Karl Marx and the Birth of Marxism: An Overview of His Life and Theories

Karl Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883), a Prussian political economist, journalist, and activist, and author of the important works, “The Communist Manifesto” and “Das Kapital,” influenced generations of political leaders and socioeconomic thinkers. Also known as the Father of Communism, Marx’s ideas spawned violent bloody revolutions, ushered in the overthrow of centuries-old governments, and served as the basis of the political system that still controls more than  20 percent of the world’s population — or one in five people on the planet. “The Columbia History of the World” calls Marx’s writings “one of the most extraordinary and original syntheses in the history of the human intellect.”


The Childhood of a Karl Marx

Marx was born on May 5, 1818 in the city of Trier, southeastern Germany, which was then still part of the Lower Rhine Province, Kingdom of Prussia. He was born into a middle-class family. Marx was the third of nine children. Although he came from a family of Jewish descent, in 1816 his father, Heinrich Marx, decided to be baptized into a Christian at the age of 36. His mother, Heinrietta Marx, was also baptized after his father’s death.

His father Heinrich was a fairly successful lawyer in Prussia. He was also a reform activist in his time. Heinrich’s decision to convert to Christianity was also inseparable from the 1815 regulation that prohibited Jews from occupying crucial positions in society.

Karl Marx himself was baptized at the age of six, along with his brothers. Although Trier is a Catholic city, the influence of liberal ideas is easier to enter because of its location on the border with France. Until the age of 12 years, Marx studied at home alias home school . Then he continued for another 5 years at the Jesuit school, Firdrich-Wilhelm Gymnasuium, Trier. The principal is a friend of his father’s who is also liberal.


Marx’s Youth

Marx was educated at home by his father until high school, and in 1835 at the age of 17, he enrolled at the University of Bonn in Germany, where he studied law at his father’s request. Marx, however, was much more interested in philosophy and literature.

After his first year at the university, Marx became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, an educated female baron. They married in 1843. In 1836, Marx enrolled at the University of Berlin, where he immediately felt at home when he joined a circle of brilliant and extreme thinkers who challenged existing institutions and ideas, including religion, philosophy, ethics. , and politics. Marx graduated with a doctorate in 1841.

Since entering campus, Marx began to show his rebellious attitude . October 1835, Marx started his schooling at the University of Bonn, Germany. He is active in academic life at his campus and is also known as a rebel. During his two semesters in Bonn, Marx spent his days making trouble, getting drunk, and fighting. In the end, his father forced Marx to enroll in another, more serious school, namely the University of Berlin, majoring in philosophy and law.

This is where Marx was introduced to philosophy from GWF Hegel, a professor in Berlin. Although initially not so enamored with Hegel’s theory, Marx was heavily involved with Hegelian youth groups which were a collection of radical students. They usually criticize the political and religious establishment at that time.

In 1836, Marx became increasingly involved in political science. He was even secretly engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, the daughter of an upper-class family in Trier. Because of his increasingly radical attitude, his father became worried. Heinrich even wrote to his son and even asked Marx to stop his marriage to Jenny.

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But in 1843, Marx married Jenny. They had six children, but due to extreme poverty, only three children who were girls survived to adulthood. Even as adults, their children are actively involved in political activities, you know .


Career and Exile

After school, Marx turned to writing and journalism to support himself. In 1842 he became editor of the liberal Cologne newspaper “Rheinische Zeitung”, but the Berlin government banned its publication the following year. Marx left Germany — never to return — and spent two years in Paris, where he first met his collaborator, Friedrich Engels.

However, expelled from France by those in power who opposed his ideas, Marx moved to Brussels, in 1845, where he founded the German Workers’ Party and was active in the Communist League. There, Marx networked with other leftist intellectuals and activists and—along with Engels—wrote his most famous work, ” The Communist Manifesto .” Published in 1848, it contained the famous line: “The workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.” After being exiled from Belgium, Marx finally settled in London where he lived as a stateless exile for the rest of his life.

