Karl Marx Biography
The German philosopher, radical economist, and revolutionary leader Karl Marx (1818-1883) founded modern "scientific" socialism. His basic ideas—known as Marxism—form the foundation of socialist and communist movements throughout the world. Karl Marx spent most of his life in exile. He was exiled from his native Prussia in 1849 and went to Paris, from which he was expelled a few months later. He then settled in London, where he spent the rest of his life in dire poverty and relative obscurity. He was hardly known to the English public in his lifetime. His reputation as a radical thinker began to spread only after the emergence of the socialist parties in Europe, especially in Germany and France, in the 1870s and 1880s. From then on, Marx's theories continued to be hotly debated in the growing labor and socialist movements everywhere, including Czarist Russia. By the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, socialist parties everywhere had by and large accepted a considerable measure of Marxism, even though with modifications. This was especially true of the idea of the class struggle and the establishment of a socialist society, in which economic exploitation and social inequality would be abolished. Marxism achieved its first great triumph in the Russian Revolution of 1917, when its successful leader, V. I. Lenin, a lifelong disciple of Marx, organized the Soviet Union as a proletarian dictatorship based on Marx's philosophy, as Lenin interpreted it. Henceforth, Marx became a world figure and his theories a subject of universal attention and controversy. Early Life
Marx was born in Trier, Rhenish Prussia, on May 5, 1818, the son of Heinrich Marx, a lawyer, and Henriette Presburg Marx, a Dutchwoman. Both Heinrich and Henriette were descendants of a long line of rabbis. Barred from the practice of law as a Jew, Heinrich Marx became converted to Lutheranism about 1817, and Karl was baptized in the same church in 1824, at the age of 6. Karl attended a Lutheran elementary school but later became an atheist and materialist, rejecting both the Christian and Jewish religions. It was he who coined the aphorism "Religion is the opium of the people," a cardinal principle in modern communism. Karl attended the Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium in Trier for 5 years, graduating in 1835, at the age of 17. The gymnasium curriculum was the usual classical one—history, mathematics, literature, and languages, particularly Greek and Latin. Karl became proficient in French and Latin, both of which he learned to read and write fluently. In later years he taught himself other languages, so that as a mature scholar he could also read Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Scandinavian, Russian, and English. As his articles in the New York Daily Tribune show, he came to handle the English language masterfully (he loved Shakespeare, whose works he knew by heart), although he never lost his heavy Teutonic accent in speaking. In October 1835 Marx matriculated in Bonn University, where he attended courses primarily in jurisprudence, as it was his father's ardent wish that he become a lawyer. Marx, however, was more interested in philosophy and literature than in law. He wanted to be a poet and dramatist, and in his student days he wrote a great deal of poetry—most of it preserved—which in his mature years he rightly recognized as imitative and mediocre. He spent a year at Bonn, studying little but roistering and drinking. He spent a day in jail for disturbing the peace and fought one duel, in which he was wounded in the right eye. He also piled up heavy debts. Marx's dismayed father took him out of Bonn and had him enter the University of Berlin, then a hub of intellectual ferment. In Berlin a galaxy of brilliant thinkers was challenging existing institutions and ideas, including religion, philosophy, ethics, and politics. The spirit of the great philosopher G. W. F. Hegel was still palpable there. A group known as the Young Hegelians,...
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