Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-1883)
Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818- March 14, 1883) was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist, and revolutionary socialist; born in Trier, Germany. Marx began studying Law and Philosophy at the University of Bonn then left and later studied at the University of Berlin where he took an interest in the German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel as well as a group of Young Hegelians including Bruno Bauer and Ludwig Feuerbach. In 1841, he received a Ph.D. from the University of Jena, Germany. Karl Marx moved to Paris after a while where he became a revolutionary communist. His main works are The Communist Manifesto and the three-volume Das Kapital. Marx’s family was a poor one and they always had support from Friedrich Engels’ (a German thinker and Marx’s colleague) family.
The main works of Karl Marx
Karl Marx is said to be one of the most influential men in history and although his work has been criticized, they have also set the basis for understanding the concept of labor and its relation to capital as well as some other subsequent economic thought. His best-known works are The Communist Manifesto which he published with Friedrich Engels in 1948 and the three-volume Das Kapital (the first volume was published in 1867 which was during Marx’s lifetime while the second and third volumes were published after his death by Engels in 1885 and 1894 respectively).
The Communist Manifesto (German: Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei) has four sections; Bourgeois and Proletarians, Proletarians and Communists, Socialist and Communist Literature, and Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties. This political document basically summarizes the theories concerning the nature of society and politics. In it, they came up with the thought that all human history had been grounded on class, but that these would fade with the success of the working class. It stated that capitalism was unstable and that a revolution of the proletarians (working class) would result which would lead to the formation of a classless and stateless society. The section ends by declaring an action of uniting workers of all countries; “WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE”.
[image: Image result for das kapital]Considered to be the bible of communism, Das Kapital which is arguably the best of Marx’s works, basically talks about the capitalist system and how it is self-destructible in respect to the concept of surplus value of labor. In Das Kapital, Karl Marx backed up the ideas of how the working class would overthrow the ruling elites, (which is found in The Communist Manifesto) with grounding facts and strong analysis. The last two editions, however, were not available in print until after his death. The ideas contained in Das Kapital later motivated the revolutions in Russia, China, and other countries in the 20th century. (Wheeler, 2017).
It is evident that in both works cited above and more, Marx viewed capitalism as inherently stable due to internal contradictions as well as the inevitable revolutionary overthrow by socialism. Marx’s Criticisms of Capitalism are discussed below.
- Inequality: In the capitalist society, there were divisions of people into the ruling elites or bourgeois and the working class or proletariat. As a result, there would be people with access to resources and lots of money and the others with little or no access to resources. This would lead to disdain for the people who are not doing well or are struggling as well as alienation in respect to the separation of workers from the products of their own labor.
- Unstable Economy: Karl Marx explains that in a capitalist society, modern work is unstable as a result of the occurrences of disasters such as inflation and stock market crashes. These problems can be said to be related to the issue of under-consumption and overproduction.
- Profit-driven: The capitalists were driven by their desire for profits. This would need an increase in production in order to increase sales so as to make for more revenue. This would ultimately, whether knowingly or unknowingly, reduce the wages of workers to a subsistence level.
- The under-consumption Paradox: Marx saw a contradiction in the relations of production in the capitalist society. In an attempt for the capitalist to maximize profit, they produce more. However, the working class/proletariat cannot afford to purchase the produce due to their meagre wages and only the bourgeois can afford them but there would obviously be point of maximum utility where they cannot buy more even if they can afford to. This would lead to the problem of over-production and under-consumption.
- Need for Specialization: According to Marx, for the capitalists to reduce costs, specialization was needed and sought for. Although this would lead to efficiency and an increase in production, it, however, leads to monotony, and loss of creativity and makes the workers unsatisfied with the tasks they have to do every day to earn their little wages.
The main ideas of Karl Marx
Although some of the works of Karl Marx were inspired by other thinkers such as G.W.F Hegel, Ludwig Feuerbach, Charles Darwin, Aristotle, and Epicurus, to mention a few; he had some main ideas and they are;
- Conflict Between the Bourgeoisie and Proletariat
The friction between the bourgeoisie, the capitalist class, and the proletariat, the working class, has been described as humanity’s core conflict; according to Marxism. The bourgeoisie owns a majority of society’s wealth and means of production, while the proletariat are the lowest class of citizens. The friction between the two, according to the Marxian theory, is as a result of capitalism which benefits the ruling class at the expense of the working class.
