The German Philosopher Karl Marx

Karl Marx earned many different titles throughout his career. He has been recognized as a philosopher, a journalist, historian, an economist and a revolutionary socialist. He was responsible for publishing Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto, both works helped to form the basis of Marxism.

A Synopsis of the Famous Philosopher

Karl Marx was born in Prussia on May 5, 1818. He started exploring sociopolitical theories during his time in University among the Young Hegelians. He later became a journalist, and his socialist writings would often get him expelled from Germany and France. In 1848, he published The Communist Manifesto along with Friedrich Engels and was exiled to London. This is where he wrote the first volume of Das Kapital and lived the remainder of his life.

The Early Years of Religious Transition

Karl Heinrich Marx was one of nine children born to Heinrich and Henrietta Marx in Trier, Prussia. His father was a very successful lawyer who revered Kant and Voltaire, and was a passionate activist for Prussian reform. While both of his parents were Jewish, Karl’s father converted to Christianity in 1816 at the age of 35.

His father’s conversion was likely a result of the 1815 law banning all Jews from high society. He was baptized as a Lutheran, rather than a Catholic, which was the predominant faith in Trier, because he “equated Protestantism with intellectual freedom.”

When Karl was 6, he was baptized along with the other children, but his mother waited until 1825, after her father had died.

Karl was an average student in school. He was educated at home until he was 12 and spent five years between 1830 to 1835 at the Jesuit High School in Trier, which was at that time known as the Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium.

The school’s principal, a friend of Marx’s father, was a liberal and Kantian and was respected by the people of Rhineland, but suspected by authorities. The school was under surveillance and was raided in 1832.

Marx’s Education

In October of 1835, Marx began to study at the University of Bonn. The school had a lively and rebellious culture and Marx was happy to take part in all parts of student life during his two sessions there, sometimes a little too much. He was imprisoned for drunkenness and disturbing the peace, incurred debts, and participated in a duel. At the end of the year, Marx’s father insisted that he enroll in the more serious University of Berlin.

While in Berlin, Marx studied law and philosophy and he was introduced to the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel, who had been a professor at Berlin until his death in 1831. Marx was not initially enamored with Hegel, but he soon became involved with the Young Hegelians, a radical group of students that included Bruno Bauer and Ludwig Feuerbach, who criticized the political and religious establishments of the day.

His Engagement and Marriage to Jenny von Westphalen

By the year 1836, Marx was becoming more politically zealous and was secretly engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, a highly sought-after woman from a respected family in Trier, who was also four years his senior. This, along with his increasing radicalism, caused his father to turn against him in angst. In a series of letters, Marx’s father expressed his concerns about what he saw in his son’s “demons” and scorned him for not taking the responsibilities of marriage seriously, particularly when his wife-to-be came from a higher class.

But in spite of his father’s wishes, Marx didn’t settle down. He received his doctorate from the University of Jena in 1841, but his radical politics prevented him from procuring a teaching position. He instead started working as a journalist and in 1842 he became the editor of Rheinische Zeitung, a liberal newspaper in Cologne. Just one year later, the government ordered the newspaper’s suppression, made effective on April 1, 1843. Marx resigned on March 18th. And three months later in June, he married Jenny von Westphalen and they moved to Paris that October.

His Rebellion and Many Relocations

In Paris, which was the political heart of Europe, Marx founded a political journal titled Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher (German French Annals), along with Arnold Ruge. There was only one single issue published before the philosophical differences between Marx and Ruge resulted in its demise.

After being expelled from France while writing for another radical newspaper, Marx moved to Belgium. And then once again to Brussels. He broke away from the philosophy of the Young Hegelians and while there, wrote The German Ideology, in which he first developed his theory on historical materialism.

At the beginning of 1846, Marx founded a Communist Correspondence Committee in an attempt to link socialists from around Europe. Inspired by his ideas, socialists in the area came together to form the Communist League. There he was inspired to write the Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei or the Manifesto of the Communist Party. Which ended up being one of his most popular works.

Marx became increasingly focused on capitalism and economic theory while he was staying in London, and in 1867, he published the first volume of Das Kapital. The rest of his life was spent writing and revising manuscripts for additional volumes, which he did not complete. The remaining two volumes were assembled and published posthumously by Engels.

Marx died of pleurisy in London on March 14, 1883. While his original grave had only a nondescript stone, the Communist Party of Great Britain erected a large tombstone, including a bust of Marx, in 1954. The stone is etched with the last line of The Communist Manifesto (“Workers of all lands unite”), as well as a quote from the Theses on Feuerbach.