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Short Biography of Karl Marx

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His views and thoughts were so powerful and influential that more than one-third of the world’s population was under their grip until recently. Even today, in spite of the great set back of the recent times to the Russian Communism, his thoughts and the communist ideology are still alive.

His ideology of communism which retained its supremacy in many countries of the world for decades (for not less than 75 years in Russia itself) has virtually proved the Platonic saying “ideologies rule the world” We consider Marx as one among the pioneering sociologists because his views and thoughts have a great sociological significance.

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Karl Marx, the eldest son of Neinrich and Henrietta Marx, was born on May 5th, 1818 in the Rhenish city of Trier in Germany. His father, a lawyer provided the family with a fairly typical middle- class existence. Both parents were from rabbinical families, but for business reasons the father had converted to Lutherianism.


Marx had received his early education at Trier. In 1835, he joined the law faculty at Bonn University and ultimately took his law degree from Berlin University in 1836. In 1841, Marx received the doctorate in philosophy from the University of Jena.

His thesis was on “The Difference between the Democritean and the Epicurean Philosophy”, a dry philosophical topic. German Universities (particularly the Berlin University) at that time were under the heavy influence of the German philosopher Hegel and the “Young Hegelians”. Because of Marx’s association with the Hegelian philosophy – which was considered dangerous by many authorities – he was unable to teach in a German University.


Marx started his career as a journalist in “Rheinische Zeitung” and later became its chief editor within ten months. However, because of his political positions the paper was closed shortly thereafter by the government.

The early essays published in this period began to reflect his thoughts. “They were liberally sprinkled with democratic principles, humanism and idealism. He rejected the abstractness of Hegelian philosophy, the native dreaming of Utopian communists, and those activists who were urging what he considered to be political action.”


In 1843, Marx married Jenny Von Westphalen from a family of Prussian nobles much against the wishes of her family men. He left the editorship of Rheinische Zeitung and migrated to Paris along with his wife where he expected to find a comparatively liberal atmosphere for his writing.

Here he started publishing German – French Year book in 1844. As a Young Hegelin “he encountered here two new sets of ideas – French socialism and English Political Economy. It was the unique way in which he combined Hegelianism, Socialism and Political Economy that shaped his intellectual orientation.”


Marx met Fredrick Engels in 1844 who became his closest friend, benefactor, and life-long collaborator. “The son of a textile manufacturer, Engels had become a socialist critical of the conditions facing the working class. Much of Marx’s compassion for the misery of the working class came from his exposure to Engels and his ideas.”


Marx’s association with Engels provided him a new spirit for his writing works. He wrote in collaboration with Engels the famous books “The Holy Family” and “The German Ideology”. He also produced “The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.”

Though Marx and Engels became the best friends who shared many ideas in common, there were differences between them. “Marx tended to be a highly abstract thinker, a disorderly intellectual, and very much oriented to his family. Engels was a practical thinker, a neat and tidy business man, and a womaniser” – (George Ritzer).

In spite of these differences Marx and Engels had developed good union in which they worked jointly. They wrote books, published articles and worked together in radical organisations. Engels even helped Marx financially throughout the rest of his life so that Marx could devote himself to his intellectual and political endeavours.

Still Engels was humble enough to regard himself as “the junior partner”. His own words express this feeling beautifully: “Marx could very well have done without me. What Marx accomplished I would not have achieved. Marx stood higher, saw farther, and took a wider and quicker view than the rest of us, Marx was a genius” – (McLellan- 1973).


Marx could not stay for long in Paris. In 1845, he was expelled from Paris at the insistence of the German Government for his writings in Silesian weavers uprising. He then moved to Brussels. His radicalism was growing, and he had become an active member of the international revolutionary movement. In 1846, Marx and Engels set up “Communist Correspondence Committee” in Brussels. (They completed the “German Ideology” at this stage).

In 1847, Marx joined the “Communist League” and worked for its popularity. Another famous work “The Poverty of Philosophy” was published at this stage. He was elected Vice-President of the “Brussels Democratic Society”.

Because of his close association with the Communist League he was asked to write a document (with Engels) expounding its aims and beliefs. The result was, he published in 1848 the programme of the Communist League, “The Communist Manifesto of 1848”, often hailed as the “birth certificate of scientific socialism.” This work was “characterised by ringing political slogans” (for example, “workingmen of all countries, unite”)


Marx now started “Neue Rheinische Zeitung” and became its chief editor. He took active part in organising democratic upsurges in Vienna, Frankfurt and Berlin. He was tried in a court and deported from Germany. He came to Paris and after being expelled from there migrated to London where he lived till his death. He kept close contact with all revolutionary movements including the Paris Commune of 1871.


In London, Marx undertook a prolonged study of economics that focused on the development of industrial capitalism. The failure of the political revolutions of 1848 made him to withdraw from active revolutionary activity. He devoted much of his attention to a serious and detailed research on the workings of the capitalist system.

These untiring works of Marx culminated in the publication his most famous work “The Capital”, (Das Kapital) the first volume of which came out in 1867. Two other volumes of this book were published posthumously.


During his stay in London Marx lived in poverty barely managing to survive on a small income which he was getting from his writings. Engels’ financial support helped his survival; he became reinvolved in political activity.

In 1864, he founded the “international working men’s association”, known as “First International”. He soon gained dominance within the workers movement and devoted a number of years to it. He began to gain name and fame both as the leader of the International and as the author of Capital.


Marx very keenly observed the Indian developments. “His dispatches on the “Great Indian Revolt” of 1857 in “New York Daily” Tribune; his Notes on Indian History, and other writings, and his prognosis of British rule – clearly depict his deep understanding of the Indian Society and the changes brought about by the British”.


Marx, with the due help of his friend Engels, founded the “Theory of Scientific Communism”, enunciated the laws of “Dialectical and Historical Materialism” and discovered the “theory of surplus value.” These have great sociopolitical and economic significance. He is also the chief architect of “The Theory of Class Conflict” and “The Theory of Alienation”.


Marx, being a sensitive man, was greatly disappointed when he learnt that the Paris Commune of 1871 (a worker’s upsurge to seize political power) met with failure. The disintegration of the International by 1876, the failure of various political movements, and added to all these things, his personal illness- contributed to his sad demise. He died in London on March 14, 1883 and cremated in Highgate Cemetary.

His wife died in 1881, a daughter in 1882 and though Marx had his followers and admirers throughout the world, when he died in 1883 hardly a handful of people arranged for his funerals.


After the death of Marx his trusted friend Engels became the spokesman for the Marxist thought. He sought to bring to light many of the unpublished writings of Marx. The second and third volumes of his “The Capital,” were published in 1885 and 1894 respectively.


“Marx believed social scientists must be committed to political action as well as scholarship. He put much of his energy into efforts to bring about the communist society he dreamt of.

Although his prediction of world-wide revolution of the working class has turned out to be wrong, his contribution to Sociological thought – particularly in the area of social class and social change – have had lasting influence.

The influence of Marx has been simply immense. “Millions of people accept his theories with most religious fervour, and modern socialist and communist movements owe their inspiration directly to him. It is important to realise, however, that Marxism is not the same as Communism.

Marx would probably be dismayed at many of the practices of communist movements, and he cannot be held responsible for policies pursued in his name decades after his death.”


Marx nowhere called himself a sociologist. Still his social thoughts and ideas have a great sociological significance. During the recent years greater attention is being paid to Marxian thought and towards his contribution to the fields such as history, economics, political science and sociology. His theory of social class and class conflict, of social change and alienation – are of very great sociological significance.


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