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Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818 – March 14, 1883) was a German philosopher, political economist, historian, political theorist, sociologist, communist and revolutionary, whose ideas are credited as the foundation of modern communism. Marx summarized his approach in the first line of chapter one of The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

Marx argued that capitalism, like previous socioeconomic systems, would inevitably produce internal tensions which will lead to its destruction. Just as capitalism replaced feudalism, he believed socialism would, in its turn, replace capitalism, and lead to a stateless, classless society called pure 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:

Marx argued for a systemic understanding of socio-economic change. He argued that the structural contradictions within capitalism necessitate its end, giving way to socialism:

On the other hand, Marx argued that socio-economic change occurred through organized revolutionary action. He argued that capitalism will end through the organized actions of an international working class: "Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence."

While Marx remained a relatively obscure figure in his own lifetime, his ideas and the ideology of Marxism began to exert a major influence on workers' movements shortly after his death. This influence gained added impetus with the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Russian October Revolution in 1917, and few parts of the world remained significantly untouched by Marxian ideas in the course of the twentieth century. Marx is typically cited, with Émile Durkheim and Max Weber, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science.


Karl Marx as a teenager

Karl Heinrich Marx was born in Triermarker, in the Kingdom of Prussiamarker's Province of the Lower Rhinemarker. His father, Heinrich Marx, a successful lawyer, was a man of the Enlightenment, devoted to Kant and Voltaire, who took part in agitations for a constitution in Prussia. His mother, born Henrietta Pressburg, was from Holland. Both parents were Jewish and were descended from a long line of rabbis, but, a year or so before Karl was born, his father—probably because his professional career required it—was baptized in the Evangelical Established Church. Karl was baptized when he was six years old.

Marx in 1882

Karl Marx married Jenny von Westphalen, the educated daughter of a Prussian baron, on June 19, 1843 in the Pauluskirche, at Bad Kreuznachmarker. Marx and Jenny had seven children but due to poverty only three survived to adulthood. Marx's major source of income was from the support of Friedrich Engels, who was drawing a steadily increasing income from the family business in Manchestermarker. This was supplemented by weekly articles written as a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. Inheritances from one of Jenny's uncles and her mother who died in 1856 allowed the family to move to somewhat more salubrious lodgings at 9 Grafton Terrace, Kentish Townmarker a new suburb on the then-outskirts of London. Marx generally lived a hand-to-mouth existence, forever at the limits of his resources, although this did to some extent depend upon his spending on relatively bourgeois luxuries, which he felt were necessities for his wife and children given their social status and the mores of the time.

Marx had seven children by his wife: Jenny Caroline (m. Longuet; 1844–83); Jenny Laura (m. Lafargue; 1845–1911); Edgar (1847–1855); Henry Edward Guy ("Guido"; 1849–1850); Jenny Eveline Frances ("Franziska"; 1851–52); Jenny Julia Eleanor (1855–98) and one more who died before being named (July 1857). Marx also fathered an illegitimate son by his housekeeper, Helene Demuth.

Following the death of his wife Jenny in December 1881, Marx developed a catarrh that kept him in ill health for the last 15 months of his life. It eventually brought on the bronchitis and pleurisy that killed him in London on March 14, 1883. He died a stateless person ; family and friends in London buried his body in Highgate Cemeterymarker, London, on March 17, 1883. Marx's tombstone bears the carved messages: “WORKERS OF ALL LANDS UNITE,” the final line of The Communist Manifesto, and Engels's version of the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach:

The Communist Party of Great Britain had the monumental tombstone built in 1954 with a portrait bust by Laurence Bradshaw; Marx's original tomb had had only humble adornment. In 1970 there was an unsuccessful attempt to destroy the monument using a homemade bomb.

Several of Marx's closest friends spoke at his funeral, including Wilhelm Liebknecht and Friedrich Engels. Engels's speech included the words

In addition to Engels and Liebknecht, Marx's daughter Eleanor and Charles Longuet and Paul Lafargue, Marx's two French socialist sons-in-law, also attended his funeral. Liebknecht, a founder and leader of the German Social-Democratic Party, gave a speech in German, and Longuet, a prominent figure in the French working-class movement, made a short statement in French. Two telegrams from workers' parties in France and Spain were also read out. Together with Engels's speech, this constituted the entire programme of the funeral. Those attending the funeral included Friedrich Lessner, who had been sentenced to three years in prison at the Cologne communist trial of 1852; G. Lochner, who was described by Engels as "an old member of the Communist League" and Carl Schorlemmer, a professor of chemistry in Manchester, a member of the Royal Society, but also an old communist associate of Marx and Engels. Three others attended the funeral—Ray Lankester, Sir John Noe and Leonard Church.

Cultural historians may regard Karl Marx as the first major social theorist to form a series of concepts within the break between modern and premodern societies.



