Karl Marx (1818-1883) was one of the most important thinkers of all times in the Western world.
The intellectual, who lived in the mid-nineteenth century, studied especially the areas of political science, economics, philosophy and sociology.
Far from being just theoretician, Marx was also an activist and believed that everyone should be transforming agents in society if concrete change is to take place.
Theory and practice are inseparable
For the thinker, his philosophy was also practice, that is, practice should in no way be separated from the act of thinking.
Marx was known for giving great importance to Praxis, the ideas that were translated into action.
Philosophers limited themselves to interpreting the world in different ways; what matters is to modify it.
For Marx, it was necessary to act and not just stay at the level of ideas. Despite having written a lot of theoretical material and having thought about society in a more academic and formal way, Marx always kept his activist version in parallel, mobilizing workers and trying to impress on society what he believed.
The intellectual was editor of a gazette, participated in the League of Communists, and helped form the First International (a gathering of international workers).
As a militant and activist, he wrote books, but he also put his thinking into practice.
There is an eternal conflict between social classes
For Karl Marx, it was impossible to think of a capitalist society without a class struggle between owners and non-owners, workers and bosses.
Marx believed that the proletariat – the workers – sold their labor power to the bourgeois, who wanted to make more and more profit by lowering wages and increasing working hours. In other words, the owners of the means of production tried their best to increase profits, even if this meant making the lives of their workers worse.
The history of all societies in existence today is the history of class struggle. (…) Society is increasingly divided into two opposing camps, into two great classes in direct confrontation: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
(Communist Party Manifesto, 1848)
Marx criticized the typical accumulation of capitalism , which created an ever-widening chasm between social classes.
The theorist reflected in his works on social differences and the struggle between the richest and poorest layers of society throughout history.
Karl Marx saw class struggle not as a problem of his time, but as an issue that had existed since the beginning of capitalist society.
The union of workers is fundamental
In the Communist Manifesto (1848), written in partnership with Engels, Marx recalls the long history of the workers, defending the union of workers and criticizing capitalism.
The authors recall that the written history of all societies that have ever existed is a history of conflicts, of class struggles (oppressors versus oppressed, workers versus owners).
In Marx’s contemporary society, this tension is perceived in the confrontations between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The State, in this context, according to the intellectual, was doing nothing but being a committee to manage the interests of the bourgeois class. And the bourgeois were typically committed to defending their own interests: exploring, establishing increasingly profitable businesses, and expanding profits to other territories.
The bourgeoisie would have concentrated profit in a few hands and centralized the means of production, having also subordinated the countryside to the city. With this type of society the proletariat was also created, people who only live while they have work and only have work while their work increases capital.
Marx and Engels also addressed in the Manifesto the consequences of the entry of machines into production, impacting the type of work carried out by the proletariat and its cost.
As the Communist Manifesto was written for workers to read, it had an accessible language so as to convey information to workers who had had little access to education.
The Communist Manifesto was such an important text that it was quickly published in English, French, German, Italian, Flemish and Danish so that it became comprehensible to a large number of workers.
It is time for the communists to openly expose their way of seeing, their aims and their tendencies to the whole world, opposing a manifesto of their own party to the legend of the specter of communism.
The Communist Manifesto exposes in a very simplified way the central ideas of Marx highlighting especially the class struggle throughout history, from feudal society to the present day.
In addition to taking a look at the past, the thinker calls on the Manifesto’s readers to change the future by mobilizing in the present.
Capitalist society generates problems
Karl Marx devoted his entire career to thinking about the capitalist mode of production. Especially in the collection Capital (1867), Marx reflected on the form of production and distribution of wealth that generates the class struggle not only in Germany and Europe but, in general, in the Western world exposed to capitalism.
Marx’s collection emphasizes how the worker – the proletariat – is exploited, so that the owner obtains an ever greater profit. In Capital, a more theoretical production with a denser understanding compared to the Manifesto, the thinker presents key concepts such as surplus value, primitive accumulation and the impact of technological innovations on the means of production.
Marx also thinks about the workings of the world and Western capitalist society, reflecting on what has been increasingly valued (the world of having) and increasingly neglected (the world of being):
The devaluation of the human world increases in direct proportion to the valuation of the world of things.
For Marx, capitalism contained recurring moments of crisis, contrary to what Adam Smith thought, who thought that capitalism was self-regulating. What Marx pointed out, about crises being seasonal, was later termed by economists periods of recession which, in fact, turned out to be typical of the capitalist system.
For Marx, capitalism was not sustainable and would eventually bury itself (according to the intellectual, capitalism generates its own gravedigger). The alternative he proposed was the social revolution made by the workers.
The main criticisms of capitalist society were summarized in the first volume of O Capital, published in 1867.
Workers are able to change society
Marx came to the conclusion that workers are the transforming agents of society , who can rebel due to the unfavorable economic conditions to which they are subjected.
The thinker believed that if workers united, they would be able to create a classless society. This great moment of change Marx called the Socialist Revolution. After that, according to him, it would be possible to establish a new, more just and egalitarian social order .
On September 28, 1864, the International Workers’ Association was founded, which met for the first time in London, and was based on Marx’s values with the intellectual as an important articulator of the movement.
Proletarians of all countries, unite
The idea was to bring together workers from different classes to think about common problems and possible solutions in collective terms. Activists defended, for example, the right to strike and solidarity among workers.
During the First International, the need was also raised to reduce the working hours of women and children, to encourage the organization of unions to defend workers and to promote cooperative work.
An international working day of 10 hours was also discussed. The General Council of the First International consisted of a representative from Germany, one from Italy, one from Poland, one from Switzerland and one from France.
The organization was successful and grew to other parts of Europe, having had some internal divisions. In 1870, work was interrupted due to the war, but in 1889 it was organized again at the Congress of Paris, giving rise to the Second International.
The ideal society imagined by Marx would not have social and economic inequality
In principle, the state would be ruled by a kind of dictatorship of the proletariat, which would control society. In this context, there would be no more private property. In a second moment, it would be possible to dilute the State itself.
The State, as we know it today, which ends up exercising domination over a social class, would be replaced by an egalitarian society, without exploiters and exploited. In this ideal society there would be no type of social or economic inequality and all workers would be free and have the right to essential goods.
For Marx: Revolutions are the locomotive of history and Workers have nothing to lose in a communist revolution but its chains.
who was Karl Marx?
German philosopher and socialist Karl Marx was a revolutionary who was born in 1818, died in 1883, and dedicated his intellectual career to reflecting on capitalism.
A great critic of the system, his studies were fundamental to a number of areas such as sociology, economics, philosophy, law and politics.
The son of a lawyer and justice counselor (Herschel Marx), Karl also studied law and, during his graduation at the University of Bonn, began to get involved in the student movement.
After transferring his degree to the philosophy course at the University of Berlin, he began to align himself more and more with the left, seeking to reflect on social issues not only in Germany, but also in the Western context.
Despite having a doctorate (at the University of Jena), he was unable to teach at the institution due to ideological divergence. Marx also suffers from censorship, moves from country to country, but at no point in his life does he fail to study and publicize what troubled him.
Activist, Marx was not only a thinker and had an active participation in society both through his texts – he became the director of the newspaper Gazeta Renana – as well as organizing a series of events seeking to unite workers to demand better living conditions.
Defender of the workers’ cause, he was persecuted and invited to withdraw from a number of countries in Europe.
As an intellectual, he was the author of important works such as the Communist Manifesto (1848) and The Capital (1867).