10. Karl Marx: His Work and the Major Changes in its
History of Thought
Karl Marx is known for a 30-page political pamphlet,
The Communist Manifesto
, written in
1848 together with Friedrich Engels, and for a 2,200-page socio-economic work,
published in three volumes in 1867, 1885, and 1894, the last two edited by Engels. The
collected works of Marx and Engels extend to over 50 thick volumes.
magnum opus, Capital
, is an analysis of the capitalist system (the term “communism”
is mentioned some five times in notes; perhaps five out of 2,200 pages refer in passing to
some future society). Marx wrote the work between 1857 and 1878 while living in London.
British capitalism provided his main empirical material.
The changing appreciation of
throughout the twentieth century was influenced by
both the degree to which other works of Marx were, or could be, taken into account (section
10.3) and, relatedly, developing methodological views (section 10.4). A reading of the work
(section 10.5) is bound to take methodological sides.
10.2 On Marx and his
Marx was born in 1818 in Trier and died in 1883 in London. He studied law and philosophy
and received a Ph.D. in 1841. Trained to pursue the positions of either a state official or
university professor, both his studies and the repressive political climate in Prussia induced a
different course. During his student years he helped fight for democratic rights, opposing the
vested political regime. His subsequent writings and editorship of a liberal journal brought
him into conflict with Prussian censorship. He sought refuge in Paris (1843–5), Brussels
(1845–7), and Cologne (1848–9) and finally, in 1849, settled in London.
In the hectic 1842–9 period, Marx studied and wrote on philosophical, political, and economic
issues, and developed his materialist conception of history (section 10.4.1). He also made
contact with radical socialist groups, and met Friedrich Engels, his lifelong personal, political,
and intellectual friend. In 1848, aged 30, he and Engels wrote the
From 1849 to about 1865, Marx reduced his political activities and concentrated on serious
analysis of the capitalist system, combining research with journalistic work to earn his living.