Marx's parents had him educated at home until the age of thirteen. After graduating from the Trier Gymnasium, Marx enrolled in the University of Bonnmarker in 1835 at the age of seventeen; he wished to study philosophy and literature, but his father insisted on law as a more practical field of study. At Bonn he joined the Trier Tavern Club drinking society (Landsmannschaft der Treveraner) and at one point served as its president. Because of Marx's poor grades, his father forced him to transfer to the far more serious and academically oriented University of Berlinmarker, where his legal studies became less significant than excursions into philosophy and history.

During this period, Marx wrote many poems and essays concerning life, using the theological language acquired from his liberal, deistic father, such as "the Deity," but also absorbed the atheistic philosophy of the Young Hegelians who were prominent in Berlin at the time. Marx earned a doctorate in 1841 with a thesis titled The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, but he had to submit his dissertation to the University of Jenamarker as he was warned that his reputation among the faculty as a Young Hegelian radical would lead to a poor reception in Berlin.
The younger Karl Marx
was influenced in his formative school years by Immanuel Kant and Voltaire. They were among his favorite authors, representing even early on his characteristic blend of German profundity and French subversive wit.

Marx and the Young Hegelians

The Left or Young Hegelians consisted of a group of philosophers and journalists circling around Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, and opposing their teacher Hegel. Despite their criticism of Hegel's metaphysical assumptions, they made use of Hegel's dialectical method as a powerful weapon for the critique of established politics and religion. One of them, Max Stirner, turned critically against both Feuerbach and Bauer in his book " " (1845, The Ego and Its Own), calling these atheists "pious people" for their reification of abstract concepts.Stirner's work made a deep impression on Marx, at that time a follower of Feuerbach: he abandoned Feuerbach materialism and accomplished what recent authors have denoted as an "epistemological break." He developed the basic concept of historical materialism against Stirner in his book, " " (1846, The German Ideology), which he did not publish.Another link to the Young Hegelians was Moses Hess, with whom Marx eventually disagreed, yet to whom he owed many of his insights into the relationship between state, society, and religion. During his years at college, the official lectures on Hegel left Marx feeling ill, "from intense vexation at having to make an idol of a view I detested."

Marx in Paris and Brussels

Owing to the conditions of censorship in Prussia, Marx retired from the editorial board of the Rheinische Zeitung, and planned to publish, with Arnold Ruge, another revolutionary from Germany, the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, (the German-French Yearbook) based in Parismarker, and arrived in late October 1843. Paris at this time served as the home and headquarters of armies of German, British, Polish, and Italian revolutionaries. In Paris, on August 28, 1844, at the Café de la Régence on the Place du Palais he met Friedrich Engels, who would become his most important friend and life-long companion. Engels had met Marx only once before (and briefly) at the office of the Rheinische Zeitung in 1842; he went to Paris to show Marx his recently published book, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. This book convinced Marx that the working class would be the agent and instrument of the final revolution in history.

After the failure of the , Marx, living on the rue Vaneaumarker, wrote for the most radical of all German newspapers in Paris, indeed in Europe, Vorwärts, established and run by the secret society called League of the Just. When not writing, Marx studied the history of the French Revolution and read Proudhon. He also spent considerable time studying a side of life he had never been acquainted with before: a large urban proletariat.

Marx re-evaluated his relationship with the Young Hegelians, and as a reply to Bauer's atheism wrote On the Jewish Question. This essay consisted mostly of a critique of current notions of civil and human rights and political emancipation; it also included several critical references to Judaism as well as Christianity from a standpoint of social emancipation. Engels, a committed communist, kindled Marx's interest in the situation of the working class and guided Marx's interest in economics. Marx became a communist and set down his views in a series of writings known as the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, which remained unpublished until the 1930s. In the Manuscripts, Marx outlined a humanist conception of communism, influenced by the philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach and based on a contrast between the alienated nature of labor under capitalism and a communist society in which human beings freely developed their nature in cooperative production.

In January 1845, after Vorwärts expressed its hearty approval of an assassination attempt on Frederick William IV, King of Prussia, the French authorities ordered Marx, among many others, to leave Paris. He and Engels moved on to Brusselsmarker in Belgium.

Marx devoted himself to an intensive study of history, and in collaboration with Engels elaborated on his idea of historical materialism, particularly in a manuscript (published posthumously as The German Ideology), which stated as its basic thesis that "the nature of individuals depends on the material conditions determining their production". Marx traced the history of the various modes of production and predicted the collapse of the present one—industrial capitalism—and its replacement by communism. This was the first major work of what scholars consider to be his later phase, abandoning the Feuerbach-influenced humanism of his earlier work.

Next, Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), a response to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's The Philosophy of Poverty and a critique of French socialist thought. These works laid the foundation for Marx and Engels' most famous work, The Communist Manifesto, first published on February 21, 1848 as the manifesto of the Communist League, a small group of European communists who had come under the influence of Marx and Engels. Later that year, Europe experienced a series of protests, rebellions, and often violent upheavals, the Revolutions of 1848. The Belgian authorities arrested and expelled Marx from Belgium.

