to overcome such conflict. Marx also believed, with the enlightenment, that useful knowledge would lead to a great expansion in human productive powers. But Marx romanticizes machinery and factories. He sees them not just as tools for the production of useful goods, but as the means by which human beings can transform nature and overcome scarcity and necessity. Marx certainly believed, with the enlightenment, in the democratization of knowledge and the importance of the diffusion of knowledge for democracy. Marx held that knowledge of the world around us could be spread among all people. He held that everyone could and should come to understand their political and social life so that they can play a part in the revolutionary transformation of it. And the spread of knowledge was, of course, vitally important to his desire to create a radical democracy, one in which everyone has an equal share of political influence.

Utopian Socialism

Utopia – literally “nowheresville” – was the name of an imaginary republic described by Thomas More in which all social conflict and distress has been overcome. There have been many versions of Utopia over the years, many of them visions of socialist society. Although Marx and Engels defined their own socialismin opposition to Utopian Socialism (which had many advocates in the early nineteenth century), they had immense respect for the great Utopian socialists like Charles Fourier and Robert Owen.

By describing how people would live ifeveryone adhered to the socialist ethic, utopian socialism does three things: it inspires the oppressed to struggle and sacrifice for a better life, it gives a clear meaning to the aim of socialism, and it demonstrates how socialism isethical, that is, that the precepts of socialism can be applied without excluding or exploiting anyone.

The problem with Utopian socialism is that it does not concern itself withhow to get there, presuming that the power of its own vision is sufficient, or withwhotheagentof the struggle for socialism may be, and, instead of deriving its ideal fromcriticismof existing conditions, it plucks its vision readymade from the creator's own mind. Over 40 versions of Utopia were published between 1700 and 1850. Engels makes special mention of Morelly'sCode of Nature. (http://www.marxists.org/subject/utopian/)

The Socialist and Communist systems properly so called, those of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen and others, sprung into existence in the early undeveloped period, of the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. Whilst Marx had respect for the Utopian Socialists he criticised their respective views on the subject. One of these was Claude Henri Saint-Simon (1970-1825), whom fought in the American revoltion, and was in prison during the French revolution. Saint-Simon wanted an atheist society that was led by science and industry. Another person Marx criticised is Robert Owen (1772-1858). Owen wanted compassionate capitalism with some collectivity. He built a neighbourhood in and around New Lanark Mill, which had schools to train the young and a place where the older generation could retire…which Marx criticised. Charles Fourier (1772-1837) was another theorist Marx disagreed with. Fourier wanted to get rid of war completely and instead of war have cake eating competitions where everyone was happy; he also wanted to replace the sea with lemoade.

Marx socialism is very much a science, and he gives many guidelines to achieve the ultimate goal that he writes about. He teaches not only of the happy ending, but the work to be done in between. He also came quite a bit later than the Utopian Socialists.

Utopian socialism is a very different thing. Around the year 1820, the middle of the industrial revolution, there was a lot of change, and a lot of societal growth. The utopian thinkers, for the most part, were responding to a societal disconnect, and a society that no longer held traditional values. Famous utopian socialist's inclue Fourier, Saint- Simons and Owen, French and British. There were also Germans who upheld these ideas. Most utopian philosophers differ greatly in their ideals, but they all strive to create a world that is utopian in its nature, a paradise for people to live in.

However, the main difference between Marxism and Utopian Socialism is the 'getting there'. The utopian socialists do not think of the long term, or how difficult it will be to create the worlds that they envision.

Class Struggles

Marx was 25 he married his fiancée Jenny von Westphalen. He and his bride moved to Paris a year later, where he took up the history of the French Revolution, studied the work of utopian socialists and English and French economists. In Paris, Marx attended workers' meetings; he got in touch with the leaders of the secret League of the Just, and met members of clandestine French workers' societies. He became aware of the exploitation of the workers by factory owners.

Marx looked at capitalsim as creating only two major classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The borgeoisie literally means city-dwellers in French (most of the wealthy business classes lived in the cty), and proletariat is a term he borrowed from history; it was originally used to identify part of the class system of Imperial Rome – a group one rung up from the slaves. These groups were capitalists and the workers, respectively. The bourgeoisie were owners of the means of production; the prolitariat worked for them. Marx pointed out that members of each of the two main classes have interests in common. These class or collective interests are in conflict with those of the other class as a whole. This in turn leads to conflict between individual members of different classes.

The bourgeoisie were different from the aristocracy in that the origin of their wealth was not strictly found in social lineage. Although many inherited wealth, they were forced to invest it in order to make money. Much of the money of this group came from family earnings. Although some were former aristocrats, many came from the merchant class and invested their money to make more money. Marx made some room for what he referred to as the petite bourgeoisie – those who have substantial earnings like shop owners and professional people. However, one distinguishing feature is the idea that the bourgeoisie own the means of production. Most do not need to work because it is through the investment of capital that they become rich and maintain their wealth. Everyone else works for them. Also, the arugment can be made that lawyers, doctors and small shop owners (a group now rapidly disappearing) merely serve the needs of capital that has been invested. They all work for the bourgeoisie to keep the machine running.

Marx proposed that it is class, more than anything else, which determines one's consciousness. This is to say that one sees the world through one's class position and acts accordingly. The bourgeoisie understand that they need to pay workers low wages to make greater profits, and so they can act in behalf of their own best interests in doing so. They realise their position, who they are, and what they are doing. On the other hand, the proletairat has no such power and no understanding of their own potential. For the most part, they feel fortunate to be exploited and to have a job. Because the jobs at which they work are for the most part in the service of someone else and not themselves, they only get validation of who they are and what they are worth through their paycheck. They see themselves as powerless and, therefore, need to take on the consciousness of the bourgeoisie – the consciousness of their oppressors. They become what Malcolm X referred to as ‘house slaves'. The majority identify with their oppressors and thus do not view themselves as exploited workers. By private ownership of the media, the government, and the educational system, the bourgeoisie keep workers in a fog, never allowing them to be truly educated or to realise their full potential. (http://books.google.co.uk)

Marx thought that this conflict was central to the social structure of capitalism and could not be abolished without replacing the system itself. Further, he argued that the objective conditions under capitalism would likely develop in a way that encouraged a proletariat organized collectively for its own goals to develop: the accumulation of surplus value as more means of production by the capitalists would allow them to become more and more powerful, encouraging overt class conflict. If this is not counteracted by increasing political and economic organization by workers, it would inevitably cause an extreme polarization of the classes, encouraging therevolutionthat would destroy capitalism itself.

Overall, from what I have studied from the past few months I can see that many different factors and theories influenced Marx's thoughts, especially those cited above.


http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/bio/marx/lifeandwork.htm (Accessed: 12/01/10)

http://ih52.stier.net/notes/marx/erm.htm (Accessed: 20/01/10)

Baird, Forrest E.; Walter Kaufmann (2008).From Plato to Derrida. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.(Accessed 19/01/10)

Karl Marx:Critique of the Gotha Program (Marx/Engels Selected Works, Volume Three, p. 13-30;) (InLetter from Karl Marx to Joseph Weydemeyer(MECW Volume 39, p. 58;) (Accessed 20/01/10)

http://www.marxists.org/subject/utopian (Accessed 25/01/10)

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=OJUiRbuSq2AC&pg=PA43&dq=karl+marx+enlightenment&ei=skaJS7fuAYbIywSh-ISXDg&cd=1#v=onepage&q=karl%20marx%20enlightenment&f=true (Accessed 25/01/10)

McLellan, D (2006) Karl Marx A Biography. 4th Edition.

Storey , J (2009) Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. 4th Edition.