Karl Marx Additional Biography


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

0111207237-Marx.jpg Karl Marx (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Marx asserted that real freedom of expression could only be realized in a future society in which economic power would no longer destroy the essence of formal freedoms. He thus believed that formal freedom of the press, though clearly preferable to censorship, was seriously undermined by the concentration of economic power within society. There was, therefore, limited value in having the right to express ideas without the practical means to do so. Marx argued that those who owned the material means of production also owned the means of producing ideas. The fate of his own writings during his lifetime confirmed this belief, for he often found the production and distribution of his ideas restricted by his lack of money. In addition, he often found his writings suppressed by hostile governments.


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Marx’s ideas concerning modes of economic distribution, social class, and the developmental patterns of history have profoundly influenced theories in philosophical and economic thought and have helped shape the political structure of the modern world.

Early Life

Karl Marx was born into a Jewish family in the city of Trier in the southern Rhineland area. By the time the Rhineland was rejoined, after the Napoleonic Wars, to Protestant Prussia in 1814, his father, a public lawyer, had converted to Christianity. In 1830, the young Marx entered the Trier secondary school and pursued the traditional humanities curriculum. In the fall of 1835, he entered the University of Bonn as a law student, but he left the following year to enroll at the University of Berlin. His studies were concentrated on law, history, and the works of the then-leading philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Marx was graduated in 1841 after writing his doctoral dissertation, and he returned to Bonn, where he became involved with his friend Bruno Bauer in left-wing politics and in the study of the materialist philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach. In April, 1842, he began writing radical articles for the Rheinische Zeitung (Rhenish gazette), and he assumed its editorship in Cologne that October. He married in June, 1843, and moved to Paris that October.

In August, 1844, Marx met Friedrich Engels in Paris, and the two began a productive collaboration. Marx’s articles had angered the Prussian government, and in February, 1845, he moved to Brussels. In 1848, the year of revolutions in many European countries, Marx was ordered to leave Brussels; he returned to Paris and then to Cologne. He was again compelled to leave in 1849 and went to London, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

Life’s Work

Marx’s lifelong critique of capitalist economy began in part as an analysis of the then-dominant Hegelian system of philosophical idealism. Influenced to a degree by Ludwig Feuerbach’s materialism, Marx rejected Hegel’s metaphysical vision of a Weltgeist, or Absolute Spirit. It was not metaphysical Spirit that governed history but rather material existence that determined consciousness. The ways in which an individual was compelled to seek physical necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing within a society profoundly influenced the manner in which a person viewed himself and others. As Hegel (and others) suggested, the course of history was indeed a dialectical process of conflict and resolution, but for Marx this development was determined to a great extent by economic realities. Whereas Hegel saw dialectical process (thesis/antithesis/synthesis) as one of ideas, for Marx it was one of class struggle. Hence, Marx’s position is called dialectical materialism. He stood in staunch opposition to the prior philosophical tradition of German idealism and thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, Fichte, and Hegel. German philosophy, he believed, was mired in insubstantial theoretical speculation when concrete and practical thought about the relationship between reality—especially economic and political realities—and consciousness was needed. In general, Marx was a synthetic thinker, and his views represent a mixture of German materialist philosophy such as that of Feuerbach; the French social doctrines of Charles Fourier, Comte de Saint-Simon, and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; and British theories of political economy such as those of Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

Marx’s philosophical position of a dialectical materialism suggests a comprehensive view of social organization—which is, broadly speaking, a dimension of human consciousness—in all its manifestations. The determinant of all societal forms is its economic base (Basis), that is, the means of production and the distribution of its produced wealth. All aspects of human social interaction, what Marx called the superstructure (Überbau), are influenced and shaped by the economic base and its consequent relationships of power among social classes. The superstructure ultimately involves a society’s educational, legal, artistic, political, philosophical, and scientific systems. The nature of the economic base and above all the power relationships of the classes tend to be reproduced in an overt or covert fashion in the various dimensions of the societal superstructure. The pedagogical curriculum of the school system, for example, might reproduce or reinforce in some unconscious manner the inequality of the social classes on which the mode of production is based. Various aspects of the artistic or cultural dimensions of a society (a novel, for example) might also incorporate in symbolic expression the nature of the economic base. Thus Marx’s economic theories provide an account for a wide variety of phenomena.

In capitalist political economy, the individual must sell his physical or intellectual labor—must sell himself as a commodity—in order to survive. Thus, Marx’s early writings, such as Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, deal with the pivotal concept of alienation (Entfremdung) as a central aspect of the worker’s experience in capitalism. Because the worker is reduced to an...

(The entire section is 2181 words.)


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Karl Marx occupies a pivotal place in the history of the international socialist movement. A passionately committed revolutionary theorist and activist, he worked tirelessly to bring about the overthrow of capitalism and believed that he had discovered the historical laws that would inevitably produce its collapse. As an integral part of his philosophical system, he developed a materialistically based theory of ethics in which the prevailing moral principles of any historical period were seen as reflections of the underlying economic process and the interests and aspirations of the dominant social class. In presenting this view, he posed the question of capitalism’s moral legitimacy more sharply than did any other philosopher of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and he offered a powerful alternative vision of a socialist society in which social classes would be abolished and all poverty and suffering would end.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 998 words.)