In February 1848 a radical movement seized power from King Louis-Philippe in France and invited Marx to return to Paris, where he witnessed the revolutionary June Days Uprising first hand. When this collapsed in 1849, Marx moved back to Cologne and started the ("New Rhenish Newspaper"). During its existence he went on trial twice, on February 7, 1849 because of a press misdemeanor, and on the 8th charged with incitement to armed rebellion. Both times he was acquitted. The paper was soon suppressed and Marx returned to Paris, but was forced out again. This time he sought refuge in London.


Marx moved to London in May 1849 and remained there for the rest of his life. For the first few years there, he and his family lived in extreme poverty. He briefly worked as correspondent for the New York Tribune in 1851.In London Marx devoted himself to two activities: revolutionary organizing, and an attempt to understand political economy and capitalism. Having read Engels' study of the working class, Marx turned away from philosophy and devoted himself to the First International, to whose General Council he was elected at its inception in 1864. He was particularly active in preparing for the annual Congresses of the International and leading the struggle against the anarchist wing led by Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876). Although Marx won this contest, the transfer of the seat of the General Council from London to New York in 1872, which Marx supported, led to the decline of the International. The most important political event during the existence of the International was the Paris Commune of 1871 when the citizens of Paris rebelled against their government and held the city for two months. On the bloody suppression of this rebellion, Marx wrote one of his most famous pamphlets, The Civil War in France, an enthusiastic defense of the Commune.

Given the repeated failures and frustrations of workers' revolutions and movements, Marx also sought to understand capitalism, and spent a great deal of time in the British Librarymarker studying and reflecting on the works of political economists and on economic data. By 1857 he had accumulated over 800 pages of notes and short essays on capital, landed property, wage labour, the state, foreign trade and the world market; this work however did not appear in print until 1941, under the title Grundrisse. In 1859, Marx published Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, his first serious economic work. In the early 1860s he worked on composing three large volumes, the Theories of Surplus Value, which discussed the theoreticians of political economy, particularly Adam Smith and David Ricardo. This work, that was published posthumously under the editorship of Karl Kautsky is often seen as the Fourth book of Capital, and constitutes one of the first comprehensive treatises on the history of economic thought. In 1867, well behind schedule, the first volume of Capital was published, a work which analyzed the capitalist process of production. Here, Marx elaborated his labor theory of value and his conception of surplus value and exploitation which he argued would ultimately lead to a falling rate of profit and the collapse of industrial capitalism. Volumes II and III remained mere manuscripts upon which Marx continued to work for the rest of his life and were published posthumously by Engels.

During the last decade of his life, Marx's health declined and he became incapable of the sustained effort that had characterized his previous work. He did manage to comment substantially on contemporary politics, particularly in Germany and Russia. His Critique of the Gotha Programme opposed the tendency of his followers Wilhelm Liebknecht (1826–1900) and August Bebel (1840–1913) to compromise with the state socialism of Ferdinand Lassalle in the interests of a united socialist party. In his correspondence with Vera Zasulich, Marx contemplated the possibility of Russia's bypassing the capitalist stage of development and building communism on the basis of the common ownership of land characteristic of the village mir.

Marx's thought

The American Marx scholar Hal Draper once remarked, "there are few thinkers in modern history whose thought has been so badly misrepresented, by Marxists and anti-Marxists alike." The legacy of Marx's thought has become bitterly contested between numerous tendencies which each see themselves as Marx's most accurate interpreters, including (but not exclusively) Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism, Luxemburgism, and libertarian Marxism.

Influences on Marx's thought

Marx's thought demonstrates strong influences from:

Marx's view of history, which came to be called historical materialism (controversially adapted as the philosophy of dialectical materialism by Engels and Lenin) certainly shows the influence of Hegel's claim that one should view reality (and history) dialectically. Hegel believed that human history is characterized by the movement from the fragmentary toward the complete and the real (which was also a movement towards greater and greater rationality). This progressive unfolding of the Absolute involves gradual, evolutionary accretion which culminates in revolutionary leaps — episodal upheavals against the existing status quo. For example, Hegel strongly opposed slavery in the United States during his lifetime, and he envisioned a time when Christian nations would eliminate it from their civilization.

Marx's critiques of German philosophical idealism, British political economy, and French socialism depended heavily on the influence of Feuerbach and Engels. Hegel had thought in idealist terms, and Marx sought to rewrite dialectics in materialist terms. He wrote that Hegelianism stood the movement of reality on its head, and that one needed to set it upon its feet. Marx's acceptance of this notion of materialist dialectics which rejected Hegel's idealism was greatly influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach. In The Essence of Christianity, Feuerbach argued that God is really a creation of man and that the qualities people attribute to God are really qualities of humanity. Accordingly, Marx argued that it is the material world that is real and that our ideas of it are consequences, not causes, of the world. Thus, like Hegel and other philosophers, Marx distinguished between appearances and reality. But he did not believe that the material world hides from us the "real" world of the ideal; on the contrary, he thought that historically and socially specific ideology prevented people from seeing the material conditions of their lives clearly.

