Authors: Karl Marx

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German political theorist

Author Works


“Zur Kritik der hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie,” 1844 (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the Right, 1970)

Ökonomische und philosophische Manuskripte, 1844 (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 1947)

Die heilige Familie: Oder, Kritik der kritischen Kritic, 1845 (The Holy Family: Or, Critique of Critical Critique, 1956)

Die deutsche Ideologie, 1845-1846 (The German Ideology, 1938)

La Misère de la philosophie, 1847 (The Poverty of Philosophy, 1892)

Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei, 1848 (with Friedrich Engels; The Communist Manifesto, 1850)

Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, 1859 (A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, 1904)

Das Kapital, 1867, 1885, 1894 (Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, 1886, 1907, 1909; better known as Das Kapital)

Karl Marx: Selected Writings, 1977, 2000 (David McLellan, editor)


Karl Heinrich Marx was the famous theorist who laid the foundation of twentieth century communism. He was the son of a Jewish lawyer who had his practice in Treves and who became a convert to Christianity while Karl Marx was a small child. The entire family was baptized and received into Christianity in 1824, when Karl was six years old. As a boy he attended the schools in Trier. Beginning his university career in 1835, he attended the German universities at Bonn and Berlin, where he studied law, history, and philosophy. In 1842 he received the degree of doctor of philosophy from the University of Jena. Because Marx’s radical views and temperament prevented his being accepted into the academic world of a university as a faculty member, he began a career in journalism and became one of the editors of the Rheinische Zeitung in Cologne; his socialistic articles contributed to the suppression of this periodical by the government the following year. A few months later Marx married Jenny von Westphalen, daughter of a prominent government official, who remained loyal all her life to her husband. Although German on her father’s side, she was of British descent on her mother’s side of the family. Forced to leave Prussia within a few months of their marriage, the couple went to Paris.{$I[AN]9810000494}{$I[A]Marx, Karl}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Marx, Karl}{$I[tim]1818;Marx, Karl}

Karl Marx

(Library of Congress)

In Paris Marx became associated with Arnold Ruge, and together they planned a socialist periodical, the Deutsch-französische Jahrbücher, a project that died quickly. The one issue of the periodical contained two articles by Marx, one on “the Jewish question” and the other on Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s criticism of law; in the latter Marx declared that political freedom could come only by the proletariat’s dissolution, through violence, of government as it was then known. Unlike most of the other socialists of his time, Marx already believed in political warfare as the key to success. An important side aspect of the short-lived Jahrbücher was that it brought together Marx and Friedrich Engels. The two men, working together, produced a volume, The Holy Family: Or, Critique of Critical Critique, excoriating the intellectual Hegelian articles and their authors so prevalent at the time, including Bruno and Edgar Bauer, with whom Marx, as a member of the “Freien,” had once been on the friendliest of terms in Berlin. Once again, in this new book, Marx proposed that socialism be a working-class movement. After its publication he continued to contribute to periodicals and became a friend of Heinrich Heine, the poet. A relatively calm period in his life ended, however, when the Prussian government requested the French to oust Marx. From France he went to Brussels, where he wrote and published The Poverty of Philosophy, an attack on Pierre Joseph Proudhon’s economic philosophy. Joined in Brussels by Engels, Marx became a part of the proletarian socialist movement, joining a league of German workers, the League of the Just, which had secret chapters in many European cities. This organization’s philosophy of action coincided largely with that of Marx. The organization soon became the League of Communists, and for it Marx and Engels wrote the now famous Communist Manifesto, published in 1848. A few weeks later revolution broke out in France. Believing this revolt the forerunner of a similar revolution in his native Prussia, Marx went immediately with Engels to Cologne to found a journal, Neue rheinische Zeitung, whose subtitle was “An Organ of Democracy.” The paper openly advocated nonpayment of taxes, armed resistance, and revolution. The paper was quickly suppressed, and Marx was tried for high treason. Although acquitted, he was expelled from the country at the request of the Prussian authorities. He went to Paris for a time but, following the defeat of the German Democratic Party, he was forced to leave France. He and his wife crossed the Channel to England and settled in London, where they spent the rest of their lives.

In London, Marx and his family lived precariously. He tried to reorganize the Communist League, but the results were hopeless. He also tried to revive the Neue rheinische Zeitung, but without success. Three children born during the years of poverty died while quite young. At last Marx received an appointment as a correspondent for the New York Tribune and his financial condition began to improve. His letters to the Tribune, later reprinted, were anti-Russian, in reaction to what Marx viewed as the tyranny of the czarist regime.

In 1859 Marx published one of his most important pieces of writing, A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, which was planned as the first volume in a series of volumes discussing all aspects of political economy. This long and ambitious project was never completed, but the published volume became a preliminary study for Das Kapital.

When in 1864 the International Working Men’s Association was formed in London, Marx was an important figure in the organization. He soon became its unofficial leader, formulating its policy, explaining the organization’s purposes to the members, and writing its pronouncements. This organization flourished for several years until historical events doomed it to eventual failure; it was formally dissolved at a congress of workers held in Philadelphia in July, 1876. Marx had practically left the organization by 1872, turning from it to spend his time working on the second and third volumes of Das Kapital, which he left in manuscript at his death. Illness frequently interrupted Marx’s work during his later years, and the death of his wife in December, 1881, was a severe blow from which he never recovered. Marx, proponent of revolution and proletarian violence, died at his home in London, leaving three daughters and a set of doctrines destined to shake civilization to its roots. The posthumous volumes of Das Kapital were published by Engels. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, Marx and his writings have become the focus of many articles attempting to analyze his theories in relation to why the Soviet system failed.

BibliographyArnold, N. Scott. Marx’s Radical Critique of Capitalist Society: A Reconstruction and Critical Evaluation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Arnold provides a careful and detailed account of Marx’s analysis of capitalism.Berlin, Isaiah. Karl Marx: His Life and Environment. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. A prominent twentieth century interpreter offers a helpful study of Marx.Carver, Terrell, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Marx. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Essays explain and criticize a wide variety of themes, problems, and methodological issues in Marx’s philosophy.Curtis, Michael, ed. Marxism: The Inner Dialogues. 2d ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1997. Significant essays explore various interpretations of Marx’s contributions to political, economic, and philosophical life.Eagleton, Terry. Marx. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Bibliography.Fischer, Ernst. How to Read Karl Marx. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1996. Updates ways in which Marx may be interpreted and understood.McLellan, David. Karl Marx: His Life and Thought. New York: Harper & Row, 1973. A reliable critical biography of Marx by a prominent scholar.Rader, Melvin. Marx’s Interpretation of History. 1979. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Evaluates the varied and at times competing interpretations of history that can be found in Marxist scholarship as well as in the philosophy of Marx itself.Rosenthal, John. The Myth of Dialectics: Reinterpreting the Marx-Hegel Relation. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. An effort to reappraise the important relationship between Hegel and Marx.Smith, Cyril. Marx at the Millennium. Chicago: Pluto Press, 1996. Takes stock of the contributions and implications of Marx’s philosophy as the twentieth century draws to a close.Suchting, W. A. Marx: An Introduction. New York: New York University Press, 1983. A good critical biography of Marx presented chronologically and by topic.Wheen, Francis. Karl Marx: A Life. New York: W. W. Norton, 2000. A biography of the German political thinker and founder of modern communism that provides a view of the personal life of this influential, controversial individual.
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