Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Marx argues that poverty is caused by the concentration of wealth and property in the hands of a few individuals. 

Marx thinks that wealth and property should be redistributed: 

‘Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen’; ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’ (Kritik des Gothaer Programms; Critique of the Gotha Programme, 1875)

Wealth is always relative: the more private property that exists, the more poverty exists. 

That is why capitalists often donate money to politicians, lobby governments, and own media outlets to promote their own agendas (e.g. tax avoidance, wage reduction) and shape public debate.  

Capitalists are often active as philanthropists - but it would be better to pay taxes.

According to Marx, the essence of human beings is the ensemble (aggregate) of social relations (Theses on Feuerbach, 6).

Marx and Engels observed that there is a class struggle between people with property and people without property. 

They campaigned for the means of production to be owned by the majority of humanity, and not by the minority.

They were internationalists, and called for the workers of the world to unite in solidarity.

Their writings inspired, among others, the European Revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune of 1871, the Irish Easter Rising of 1916, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the German Revolution of 1918, the British General Strike of 1926, the Vietnamese Revolution of 1945, the Chinese Revolution of 1949 and the Cuban Revolution of 1959. 

Their ideas also successfully informed anti-imperialist independence movements around the world. 

In the 1880s, the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduced comprehensive social legislation in an attempt to prevent a socialist revolution from taking place in Germany. This strategy proved highly successful, until the German Revolution began on 3 November 1918, putting an end to World War One.

At the beginning of their careers, they had literary ambitions: Marx wrote poetry, and Engels wrote a play about the Italian politician Cola di Rienzo (1313-54).

Their ideas are often misrepresented. For example, neither Marx nor Engels ever used the term dialectical materialism.

Marxism-Leninism was the official political ideology of the Soviet Union (USSR), the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and much of central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War (between 1945 and 1990).

Marxism also influenced several twentieth-century German-language writers and intellectuals, including Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, Georg Lukács, Ernst Bloch and Theodor W. Adorno.

Selected Works (links to texts in German and English)

Ökonomisch-philosophische Manuskripte (1844), Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts (Paris Manuscripts)

Thesen über Feuerbach (1845), Theses on Feuerbach

Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (1848), The Manifesto of the Communist Party 


Karl Marx, Evening Hour: Poems, trans. and intro. by Philip Wilson (Todmorden: Arc Publications, 2022)

Further Reading

Andrew Bowie, ‘Marx’, in Andrew Bowie, German Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 59-69

Terry Eagleton, ‘The Marxist Sublime’, in Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), pp. 196-233

Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011)

David McLellan, Marx, Fontana Modern Masters (London: Fontana, 1975)

David McLellan, Karl Marx: A Biography, 4th edition (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006)

David McLellan, Marxism after Marx, 4th edition (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

S. S. Prawer, Karl Marx and World Literature (London and New York: Verso, 2011)

Web Links

Marxists Internet Archive

Website and blog hosted by the Rosa Luxemburg foundation in Germany

Marx memorial library in London