The other important contribution to Marx's revision of Hegelianism came from Engels' book, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, which led Marx to conceive of the historical dialectic in terms of class conflict and to see the modern working class as the most progressive force for revolution. Engels' article "Outlines of Political Economy" in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher also had a great influence in directing him towards the study of the workings of the capitalist economy.

Marx believed that he could study history and society scientifically and discern tendencies of history and the resulting outcome of social conflicts. Some followers of Marx concluded, therefore, that a communist revolution would inevitably occur. However, Marx famously asserted in the eleventh of his Theses on Feuerbach that "philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point however is to change it", and he clearly dedicated himself to trying to alter the world. Consequently, most followers of Marx espouse not fatalism, but activism: they believe that revolutionaries must organize social change.


Marx's philosophy hinges on his view of human nature. Fundamentally, Marx assumed that human nature involves transforming nature. To this process of transformation he applies the term "labour", and to the capacity to transform nature the term "labour power." Marx sees transformation as a simultaneously physical and mental act:

Marx's analysis of history focuses on the organization of labor and depends on his distinction between:

  1. the means / forces of production, literally those things (like land, natural resources, and technology) necessary for the production of material goods; and
  2. the relations of production, in other words, the social relationships people enter into as they acquire and use the means of production.

Together these compose the mode of production, and Marx distinguished historical eras in terms of distinct modes of production. For example, he observed that European societies had progressed from a feudal mode of production to a capitalist mode of production. Marx believed that under capitalism, the means of production change more rapidly than the relations of production (for example, we develop a new technology, such as the Internet, and only later do we develop laws to regulate that technology). Marx regarded this mismatch between (economic) base and (social) superstructure as a major source of social disruption and conflict.

As a scientist and materialist, Marx did not understand classes as purely subjective (in other words, groups of people who consciously identified with one another). He sought to define classes in terms of objective criteria, such as their access to resources — that is, whether or not a group owns the means of production. For Marx:

Marx had a special concern with how people relate to that most fundamental resource of all, their own labour power. He wrote extensively about this in terms of the problem of alienation. As with the dialectic, Marx began with a Hegelian notion of alienation but developed a more materialist conception. Capitalism mediates social relationships of production (such as among workers or between workers and capitalists) through commodities, including labor, that are bought and sold on the market. For Marx, the possibility that one may give up ownership of one's own labor — one's capacity to transform the world — is tantamount to being alienated from one's own nature; it is a spiritual loss. Marx described this loss in terms of commodity fetishism, in which the things that people produce, commodities, appear to have a life and movement of their own to which humans and their behavior merely adapt. This disguises the fact that the exchange and circulation of commodities really are the product and reflection of social relationships among people. Marx called this reversal "commodity fetishism" (at the time Marx wrote, historians of religion used the word fetish to describe something made by people, which people believed had power over them).

Commodity fetishism provides an example of what Engels called "false consciousness", which relates closely to the understanding of ideology. By "ideology", Marx and Engels meant ideas that reflect the interests of a particular class at a particular time in history, but which contemporaries see as universal and eternal. Marx and Engels' point was not only that such beliefs are at best half-truths; they serve an important political function. Put another way, the control that one class exercises over the means of production includes not only the production of food or manufactured goods; it includes the production of ideas as well (this provides one possible explanation for why members of a subordinate class may hold ideas contrary to their own interests). Thus, while such ideas may be false, they also reveal in coded form some truth about political relations. For example, although the belief that the things people produce are actually more productive than the people who produce them is literally absurd, it does reflect (according to Marx and Engels) that people under capitalism are alienated from their own labor-power. Another example of this sort of analysis is Marx's understanding of religion, summed up in a passage from the preface to his 1843 Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right:

Whereas his Gymnasium senior thesis argued that religion had as its primary social aim the promotion of solidarity, here Marx sees the social function of religion in terms of highlighting/preserving political and economic inequality. Moreover, he provides an analysis of the ideological functions of religion: to reveal “an inverted consciousness of the world.” He continues: “It is the immediate task of philosophy, which is in the service of history, to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms, once [religion,] the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked”. For Marx, this unholy self-estrangement, the “loss of man,” is complete once the proletariat realizes its potential to unite in revolutionary solidarity. His final conclusion is that for Germany, general human emancipation is only possible as a suspension of private property by the proletariat.

Political economy

Marx argued that this alienation of human work (and resulting commodity fetishism) functions precisely as the defining feature of capitalism. Prior to capitalism, markets existed in Europe where producers and merchants bought and sold commodities. According to Marx, a capitalist mode of production developed in Europe when labor itself became a commodity—when peasants became free to sell their own labor-power, and needed to do so because they no longer possessed their own land. People sell their labor-power when they accept compensation in return for whatever work they do in a given period of time (in other words, they do not sell the product of their labor, but their capacity to work). In return for selling their labor-power they receive money, which allows them to survive. Those who must sell their labor-power are "proletarians". The person who buys the labor power, generally someone who does own the land and technology to produce, is a "capitalist" or "bourgeois". The proletarians inevitably outnumber the capitalists.

