Karl Marx and Socialism

Karl Marx and Socialism:

Karl Marx was a German Jew who was born in Prussia in 1818. He studied law at two German universities but found philosophy and history more interesting. He derived much inspiration from the German philosopher Hegel, who conceived of history as s struggle between opposing forces leading to constant change. His liberal ideas debarred him from holding a professorship and he became a journalist. But he came into conflict with the government for his views and left Germany in 1843. He came to Paris and began to study socialism at its source. There he met Engels and their lifelong collaboration began. In 1848, he produced in collaboration with Engels his famous work “The Communist Manifesto”. The Manifesto gave a clarion call to the European laboring class to rise in revolt. It concluded by observing in memorable language “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, Unite!” In 1867 appeared the first volume of Das Capital which had less immediate influence than The Communist Manifesto. The second and third volumes were published after his death by Engels- in 1885 and 1894 respectively. After 1848 Marx spent the remainder of his life in London where he passed his life in study and wrote until his death in 1883.

Marx made many mistakes, even in the opinion of his own followers, but he explained clearly what he meant. To Marx history was a struggle between classes. The struggle involved two classes that were engaged in industrial production: the upper-middle-class (the bourgeoisie) who owned the means of production and distribution and the proletariat or the propertyless workers. The class struggle, according to Marx, was bound to end in the victory of the proletariat and in its dictatorship. Marx borrowed crucial ideas about labor theory from classical economists. Any object that man produces has a certain value. While the worker puts forth the labor to make something, he receives in wages only a fraction of the value of what he has created. The owner gets the remainder of the value in profits. The surplus value represented by profits should go to the man who puts in the labor that creates value; instead, it goes to the owner, who piles up capital while the worker gets the bare minimum. Marx indicated the evil of a divided society and suggested the way to overcome that evil- by public ownership of the means of production and distribution. Marx tried to make the workers actually aware of their situation so that they would revolt and destroy the roots of class struggle.

Marx believed that the destruction of the capitalist system and the ushering of a new age could be brought violently by the workers themselves. The proletariat must seize the right moment for revolution. To unite working-class organizations to achieve this end was the primary duty of the Socialist Party. Its second task was to consolidate the revolution. Marx foresaw a violent revolution in which the party-led workers would seize the centers of bourgeois power and the means of production followed by a transitional period of “the dictatorship of the proletariat”. During this transitional stage, the party would lay the basis for the classless society in which the state withered away, Marx drew blueprints for the remote future. But that future would inevitably come.

The “Communist Manifesto” called for the abolition of private landed property and the right of inheritance; a graduated income tax: the centralization and control of credit, communications, and the means of production in the hands of the state; equal obligation of all to work; abolition of the distinction between industry and agriculture and free public education for children. Marx believed important changes would come both through evolution and revolution. Das Capital sought to demonstrate that capitalism would fall off its own weight.

In 1848 Marx had attracted little attention, but as industrialization progressed, he won followers. In 1864 Marx became the guiding spirit of an International Workingmen’s Association, usually called the “First International”. Though it succeeded in spreading the Marxist teaching, the First International met with no lasting success. It was weakened by the difference between Marx on the one hand and the Anarchists like Bakunin on the other. But Marxian Socialism commanded the loyalty of many workingmen. In 1889 the Second International met in Paris and held a series of Congresses until the First World War. In 1919 after the Russian Revolution, the Russian Communists established the Third International.

Marx’s influence on European thought has been profound. While much of his economic analysis of the nature and development of capitalist society is no longer accepted, his doctrine that all historical change and social systems are to be explained in terms of economic causes has had a profound influence on the methods of historical research. While Marx’s economic interpretation of history has had a far-reaching effect, it was his doctrine of the class struggle and of the inevitable triumph of the proletarian revolution which gave his teaching an immediate political appeal to the industrial workers. As Engels said, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of evolution of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of evolution of human history.”

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