Marx, Karl

Marx, Karl

Bio: (1818-1883) German philosopher, sociologist, and economist. Karl Marx studied law and philosophy at the University of Berlin, and received his doctorate from the University of Jena, but never completed his habilitation thesis. He began writing articles for the Rheinische Zeitung (Rhine Newspaper) in 1842, and soon after became the editor of that newspaper. The following year Prussian authorities banned the publication of this newspaper due to its anti-monarchist views. After that Marx moved to work as a journalist in Paris. After several years of living and working in Paris, he was expelled from France for his political activities, so he moved to Belgium, where he began to work closely with Friedrich Engels, and they, together, published several books: The German Ideology (1845b), The Holy Family (1845c), The Communist Manifesto (1848).

Marx moved to Great Britain in 1850, where he remained for the rest of his life. In the first few years of his stay in Britain, Marx paid attention to classes and class struggles in France and Germany, and published books The Class Struggles in France 1848-1850 (1850), The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852a), and Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany (1852b). Marx devoted the last three decades of his life to writing about political economy, and that work produced books: Foundations of a Critique of Political Economy (1858), A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), and three volumes of his most important and voluminous work - Capital, Critique of Political Economy (1867, 1885, 1894). The second and third volumes of the Capital were published posthumously, and they were edited and prepared for publication by Engels, based on Marx's manuscripts.

Marx hugely influenced many scientific disciplines - sociology, economics, political science, anthropology - as well as philosophy and ideology. His fields of interest were very wide, which can be seen from his scientific work. The philosophical direction he developed is most often called dialectical materialism. His teaching, which connects economics, politics, society, culture, and history, is called historical materialism. In addition to Engels, he is considered the founder of the so-called scientific socialism, an ideological program for the transformation of society, politics, and the economy.

Marx's dialectical materialism emerges as an elaboration and reshaping of Hegel's (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel) philosophy. Hegel introduced the notion of dialectics into philosophy and applied it to history. Marx, who was often classified as a left-wing Hegelian or a part of the philosophers known as Young Hegelians, re-examined Hegel's philosophy in his book Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1843). While Hegel focused on the dialectical movement of ideas throughout history, Marx understood dialectics as a struggle between the opposites that exist in the sphere of economics and politics. This struggle between opposites acts as a dynamic principle and a source of change. The consequence of that struggle is a sudden leap forward toward a new and higher stage of development of society.

                                     Historical Materialism

For sociology, the most important is Marx's understanding of historical materialism and his understanding of classes and class struggle. Marx most clearly states the basics of historical materialism in his book A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859). Marx's conception of man and society is materialistic because he believes that the history of the human race arose when man began to control nature and began to produce a means of subsistence. The production of livelihoods is not an individual, but a joint (social) endeavor, because production requires cooperation. In order to survive, people must enter into the social „relations of production“, so they can produce all the material goods that are necessary for their survival. Social relations of production shape the "way of life" and human nature because they are the expression of these relations. In this sense, people as individuals, but also the whole society and culture, are a consequence of the production of material life. Marx saw purposeful production activity as "practice" (praxis). Practice is the process by which a person creates himself and the social conditions of his life.

Social relations of production are never arbitrary and random but depend on the stage of development of „material productive forces“. Material production forces are determined by the level of technological and scientific development and technical organization of the production process, on the one hand, as well as raw materials, land, and other natural preconditions of production, on the other hand. Social relations of production are relations that people enter into in order to produce goods. Social relations of production consist of rules governing the ownership of the „means of production“, which consists of „means of labor“ (land, tools and machinery, buildings, etc.) and „objects of labor“, as well as rules governing the „productive forces“. The productive forces are the people who do the work, and throughout history, the legal relationships that have regulated their work have changed. In slavery, the productive forces had the status of slaves, while in capitalism the productive forces have the status of free people who rent their labor to the owner of the means of labor, and in return receive a salary. All these „factors of production“ are the result of a long historical development of technology and economy, and therefore, they are not freely chosen by the people.

Picture 1. Marx's concept of social relations of production.