Marx distinguished industrial capitalists from merchant capitalists. Merchants buy goods in one market and sell them in another. Since the laws of supply and demand operate within given markets, a difference often exists between the price of a commodity in one market and another. Merchants, then, practise arbitrage, and hope to capture the difference between these two markets. According to Marx, capitalists, on the other hand, take advantage of the difference between the labor market and the market for whatever commodity the capitalist can produce. Marx observed that in practically every successful industry input unit-costs are lower than output unit-prices. Marx called the difference "surplus value" and argued that this surplus value had its source in surplus labour, the difference between what it costs to keep workers alive and what they can produce.

Capitalism can stimulate considerable growth because the capitalist can, and has an incentive to, reinvest profits in new technologies and capital equipment. Marx considered the capitalist class to be the most revolutionary in history, because it constantly improved the means of production. But Marx argued that capitalism was prone to periodic crises. He suggested that over time, capitalists would invest more and more in new technologies, and less and less in labor. Since Marx believed that surplus value appropriated from labor is the source of profits, he concluded that the rate of profit would fall even as the economy grew. When the rate of profit falls below a certain point, the result would be a recession or depression in which certain sectors of the economy would collapse. Marx thought that during such an economic crisis the price of labor would also fall, and eventually make possible the investment in new technologies and the growth of new sectors of the economy.

Marx believed that increasingly severe crises would punctuate this cycle of growth, collapse, and more growth. Moreover, he believed that in the long-term this process would necessarily enrich and empower the capitalist class and impoverish the proletariat. He believed that if the proletariat were to seize the means of production, they would encourage social relations that would benefit everyone equally, and a system of production less vulnerable to periodic crises. He theorized that between capitalism and the establishment of a socialist system, a dictatorship of the proletariat - a period where the working class holds political power and forcibly socializes the means of production - would exist. As he wrote in his "Critique of the Gotha Program", "between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat."While he allowed for the possibility of peaceful transition in some countries with strong democratic institutional structures (such as Britain, the US and the Netherlands), he suggested that in other countries with strong centralized state-oriented traditions, like France and Germany, the "lever of our revolution must be force."

Marx's influence

The work of Marx and Engels covers a wide range of topics and presents a complex analysis of history and society in terms of class relations. Followers of Marx and Engels have drawn on this work to propose grand, cohesive theoretical outlooks dubbed "Marxism". Nevertheless, Marxists have frequently debated amongst themselves over how to interpret Marx's writings and how to apply his concepts to their contemporary events and conditions. Moreover, one should distinguish between "Marxism" and "what Marx believed"; for example, shortly before he died in 1883, Marx wrote a letter to the French workers' leader Jules Guesde, and to his own son-in-law Paul Lafargue, accusing them of "revolutionary phrase-mongering" and of lack of faith in the working class. After the French party split into a reformist and revolutionary party, some accused Guesde (leader of the latter) of taking orders from Marx; Marx remarked to Lafargue, "if that is Marxism, then I am not a Marxist" (in a letter to Engels, Marx later accused Guesde of being a "Bakuninist").

Essentially, people use the word "Marxist" in one of two ways:

  1. to describe those who rely on Marx's conceptual language (for example: "mode of production", "class", "commodity fetishism") to understand capitalist and other societies; or:
  2. to describe those who regard a workers' revolution as the only means to a communist society.

Some, particularly in academic circles, who accept much of Marx's theory, but not all its implications, call themselves "Marxian" instead.

Six years after Marx's death, Engels and others founded the "Second International" as a base for continued political activism. This organization proved far more successful than the First International: it included mass workers' parties, particularly the large and successful Social Democratic Party of Germany, which predominantly expressed a Marxist outlook. The Second International collapsed in 1914, however, in part because some members turned to Edward Bernstein's "evolutionary socialism", and in part because of divisions precipitated by World War I.

World War I also led to the Russian Revolution of 1917, in the later stages of which a left-wing splinter-group of the Second International, the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, took power. The Russian Revolution dynamized workers around the world into setting up their own section of the Bolsheviks' "Third International". Lenin presented himself as both the philosophical and the political heir to Marx, and developed a political program, called "Leninism" or "Bolshevism", which called for revolution organized and led by a centrally organized vanguard "Communist Party".

Marx believed that communist revolution would take place in advanced industrial societies such as France, Germany and England, but Lenin argued that in the age of imperialism, and due to the "law of uneven development", where Russia had on the one hand, an antiquated agricultural society, but on the other hand, some of the most up-to-date industrial concerns, the "chain" might break at its weakest points, that is, in the so-called "backward" countries, and then ignite revolution in the advanced industrial societies of Europe, where society is ready for socialism, and which could then in turn come to the aid of the workers' state in Russia.

Marx and Engels make a very significant comment in the preface to the Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto:

Marx's words served as a starting point for Lenin,who, together with Trotsky, always believed that the Russian revolution must become a "signal for a proletarian revolution in the West". Supporters of Trotsky argue that the failure of revolution in the West (along the lines envisaged by Marx) to come to the aid of the Russian revolution after 1917 led to the rise of Stalinismand set the cast of human history for seventy years.

