Karl Heinrich Marx: By Herrick Smith

-Biography- Born May fifth 1818 [1] to Parents Heinrich and Henrietta in Prussia’s Trier
Provence Karl’s child hood and early years of adulthood remains poorly documented [2]
thought some sketches remain as seen in Fig. 1.
Fig. 1 Karl Marx as a young man

Educated both privately and publicly Heinrich desperately wanted Karl to follow his footsteps in law however as almost all young men do when pressured to do something they do near the opposite. He loved philosophy and liturgical history. Receiving a doctorate degree in 1842 from the University of Jenna with a thesis on philosophy and nature this set the stage for philosophical thought during and after the coming trials [8].
His marriage to the daughter of a Prussian Barron; Jenny Von Westphalen in June of 1843 did little or nothing to boost his social standing and in fact 4 out of his seven children died before reaching adulthood because of the impoverished conditions in which the young family lived[3]. Trying to provide the ‘American Dream’ for his wife and children Karl lived a hard life in the beginning of his marriage due to his desire to provide the best for his family with so little to do so for he only worked on weekly articles ad an oversees writer for the New York Daily Tribune[4] . However, due to an assortment of deaths and the reciprocating inheritances the family was able to move to a house on the outskirts of London and more securely into the middle-class station in life [5].
Shortly after his wife’s death in December of 1881 Karl contracted an infection similar to bronchitis in which the mucus membranes are inflamed and a deep congestion develops. This lasted for fifteen months thus driving him to failing health and eventually his death in March of 1883[6]. However, one of Karl’s close friends is said to have said in a speech at the funeral that “…He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep—but forever.” [7] His grave marker is seen on the right in Fig. 2 as constructed by the Communist Party Of Great Brittan in 1954 replaced the quite modest original set there by his family and friends[9].
Fig. 2 The grave marker at the High Gate Cemetery in London. The epitaph reads: “Workers of all lands unite.”

-Social and Economic Commentaries- In his most famous work; The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx comments primarily on social behaviors and class interactions sourced in economic conditions, not on the economic conditions themselves. The premise is of the text is that the global economy is constantly progressing towards a greater station. For example; consider the transition from barbarism to feudalism to mercantilism, and eventually capitalism. Here Karl seeks to expose what he believes to be the next logical steps towards social equity. The work itself is complex but basically the theory is that, given time, the proletariat (the working class) that is endemic to the capitalist system will become such a great percentage of the population and share such a small percentage of the wealth that they will revolt against the ‘aristocracy’. This will lead to an intermediate form of government that would be in flux until it solidified into pure communism. The stages include a proletariat dictatorship, socialism, and then communism [11]. He even allowed for the possibility of a peaceful progress from one to the next in strongly democratic countries for example the U.S. and Great Brittan. However Karl realizes that in traditionally strong states like in Germany and France the “lever of our revolution must be force” [10]. The flaw in the application of this system is that simply because of human corruption any society that has tried this (whether knowingly or not) has never been able to get past the intermediate stage. This is because when the proletariat revolts those that were instrumental and didn’t get killed simply become the new aristocracy.
In Capital Karl considered the processes involved in the capitalist systems of production beginning with the recently recognized theory that labor itself was a commodity and that the sale of labor is what facilitated the creation of the capitalist system. In the beginning of the compilation Karl condensed around 800 pages of notes and short essays on capitalism to form his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Later however in his composition of the Theories of Surplus Value Karl geared his efforts towards three volumes of respectable size which discussed the theories of people like Adam Smith and David Ricardo. This work, sometimes viewed as the second, third, and fourth books of Capital is viewed as one of the first treatises on the history of economic thought [12].

-Summation- When considering Karl’s rather challenging early years, especially those after he was married it is fairly easy to understand the source of his thoughts on the misappropriation of goods and the inequitable distribution of wealth. In reality he has received reputation that he did not necessarily deserve. In truth he did incite and fund several rebellions however his works in economics and sociology really are not deserving of the demonization that they have received as they are merely comments upon the world and it’s social, political, and economic standing as Karl himself saw it. At the heart of the problem of the global animosity towards him is a misrepresentation of the ideals behind his theories. For his model of pure communism to work it would have to exist in a system for example, similar to that of the early church as described in the book of Acts. It was a small enough society to where there was the availability of accountability among the members and a common bond between them: their faith. This allowed a communal society to flourish because of the preexisting societal factors. If this were to be applied to a larger scale it would experience a breakdown no matter what the faith of the group because of the bureaucracy necessary to orchestrate the distribution of goods. Thus for Karl’s theories to operate with integrity to their fullest extent they would have to comprise of a global community comprised of many small communes.

1. "Karl Marx". Karl Marx. Microsoft Corporation. 1993–2008. Retrieved 2008-12-02. "German political philosopher ..."
2. Isaiah Berlin (1996). "Karl Marx: His Life and Environment". ISBN 0-19-510326-2
3. Peter Singer (2000). Marx a very short introduction. p. 5. ISBN 0-19-285405-4
4. Peter Singer (2000). Marx a very short introduction. p. 9. ISBN 0-19-285405-4
5. Francis Wheen (2000). Karl Marx. W. W. Norton and Company. p. 173.
6. McLellan 1973, p.541
7. "1883: The death of Karl Marx". Marxists.org. Retrieved 2009-12-21.
8. **//a//** **//b//** **//c//** Appelrouth, Scott; Laura Desfor Edles (2007). Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Text and Readings. Pine Forge Press. p. 23. ISBN 9780761927938.
9. Wheen, Francis (2002). Karl Marx: A Life. New York: Norton. Introduction.
10. La Liberté Speech delivered by Karl Marx on September 8, 1872, in Amsterdam
11. "Karl Marx:Critique of the Gotha Programme".
12. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works Volume 46(International Publishers: New York, 1992) p. 71.
Photo Credits
All photographic material is from the public domain as stated by the author.
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Marx2.jpg
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Karl_Marx_Grave.jpg