Karl Marx biography


The People
May, 1996
Vol. 106 No. 2


Karl Marx was born 178 years ago in Treves, on May 5, 1818. He died on March 14, 1883, at the age of 64. No one today disputes his vast erudition or the tremendous power of the ideas he put into motion. Even his traducers concede Marx a leading role in history and acknowledge Marxism to be the formidable and mortal foe of the social order based on classes.

What are these ideas that thrive on time and not only survive perpetual attack but emerge from each assault stronger, their scientific merits reconfirmed?

As Charles Darwin discovered the fundamental law of biological evolution, so Karl Marx discovered the primary motivating force in the evolution of society. Formulated as the MATERIALIST CONCEPTION OF HISTORY, this law revealed to humanity that, as a mighty river is drawn to the sea by gravitation, yet twists and winds according to the changing configuration of the land, so is the general direction of history, despite its turnings and windings, determined by economic forces. It is the changes that take place in the mode of production and exchange that ultimately force society to abolish outmoded systems and institutions and adopt new ones befitting the changed conditions.

Not only does the materialist conception of history illumine the past and explain the causes of social revolutions; it also provides humanity for the first time with the means whereby to guide history and CONSCIOUSLY to ease society's evolution to new and higher forms, speeding the death of the obsolete system and shortening the birth pangs of the new. Finally, it teaches that the means for bringing about the revolution are also to be discovered in the material facts of production that are at hand.

A correlative discovery was that which teaches that the changes in social systems and institutions are brought about through class struggles, that the history of society since the dissolution of classless primitive communism is the history of class struggles, and that the struggle continues under the capitalist system and takes the form of an unremitting and irreconcilable contest between the exploiting capitalists and the exploited workers. The crowning lesson of the class- struggle principle is that the working class must emancipate itself.

The third of the ideas whose scientific integrity has NEVER been successfully challenged is the Marxian LAW OF VALUE and its corollary THEORY OF SURPLUS VALUE. It teaches the workers how they are robbed and how to end the robbery. But more than that, the Marxian law of value reveals the cause of capitalist crises and spells out the system's ultimate doom.

No one who opens Marx's works with an inquiring mind will ever say "Marx is a back number" -- as so many poseurs and pretentious ignoramuses do. He who sets seriously to the task of understanding Marxism will, rather, concur in the commendation of one of the greatest of Marxists, Daniel De Leon, who said: "Events refute anti-Marxism, and demonstrate it the opposite of science. From each recurring refutation of anti-Marxism, the demonstration of its unscientific foundation and spirit, Marxism itself rises reconfirmed; its scientific merits redemonstrated; taller in inches, stronger of voice...."