In China Mao Zedong also portrayed himself as an heir to Marx, but argued that peasants — not just workers — could play leading roles in a Communist revolution, even in third-world countries marked by peasant feudalism in the absence of industrial workers. Mao termed this the New Democratic Revolution. Marxism-Leninism as espoused by Mao came to be internationally known as Maoism.

Under Lenin, and particularly under Joseph Stalin, Soviet suppression of the rights of individuals in the name of the struggle against capitalism, as well as Stalinist purges themselves, came (in the minds of many ) to characterise Marxism. Capitalism-oriented western states encouraged this impression, as did the politics of the Cold War. There were, nonetheless, always dissenting Marxist voices — Marxists of the old school of the Second International, the left communists who split off from the Third International shortly after its formation, and later Leon Trotsky and his followers, who set up a "Fourth International" in 1938 to compete with that of Stalin, claiming to represent true Bolshevism.

Coming from the Second International milieu in the 1920s and 1930s, a group of dissident Marxists founded the Institute for Social Research in Germany, among them Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse. As a group, these authors became known as the Frankfurt School. Their school of thought, known as Critical Theory, represents a type of Marxist philosophy and cultural criticism heavily influenced by Hegel, Freud, Nietzsche, and Max Weber.

The Frankfurt School broke with earlier Marxists, including Lenin and the Bolshevists in several key ways. First, writing at the time of the ascendancy of Stalinism, they had grave doubts as to the traditional Marxist concept of proletarian class consciousness. Second, unlike earlier Marxists, especially Lenin, they rejected economic determinism. Though the Frankfurt School became highly influential, both orthodox Marxists and some Marxists involved in political practice have criticized their work for divorcing Marxist theory from practical struggle and turning Marxism into a purely academic enterprise.

Influential Marxists of the same period include the Third International's Georg Lukacs and Antonio Gramsci, both often grouped along with the Frankfurt School under the term "Western Marxism". Marx was also an important influence on the German philosopher and literary critic Walter Benjamin, an occasional associate of Adorno and the Frankfurt School.

In 1949 Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman founded Monthly Review, a journal and press, to provide an outlet for Marxist thought in the United States independent of the American Communist Party.

In 1978, G. A. Cohen attempted to defend Marx's thought as a coherent and scientific theory of history by restating its central tenets in the language of analytic philosophy. This gave birth to Analytical Marxism, an academic movement which also included Jon Elster, Adam Przeworski and John Roemer. Bertell Ollman became another Anglophone champion of Marx within the academy, as did the Israeli Shlomo Avineri.

In Marx's 'Das Kapital' (2006), biographer Francis Wheen reiterates David McLellan's observation that since Marxism had not triumphed in the West, "it had not been turned into an official ideology and is thus the object of serious study unimpeded by government controls".

The following countries at some point had governments with leadership which at least nominally adhered to Marxism (those in bold still did as of 2009):Albaniamarker, Afghanistanmarker, Angolamarker, Bulgariamarker, Chinamarker, Cubamarker, Cyprusmarker, Czechoslovakiamarker, East Germanymarker, Ethiopiamarker, Hungarymarker, Laosmarker, Moldovamarker, Mongoliamarker, Nepal, Mozambiquemarker, Nicaraguamarker, North Koreamarker, Polandmarker, Romaniamarker, Russiamarker, Yugoslavia, Vietnammarker. In addition, the Indianmarker states of Keralamarker, Tripuramarker and West Bengalmarker have had Marxist governments.

Marxist political parties and movements have significantly declined in influence since the fall of the Soviet Union, with some exceptions, perhaps most notably Nepalmarker.

Michael H. Hart ranked Marx as number 27 in one of his lists of the most influential figures in history.

In July 2005, 27.9% of listeners in a BBC Radio 4 series In Our Time poll selected Marx as their favorite thinker.



Many proponents of capitalism have promoted capitalism as a more effective means of generating and redistributing wealth than socialism or communism, or have portrayed the gulf between rich and poor that so concerned Marx and Engels as a temporary phenomenon. Some suggest that self-interest and the need to acquire capital is an inherent component of human behavior, and is not caused by the adoption of capitalism or any other specific economic system and that different economic systems reflect different social responses to this fact. The Austrian School of economics has criticized Marx's use of the labour theory of value. In addition, the political repression and economic problems of several historical Communist states have done much to destroy Marx's reputation in the Western world, particularly following the fall of the Berlin Wallmarker and the collapse of the Soviet Union. John Maynard Keynes saw Marxism as an illogical doctrine and referred to Das Kapital as "an obsolete textbook which I know to be not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application for the modern world."

While the economic devastation of the Great Depression of the 1930s broadened the appeal of Marxism in the developed world, the eventual economic recovery and the enactment of government safeguards led to a decline in its influence. In contrast, Marxism became extremely influential in feudal and industrially underdeveloped societies such as pre-1917 Tsarist Russia, where the Bolshevik Revolution proved successful.


