Essay, Research Paper: Karl Marx

Politics

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Karl Heinrich Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in the city of Trier in Prussia,
now, Germany. He was one of seven children of Jewish Parents. His father was
fairly iberal, taking part in demonstrations for a constitution for Prussia and
reading such authors as Voltaire and Kant, known for their social commentary.
His mother, Henrietta, was originally from Holland and never became a German at
heart, not even learning to speak the language properly. Shortly before Karl
Marx was born, his father converted the family to the Evangelical Established
Church, Karl being baptized at the age of six. Marx attended high school in his
home town (1830-1835) where several teachers and pupils were under suspicion of
harboring liberal ideals. Marx himself seemed to be a devoted Christian with a
"longing for self-sacrifice on behalf of humanity." In October of
1835, he started attendance at the University of Bonn, enrolling in
non-socialistic-related classes like Greek and Roman mythology and the history
of art. During this time, he spent a day in jail for being "drunk and
disorderly-the only imprisonment he suffered" in the course of his life.
The student culture at Bonn included, as a major part, being politically
rebellious and Marx was involved, presiding over the Tavern Club and joining a
club for poets that included some politically active students. However, he left
Bonn after a year and enrolled at the University of Berlin to study law and
philosophy. Marx's experience in Berlin was crucial to his ntroduction to
Hegel's philosophy and to his "adherence to the Young Hegelians."
Hegel's philosophy was crucial to the development of his own ideas and theories.
Upon his first introduction to Hegel's beliefs, Marx felt a repugnance and wrote
his father that when he felt sick, it was partially "from intense vexation
at having to make an idol of a view [he] detested." The Hegelian doctrines
exerted considerable pressure in the "revolutionary student culture"
that Marx was immersed in, however, and Marx eventually joined a society called
the Doctor Club, involved mainly in the "new literary and philosophical
movement" who's chief figure was Bruno Bauer, a lecturer in theology who
thought that the Gospels were not a record of History but that they came from
"human fantasies arising from man's emotional needs" and he also
hypothesized that Jesus had not existed as a person. Bauer was later dismissed
from his position by the Prussian government. By 1841, Marx's studies were
lacking and, at the suggestion of a friend, he submitted a doctoral dissertation
to the university at Jena, known for having lax acceptance requirements.
Unsurprisingly, he got in, and finally received his degree in 1841. His thesis
"analyzed in a Hegelian fashion the difference between the natural
philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus" using his knowledge of mythology
and the myth of Prometheus in his chains. In October of 1842, Marx became the
editor of the paper Rheinische Zeitung, and, as the editor, wrote editorials on
socio-economic issues such as poverty, etc. During this time, he found that his
"Hegelian philosophy was of little use" and he separated himself from
his young Hegelian friends who only shocked the bourgeois to make up their
"social activity." Marx helped the paper to succeed and it almost
became the leading journal in Prussia. However, the Prussian government
suspended it because of "pressures from the goverment of Russia." So,
Marx went to Paris to study "French Communism." In June of 1843, he
was married to Jenny Von Westphalen, an attractive girl, four years older than
Marx, who came from a prestigious family of both military and administrative
distinction. Although many of the members of the Von Westphalen family were
opposed to the marriage, Jenny's father favored Marx. In Paris, Marx became
acquainted with the Communistic views of French workmen. Although he thought
that the ideas of the workmen were "utterly crude and unintelligent,"
he admired their camaraderie. He later wrote an article entitled "Toward
the Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right" from which comes the
famous quote that religion is the "opium of the people." Once again,
the Prussian government interfered with Marx and he was expelled from France. He
left for Brussels, Belgium, and , in 1845, renounced his Prussian nationality.
During the next two years in Brussels, the lifelong collaboration with Engels
deepened further. He and Marx, sharing the same views, pooled their
"intellectual resources" and published The Holy Family, a criticism of
the Hegelian idealism of Bruno Bauer. In their next work, they demonstrated
their materialistic conception of history but the book found no publisher and
"remained unknown during its author's lifetimes." It is during his
years in Brussels that Marx really developed his views and established his
"intellectual standing." From December of 1847 to January of 1848,
Engels and Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto, a document outlining 10 immediate
measures towards Communism, ranging from a progressive income tax and the
abolition of inheritances to free education for all children." When the
Revolution erupted in Europe in 1848, Marx was invited to Paris just in time to
escape expulsion by the Belgian government. He became unpopular to German exiles
when, while in Paris, he opposed Georg Hewegh's project to organize a German
legion to invade and "liberate the Fatherland." After traveling back
to Cologne, Marx called for democracy and agreed with Engels that the Communist
League should be disbanded. During this time, Marx got into trouble with the
government; he was indicted on charges that he advocated that people not pay
taxes. However, after defending himself in his trial, he was acquitted
unanimously. On May 16, 1849, Marx was "banished as an alien" by the
Prussian government. Marx then went to London. There, he rejoined the Communist
League and became more bold in his revolutionary policy. He advocated that the
people try to make the revolution "permanent" and that they should
avoid subservience to the bourgeois peoples. The faction that he belonged to
ridiculed his ideas and he stopped attending meetings of the London Communists,
working on the defense of 11 communists arrested in Cologne, instead. He wrote
quite a few works during this time, including an essay entitled "Der
Achtzenhnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte" (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis
Bonaparte) and also a pamphlet written on the behalf of the 11 communists he was
defending in Cologne. From 1850 to 1864, Marx lived in poverty and
"spiritual pain," only taking a job once. He and his family were
evicted from their apartment and several of his children died, his son, Guido,
who Marx called "a sacrifice to bourgeois misery" and a daughter named
Franziska. They were so poor that his wife had to borrow money for her coffin.