Marx worked in journalism and wrote for German and English language publications. From 1852 to 1862, he was a correspondent for the “New York Daily Tribune,” writing a total of 355 articles. He also continued to write and formulate his theories about the nature of society and how he believed that society could be improved, and actively campaigned for socialism.

He spent the rest of his life working on a three-volume tome, “Das Kapital,” which saw its first volume published in 1867. In this work, Marx aimed to explain the economic impact of capitalist society, in which a small group, which he called the bourgeoisie, owned the the means of production and use their power to exploit the proletariat, the working class which actually produces the goods that enrich the capitalist tsar. Engels edited and published the second and third volumes of “Das Kapital” shortly after Marx’s death.


The works of Karl Marx during his Life

after marrying Jenny, they moved to Paris. In that city, Marx met Friederich Engels, a writer who later became his colleague and friend. Both of them issued a lot of work together, you know . Their first work was the book The Holy Family in 1845.

Not only this one book, Marx and Engels also have many other works. According to the marxist.org website , there are also other important works such as:

  • Thesis on Feuerbach (Marx, 1845)
  • The Poverty of Philosophy (Marx, 1847)
  • Wages and Capital (Marx, 1847)
  • Principles of Communism (Engels, 1847)
  • Communist Party Manifesto (Marx and Engels, 1848)
  • Wages Price and Profit (Marx, 1865)
  • Housing Problems (Engels, 1872)
  • Capital I, Capital II, Capital III (Marx, 1867 – 1894)


Marx and the Idea of ​​the Factory School

Do you know at that time Marx was also very active in forming a better curriculum for the children of workers, you know ? Yup, in the old days, young children from 9-12 years old were required to work in factories.

For this reason, in his book entitled Kapital, Marx put his ideas into creating a part-time system for the children of workers. Marx hoped that the children would be able to work but still be able to continue their studies. But unfortunately, the capitalists and the government at that time did not pay much attention to this part-time idea of ​​​​Marx. They say it costs more to hire 2 shifts of child labourers. As a result, many children of workers are fired if they work while attending school.

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The curriculum proposed by Marx at that time was not much different from conventional schools. Starting with mental education, then physical education (a combination of gymnastics and military training), then there is also a polytechnic education which will teach the general principles of all production processes.

In essence, Marx wants to emphasize the education of children and young workers so that they can develop into individuals who can make social changes around them. Marx was more in favor of a combination of education and work rather than an education system that required children to study all day long.

According to him, with this part-time work and school system, children and young workers can practice directly and know what is the cause of their mistakes in the production system, and can become individuals who want to make changes for the sake of their people.


Death and Inheritance

While Marx remained a relatively unknown figure in his lifetime, the ideas and ideology of Marxism began to exert a profound influence on the socialist movement shortly after his death. He died of cancer on March 14, 1883, and was buried in Highgate Cemetery in London.

Marx’s theory of society, economy, and politics, collectively known as Marxism, holds that all societies develop through the dialectic of class struggle. He was critical of the current socio-economic form of society, capitalism, which he called the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, believed it was run by the rich middle and upper classes purely for their own gain, and predicted that it would inevitably result internally. tension that would lead to its self-destruction and its replacement by a new system, socialism.

Under socialism, he argued that society would be governed by the working class in what he called the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” He believed that socialism would eventually be replaced by a stateless and classless society called  communism .


Continuous Influence

Whether Marx intended for the proletariat to rise up and foment revolution or whether he felt that the ideals of communism, ruled by an egalitarian proletariat, would simply outlast capitalism, is debated to this day. But, several successful revolutions did occur, propelled by groups that adopted communism—including those in Russia, 1917-1919, and China, 1945-1948. Flags and banners depicting Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, together with Marx, were long displayed in the Soviet Union. The same was true in China, where similar flags showing the leader of that country’s revolution, Mao Zedong, together with Marx were also prominently displayed.

Marx has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history, and in a 1999 BBC poll was voted “the thinker of the millennium” by people from all over the world. The memorial at his grave is always covered with thanks from his fans. His tombstone is inscribed with words that echo the words of the “Communist Manifesto”, which seems to foretell Marx’s influence on world politics and the economy: “Workers from all lands unite”.