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On Karl Marx's 200th Birthday Anniversary

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in the Prussian province of Rhine, and died in London on March 14, 1883, at the age of 65.

Karl Marx

by Nasir Khan

“All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.”
― Karl Marx

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in the Prussian province of Rhine, and died in London on March 14, 1883, at the age of 65. He was the most influential socialist philosopher and revolutionary thinker, whose ideas have deeply influenced the course of human history and human thought.

His writings cover philosophy, history, political economy, anthropology, social criticism, history, theory of revolutionary practice, and he himself participated in revolutionary activities. When he was a student at the university, he was deeply involved in the Young Hegelian movement. The members of this group in their articles and pamphlets criticized Christian culture. Feuerbach’s materialism was opposed to Hegel's idealism. He reduced Hegel's 'Absolute Spirit' to human 'species being'.

Because of Marx's critical articles in the Rheinische Zeitung, the government closed this paper. He went to Paris in 1843 where he made contacts with French socialist groups and emigre German workers. Here he met Frederick Engels and the two became friends for the rest of their lives. But his stay there was short. He was expelled from Paris in 1844.

After his expulsion from Paris, Marx, along with Engels moved to Brussels, where they lived for three years. After an intensive study of history, he formulated the theory of history commonly known as historical materialism.

In his theory of history, Marx accepted Hegel’s idea that the world develops according to dialectical process. But the two had different ideas about what the dialectic process entails. For Hegel, historical developments take place through the mystical entity called Absolute Spirit. Marx rejected the notion of Absolute Spirit, and said what moved society was not the Absolute Spirit, but man’s relation to matter, of which the most important part was played by the mode of production.

In this way, Marx’s materialism becomes closely related to economics. Human labour shaped society and material conditions determined the superstructures. The part played by labour, not some mystical Absolute Spirit, formed the basis of social life. Marx’s dialectal view of social change is shorn of Hegel’s idealist dialectics. The two stand on different levels and their philosophies of history differ.

For Marx, man working on nature remakes the world and in doing so he also remakes himself by increasing his powers. Marx wrote in the German Ideology, ‘Men have history because they must produce their life.’

Marx went to Paris in 1848 where the revolution first took place and then to Germany. But the failure of the revolutions forced him to seek refuge in London in 1849, where he spent the rest of his life.

He and his family had to face many economic hardships in London. His friend Engels helped him economically and he himself wrote articles as a foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune for which he was paid reasonably well. But he and his family showed no interest to spend the money frugally, as a result they had unending economic problems.

However, the revolutionary thinker devoted much time to the First International and its annual Congresses. The rest of the time, he spent in the British Museum library collecting material and taking notes and analyzing the material for studies of political economy. In 1867, he published the first volume of Capital, in which he discussed the capitalist mode of production. He explained his views on the labour theory of value, conception of surplus value, accumulation of capital and the ‘so called primitive accumulation’ in the final part of the book. He had completed the volumes II and II in the 1860s, which Engels published after the death of Marx in 1883.

The profound analysis of capital, Marx undertook in the nineteenth century is still relevant to our understanding the global capitalism and the forces that control it. He had shown the tendency of capital under the general law of capitalist accumulation. A few own more wealth, but others have little to live on. A recent Oxfam report says that eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. In the global economy, rich industrialists and producers take advantage of the global workforce that mostly lives in the global South. The abundant cheap labour from the poor countries is used to produce goods that are sold at high prices in the industrialized western countries.

The problem to end the exploitation of the working class people was a core issue for Marx, and his theory to end this exploitation can only take place when a more equitable form of society is created that stands opposed to the accumulation of capital by a few and the poverty or meager existence of the majority. That objective of a just and humane society is not possible under capitalism.


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