Biography of Marx
The following biography of Karl Marx was written by Frederick Engels in June, 1877, six years before Marx passed away on March 14, 1883. First published in the Volkskalender, an almanac which appeared in Brunswick in 1878, it was translated from the original German by the Foreign Languages Publishing House of the Soviet Union in 1955 and published in a pamphlet titled On Marx.
Karl Marx, the man who was the first to give socialism, and thereby the whole labour movement of our day, a scientific foundation, was born at Trier in 1818. He studied in Bonn and Berlin, at first taking up law, but he soon devoted himself exclusively to the study of history and philosophy, and in 1842 was on the point of establishing himself as an assistant professor in philosophy when the political movement which had arisen since the death of Frederick William III directed his life into a different channel. With his collaboration, the leaders of the Rhenish liberal bourgeoisie, the Camphausens, Hansemanns, etc., had founded, in Cologne, the Rheinische Zeitung and in the autumn of 1842, Marx, whose criticism of the proceedings of the Rhenish Landtag diet had excited very great attention, was put at the head of the paper. The Rheinische Zeitung naturally appeared under censorship, but the censorship could not cope with it. The Rheinische Zeitung almost always got through the articles which mattered; the censor was first supplied with insignificant fodder for him to strike out, until he either gave way of himself or was compelled to give way by the threat that then the paper would not appear the next day. Ten newspapers with the same courage as the Rheinische Zeitung and whose publishers would have allowed a few hundred thalers extra to be expended on typesetting — and the censorship would have been made impossible in Germany as early as 1843. But the German newspaper owners were petty-minded, timid philistines and the Rheinische Zeitung carried on the struggle alone. It wore out one censor, after another; finally it came under a double censorship; after the first censorship the Regierungspräsident had once more and finally to censor it. That also was of no avail. In the beginning of 1843, the government declared that it was impossible to keep this newspaper in check and suppressed it without more ado.
Marx, who in the meanwhile had married the sister of von Westphalen, later minister of the reaction, removed to Paris, and there, in conjunction with A. Ruge, published the German-French Annuals, in which he opened the series of his socialist writings with a Criticism of the Hegelian Philosophy of Law. Further, together with F. Engels, The Holy Family: Against Bruno Bauer and Co., a satirical criticism of one of the latest forms blunderingly assumed by the German philosophical idealism of that time.
The study of political economy and of the history of the Great French Revolution still allowed Marx time enough for occasional attacks on the Prussian government; the latter revenged itself in the spring of 1845 by securing from the Guizot ministry — Herr Alexander von Humboldt is said to have acted as intermediary — his expulsion from France. Marx shifted his domicile to Brussels and published there in French in 1847: The Poverty of Philosophy, a criticism of Proudhon’s Philosophy of Poverty, and in 1848 Discourse on Free Trade. At the same time he made use of the opportunity to found a German workers’ society in Brussels and so commenced practical agitation. The latter became still more important for him when he and his political friends in 1847 entered the secret Communist League, which had already been in existence for a number of years. Its whole structure was now radically changed; this association, which previously was more or less conspiratorial, was transformed into a simple organization of Communist propaganda, which was only secret because necessity compelled it to be so, the first organization of the German social-democratic party. The League existed wherever German workers’ unions were to be found; in almost all of these unions in England, Belgium, France and Switzerland, and in very many of the unions in Germany the leading members belonged to the League and the share of the League in the incipient German labour movement was very considerable. Moreover, our League was the first which emphasized the international character of the whole labour movement and realized it in practice, which had Englishmen, Belgians, Hungarians, Poles, etc., as members and which organized international labour meetings, especially in London.
The transformation of the League took place at two congresses held in 1847, the second of which resolved on the elaboration and publication of the fundamental principles of the Party in a manifesto to be drawn up by Marx and Engels. Thus arose the Manifesto of the Communist Party, which first appeared in 1848, shortly before the February Revolution, and has since been translated into almost all the European languages.
The Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung, in which Marx participated and which mercilessly exposed the blessings of the police regime of the fatherland, caused the Prussian government to try to effect Marx’s expulsion once more, but in vain. When, however, the February Revolution resulted in popular movements also in Brussels, and a radical change appeared to be imminent in Belgium, the Belgian government arrested Marx without ceremony and deported him. In the meanwhile, the French Provisional Government had sent him through Flocon an invitation to return to Paris, and he accepted this call.