Such relations of production form the economic „base“ of society (Marx uses the German term basis, but in the English language this term is translated in different ways - as „structure“, „substructure“, or „base“; which are all synonymous), and that economic base has a key influence on the shaping of the social „superstructure“ (Überbau). The social superstructure consists of social consciousness, legal and political way of organizing society, art, ideology, etc. When, at some historical moment, the development of material forces of production exceeds the existing relations of production, then conditions are created for a change in the relations of production, and this leads to their sudden change. Marx calls such sudden changes "social revolutions." After the transformation of the relations of production, gradually, but inevitably, the entire social superstructure is reshaped. The speed and degree of change in the social superstructure cannot be precisely determined, because there is ideological resistance to changes in the social superstructure. Marx summarizes this process as follows:

„No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation“ (Marx, 1859).

Marx observes the historical development of the main forms of relations of production and the associated social superstructure. At the beginning of history, there was "primitive communism". In primitive communism, the means of production and the products of labor were in common possession, and each person produced, both for himself and for society as a whole. At that stage, there were no contradictions and conflicts in the relations of production. With the emergence of private ownership of the means of production, a minority of society begins to control the entire production process and dominates and appropriates the fruits of the labor of the rest of society. Then, for the first time in history, conflicts arise in relations of production, which become the main engine and determinant of historical change. Shortly after the disappearance of the original communism, two similar economic and political systems were created: slavery and the "Asiatic mode of production". After the cessation of slavery in Europe, with the fall of the Roman Empire, a period of feudalism emerged, and in the modern age, the capitalist mode of production replaced the feudal one.

                                       Theory of Classes

To understand Marx's analysis of classes, the most important are his conceptions of the theory of value of goods, and the theory of exploitation. Marx took over the theory of value introduced into economics by Adam Smith. This theory of value views the market value of each commodity as the exclusive product of the socially necessary working time for a commodity to be produced and transported. Marx concluded from this that the difference between the wage that a worker receives for work and the price at which goods are sold, obtained by that work, represents the surplus value that the owner of the means of labor appropriates for himself, and to the detriment of the worker. This appropriation of surplus value is the essence of the economic exploitation that is done by the class that possesses the means of labor; while, by the same process, the class that performs the work is being exploited. In capitalism, capitalists are the owners of the means of labor, and the surplus appropriated is their profit, while the workers, who possess only control over their own labor, are exploited. This is the essence of the contradiction in the productive forces under capitalism.

Marx distinguishes between "class in itself" and "class for itself." The class in itself is made up of all individuals who share the same objective attitude towards the means of production. In that sense, in order to define a specific "class in itself", it does not matter whether all those who belong to it are aware that they belong to it and whether they have a feeling that some common interests should emerge from the common position they share. A class for itself arises when there is a spread of a single "class consciousness", i.e. when all or most members of a class become fully aware of common „class interests“ and recognize a common „class enemy“. In addition, members of the class must become aware that only by joint action against class enemies can they achieve „common class goals“, but also take concrete practical measures to achieve class interests through „class struggle“. The relationship between opposing classes is always, in every society and every historical period, a relationship of conflict. These conflicts are sometimes hidden, and sometimes there is a completely open struggle. When there is a complete conflict of classes, there is either a revolutionary reconstruction of society as a whole or a common collapse of the conflicting classes. Marx believed that the class struggle was the basic mover and determinant of complete human history.

Marx's view is that in the capitalist societies of Western Europe in the mid-nineteenth century there were two key classes in society - the capitalist class, which owns the means of production, and the "proletariat" class, manual workers who own only their own labor. In addition to these two classes, in capitalism, there are also classes that remained from the feudal era, such as aristocratic landowners and peasants, as well as the petty bourgeoisie consisting of merchants, craftsmen, and the like. Apart from them, at the absolute bottom of the social ladder are those whom Marx called the "lumpenproletariat." The Lumpenproletariat corresponds to what Engels called the "reserve army of labor" (see Engels).

The capitalist class monopolizes political power and creates laws that protect its (capitalist) property, as well as its class interests and thus dominates the working class. In this sense, the entire capitalist state and its institutions are only a reflection of the interests of the ruling capitalist class. Marx was very critical of the bureaucracy, which through formalized procedures, secrets, and hierarchies turns the goals of the state into its own goals so that the bureaucracy acts as an imaginary state next to the real state.

