Karl Marx is arguably the most influential socialist thinker and revolutionary of the 19th century. Through his greatest work, “The Communist Manifesto”, he laid the groundwork for many communist regimes in the years that followed.
Until now, his philosophy on politics and economics continues to influence more than half of the modern world.
Early Life and Education
Karl Heinrich Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in Trier, Kingdom of Prussia, now known as Germany. He hailed from an affluent middle-class family, with both parents descending from a long line of rabbinic ancestry. The Marx family was Jewish but was forced to convert to Christianity. This is so his father could continue his law practice in the midst of Prussia’s anti-Jewish laws.
As a young boy, Marx was a mediocre student. He was homeschooled until the age of 12, after which he studied at Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium in Trier for five years. He then went to the University of Bonn to study law, a decision his father imposed on him. There, he became a member of the politically radical Poet’s Club and was constantly under police surveillance. He also served as the co-president of the Trier Tavern Club drinking society.
Eventually, his grades started to plummet. He got imprisoned for public drunkenness and engaging in a fight with another student. Naturally, his poor academic performance and co-curricular activities at the University worried his parents. After his first year, they transferred him to the more academically-inclined Frederick William University in Berlin.
Becoming a Revolutionary
Karl Marx studied law and philosophy and was exposed to the teachings of late professor Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He became a member of a radical group of Hegel’s followers called “Young Hegelians”, known to criticize existing ideas and institutions in politics, philosophy, and even religion.
After completing his degree, Marx struggled to find a career in the academia due to his political background. He moved to Cologne and started a career as a journalist. He became a writer – and eventually the editor – of Rheinische Zeitung, a liberal democratic newspaper.
He used the paper as an avenue to express his views on economics and socialism. He often criticized ineffective and unproductive political figures on both sides of the Prussian government. The next year, after publishing a story that was critical of the Russian monarchy, the newspaper was permanently shut down by the government.
He decided to move to Paris with his wife. There he met and developed a strong friendship German socialist Friedrich Engels. The latter convinced Marx of the power of the working class to spark a revolution that would end all social and economic struggles in history.
Marx started to embrace the ideology of communism and championed it through Vorwarts! (translated from “Forward!”), a German-language radical newspaper. He formed ties with an organization that would later become the Communist League. For this reason, he was expelled from France.
Greatest Works and Legacy
Karl Marx moved to Brussels, Belgium where his ideologies of socialism further intensified. He first developed his theory on social materialism and wrote The German Ideology (published years after his death).
In 1846, he attempted to congregate all European socialists and formed the Communist Correspondence Committee. He also inspired a group of English socialists to form the Communist League. Upon the request of the organization, he authored The Communist Manifesto together with Engels. This eventually became the most-celebrated work of the socialist movement.
Published in 1848, the manifesto upholds that the history of mankind was shaped and defined by class struggle, and the only way to eradicate it is through the victory of the proletariat. Shortly after the publication of their work, Marx was again expelled from Belgium.
In 1949, Marx finally moved to London, where he lived the last years of his life. His family lived in poverty. This pushed him into spiritual and political isolation. Eventually, he was able to overcome such slump with the help of his friend, Engels. Before his death, he wrote Das Kapital, now considered as his magnum opus.
Today, Das Kapital is deemed as the “Bible of the working class” and has had an enormous impact in the fields of history and sociology. Marx’s mode of analysis, known as the dialectical model, asserts that every social system inherently gives birth to disequilibria or contradictions that can only be resolved by creating a completely new social system.
His theoretical beliefs are believed to have been utilized by famous political leaders such as Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong in enforcing communism during their respective regimes.
Karl Marx died of pleurisy on March 14, 1883. In his honor, the Communist Party of Great Britain mounted a bust resembling his liking on his tombstone in 1954. The monument bears the closing line of The Communist Manifesto which translates to “Workers of all land unite”.
Here are 30 of the best quotes from Karl Marx’s life works:
Famous Karl Marx Quotes
“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” – Karl Marx
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” – Karl Marx
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” – Karl Marx
“Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form.” – Karl Marx
“The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.” – Karl Marx
“The less you are, the more you have; the less you express your own life, the greater is your alienated life – the greater is the store of your estranged being.” – Karl Marx
“The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” – Karl Marx
“I am nothing but I must be everything.” – Karl Marx
“Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!” – Karl Marx
“You must be aware that the reward for labour, and quantity of labour, are quite disparate things.” – Karl Marx