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Who is Karl Marx?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 23, 2024
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Karl Marx was a German philosopher and economist best known for his philosophy known as Marxism. The basic philosophy behind Marxism is an anti-Capitalism stance that is against materialism and differing social classes. Marx spent most of his life studying and writing about history, economics and politics.

Marx was born in Trier, Prussia on 5 May, 1818. His parents, Heinrich Marx and Henriette Presbury Marx, had six other children but only three of these — Jenny, Laura and Eleanor — lived beyond childhood. Heinrich Marx was a Jewish lawyer, but converted to Lutheranism because he wasn't allowed to practice law as a Jew. Karl Marx was christened a Lutheran at age six.

He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1841 from the University of Berlin. His philosophical views were heavily influenced by Georg Hegel's work and by the Young Hegelians. The Young Hegelians were dedicated to trying to radically change Prussian autocracy and organized religion. Marx thought that class struggle existed because of the division of social classes and he thought that religion was a human invention with strong social elements.

In 1842, Karl Marx became the editor of a liberal democratic newspaper called the Rheinische Zeitung. When the government banned the newspaper, he and his new bride, Jenny von Westphalen, went to Paris. Marx married Jenny 19 June, 1843. He wrote Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts in Paris and this work was published in 1844. The Manuscripts contained Marx's philosophy that private property ownership was not good for humanity as it alienated the sense of community.

After Paris, Marx and Jenny lived in Brussels and then London. In London, Karl Marx wrote The German Ideology with Freidrich Engels. The basic philosophy of this book is that economic and social issues influence the means of production and the development of materialism. Marx and Engels most well known work, 1848's The Communist Manifesto, expressed that a Communist society would be the end result of a history of class struggle between workers and business owners.

Karl Marx spent most of his days passionately involved in the subjects of economics and social history. He was said to be deeply affected by his wife Jenny's death from cancer in 1881 at the age of 67. Marx died at age 65 of what was reported as natural causes on 14 March, 1883.

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Discussion Comments
By anon326365 — On Mar 21, 2013

Marx was a historical materialist.

By anon116734 — On Oct 07, 2010

i completely agree with *makerofcarts* but you must also take into consideration that the communist manifesto never puts any emphasis on materialism, so I would suggest not bagging on the original author, dude, and to get a life.

By cyprus — On Jun 27, 2010

This article has a clear link to the correct meaning of "materialism" in "Capitalism and materialism" used in the first paragraph. Materialism means one thing and the Marxian (and Engles') version/view of it called "dialectical materialism" or "historical materialism" is entirely something else.

Dictionaries list "materialism" and "dialectical or historical materialism" separately as they are separate meanings. Thanks.

By makerofcarts — On Jun 25, 2010

"Marxism is an anti-Capitalism stance that is against materialism."

Epic fail.

The only way this (kind of) works is if you understand "materialism" in the popular sense, meaning a complex of attitudes in which possessions and economic advancement are held to be the highest goods. But this ignores the way Marx himself used the term, more philosophically, in which he described his own position as dialectical or historical "materialism," as opposed to the "idealism" of Kant, Hegel, and others.

Yes, Marx was a materialist. If you don't know that, you know nothing about Marx. And if you are looking for a way to say he opposed pompous and concentrated displays of wealth - materialism in the popular sense - you will have to find a different way to say that. Because the way the article now stands totally confuses the issue.

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