Marx, Karl Heinrich

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Marx, Karl Heinrich

Karl Heinrich Marx was a nineteenth-century German intellectual whose works have had great influence on the world. Largely ignored during his lifetime, Marx's writings on economics, politics, social science, and revolution eventually led to the founding of two political movements, Socialism and Communism. In addition, his views have influenced many legal philosophers.

Marx was born May 5, 1818, in Trier, in what was then the state of Prussia. His father was a successful lawyer. A bright student, Marx studied law at the University of Bonn in 1835. The following year he transferred to the University of Berlin, where he studied philosophy. While at Berlin, Marx joined a group of students and teachers who were opposed to the Prussian government. At that time citizens of Prussia enjoyed few civil liberties and were prevented from participating fully in public affairs.

Marx's political activity proved harmful for his academic career. After obtaining his doctorate in philosophy in 1841, he tried to get a teaching job. The Prussian government barred him from teaching. He then became a freelance journalist.

Following his marriage to Jenny von Westphalen in 1843, Marx moved to Paris. In 1845 he moved to Brussels, where he remained until 1848. In 1848 he returned to Germany to become the editor of a radical paper in Cologne. He used the newspaper to rail against the Prussian government, and he encouraged the German Revolution of 1848, which failed to topple the regime.

During the days leading up to the revolution, Marx first articulated his political and historical theories. In the Communist Manifesto (1848), a pamphlet written with his friend Friedrich Engels, Marx argued that history is a series of conflicts between economic classes. He predicted that the ruling middle class would be overthrown by the working class, and a classless society would be created. This classless society would be characterized by the public ownership of all means of economic production. Marx and Engels had previously written The German Ideology (1845–46), a seven-hundred-page book that dealt in more philosophic terms with economics and politics.

Marx's participation in the failed revolution forced him to flee Germany. In 1849 he settled in London, where he remained for the rest of his life. He and his family lived in abject poverty. He refused to work, except for a stint as a political reporter for the New York Tribune. Instead, he spent his time researching at the British Museum library. Friends contributed to his support, especially Engels, who owned a textile manufacturing plant in England. In 1864 Marx founded the International Workingmen's Association, a group dedicated to preparing the way for a socialist revolution. He died in London on March 14, 1883.

Marx spent most of his life in England working on Das Kapital (Capital). The first volume was published in 1867, the second and third volumes after his death. He considered Das Kapital to be his major work, because it described the functioning of industrial capitalism. Marx saw capitalism as an efficient way of producing wealth, but also saw a fatal flaw in how this wealth was distributed: those who owned the means of production retained most of the wealth, whereas the working class had to get by on fluctuating wages. Marx argued that this inequality would eventually lead the working class to revolt.

Marx's writings had a great effect on the socialist and Communist revolutionary movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He cast his theories as historically inevitable, providing revolutionaries with a way of explaining the world that appeared to be scientific.

Marxist ideas became the core intellectual tradition for Communist countries in the twentieth century. Social science, history, and philosophy were shaped by his views. U.S. intellectuals generally ignored Marxism until the 1960s, in part because many people believed that it was a subversive political doctrine.

In law, the field of Marxist Jurisprudence has grown significantly. A Marxist analysis of law places more importance on the power of economic forces in society rather than on the concept of an impartial, neutral Rule of Law. Marxists believe that the material forces of a society and those that control these forces shape the society's legal system.

Further readings

Brettschneider, Corey. 1998. "From Liberalism to the End of Juridical Language: An Examination of Marx's Early Jurisprudence. Studies in Law, Politics, and Society 18 (annual): 173–215.

Inverarity, James M., Pat Lauderdale, and Barry C. Feld. 1983. Law and Society: Sociological Perspectives on Criminal Law. Boston: Little, Brown.

Cross-references

Cold War; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich; Stalin, Joseph.