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The Core Curriculum

Karl Marx

1818 CE – 1883 CE

    Marx, Engels and Marx's daughters: Jenny Carolina, Jenny Julia and Jenny Laura. All were named in honor of their aristocratic mother Jenny von Westphalen. c. 1864 (Wikimedia Commons) Marx, Engels and Marx's daughters: Jenny Carolina, Jenny Julia and Jenny Laura. All were named in honor of their aristocratic mother Jenny von Westphalen. c. 1864 (Wikimedia Commons) Karl Marx was born 1818 in Trier in the Kingdom of Prussia, to a wealthy middle-class family descended from rabbis on both sides. Marx’s father was a pro-Enlightenment thinker who converted to Protestantism in order to practice law. Marx also studied law at the Universities of Bonn and Berlin, but his real interests were in history and philosophy, especially the ideas of the radical Young Hegelians. Marx received a Ph. D. in 1841 and began working as a political journalist in Cologne. In 1843, he controversially married the aristocratic Jenny von Westphalen. Political repression forced the family into exile, including time in Paris (1843-45) where Marx began his lifelong collaboration with co-author and financial supporter Friedrich Engels. In 1849, the family settled permanently in London. Despite poverty, illness, and the death of three children, Marx continued to study, write, and organize in support of communism. He helped establish the International Working Men’s Association (“The First International”) in 1864, and subsequently lead the opposition to anarchist tendencies in the IWMA until the organization’s dissolution in 1876.  Marx died in London in 1883. His work has had a significant continuing influence on social scientists, philosophers, and political movements across the world.


Works

Marx was a prolific writer in many genres; the collected writings of Marx and Engels are projected to fill 110 printed volumes. The complicated publication and translation history surrounding Marx’s writings, as well as the developments of his thought by others, is a challenge for understanding his work on its own terms, rather than those of Engels, Lenin, or Mao. Many of Marx’s more influential writings such as the "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts: of 1844 and The Grundrisse were published posthumously, some of them based on preliminary notes or unfinished works edited by later hands. In general, Marx’s early works primarily address the Young Hegelians and the ideas of other, ‘utopian,’ socialists ("The German Ideology";  "The Poverty of Philosophy"). In the 1850's, Marx focused primarily on problems of political economy, reflected especially in his massive, unfinished Capital.  A number of Marx’s works analyze historical or current events (The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon; "The Civil War in France"); others are political propaganda or strategy ("The Communist Manifesto"; "Critique of the Gotha Programme"). 

 

Written by Jay Gundraker, Department of History, Columbia University 

 

Further Reading:

Terrel Carver (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Marx. Cambridge, 1992

Francis Wheen, Karl Marx: A Life. London, 1999