In Paris he came out especially against the swindle, widespread among the Germans there, of wanting to form the German workers in France into armed legions in order to carry the revolution and the republic into Germany. On the one hand, Germany had to make her revolution herself, and, on the other hand, every revolutionary foreign legion formed in France was betrayed in advance by the Lamartines of the Provisional Government to the government which was to be overthrown, as occurred in Belgium and Baden.
After the March Revolution, Marx went to Cologne and founded there the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which was in existence from June 1, 1848 to May 19, 1849 — the only paper which represented the standpoint of the proletariat within the democratic movement of the time, as shown in its unreserved championship of the Paris June insurgents of 1848, which cost the paper the defection of almost all its shareholders.
In vain the Kreuzzeitung, pointed to the “Chimborazo impudence” with which the Neue Rheinische Zeitung attacked everything sacred, from the king and vice-regent of the realm down to the gendarme, and that, too, in a Prussian fortress with a garrison of 8,000 at that time. In vain was the rage of the Rhenish liberal philistines, who had suddenly become reactionary. In vain was the paper suspended by martial law in Cologne for a lengthy period in the autumn of 1848. In vain the Reich Ministry of Justice in Frankfurt denounced article after article to the Cologne Public Prosecutor in order that judicial proceedings should be taken. Under the very eyes of the police the paper calmly went on being edited and printed, and its distribution and reputation increased with the vehemence of its attacks on the government and the bourgeoisie. When the Prussian coup d’étattook place in November 1848, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung called at the head of each issue upon the people to refuse to pay taxes and to meet violence with violence. In the spring of 1849, both on this account and because of another article, it was made to face a jury, but on both occasions was acquitted. Finally, when the May risings of 1849 in Dresden and the Rhine province had been suppressed, and the Prussian campaign against the Baden-Palatinate rising had been inaugurated by the concentration and mobilization of considerable masses of troops, the government believed itself strong enough to suppress the Neue Rheinische Zeitung by force. The last number — printed in red ink — appeared on May 19.
Marx again went to Paris, but only a few weeks after the demonstration of June 13, 1849 he was faced by the French government with the choice of either shifting his residence to Brittany or leaving France. He preferred the latter and moved to London, where he has lived uninterruptedly ever since. An attempt to continue to issue the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in the form of a review (in Hamburg, 1850) had to be given up after a while in view of the ever-increasing violence of the reaction. Immediately after the coup d’etat in France in December 1851, Marx published: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Boston 1852; second edition, Hamburg 1869, shortly before the war). In 1853 he wrote: Revelations About the Cologne Communist Trial (first printed in Basle, later in Boston, and again recently in Leipzig).
After the condemnation of the members of the Communist League in Cologne, Marx withdrew from political agitation and for ten years devoted himself, on the one hand, to the study of the rich treasures offered by the library of the British Museum in the sphere of political economy, and, on the other hand, to writing for the New York Tribune, which up to the outbreak of the American Civil War published not only contributions signed by him but also numerous leading articles on conditions in Europe and Asia from his pen. His attacks on Lord Palmerston, based on an exhaustive study of British official documents, were reprinted in London in pamphlet form.
As the first fruit of his many years of study of economics, there appeared in 1859 A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Part I (Berlin, Duncker). This work contains the finest coherent exposition of the Marxian theory of Value, including the doctrine of money. During the Italian War Marx, in the German newspaper Das Volk, appearing in London, attacked Bonapartism, which at that time posed as liberal and playing the part of liberator of the oppressed nationalities, and also the Prussian policy of the day, which under the cover of neutrality was seeking to fish in troubled waters. In this connection it was necessary to attack also Herr Karl Vogt, who at that time, on the commission of Prince Napoleon (Plon-Plon) and in the pay of Louis Napoleon, was carrying on agitation for the neutrality, and indeed the sympathy, of Germany. When Vogt heaped upon him the most abominable and deliberately false calumnies, Marx answered with: Herr Vogt (London, 1860), in which Vogt and the other gentlemen of the imperialist sham-democratic gang were exposed, and Vogt himself on the basis of both external and internal evidence was convicted of receiving bribes from the December empire. The confirmation came just ten years later: in the list of the Bonaparte hirelings, found in the Tuileries in 1870 and published by the September government, there was the following entry under the letter V: Vogt-in August 1859 there were remitted to him-Frs. 40,000.”
Finally, in 1867 there appeared in Hamburg: Capital, a Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production,Volume I, Marx’s chief work, which expounds the foundations of his economic-socialist conceptions and the main features of his criticism of existing society, the capitalist mode of production and its consequences. The second edition of this epoch-making work appeared in 1872; the author is engaged in the elaboration of the second volume.
