Karl Marx, born on 5th May 1818, was a revolutionary thinker and fighter for communism. His mission in life was to contribute to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat. Marx fought with passion for this mission.
His thirst for knowledge was driven by the need for social change. In his own words, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”
Marx was a great man of science. He investigated very many fields deeply, and he made independent discoveries in them. For Marx, science was a revolutionary force. He celebrated discoveries in science and brought out their implications for revolutionary changes in society.
The development of capitalism in the 19th century had led to the emergence and growth of the proletariat, a product of modern industry. The theoretical work of Marx and his comrade-in-arms, Frederick Engels developed in close connection with the political struggle of the proletariat. An international organisation called The Communist League was formed in the 1830s by representatives of the proletariat of several European countries. Marx and Engels drafted the Rules of the Communist League, which was adopted at its Second Congress in December 1847. They were commissioned to draft the Manifesto of this international proletarian organisation. That became the famous Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.
The Manifesto laid down the task of the communists – namely, to provide the working class with the consciousness required to become the ruling class and carry out the transformation in ownership of the means of production, from private ownership to social ownership.
In 1864, Marx was invited to a historic meeting in London, of workers’ representatives from several European countries. The First International Workingmen’s’ Association or the First International was founded at this meeting.
Marx was the dominant spirit and the indomitable personality that held this disparate international association together for eight difficult years. His commitment to the idea of the revolutionary role of the world proletariat kept the First International alive and active.
We can thus see that Marxism – the doctrine elaborated by Marx, is not some idea which magically took shape in an individual’s brain. It emerged in the midst of the class struggle, as the ideological weapon of the proletariat to achieve its aim of overthrowing the rule of the bourgeoisie, so as to liberate itself and all of society from exploitation and class divisions.
As Lenin explained in an article – “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism” – the Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism.
The bourgeois democratic revolution which took place at the end of the 18th century in France spurred the rise of materialism, rebelling against every kind of superstition and medieval thought. Materialism emerged as the only philosophy that is consistent with all the teachings of natural science.
Marx deepened and developed philosophical materialism to the full, and extended the cognition of nature to include the cognition of human society. His historical materialism was a great achievement in scientific thought. It is a scientific theory, which shows how, at a certain stage in the development of productive forces, existing relations of production which have become a fetter to the further development of productive forces are transformed. It explains how the capitalist mode of production grew within feudal society and replaced the feudal mode of production. It shows how the capitalist system will necessarily give way to the socialist system.
Marx and Engels took from Hegel (the most influential thinker in Germany at that time) the dialectical method, and further developed it to explain human history. They gave birth to the philosophical outlook and method of dialectical materialism.
The dialectical method of understanding nature and society is to recognise that everything is constantly in a state of motion, driven by the interaction between opposing forces. Dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena. They all have their negative and positive sides, a past and a future, something dying away and something coming into being. The struggle between these opposites, between the old and the new, between that which is dying away and that which is being born, between that which is disappearing and that which is developing, constitutes the internal content of the process of development.
In the field of political economy, Marx developed the work of the British political economists. Marx provided the proof for the labour theory of value and developed it further. Marx’s theory of surplus value provided the explanation for the source of wealth accumulation in the hands of the capitalist class, as well as the explanation for the periodic crises of overproduction.
Marx identified the source of the profits pocketed by the owners of capital in the exploitation of wage labour. A worker who toils for 8 hours every day is working for himself for part of the day, say for the first 4 hours, when he is reproducing the value paid to him as wages. For the remaining 4 hours, he is producing surplus value for his capitalist employer.
The overriding motive of maximising capitalist profit through the exploitation of labour is a fetter to the uninterrupted development of the productive forces. While the market is flooded with goods, the working class does not have money to buy them. This leads to repeated crises of over-production. The capitalist cutback on production, throws workers out of their jobs.
Marx showed the way that the fundamental contradiction between social production and private ownership of the means of production can be resolved. The means of production must be converted from private to social property. That will make it possible for production to be geared towards fulfilling the needs of society instead of being geared to fulfill capitalist greed.
The third component part of Marxism was the development of the theory of scientific socialism. The bourgeois democratic revolution in France was followed by disappointment due to the huge gap between what the revolution had promised and what was realised. There emerged the idea and vision of socialism, as a superior system of society that would be free of the ills of capitalism. But the early ideas of socialism which emerged in France were utopian. The utopian socialists failed to address the question as to which social force has the interest and the capacity to carry out the transformation from capitalism to socialism.
Marxism provided socialism with its scientific basis. It showed that capitalist society is the last form of class-divided society, which will give way to the next higher stage, a classless communist society, whose initial stage is socialism. It identified the proletariat, the class which owns no property except its labour power, as the class which alone has the interest and the capacity to carry through to completion the revolutionary transformation from capitalism to communism.
Marx summed up his own unique contribution to the study of human society and the laws of its development in the following words:
“Now as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production, (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, and (3) that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.”
Marx was the most calumniated man of his time. Governments deported him from their territories. The bourgeoisie heaped slanders upon him. But for the proletariat and people of the whole world, his life and work will always remain an example and source of inspiration in the struggle to overthrow capitalism and usher in communism. His name will endure through the ages and so will his work.