Frederich Engels was the one who gave Marx and his family money to survive on
during these years. His only other source of money was his job as the European
correspondent for The New York Tribune, writing editorials and columns analyzing
everything in the "political universe." Marx published his first book
on economic theory in 1859, called A Contribution to the Critique of Political
Economy. Marx's "political isolation" ended when he joined the
International Working Men's Association. Although he was neither the founder nor
the leader of this organization, he "became its leading spirit" and as
the corresponding secretary for Germany, he attended all meetings. Marx's
distinction as a political figure really came in 1870 with the Paris Commune. He
became an international figure and his name "became synonymous throughout
Europe with the revolutionary spirit symbolized by the Paris Commune." An
opposition to Marx developed under the leadership of a Russian revolutionist,
Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin. Bakunin was a famed orator whose speeches one
listener described as "a raging storm with lightning, flashes and
thunderclaps, and a roaring as of lions." Bakunin admired Marx's intellect
but was personally opposed to him because Marx had an "ethnic
aversion" to Russians. Bakunin believed that Marx was a "German
authoritarian and an arrogant Jew who wanted to transform the General council
into a personal dictatorship over the workers." Bakunin organized sections
of the International for an attack on the "dictatorship" of Marx and
the General Council. Marx didn't have the support of a right wing and feared
that he would lose control to Bakunin. However, he was successful at expelling
the Bakuninists from the International and shortly, the International died out
in New York. During the next decade of his life, his last few years, Marx was
beset by what he called "chronic mental depression" and "his life
turned inward toward his family." He never completed any substantial work
during this time although he kept his mind active, reading and learning Russian.
In 1879, Marx dictated the preamble of the program for the French Socialist
Workers' Federation and shaped much of its content. During his last years, Marx
spent time in health resorts and dies in London of a lung abscess on March 14,
1883, after the death of his wife and daughter. Marx's work seems to be more of
a criticism of Hegelian and other philosophy, than as a statement of his own
philosophy. While Hegel felt that philosophy explained reality, Marx felt that
philosophy should be made into reality, an hard thing to do. He thought that one
must not just look at and inspect the world, but must try to transform the
world, much like Jean Paul Sartre's view that "man must choose what is best
for the world; and he will do so." Marx is unique from other philosophers
in that he chooses to regard man as an individual, a human being. This is
evident in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. There, he declares
that man is a "natural being" who is endowed with "natural [and]
vital powers" that "exist in him as aptitudes [and] instincts."
Humans simply struggle with nature for the satisfaction of man's needs. From
this struggle comes man's awareness of himself as an individual and as something
separate from nature. So, he seeks to oppose nature. He sees that history is
just the story of man creating and re-creating himself and sees that man creates
himself, and that a "god" has no part in it. Thus, the communist
belief in no religion. Marx also says that the more man works as a laborer, the
less he has to consume for himself because his "product and labor are
estranged" from him. Marx says that because the work of the laborer is
taken away and does not belong to the laborer, the laborer loses his
"rightful existence" and is made alien to himself. Private property
becomes a product and cause of "alienated labor" and through that,
causes disharmony. "Alienated labor is seen as the consequence of market
product, the division of labor, and the division of society into antagonistic
classes." So, capitalism, which encourages the possession of private
property, encourages alienation of man. Capitalism, which encourages the
amassment of money, encourages mass production, to optimize productivity. Mass
production also intensifies the alienation of labor because it encourages
specialization and it makes people view the workers not as individuals but as
machines to do work. It is this attitude that incites the uprisings of the lower
classes against the higher classes, namely, the nobility. Regarding Marx's
attitude toward religion, he thought that religion was simply a "product of
man's consciousness" and that it is a reflection of the situation of a man
who "either has not conquered himself or has already lost himself
again." Marx sums it all up in a famous quote, stating that religion is
"an opium for the people." Marx's hypothesis of historical materialism
contains this maxim; that "It is not the consciousness of men which
determines their existence; it is on the contrary their social existence which
determines their consciousness." Marx has applied his theory of historical
materialism to capitalist society in both The Communist Manifesto and Das
Kapital, among others. Marx never really explained his entire theory through but
taking the text literally, "social reality" is arranged in this way:
That underlying our society is economic structure; and that above the foundation
of economy rises "legal and political…forms of social consciousness"
that relate back to the economic foundation of society. An interesting mark of
Marx's analysis of economy is evidenced in Das Kapital, where he "studies
the economy as a whole and not in one or another of its" parts and
sections. His analysis is based on the precept of man being a productive entity
and that "all economic value comes from human labor." Marx speaks of
capitalism as an unstable environment. He says that its development is
accompanied by "increasing contradictions" and that the equilibrium of
the system is precarious as it is to the internal pressures resulting from its
development. Capitalism is too easy to tend to a downward spiral resulting in
economic and social ruin. An example of the downward spiral in a capitalist
society is inflation. Inflation involves too much currency in circulation.
Because of inflation and the increase in prices of goods resulting from it, the
people of the society hoard their money which, because that money is out of
circulation, causes more money to be printed. The one increases the effect of
the other and thus, the downward spiral. Marx views revolution with two
perspectives. One takes the attitude that revolution should be a great uprising
like that of the French revolution. The other "conception" is that of
the "permanent revolution" involving a "provisional
coalition" between the low and higher classes. However, an analysis of the
Communist Manifesto shows inconsistencies between the relationship of permanent
and violent revolution; that Marx did not exactly determine the exact
relationship between these two yet. Aside from the small inconsistencies in
Marx's philosophy, he exhibits sound ideas that do seem to work on paper but
fail in the real world where millions of uncertainties contribute to the error
in every social experiment on Earth. Communism never gets farther than socialism
in its practice in the real world and that is where the fault lies, in the
governments that try to cheat the system while still maintaining their ideal
communist society.
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