Meanwhile the labour movement in various countries of Europe had so far regained strength that Marx could entertain the idea of realizing a long-cherished wish: the foundation of a Workers’ Association embracing the most advanced countries of Europe and America, which would demonstrate bodily, so to speak, the international character of the socialist movement both to the workers themselves and to the bourgeois and the governments — for the encouragement and strengthening of the proletariat, for striking fear into the hearts of its enemies. A mass meeting in favour of Poland, which had just then again been crushed by Russia, held on September 28, 1864, in St. Martin’s Hall in London, provided the occasion for bringing forward the matter, which was enthusiastically taken up. The International Working Men’s Association was founded; a Provisional General Council, with its seat in London, was elected at the meeting, and Marx was the soul of this as of all subsequent General Councils up to the Hague Congress. He drafted almost everyone of the documents issued by the General Council of the International, from the Inaugural Address, 1864, to the Address on the Civil War in France, 1871. To describe Marx’s activity in the International is to write the history of this Association, which in any case still lives in the memory of the European workers.
The fall of the Paris Commune put the International in an impossible position. It was thrust into the forefront of European history at a moment when it had everywhere been deprived of all possibility of successful practical action. The events which raised it to the position of the seventh Great Power simultaneously forbade it to mobilize its fighting forces and employ them in action, on pain of inevitable defeat and the setting back of the labour movement for decades. In addition, from various sides elements were pushing themselves forward that sought to exploit the suddenly enhanced fame of the Association for the purpose of gratifying personal vanity or personal ambition, without understanding the real position of the International or without regard for it. A heroic decision had to be taken, and it was again Marx who took it and who carried it through at the Hague Congress.
In a solemn resolution, the International disclaimed all responsibility for the doings of the Bakuninists, who formed the centre of those unreasonable and unsavoury elements. Then, in view of the impossibility of also meeting, in the face of the general reaction, the increased demands which were being imposed upon it, and of maintaining its complete efficacy other than by a series of sacrifices which would have drained the labour movement of its life-blood — in view of this situation, the International withdrew from the stage for the time being by transferring the General Council to America. The results have proved how correct was this decision — which was at the time, and has been since, so often censured. On the one hand, it put a stop then and since to all attempts to make useless putsches in the name of the International, while, on the other hand, the continuing close intercourse between the socialist workers’ parties of the various countries proved that the consciousness of the identity of interests and of the solidarity of the proletariat of all countries evoked by the Intemational is able to assert itself even without the bond of a formal international association, which for the moment had become a fetter.
After the Hague Congress, Marx at last found peace and leisure again for resuming his theoretical work, and it is to be hoped he will be able before long to have the second volume of Capital ready for the press.
Of the many important discoveries through which Marx has inscribed his name in the annals of science, we can here dwell on only two.
The first is the revolution brought about by him in the whole conception of world history. The whole previous view of history was based on the conception that the ultimate causes of all historical changes are to be looked for in — the changing ideas of human beings, and that of all historical changes political changes are the most important and dominate the whole of history. But the question was not asked as to whence the ideas come into men’s minds and what the driving causes of the political changes are. Only upon the newer school of French, and partly also of English, historians had the conviction forced itself that, since the Middle Ages at least, the driving force in European history was the struggle of the developing bourgeoisie with the feudal aristocracy for social and political domination. Now Marx has proved that the whole of previous history is a history of class struggles, that in all the manifold and complicated political struggles the only thing at issue has been the social and political rule of social classes, the maintenance of domination by older classes and the conquest of domination by newly arising classes. To what, however, do these classes owe their origin and their continued existence? They owe it to the particular material, physically sensible conditions in which society, at a given period produces and exchanges its means of subsistence. The feudal rule of the Middle Ages rested on the self-sufficient economy of small peasant communities, which themselves produced almost all their requirements, in which there was almost no exchange and which received from the arms-bearing nobility protection from without and national or at least political cohesion. When the towns arose and with them separate handicraft industry and trade intercourse, at first internal and later international, the urban bourgeoisie developed, and already during the Middle Ages achieved, in struggle with the nobility, its inclusion in the feudal order as likewise a privileged estate. But with the discovery of the extra-European world, from the middle of the fifteenth century onwards, this bourgeoisie acquired a far more extensive sphere of trade and therewith a new spur for its industry; in the most important branches handicrafts were supplanted by manufacture, now on a factory scale, and this again was supplanted by large-scale industry, become possible owing to the discoveries of the previous century, especially that of the steam engine. Large-scale industry, in its turn, reacted on trade by driving out the old manual labour in backward countries, and creating, the present-day new means of communication: steam engines, railways, electric telegraphy, in the more developed ones. Thus the bourgeoisie came more and more to combine social wealth and social power in its hands while it still for a long period remained excluded from political power, which was in the hands of the nobility and the monarchy supported by the nobility. But at a certain stage — in France since the Great Revolution — it also conquered political power, and now in turn became the ruling class over the proletariat and small peasants. From this point of view all the historical phenomena are explicable in the simplest possible way — with sufficient knowledge of the particular economic condition of society, which it is true is totally lacking in our professional historians, and in the same way the conceptions and ideas of each historical period are most simply to be explained from the economic conditions of life and from the social and political relations of the period, which are in turn determined by these economic conditions. History was for the first time placed on its real basis; the palpable but previously totally overlooked fact that men must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, therefore must work, before they can fight for domination, pursue politics, religion, philosophy, etc. This palpable fact at last came into its historical rights.
