Karl Marx was born on My 5, 1818, to Heinrich and Henriette Marx in Trier, Germany, and studied law and philosophy at the universities of Bonn and Berlin
There are very few who change the course of history. In the galaxy of 19th-century philosophers, Karl Marx holds a distinguished place. He was a man of great vision. A dignified intellectual, an eminent philosopher, a great thinker, a versatile economist, and the champion of the proletarian struggle against the bourgeoisie, his revolutionary ideas had a pivotal influence on all facets of human endeavour, and transformed the study of society and history. Marxism, as his ideas came to be known, brought a plethora of change in the methodology of philosophy, anthropology, the arts, political economy, political theory, law, literature, history, and sociology – by establishing a fundamental relationship between economic and intellectual life.
Twenty-nine years before Marx’s birth, France, the neighbour to Germany, had witnessed the great revolution in which the crown of feudalism was ground into dust by the common masses. Germany and other European countries were influenced by this French Revolution and they also started to raise their voice against the cruelty and oppression of the monarchy and the church. Thus, Marx was born in a period when the wave of revolution in Europe was at its peak and, therefore, this insurgent atmosphere made him a revolutionary philosopher.
It was the implementation of the cruel forest laws in Germany which brought Marx very close to the philosophy of Communism. These forest laws which were in favour of the rich denied the rights of the poor to gather wood and other essential items from the dense Rhine forests. As an editor of the newspaper “The Rheinische Zeitung”, Karl wrote several articles against this oppression and tyranny. As these articles showed strong wrath against the rich, the upper classes appealed to the government to take strict action against the editor of the newspaper. Somehow, Marx succeeded in saving the newspaper from censorship.
Before we go through the philosophy of communism, it is very important to know the basic tenet of capitalism. Capitalism is based on the concept of surplus-value and it is this surplus value that expands the pocket of capitalists and the gap between the proletariat and bourgeoisie widens at its every reinvestment. Marx believed that the bourgeoisie only buys the raw material and it is the labour that gives its final shape in the form of the end product and thus, its market value increases with the labour-power and which is much higher than the value of raw material of that product. Therefore, in actual terms, the labourer is the real owner of this surplus value but as he is working in a factory or industry of a capitalist, he has lost his control over it, while the capitalist only gives him meagre wages for survival. Due to this vicious cycle of exploitation, the capitalist becomes richer and the labourer becomes poorer.
In addition to this, the labourer has no control over the final product which is the result of his sweat and hard work. Thus, the proletariat thinks that all its hard work is nothing but a futile exercise, an exercise which is only beneficial for the capitalist. Marx called this “alienation”.
In an attempt to restore the rights of the workers and save them from the exploitation of the capitalists, Marx thought of a system where the labouring class should be the ultimate owners of their work and product, but this was only possible when the deep roots of capitalism are eradicated from the soil of Europe. An important question before Marx was which strategy would be useful to bring about the downfall of the capitalist sysytem. He did not consider democracy as the solution for this problem; on the contrary, he noted “democracy” as a system in which “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them in parliament”. He also held the view that religion is a tool of exploitation used by the rich for the exploitation of the poor. Finally, he saw communism as an antidote and ultimate remedy to capitalism.
Marx identified two phases of communism that would follow the predicated overthrow of capitalism: the first would be a transitional system in which the working class would wield power over the economy and pay according to how long or hard its works. In the second phase, communism would take its final shape and society would form without class divisions and the government would ensure that the production and distribution of goods is based on the principle of: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” When such a system will develop, then society will run smoothly without conflict. This philosophy of communism is also called Marxism.
Spreading the philosophy of communism, though, was not an easy task. Marx was banished from his homeland Prussia and he took shelter in France. But in 1845 due to his revolutionary ideas he was exiled from France also. He didn’t go back to Prussia this time but went to Belgium. The German police pressured the Belgium government to not allow him to stay there. To protect himself, Marx renounced his Prussian citizenship and gave assurance to the Belgium government that he would not participate in any political activity. Finally, he received permission to stay there. However, he left Belgium also and again applied for citizenship in Prussia, but the Prussian government rejected his application. Now he became stateless and thus he asserted In the Communist Manifesto that “the working men have no country”.
With his close fellow Friedrich Engels, Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, the main purpose of which was to lay down the boundaries and principles around which the philosophy of communism would take its practical form. In this Manifesto, the main emphasis was on how to dethrone the empire of capitalism and replace it with a worker’s society. In its concluding part, it appealed to workers of the world to unite, because they have “nothing to lose except their chains”.
Marx lost three of his children because of poverty and economic crisis. He spent every penny for the cause of the revolution and his legacy can be judged from his book titled “Das Capital”, which brought about revolution in all the corners of Europe and across the world. This book is known as the Bible of communism. Everything about capitalism, its dynamism, and its tendencies towards self-destruction have been highlighted in the book. Though the application of communism based on its real tenets cannot be found anywhere in the world, it was the philosophy of communism that divided the world into two superpower blocks, of the USA and the USSR, in the 20th century.
Communism is a staunch opponent of private property and argues that it is the accumulation of private property by a handful of persons which results in hunger, war, poverty, unemployment, crime, child labour, and prostitution for people at large. Nature has bestowed us with a beautiful abode in the form of mother earth where the resources are enough to sustain all human beings equally, without deprivation, discrimination, and poverty, but due to the greed of some persons, the unequal distribution of resources has created a gap between the rich and the poor and this gap widens at every minute. It may not be wrong to say that Marx was probably the first thinker who raised his voice against the tyranny of the rich over the poor.
The writer is a Junior Research Fellow in Geography at Mumbai University. He has done his Bachelor’s and Master’s at AMU and is a native of Anantnag district. [email protected]