Karl Marx Biography
Hailing from a bourgeoisie vineyard owning family that produced over 5,000 litres of wine a year is not what you expect of the father of modern Communism. Maybe that was just one factor that Karl Marx used when writing his manifesto with fellow German philosopher Friedrich Engels?
Indeed Engels, as the son of a textile tycoon, was born with a far shinier silver spoon in his mouth than Marx. Yet they both conceived and constructed the most controversial political treatise written since Niccolò Machiavelli penned The Prince in 1513.
Being brought up in a wine growing family had a profound effect on Karl Marx. He witnessed the crisis affecting the wine growing region of the Mosel Valley during the 1830's. Karl would later become a journalist and write articles on the economic plight of this region.
But first there was his education to take care of, so to speak. The young Karl Marx was rather fond of a tipple or two. In his student days in Bonn he got himself locked up for rowdy behaviour which culminated in a charge of public drunkenness.
Other bier keller inspired escapades would follow. Karl showed from an early age he was critical of religion also. He caused quite a stir when, accompanied by one of his drinking buddies, they rode donkeys through the streets of Bonn on an Easter Sunday which drew the ire of the local Christians.
His father Heinrich was not impressed by these shenanigans and quickly enrolled Karl at the University of Berlin where he studied philosophy and came under the influence of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Under the tutelage of Hegel, the mind of Marx would be led to view reality and history as a contradiction of ideas to be intertwined to logical conclusions. His philosophical approach changed the way Karl thought about things and led him to develop his own thought processes which in turn would inspire his later writing.
The 1840's was another decade but the same economic problems persisted for winemakers on the rolling hills of the Mosel River Valley. Karl took employment as a journalist at Rheinische Zeitung newspaper in May 1842. His articles caused quite the stir. By October he was its editor-in-chief.
Marx lambasted the Prussian authorities for their economic policies. He criticised the Prussian wood theft law that persecuted the lowest social classes and the governments excessive economic policies affecting the Mosel river vintners.
The Prussian politico's did not take kindly to criticism. They pressurised Rheinische Zeitung. Karl Marx was left with no alternative than to resign his position which he did on 17th March 1843. By the turn of the month it was no April fool as the government went further by completely banning the newspaper Rheinische Zeitung.
Friedrich Engels later described the political awakening of Karl Marx thus:
"it was precisely through concentrating on the law of thefts of wood and the situation of the Mosel winegrowers that he was led from pure politics to economic relationships and so to socialism".
By October 1843 Marx had fled to Paris to avoid further political persecution. The Prussians persisted in the harassment of Karl Marx as they pressurised the French to clamp down on his unwelcome rhetoric and they duly expelled him in February 1845. Next stop on his whirlwind tour of Europe was Brussels.
Marx lasted for three years in the Belgium capital. Then it was onto Cologne until he eventually ended his outcast existence by moving to England in 1850.
Such was the lot of Karl Marx the political pariah. If the establishment did not like him before he wrote his Communist Manifesto in 1848, they positively loathed him after this. Europe was then awash with revolution. The last thing the authorities needed was the agitation of a well written political pamphlet encouraging the masses to revolt against the bourgeois class of capitalists.
Karl Marx had a social grasp of all levels of society. He understood the perception of mans needs. That a man separated from his chains to access these needs would give every human on this planet the freedom to do as they wish. Marx knew this was still a utopian dream. But the realisation of that freedom is still something the majority of the population are blissfully unaware of.
Having an unthinking population has been successful for the elites of many countries for centuries. During Marx's day his radical thinking was deemed a dangerous influence that saw him exiled from many European states. Karl finally ended up in London where they allowed him the freedom to write, publish and live as he wished.
I can understand the fear of mid-nineteenth century Europe. The Communist manifesto started with these gripping words:
"A spectre haunts Europe, the spectre of Communism". The authorities recognised the strength of this manifesto's rhetoric. They quickly denounced any threatening opposition party as Communist.
The seeds of stigma were sown. The media and history would do their work. The establishment must protect its corner at any cost.
The Marx and Engels inspired Communist manifesto is probably the most understood and misunderstood document of all time. It was lambasted by the powerful who felt threatened by it and absorbed by the intelligentsia who sought either political ambition or social equity for all through its philosophies.
It would become known as Marxist theory, the political football they could not boot out of the ground for the idealistic and opportunistic kept bringing it back.
Marxist theory itself had explained it would evolve. But so did the interpretation of his ground breaking ideas which manifested themselves as a many headed hydra of ism's.
The twentieth century was a bad period for Communism. Distorted by dictators; leveraged by Leninism, tarred by Trotskyism, spoiled by Stalinism and marred by Maoism. And then the so called free world were encouraged to check for "reds under their beds". Communism was portrayed as belligerent and bad whilst Marxism was deemed as maligned and mad.
Cue the twenty first century and Marxist philosophy has developed a different flavour. Marx predicted there would be an exploitation of the world market and the world has succumbed to globalism. Marx also foresaw a
"cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country". Ring any bells?
The manifesto was right, to this point, only its timing was wrong. For capital to globalise to its full potential both the Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and China had to fall. The capitalist labour market needed the injection of billions of Asians to satisfy the thirst of western consumerism.
It mattered not that your slim line TV was reduced in price by a rural transition from relative happiness and abject poverty to relative poverty and abject misery in an urban dystopia of mind numbing drudgery that is the production lines of Asia.
