Karl Marx And Scientific Socialism

Karl Marx And ‘Scientific Socialism’

Karl Marx Life and Works

The man whose ideas changed half the world was born at Trier, Prussia, in 1818. He was the son of middle-class Jewish parents who later converted to Christianity. Marx's youth was spent happily enough—he was popular with his playmates and enjoyed an unusually pleasant relationship with his father. At the age of seventeen, young Marx entered the University of Bonn as a law stu­dent. Although he had a sharp mind, Marx's application to his studies suffered from the distractions of youth. He attended class rarely, and he seemed during his first year at Bonn to sow a great many wild oats. Consequently, his first year as an undergraduate at Bonn was also his last. Disappointed with his son's academic performance, Marx's father withdrew him from the school the following year and enrolled him at the University of Berlin, where the "party-school" atmosphere of the University of Bonn was totally absent. During the continuance of his training in jurisprudence and political economy at Berlin, Marx came under the influence of Hegel and Feuerbach, whose ideas helped shape his own views of history, religion, and society.

Having completed his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Jena in 1841, Marx moved back to Bonn, hoping to secure a teaching position at the univer­sity he had formerly attended. He abandoned this hope in 1842 and assumed the editorship of the Rheinische Zeitung, a German newspaper in which he could air his somewhat unorthodox ideas and indulge his desire to acquaint himself with the literature of the French socialists. Strict censorship imposed on the Rheinische Zeitung in 1843 led to Marx's resignation as editor. After a June wedding to his childhood sweetheart (Jenny von Westphalen), he moved to Paris and undertook the founding of a new journal—the Deutsch-Franzosische Jarbucher. All the while Marx continued to write, though mostly on philosophical topics. It was in Paris, however, that he began a systematic study of economics, especially of Smith and Ricardo. There, too, he studied the materialist philosophers, including Locke, he became acquainted with Proudhon, and he began to distill most of his major ideas. His most active lit­erary decade was yet to come, but in 1844 Marx wrote a number of manu­scripts, which were later collected and published as Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.

Meanwhile, Marx was without honor in his own country. The Prussian gov­ernment declared him guilty of treason in 1844 for his articles in the Jarbucher, thus making it impossible for him to return to his homeland. The following year, under instigation from Prussia, France also expelled Marx. He fled to Brussels, where, in due course, his Theses on Feuerbach (1845), The German Ideology (1846, with Engels), and The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) were pub­lished—the last a scathing critique of Proudhon's earlier Philosophy of Pov­erty. In 1847 Marx gave a series of lectures, which were later published as Wage Labour and Capital (1849). The Communist Manifesto followed in 1848, and in 1849 Marx and his family settled in London, where he was to stay for the rest of his life, most of which was spent writing and studying economics in the library of the British Museum. In 1851, Marx entered a ten-year period as occasional contributor to the New York Daily Tribune, whose fees helped to sustain his family's meager existence.

Beginning in 1857, a veritable sea of ink spewed from Marx's pen. In that year alone he prepared a lengthy critique of political economy that was to serve as an outline for his later magnum opus. Now known as the Grundrisse, these manuscripts were undiscovered and unpublished until the World War II period. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy was begun in 1858 and finished the following year. By 1863, Marx had also completed Theories of Surplus Value. The first volume of Capital appeared in 1867, but Marx died in 1883, before the second and third volumes could be published. The latter ap­peared under the editorship of Marx's lifetime friend and collaborator, Friedrich Engels. Engels himself died in 1895, only a year after the publication of the third and final volume of Capital.

The details of Marx's personal life reveal the disconsolateness of all kinds of adversity, including abject poverty and tormenting political exile. Certainly, Marx could be bitter about his personal trials. He made no effort to hide his bitterness when, near the end of his life, he wrote acidly: "I hope the bour­geoisie will remember my carbuncles all the rest of their lives!" It is no sur­prise, then, that Marx is frequently portrayed as a sullen, brooding genius. But this characterization obscures one of the most remarkable things about the man—his extraordinary success, despite adversity, in the personal relation­ships that matter most. His love for his wife, and hers for him, was enduring and uncompromising. His children adored him as he, too, had loved and ad­mired his own father. Carbuncles notwithstanding, Karl Marx had, by several criteria, a very fruitful life.