Marx was born in 1818. As a student in Berlin, Marx stumbled upon the works of Hegel, who stressed that everything in society and in nature was in a process of constant change and development. A group of young “Left Hegelians” tried to use Hegel’s ideas to draw radical conclusions. When several radical thinkers were barred from university by the authorities, Marx gave up the idea of an academic career, and set off on a path of political activity that would last for the rest of his life.
He began to write & edit radical newspapers that called for democracy and an end to suffering of the poor. By 1843 he was in Paris, writing a paper that was so revolutionary it had to smuggled back into Germany.
In that time, there were many small socialist groupings in Europe. majority of them were utopians of one sort or another who tried to think up perfect communal societies. Throughout the early 1840s Marx began to criticize these ideas and make discoveries of his own. Instead of opting out of society or designing blueprints for a perfect world, he studied how the real world works.
Strange as it may seem, Hegel believed that the real world was just a reflection of the mind. Marx had a more sensible view: our ideas are reflections of a real world that exists outside our minds. So whilst Hegel saw history as a series of conflicts between different sets of ideas, Marx looked for something in the real world that caused these conflicts. He found it in the idea of class struggle. Throughout history the haves and the have-nots have fought against each other for control of food, shelter, money and therefore political power.
The capitalist factory owners and bankers had grown fabulously rich by exploiting a new class of industrial workers. The working class had no finished product to sell, no property from which to make a profit. Their only means of making a living was to work for wages. Marx predicted that as time went by the working class would grow in numbers and would organize itself. Without them nothing in society could work. Here then was a force that could overthrow capitalism, and that was a practical alternative to the dreams of the utopian that could really achieve social change.
The conclusion Marx drew was that practice and real action – not just ideas – were the key to the future. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways,” he wrote, “the point, however, is to change it.” So together with his co-thinker, Frederick Engels, Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto – a book that is brimming over with anger, sarcasm and flashes of brilliant wit. It demolishes arguments that are still being raised against communism today. It daringly called for the liberation of women from the slavery of housework. Against nationalists who accused the communists of being traitors, the Manifesto replied that the workers of all countries have more in common with each other than they have with their “national” capitalist rulers. It established communism as the goal of the workers, and that it would be a classless society in which people no longer had to compete with each other & fight for their share.
But this communist society could not be established overnight. First the working class would have to “make itself the ruling class” through revolution, using force to stop the capitalists holding on to their property. Gradually the workers would fairly redistribute wealth in the interests of the whole people, abolishing classes, the state and armed authority altogether.
The Manifesto ended with a declaration that has entered into the language and the consciousness of the whole world to this day: “Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of all countries unite!”
The ink was scarcely dry on the pages of the Manifesto when Europe exploded in revolution. The year 1848 saw the overthrow of the king of France, and mass uprising by the working class in Vienna. Unfortunately the workers were brutally repressed, and Marx himself had to flee to London.
The defeat of the revolutionary wave of 1848 opened long years of reaction in Europe, when the tide of class struggle was at a low ebb. Marx devoted his time to writing a detailed analysis of the workings of capitalism, Das Kapital. This weighty scientific volume is a cornerstone of the revolutionary movement. In it Marx showed how the exploitation of workers is not just a result of the sharp practices of individual employers, but is part and parcel of the capitalist system itself. He showed how the system would cause the working class to grow and competition between capitalists would create huge conglomerates. What is more, he showed how the system has a built-in tendency to go into deep crises, which cause dramatic economic collapses and revolutionary opportunities for the working class.
Marx originally intended for Das Kapital to have several volumes, but he died before he was able to complete them all. In later years he also tried to organize an international workers’ party, and worked with the infant movement that formed around his ideas to help them develop a program that could lead the workers to emancipation. He died in 1883.
Well over 100 years after Marx’s death, capitalism cannot guarantee democracy to many millions in the 3rd World, is tearing apart the lives of workers in the former USSR as it brings back mass unemployment, crime and inflation, and is unable to offer the working class even in an the U.S. a job or a decent living wage.
All over the world, the struggle of the working class goes on. Deep within the trade unions and working class parties, in the factories and schools, the mines and the offices, new forces are slowly assembling and readying themselves for battle. Marx’s ideas hold out the hope of a totally different, exciting future and explain how to make it a reality. The Dead Man with the Beard is more relevant, more modern, more of our age than a thousand clean shaven, slick, cynical career politicians. We are confident that the coming century will be his and ours!