Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818–83) was born in Prussia, now part of Germany. At university, Marx briefly studied law and then turned his interests toward philosophy. He completed his doctoral dissertation in 1841, when he was only 23 years old. Marx had hoped for an academic appointment. However, because he held radical political views, he could not obtain such a position. Marx then turned to journalism. He penned articles on censorship, social issues, and commentary on governmental laws and policies for the Rheinische Zeitung, a journal that was soon banned by the Prussian government.

Marx married and moved to Paris, where he became deeply involved in socialism. He also became close friends with Friedrich Engels (1820–95), the son of a wealthy German industrialist, who is profiled in chapter 7. They began a lifelong friendship and intellectual collaboration with the publication of The Holy Family (1956, orig. 1846), a book that focused on the importance of the masses in driving social change (Appelbaum 1988, 25). Engels would even provide financial support for Marx’s work throughout his life.

Marx’s writings attracted repeated government attention. Government officials asked him to leave Paris in 1845. He moved to Belgium, where he became the president of the Brussels chapter of the International Communist League. The Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) was written as this organization’s principal statement. After being expelled from Brussels for his revolutionary activities, Marx returned to Paris for a short time at the invitation of a provisional government that had struggled against the monarchy, then shortly moved to Cologne in Prussia and took over editorship of his revived former journal. He was accused of inciting rebellion, the journal was shut down, and Marx was expelled from Prussia. In quick succession, he traveled in Germany and then back to Paris, finally settling in London in 1849, where he would spend the rest of his life.

Marx supported his family through publications of some of his writing that covered, among other social topics, economic theory, industrial society, religion, property, communism, and philosophy. For a decade, he was also a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune, published by Horace Greeley. He also became involved with the London chapter of the International Communist League, advocated for German workers in London, and spent long hours in the British Museum reading British trade statistics and economic theory (Appelbaum 1988, 27).

The Marx family was very poor, often relying on Engels for funds or from pawning their possessions. They frequently lacked money for basic necessities and experienced illnesses and evictions. Three of Marx’s children died before reaching adulthood. Eventually, both Marx and his wife inherited some funds that somewhat relieved their financial distress. When Engels became a partner in his father’s textile mill, he paid off the Marx’s debts and, in 1869, set up a small pension for his friend.

Marx’s health grew progressively worse over time. Among his ailments, he suffered from painful boils, headaches, eye problems, a liver complaint, digestive and respiratory problems, and perhaps depression that made him unable to work at times. Marx died in 1883, probably of tuberculosis or pleurisy, two years after losing his wife and a daughter to cancer. Several of Marx’s works, including two volumes of Capital (1977a, orig. 1867), were completed or published posthumously by Engels (Appelbaum 1988; Feinberg 1985; Siegel 1978).

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(The Basics of Sociology) - ISBN 0-313-32387-9


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