Lewis S. Feuer (1912-2002), an ex-Marxist conservative professor of philosophy whose work emphasized sociology, taught at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Virginia. In 1960 he edited the anthology Basic Writings of Marx and Engels on Politics and Philosophy. His fairly brief, 25-page introduction to the book presents a number of very challenging ideas about Marx and Engels, regardless of one's political ideology. In general, Feuer argued, Marxism has many of the characteristics of a religion: essentially based on faith and not "truly" empirical. But unlike religions such as Christianity, Marxism promises fulfillment in earthly life, rather than in an afterlife. In fact, Marx and Engels often acknowledged the religious nature of Marxism, especially in Engels' "Study of Early Christianity", contained in the book. Despite these criticisms, Feuer acknowledged some very important, lasting contributions of Marxism to world society. Among them, he saw Marxism's emphasis on the economic factor as predominant in life as virtually incontestable, although Feuer also pointed to "psycho-economic" factors (economic decisions made for psychological reasons) as similarly important and never understood by Marxism at all. He also discusses the somewhat contradictory stance of Marxism toward ethics—Marx denies that ethics play a role in his philosophy at all, yet Marxism effectively imposes a widely-based ethical view on its adherents.

Others criticize Marx from the perspective of philosophy of science. Karl Popper criticized Marx's theories as non-falsifiable, which he believed rendered some aspects of Marx’s historical and socio-political argument unscientific; Popper's falsifiability standard, though very influential, has itself proven controversial. Popper also criticized Marx for 'historicism'; that is, the assumption that the development of human societies follows a fixed and discernible set of rules.

While Marx and Engels focused almost exclusively on developments in the West following the prospective development of capitalism, this left the problems of the less developed areas, such as Russia, largely unaddressed. A perceived problem with Marxist theory — that revolutions nevertheless took place in less developed areas of the world, even rather more than within the most advanced capitalist ones — emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, and much of the work of Vladimir Lenin and other Marxist and Marxian authors and theorists became dedicated to addressing it. Lenin's collected works contain dozens of examples of his insistence that the victory of socialism in Russia depended upon its spread to the heavily industrialized nations. Trotsky famously developed the theory of Permanent Revolution to show how revolutions in backward countries like Russia could succeed so long as they spread to the West. After Lenin's death, this was opposed by Stalin, who argued that it was possible to establish "socialism in one country." In essence, Lenin argued, taking the theory from several other contemporary Marxist writers, that through imperialism the bourgeoisie of wealthy countries is using "superprofits" from the imperial colonies to effectively bribe the working class back home in order to appease it. Nevertheless, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, Western capitalist nations did experience (unsuccessful) revolutions more or less along the "proletarian" lines that Marx envisaged, notably in Germany (1918, 1919, 1923), Hungary , Finland , and Spain (leading to the Spanish Civil War) with upheavals in eastern China, France, Italy, and the UK (the general strike of 1926) and elsewhere.

Others, like Shlomo Avineri, have argued that the pre-capitalist structure of 1917 Russia, as well as the strong authoritarian traditions of the Russian state and its weak civil society, pushed the Soviet revolution towards its repressive development.

Critics have also claimed to have identified problems with the concept of historical materialism. At the base of historical materialism, they claim, lies the view that the mode of production creates all historical events and changes. But critics have asked the question `Where does the mode of production come from?'. Murray Rothbard argues that "...Marx never attempts to provide an answer. Indeed he cannot, since if he attributes the state of technology or technological change to the actions of man, of individual men, his whole system falls apart. For human consciousness, and individual consciousness at that, would then be determining [the mode of production] rather than the other way round." However, Marx's famous Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy states "In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production." Marx clearly attributes the productive forces and their development to the actions of human beings, but emphasises the social nature of this development, based on necessity, the need to maintain their existence, which thus develops "independent of their will", as individuals, and thus impacts back on the individual in ways which reflect the given social conditions

From the Left

Left-wingers have also expressed criticism of Marx. Marx's contemporary Henry George (1839-1897) claimed that if Marx's ideas were ever tried, political repression would be the inevitable result. More recently, some have argued that class is not the most fundamental inequality in history and call attention to patriarchy or race, as not being, as Marxists argue, dependent on class. It could however be argued that Marx does not suggest that class divisions are more fundamental than patriarchy, since the division between men and women, as Engels pointed out, predates class divisions, but only that the movement of history can be best understood in terms of class, and that class struggle is the mechanism of change.

Some question the theoretical and historical validity of "class" as an analytic construct or as a political actor. In this line of thought, some question Marx's reliance on 19th-century notions that linked science with the idea of "progress" (see social evolution). Many observe that capitalism has changed greatly since Marx's time, and that class differences and relationships have become much more complex — citing (as one example) the fact that in the United States workers own much corporate stock through pension funds. Critics of this analysis retort that the top 1% of stock owners still own nearly 50% of the nation's publicly-traded company stocks. The left-wing philosopher Peter Singer, in the book A Darwinian Left, questions the Marxist view of human nature as highly flexible. The scientist Lionel Tiger has also argued against the Marxist view of human nature. Lionel Tiger argues that Marxist states have failed to wither away and give power to the proletariat because Marxist socialism fails to realize that because humans have inherited competitive and despotic tendencies from their primate ancestors a system of “checks and balances“ and restrictions on individuals gaining power and wealth is necessary to maintain an egalitarian socialist society.More anti-authoritarian leftist thinkers like anarchist Mikhail Bakunin have criticized Marx for the more authoritarian elements of his philosophies.