This new conception of history, however was of supreme significance for the socialist outlook. It showed that all previous history moved in class antagonisms and class struggles, that there have always existed ruling and ruled, exploiting and exploited classes, and that the great majority of mankind has always been condemned to arduous labour and little enjoyment. Why is this? Simply because in all earlier stages of development of mankind production was so little developed that the historical development could proceed only in this antagonistic form that historical progress as a whole was assigned to the activity of a small privileged minority, while the great mass remained condemned to producing by their labour their own meagre means of subsistence and also the increasingly rich means of the privileged. But the same investigation of history, which in this way provides a natural and reasonable explanation of the previous class rule otherwise only explicable from the wickedness of man, also leads to the realization that, in consequence of the so tremendously increased productive forces of the present time, even the last pretext has vanished for a division of mankind into rulers and ruled, exploiters and exploited, at least in the most advanced countries that the ruling big bourgeoisie has fulfilled its historic mission, that it is no longer capable of the leadership of society and has even become a hindrance to the development of production, as the trade crises, and especially the last great collapse, and the depressed condition of industry in all countries have proved; that historical leadership has passed to the proletariat, a class which, owing to its whole position in society, can only free itself by abolishing altogether all class rule, all servitude and, all exploitation, and that the social productive forces, which have outgrown the control of the bourgeoisie, are only waiting for the associated proletariat to take possession of them in order to bring about a state of things in which every member of society will be enabled to participate not only in production but also in the distribution and administration of social wealth, and which so increases the social productive forces and their yield by planned operation of the whole of production that the satisfaction of all reasonable needs will be assured to everyone in an ever-increasing measure.
The second important discovery of Marx is the final elucidation of the relation between capital and labour, in other words, the demonstration how, within present society and under the existing capitalist mode of production, the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist takes place. Ever since political economy had put forward the proposition that labour is the source of all wealth and of all value, the question became inevitable: How is this then to be reconciled with the fact that the wage-worker does not receive the whole sum of value created by his labour but has to surrrender a part of it to the capitalist? Both the bourgeois economists and the Socialists exerted themselves to give, a scientifically valid answer to this question, but in vain, until, at last Marx came forward with the solution. This solution is as follows: The present-day capitalist mode of production presupposes the existence of two social classes — on the one hand, that of the capitalists who are in possession of the means of production and subsistence, and, on the other hand that of the proletarians, who, being excluded from this possession, have only a single commodity for sale, their labour power, and who therefore have to sell this labour power of theirs in order to obtain possession of means of subsistence. The value of a commodity is, however, determined by the socially necessary quantity of labour embodied in its production, and, therefore also in its reproduction; the value of the labour power of an average human being during a day, month or year is determined, therefore, by the quantity of labour embodied in the quantity of means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of this labour power during a day, month or year. Let us assume that the means of subsistence of a worker for one day requires, six hours of labour for their production, or, what is the same thing, that the labour contained in them represents a quantity of labour of six hours; then the value of labour power for one day will be, expressed in a sum of money which also embodies six hours of labour. Let us assume further that the capitalist who employs our worker pays him this sum in return, pays him, therefore, the full value of his labour power. If now the worker works six hours of the day for the capitalist, he has completely replaced the latter’s outlay — six hours’ labour for six hours’ labour. But then there would be nothing in it for the capitalist, and the latter therefore looks at the matter quite differently. He says: I have bought the labour power of this worker not for six hours but for a whole day, and accordingly he makes the worker work 8, 10, 12, 14 or more hours, according to circumstances, so that the product of the seventh, eighth and following hours is a product of unpaid labour and wanders, to begin with, into the pocket of the capitalist. Thus the worker in the service of the capitalist not only reproduces the value of his labour power, for which he receives pay, but over and above that he also produces, a surplus value which, appropriated in the first place by the capitalist, is in its further course divided according to definite economic laws among the whole capitalist class and forms the basic stock from which arise ground rent, profit, accumulation of capital, in short, all the wealth consumed or accumulated by the non-labouring classes. But this proved that the acquisition of riches by the present-day capitalists consists just as much in the appropriation of the unpaid labour of others as that of the slave-owner or the feudal lord exploiting serf labour, and that all these forms of exploitation are only to be distinguished by the difference in manner and method by which the unpaid labour is appropriated. This, however, also removed the last justification for all the hypocritical phrases of the possessing classes to the effect that in the present social order right and justice, equality of rights and duties and a general harmony of interests prevail, and present-day bourgeois society, no less than its predecessors, was exposed as a grandiose institution for the exploitation of the huge majority of the people by a small, ever-diminishing minority.