The expansion of capitalism will carry on until it bursts. Marx foresaw technology as being the catalyst for change. The all important question of when this could happen was never answered.
Capitalism was successful in subduing nineteenth century class distinction but it has replaced it with twenty first century ownership. The capitalists are the new class that own everything and all that is left is the dispossessed that own nothing. It boils down to the bourgeoisie and the proletariat just as Marx predicted.
The utopian dream of Karl Marx was to see all capital socialised. Without that he prophesied that dystopia would beckon for the majority who are fed crumbs by the minority to keep their world turning.
What history has in store for capitalism is debatable. But it has a wonderful way of discerning ironic justice as the hard line Commie's can certainly vouch for.
The only idealistically successful Communist regime so far has been Cuba. But Castro was a reluctant Communist. Cornered by the colonialist might of the US they sought solace from two more letters in the USSR. The survival of the fittest is down to the ability to adapt. Fidel reacted to his reality, Che was just the apple polisher of Cuban Marxism.
But Communist failure thus far has been tainted by the misinterpretation of the writing of Karl Marx. In its truest form, Marxism is humanism not Stalinism or Maoism. But the latter bad boy duo are the two ism labels conveniently used to bash Communism.
Quite how Karl would philosophise the "great purges" of these dictatorships is anyones guess. One could only imagine him choking on a gulp of Vodka in Vladivostok or a swig of Baijiu in Beijing with both leaving a bad after taste on not just the palate but also the mind.
It was from the vineyards of the Mosel valley in south western Germany where the concept of Communism first bore fruit. It was an unusual crop that yielded Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and Das Kapital that was published in 1867.
An esteemed author called Jens Baumeister summed up this ironic history by saying:
"Wine ultimately made Marx a communist".
It's not hard to imagine what Karl would have thought about his legacy in the twenty first century. Politics aside, it must be quite galling when the capitalists you once despised, now use your image and name to sell wine, albeit a red wine, to shamelessly profit on the irony of your lifes' philosophies.
I imagine he must be rolling in his tomb with rage at the thought of a Karl Marx branded corkscrew popping the cork off a bottle of red bearing his name and image whilst someone celebrating with a hearty "cheers" by clinking glasses with a beer called MarxStädter specially brewed by a bourgeois in honour of our gallant comrade Karl.
The irony of this world where nothing is really certain never ceases to amaze as time and history teach every new generation something of a regurgitation of what has already passed. Karl Marx was without doubt an eminent thinker of his day who penned some of the most influential political theories written in the nineteenth century.
He died oblivious to the impact he was to have in the twentieth century and his influence reverberates around the parliaments of the world in many guises. From Vladimir Lenin's October Revolution to Fidel Castro's July Movement or the Ho Chi Minh's August Revolution, the Communist cause in every corner of the globe has sprung from the origins of Karl Marx's manifesto.
The philosophical insight of Karl Marx into his fellow man was very perceptive as he once opined:
"Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive". Indeed they cannot. But it does explain the mass misinterpretations.
Political manifesto's apart, he was good for a one liner also, so this is my compilation of 30 of the best Karl Marx quotes
Quotes About Karl Marx
Che Guevara was inspired to say:
"The merit of Marx is that he suddenly produces a qualitative change in the history of social thought. He interprets history, understands its dynamic, predicts the future, but in addition to predicting it (which would satisfy his scientific obligation), he expresses a revolutionary concept: the world must not only be interpreted, it must be transformed. Man ceases to be the slave and tool of his environment and converts himself into the architect of his own destiny"
The philosopher Moses Hess drew high profile comparisons when he said of him:
The fuhrer Adolf Hitler was unimpressed by Marxism:
"International Marxism is nothing but the application, effected by the Jew, Karl Marx, of a general conception of life to a definite profession of political faith"
President John F. Kennedy lamenting on cold war relations:
"If only Marx had remained a foreign correspondent, history might have been different"
The philosopher Bertrand Russell gave this assessment:
"In yet another aspect he is the last of the great system-builders, the successor of Hegel, a believer, like him, in a rational formula summing up the evolution of mankind"
The American economist Paul Samuelson shared this pragmatic thought:
"Marx has certainly had more customers than any other one aspiring economist. A billion people think his ideas are important; and for the historian of thought that fact makes them important"
The author John Kenneth Galbraith was impressed to say:
"Marx profoundly affected those who did not accept his system. His influence extended to those who least supposed they were subject to it"
The historian Robert Heilbroner shared this balanced opinion:
"Marx did not call for an opposition to the forces of history. On the contrary he accepted all of them, the drive of technology, the revolutionizing effects of democratic striving, even the vagaries of capitalism, as being indeed the carriers of a brighter future"
The Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski was not so impressed:
"Almost all the prophecies of Marx and his followers have already proved to be false, but this does not disturb the spiritual certainty of the faithful, any more than it did in the case of chiliastic sects"
The economist Joan Robinson found Das Kapital to be an eye opener:
"I began to read Capital, just as one reads any book, to see what was in it; I found a great deal that neither its followers nor its opponents had prepared me to expect"
The author Nassim Nicholas Taleb talked of his psychology:
"Karl Marx, a visionary, figured out that you can control a slave much better by convincing him he is an employee"