Discover 10 defining features of Karl Marx’s ideas and philosophy, including his theories on capitalism, class struggle, and communism, as well as his influence on politics, economics, and social movements.
Karl Marx was a nineteenth-century philosopher, economist and intellectual. Along with Friedrich Engels was the main theoretician of communism and the father of socialism.
For his journalistic writings opposed to the economic and aristocratic powers, he was politically persecuted and expelled from both France and Germany.
His notions about economics, politics and ideology are still used today by philosophers, social scientists and politicians from around the world. He was the most important analyst of the new society that was born together with the industrial revolution and capitalism.
Characteristics Of Karl Marx
Karl Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, and social theorist who lived from 1818 to 1883. He is best known for his revolutionary ideas on political economy and for his advocacy of communism as a political ideology.
Marx was born in Trier, Germany and studied law and philosophy at the universities of Bonn and Berlin. He became involved in political and social activism early in his career, and eventually settled in London, England where he spent the remainder of his life.
Marx is known for his criticism of capitalism, arguing that it creates economic inequality and social unrest. He believed that the workers, or proletariat, would eventually overthrow the capitalists and establish a socialist system based on cooperation and equality. His ideas have had a profound influence on modern social and political movements, and his writings, including The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, continue to be studied and debated today.
2. Follower and critic of Friedrich Hegel
Karl Marx was both a follower and a critic of Friedrich Hegel, the German philosopher and one of the most prominent figures of German idealism. Marx was deeply influenced by Hegel’s philosophy, particularly his emphasis on historical progress and the dialectical method, which involves the resolution of contradictions through a process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
However, Marx also rejected many aspects of Hegel’s philosophy, particularly his idealism and his view that history is driven by the ideas of great men, rather than by material conditions and class struggle. Marx believed that Hegel’s idealism was a reflection of the privileged class position he held as a member of the Prussian state bureaucracy, and that it ignored the material realities of everyday life.
Overall, Marx’s relationship with Hegel was complex and multifaceted. While he was critical of many aspects of Hegel’s philosophy, he also drew heavily on his ideas and methods in developing his own theories of history, economics, and social change.
3. Influence of Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels was a German philosopher, social scientist, and political theorist who was a close friend and collaborator of Karl Marx. Engels played a significant role in shaping Marx’s ideas and in promoting and spreading his work.
Engels was instrumental in helping Marx to develop his theory of dialectical materialism, which holds that social and historical change is driven by contradictions and conflicts arising from the material conditions of society. Engels also contributed to Marx’s understanding of economics, particularly through his work on the concept of surplus value.
In addition to his intellectual contributions, Engels was an important financial supporter of Marx, providing him with financial assistance throughout his life. Engels also played a key role in organizing and supporting socialist and communist movements in Europe, and his writings, including The Condition of the Working Class in England and The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, continue to be influential in Marxist theory and practice today.
Overall, Engels’ influence on Marx and on the development of Marxist theory and practice cannot be overstated. Their collaboration and friendship helped to shape the course of modern political and economic thought, and their ideas continue to inspire social and political movements around the world.
4. Historical materialism
Marx criticized materialistic philosophers because they are simply contemplative. Furthermore, he rejected idealism because it reduced the practical to the theoretical.
Marx proposes as an alternative historical materialism, which holds that the world is not changed by ideas but through material, practical and physical action. Historical materialism is one of the notions that Marx developed together with Engels in the book “The German Ideology”.
5. Structure and superstructure
In Marxist theory, the concepts of structure and superstructure refer to the relationship between the economic base of society and its cultural and political institutions.
According to Marx, the economic base of society consists of the means of production, including land, labor, and capital. This economic base determines the social relations of production, which in turn give rise to various cultural and political institutions, such as religion, law, politics, and the arts. These cultural and political institutions make up the superstructure of society.
Marx argued that the superstructure is ultimately determined by the economic base. In other words, the economic relations of production shape the cultural and political institutions that arise in society. For example, Marx believed that the dominant ideas in a society, such as its political ideology or religious beliefs, are determined by the economic interests of the ruling class.