                          Superstructure – Capitalist Ideology

The relations of production in capitalism create a specific type of social superstructure that aims to preserve the reproduction of such relations of production. Hence, in addition to direct political control, the capitalist class creates an ideology that aims to justify and legitimize existing relations of production and capitalist exploitation and domination. The capitalist class, with its ideology that uses the ideas of equality and freedom, achieves to disguise, to other members of society, the basis of exploitation and domination on which that class rests. However, equality, freedom, and civil rights are an illusion, because the worker is neither free nor equal to the capitalist. The worker is not free, because he is forced to work for the capitalist in order to survive. The worker is not equal either, because all political power and ideological narrative are created, and held by, the capitalist class. That is why Marx sees ideology as a „false consciousness“, that is, a false image of society and the world. Marx believes that capitalist control over political power and ideological narrative will not be able to prevent the collapse of the capitalist system when the contradictions within the social base become too great.

One of the key consequences of the capitalist relations of production and the ideology that defends them is what Marx calls "alienation." Alienation occurs when workers in capitalism begin to view the things they produce as foreign objects. They see goods as something foreign to them and that has the power to control people. „Productive labor“ is the primary and most important human activity, in which people truly express their own being. When people give up the products of their labor to place them on the market as goods, they then lose a part of themselves. Workers are alienated not only from the things they produce but also from the whole system - economic flows and impersonal market forces of supply and demand, as well as from the ruling ideology and institutions that support capitalist domination. Eventually, workers become alienated from themselves. Religion is one of the main examples of human alienation and, as a value and as an institutional system, it plays a crucial role in protecting and justifying capitalist domination. Marx believes that "man makes religion, religion does not create man." People attribute their own powers to supra-empirical forces and thus become alienated from themselves. Since religion is the most important source of alienation, people must abolish religion and religious illusions and myths, so they can become truly free.

                                 Transformation of Society

Marx wanted to transform the capitalist society into the communist one. This change will not be due to the emergence of new productive forces but will be a consequence of the internal contradictions of the capitalist system. Marx hoped that, at that moment, the members of the petty bourgeoisie would also side with the proletariat. Once communism is realized, the ownership of the means of labor will be collective, and the products of labor will be redistributed according to their needs, all in accordance with Marx's slogan " From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" (Marx, 1875). In addition, communism will cease to alienate people from themselves, society, and the products of their labor. The communist organization of the material base will not contain contradictions and internal conflicts. In this way, communism represents the end of the dialectical struggle of classes and the "end of history", because there will no longer be contradictions that create historical change.


Main works

Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie (1843);

Zur Judenfrage (1843);

Ökonomisch-philosophische Manuskripte (1844);

Die deutsche Ideologie (1845a);

Die heilige Familie (1845b);

Thesen über Feuerbach (1845c);

Das Elend der Philosophie (1847);

Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (1848);

Lohnarbeit und Kapital (1849);

Die Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich (1850);

Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte (1852a);

Enthüllungen über den Kommunistenprozess zu Köln (1852b);

Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1858);

Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1859);

Herr Vogt (1860);

Theorien über den Mehrwert (1863);

Das Kapital, 3 Band (1867, 1885, 1894);

Kritik des Gothaer Programms (1875).

Works translated into English (there are many editions and collections of Marx's works in English, so here are just names of English translations, and not years of their publishing):

Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (in German 1843);

On the Jewish Question (in German 1843);

Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (in German 1844);  

The German Ideology (in German 1845a);

The Holy Family (in German 1845b);

Theses on Feuerbach (in German 1845c);

The Poverty of Philosophy (in German 1847);

The Communist Manifesto (in German 1948); 

Wage Labour and Capital (in German 1849);

Class Struggles in France (in German 1850);

The XVIII Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (in German 1852a);

A Contribution to The Critique Of The Political Economy (in German 1859);

Capital Vol. 1, 2, & 3: The Only Complete and Unabridged Edition in One Volume (2020, in German 1867, 1885, 1894);

Critique of the Gotha Programme (in German 1875).        

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