Marx and antisemitism

Some commentators, like Bernard Lewis, Edward H. Flannery and Hyam Maccoby, have seen Marx's On The Jewish Question as an antisemitic work, and identify antisemitic epithets in his published and private writings.According to them, Marx regarded Jews as the embodiment of capitalism and the creators of its evils.

In their view, Marx's equation of Judaism with capitalism, together with his pronouncements on Jews, strongly influenced socialist movements and shaped their attitudes and policies toward the Jews. In these scholars' opinions, Marx's On the Jewish Question influenced Nazism, as well as Soviet and Arab anti-Semites. Albert Lindemann and Hyam Maccoby have suggested that Marx was embarrassed by his Jewish background.

The above authors often quote the following excerpt from On The Jewish Question to support their arguments:

On the other hand, the political-scientist Professor Iain Hamphsher-Monk wrote in his textbook: "This work [On The Jewish Question] has been cited as evidence for Marx's supposed anti-semitism, but only the most superficial reading of it could sustain such an interpretation." Also, David McLellan and Francis Wheen argue that readers should interpret On the Jewish Question in the context of Marx's debates with Bruno Bauer, author of The Jewish Question, about Jewish emancipation in Germany. Wheen says: Those critics, who see this as a foretaste of ‘Mein Kampf’, overlook one, essential point: in spite of the clumsy phraseology and crude stereotyping, the essay was actually written as a defense of the Jews. It was a retort to Bruno Bauer, who had argued that Jews should not be granted full civic rights and freedoms unless they were baptised as Christians.

According to McLellan, Marx used the word Judentum colloquially, as meaning commerce, arguing that Germans suffer, and must be emancipated from, capitalism. McLellan concludes that readers should interpret the essay's second half as an extended pun at Bauer’s expense.

Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, regards application of the term "antisemitism" to Marx as an anachronism — because when Marx wrote On the Jewish Question, virtually all major philosophers expressed antisemitic tendencies, but the word "antisemitism" had not yet been coined, let alone developed a racial component, and little awareness existed of the depths of European prejudice against Jews. Marx thus simply expressed, in Sacks's view, the commonplace thinking of his era.

Works (selection)

See also


  • Shlomo Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (Cambridge University Press, 1968) ISBN 0-521-09619-7
  • Vincent Barnett, Marx (Routledge, 2009)
  • Paul Blackledge, Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History (Manchester University Press, 2006)
  • Alex Callinicos, The Revolutionary Ideas of Karl Marx (Bookmarks, 1983)
  • Isaiah Berlin, Karl Marx: His Life and Environment (Oxford University Press, 1963) ISBN 0-195-20052-7
  • G. A. Cohen, Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (Princeton University Press, 1978) ISBN 0-691-07068-7
  • Andrew Collier, Marx (Oneworld, 2004)
  • Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution (4 volumes) Monthly Review Press
  • Ronald Duncan & Colin Wilson, (editors) Marx Refuted, (Bath, UK, 1987) ISBN 0-906798-71-X
  • Stephen Jay Gould, A Darwinian Gentleman at Marx's Funeral - E. Ray Lankester, Page 1, Find Articles.com (1999)
  • Georg G. Iggers, "Historiography: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge."(Wesleyan University Press, 1997, 2005)
  • Daniel Little, The Scientific Marx, (University of Minnesota Press, 1986) ISBN 0-8166-1505-5
  • David McLellan, Karl Marx: His Life and Thought (Harpercollins, 1978) ISBN 0-060-90585-9
  • Boris Nicolaevsky & Otto Maenchen-Helfen (translator), Karl Marx: Man and Fighter (Penguin Books, 1976) ISBN 0-140-21594-8
  • Murray Rothbard, An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought Volume II: Classical Economics (Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., 1995) ISBN 0-945466-48-X
  • Maximilien Rubel, Marx Without Myth: A Chronological Study of his Life and Work (Blackwell, 1975) ISBN 0-631-15780-8
  • Thomas T. Sekine, The Dialectic of Capital. A Study of the Inner Logic of Capitalism, 2 volumes (preliminary edition), Tokyo 1986; ISBN 4-924750-44-9 (vol. 1), ISBN 4-924750-34-4
(vol. 2).
  • Paul Strathern, "Marx in 90 Minutes", (Ivan R. Dee, 2001)
  • Francis Wheen, Karl Marx: A Life, (Fourth Estate, 1999), ISBN 1-85702-637-3
  • Francis Wheen, Marx's Das Kapital, (Atlantic Books, 2006) ISBN 1-843-54400-8
  • Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism Oxford: Clarendon Press, OUP, 1978
  • Richard Wurmbrand, Marx & Satan


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