However, Marx also recognized that the superstructure can have a certain degree of autonomy from the economic base, and can even play a role in shaping the economic base. This is because cultural and political institutions can influence the way people think and behave, which in turn can affect economic relationships.
Overall, the concepts of structure and superstructure are important in Marxist theory because they help to explain the relationship between economic and cultural factors in society, and how these factors interact to shape social and historical change.
6. Class struggle
In Marxist theory, class struggle refers to the conflict between different social classes that arises from their opposing economic interests. According to Marx, societies are divided into different classes based on their relationship to the means of production, such as land, factories, and machinery. The ruling class, which controls the means of production, exploits the labor of the working class in order to maintain its economic and social dominance.
Class struggle arises when the working class becomes aware of its exploitation and oppression and seeks to challenge the power of the ruling class. Marx believed that this struggle would ultimately lead to a revolution in which the working class would overthrow the ruling class and establish a socialist or communist system in which the means of production are owned collectively and controlled democratically.
Marx also argued that class struggle is the driving force of historical change. He believed that history is characterized by a series of class struggles, each of which leads to a transformation in the economic and social structures of society. For example, Marx identified the French Revolution as a struggle between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, which paved the way for the rise of capitalism.
Overall, the concept of class struggle is central to Marxist theory, as it explains the dynamics of social and economic relations in capitalist societies and provides a framework for understanding the potential for revolutionary change.
7. The Capital
Marx’s book “Capital. Critique of political economy “is a book in three volumes, the first of which was published in 1867, and the next two were published after the death of Marx.
In Capital, Marx explains how capitalist production works, describing the origin and function of merchandise, currency, surplus value, salary and capital accumulation. It is his most important and comprehensive work.
8. Goodwill and exploitation
Capitalism is based on the possibility of accumulating wealth. In the context of capitalism, the worker who generated that wealth receives less in his salary than he produces. That difference is called surplus value. The surplus value is conserved by the capitalist and is the way in which it accumulates capital. That is, the accumulation of capital is a consequence of the exploitation of workers.
9. Dictatorship of the proletariat
In Marxist theory, the dictatorship of the proletariat refers to a transitional phase in the establishment of a socialist society. According to Marx, after the working class has overthrown the ruling class in a revolution, it must establish a period of dictatorship in order to consolidate its power and prevent counter-revolutionary forces from regaining control.
The dictatorship of the proletariat is not a dictatorship in the conventional sense, but rather a system of democratic control in which the working class exercises political power directly. In this system, the state is controlled by the working class and is used to suppress the remaining elements of the old ruling class and to defend the revolution against external threats.
Marx argued that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a necessary phase in the establishment of a socialist society, because it allows for the reorganization of society along socialist lines and the development of the productive forces necessary to build a communist society. However, Marx also believed that the dictatorship of the proletariat would eventually give way to a classless, communist society in which the state and all forms of social and economic exploitation would be abolished.
Critics of Marxism have argued that the dictatorship of the proletariat is inherently authoritarian and anti-democratic, and that it can lead to the concentration of power in the hands of a small group of party leaders. Proponents of Marxism, on the other hand, argue that the dictatorship of the proletariat is a necessary means to achieve a more democratic and egalitarian society in the long run.
10. Quotes of Karl Marx
Here are a few quotes by Karl Marx:
- “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” – Theses on Feuerbach (1845)
- “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” – The Communist Manifesto (1848)
- “Religion is the opium of the people.” – A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1844)
- “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” – Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875)
- “Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” – Capital, Volume 1 (1867)
- “The working class is revolutionary or it is nothing.” – The Class Struggles in France (1850)
- “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’” – The Communist Manifesto (1848)
- “Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” – The Communist Manifesto (1848)
- “Reason has always existed, but not always in a reasonable form.” – Capital, Volume 1 (1867)
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” – The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852)