Modern, scientific socialism is based on these two important facts. In the second volume of Capitalthese and other hardly less important scientific discoveries concerning the capitalist system of society will be further developed, and thereby those aspects also of political economy not touched upon in the first volume will undergo revolutionization. May it be vouchsafed to Marx to be able soon to have it ready for the press.
1. Rhenish Gazette — Ed.
2. The first censor of the Rheinische Zeitung was Police Councillor Dolleschall, the same man who once struck out an advertisement in the Kölnische Zeitung (Cologne Gazette) of the translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy by Philalethes (later King John of Saxony) with the remark: One must not make a comedy of divine affairs. (Note by Engels.)
3. Regierungspräsident: In Prussia, regional representative of the central executive.— Ed.
4. German Brussels Gazette: Organ of the German political emigrants in Brussels; published from 1847 to February 1848. In September 1847 Marx and Engels assumed the leadership of the newspaper. — Ed.
5. New Rhenish Gazette. — Ed.
6. Kreuzzeitung (Gazette of the Cross): This was the name generally applied to the reactionary monarchist daily, the Neue Preussische Zeitung (New Prussian Gazette), which began to appear in Berlin in 1848. Its head bore a cross. — Ed.
7. Chimborazo: one of the highest peaks of the Andes Mountains in South America . — Ed.
8. New York Daily Tribune: A daily democratic newspaper to which Marx contributed in 1851-62. It appeared in New York in 1841-1924. — Ed.
9. Das Volk (The People): This German newspaper appeared in London from May to August 1859. Marx was one of its close collaborators. — Ed.
Exhibit of Works of Art and Other Items of Interest
Portraits, Paintings, Drawings and Photographs
Left: earliest surviving photo of Karl Marx, taken in London in 1861. Right: photograph taken May 19, 1864, during a four-day trip Frederick Engels made to London. Shown with Marx and Engels are Marx’s daughters, left to right, Jenny, Eleanor and Laura.
Left: Marx and his wife Jenny von Westphalen, at the seaside resort Margate, England at the end of March 1866. Right: Marx, photographed in Hannover in 1867, shortly after delivering the manuscript of Das Kapital in Hamburg (F. Wunder).
Depictions of Life and Work
Marx arrested in Brussels (N. Zhukov).
“Before the Sunrise” — Karl Marx and Frederick Engels walking in London at night
Marx in his studio, 1875 (Detail of painting by Zhang Wun).
Historical Events During Marx’s Life
French Revolution, Paris, 1848 (source unknown).
Barricade on rue de Soufflot in Paris during the French Revolution, June 25, 1848 (H. Vernet).
The house with the red door was the Marx family residence from October 1856 to
March 1864 on Grafton Terrace in London.
Marx Memorial Library at Clerkenwell Green in London. This historic building was used by
Marx and later V.I. Lenin, and today features political events by communists and other progressives. It also houses an important archive of historical material of the workers’ and communist movement.
Some Published Works
The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847; Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848;
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1857; Capital, 1867.
Monuments Around the World
Czech Republic at Corvinus University (left) and Karlovy Vary.
Karl Marx Theatre, Havana, Cuba
Karl Marx’s Hometown Unveils Statue by Chinese Artist