- Dictatorship of the Proletariat
This refers to a state in which the working class holds/gains political power. It is a transition stage from capitalism to communism. The means of production gradually move from private ownership to collective ownership. It involves the complete socialization of the major means of production in order to provide for the economic and social needs of the people.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is simply the first stage of addressing the conflict between the two classes according to Marxian theory. The end goal is the establishment of a classless and stateless communist society. This is attained through the acquisition of political power by the working class and the elimination of private property.
This is a political principle that advocates greater cooperation amongst nations and people in order to advance their common interests.
The International Workingmen’s Association was an organization that promoted an ideology of internationalist socialism and anti-imperialism. It was also called First International. Karl Marx played a prominent role in this organization. He called for international cooperation amongst the working class of different nations in Europe.
- Religion: Opium of the People
Karl Marx believed that religion was a contributor to the exploitation of the working class because it taught them to suppress their immediate pain and suffering. He compared religion to a drug that provides “pleasant illusions”. Radical atheism soon became a core component of communist regimes.
- The labor theory of value
Marx’s labor theory of value explained that the value of an economic good is derived by the amount of labor or the amount of hours necessary to produce them. This theory was dominant over the subjective theory in the 18th and 19th century.
- Surplus value of labor
According to Marx’s theory, labor which was the main source of economic profits was exploited. This is due to the fact that the laborers were overworked more than the time needed to earn their subsistence wages ad these wages were less than the value added to the production of the goods. This means that profit was a result of exploiting the surplus value that labor contributed.
Criticisms of Karl Marx’s work
- The Marxian theory was criticized for portraying class structure so simply, as just a relationship between the bourgeoisie and proletariat. Marx disregarded the ever-present middle class. These days the middle class, which represents most of the population in more developed countries, can even afford private property. This alone would have classified them as members of the “capitalist class”.
- Marx also implied that the owners of the wealth were also the owners of the political power. This is not true of today’s society. Many of the institutions today have at least relative autonomy from the control of the capitalist class.
- The working class is no longer as oppressed at it used to be. Wage earners have more say due to trade unions and such. Some members of the working class are also self-employed. They directly control their working lives and their working conditions.
- Communism was criticized for not being a good enough alternative to capitalism, given the failure of the communist revolutions in Eastern Europe.
- Marx’s theory was also criticized for striving toward the creation of a perfect society, rather than the resolution of more specific social issues.
The relevance of Karl Marx’s work in our contemporary world.
Karl Marx is well renowned and his thought has had a great influence over time in history. His name has therefore been used as a noun, adjective, and school of thought (Marxism). In the Marxist theory, there is the presence of class conflict in a capitalist society between the wage laborers/proletariat and the ruling class/bourgeois that owns the means of production. Marxism in relation to the works of Karl Marx is still very relevant in our society in various ways;
- Family: Parents want the best for their family and whether consciously or not, compete with each other for the best cars, houses, most successful children, and so on. As a result, a lot of money is spent to get these things that would make for a “perfect” family. This can be seen to benefit the bourgeois in two ways. Firstly, parents work harder at work and this makes for more productivity that would ensure profit for their company owners. Secondly, to provide for this lifestyle, parents spend more of their salary based on what they can afford and these still go to the bourgeois as profit through the sale of goods and services to the family. Children grow up watching their parents do this daily and end up doing it in their own future families, hence the cycle continues.
- Media: Most of the mainstream media is controlled by wealthy individuals and as such, this makes what some things are shown or told to the public to be in favor of these wealthy individuals. It encourages people to believe the various justifications the bourgeois have put forward in exploiting the working class.
- Education: School places emphasis on students getting high-flying and highly paid jobs which inadvertently leads to the exploitation of workers to get more profits for the company owners. Also, school places importance on obedience and the following of rules. This is good for capitalism as it brings up students who will become good workers.
Karl Marx died on the 14th of March, 1883. His funeral took place at the high gate cemetery in England.