Karl Marx (5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German economist, philosopher and revolutionist best known for his harsh criticisms of capitalism and advocacy of communism. Marx was heavily influenced by the views of G. W. F. Hegel and the idea that history was slowly progressing toward a “great idea.” As such, it was his contention that capitalism had been the step in historical evolution after monarchy and that after the inevitable fall of capitalism, communism would take over. Even though he was heavily associated with Socialism, Marx was critical of the socialist movements of his day for trying to initiate reforms that he felt would delay the collapse of capitalism.
Marx and Engels developed a body of ideas which they called scientific socialism, more commonly called Marxism. According to Marx, the supreme side of the man is an immanent and material one, and consists in happiness. This material happiness must be obtained through organized collectivism. In fact, according to Marx, reality is governed by economical needs (historical materialism). Economic reality develops according to Hegel’s dialectical principles. That is, reality must deny itself in order to reach a higher degree of being.
Marxist epistemology sets itself up as absolute naive realism of the usual empiricist type. The peculiarity of Marxist materialism lies in the fact that it combines this realistic outlook with another one, the pragmatic. From the notion that all contents of our consciousness are determined by our economic needs it follows equally that each social class has its own science and its own philosophy. An independent, non-party science is impossible; the truth is whatever leads to success, and practice alone constitutes the criterion of truth. Both these theories of knowledge are found side by side in Marxism without anyone trying very hard to harmonize them. The most they will concede is that our knowledge is a striving for the absolute truth, but that for the moment it is simply relative, answering to our needs. Here the theory seems to fall into contradiction, for if the truth were relative to our needs then knowledge would never be a copy of reality.
Marx thought that unregulated capitalism was a fundamentally flawed system that allowed wealth to become consolidated in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. Marx saw the most valuable contribution to be labour and he saw capitalism as a method to exploit labour. His main argument might be structured like this: A rich man buys a factory and hires fifty employees. While the owner has the capital in which to buy the factory and the raw materials from which to make his product, labour is the most important element of his business. Even though this is true he gains profit from the labour of his workers, paying them a wage that is less than they are worth when he sells the products for a substantial profit. As time goes by, the owner will be able to hire more workers and make greater profits, but his amount of personal labour will never really change, and his workers will not reap any of the benefits of his success. One of the main problems with this for Marx was that he saw it simply developing into an aristocracy. Marx was against the idea of inheritance and when he co-authored “The Communist Manifesto” with Friedrich Engels, he called for an abolition of inheritance allowing the state to seize funds left when a person died and redistribute it among the populace. Marx argued that workers, who he called the proletariat, could never gain the status of the capitalist owners (the bourgeoisie), through usual means, and that capitalism would lead to a widening gap between rich and poor until an inevitable revolution. Marx thought that this revolution was simply inevitable given the course that capitalism would take and would be the beginning stages of the rise of communism.The Marxist version of communism remains largely misunderstood, partially for unfair associations with the Soviet Union. While Marx thought a revolution was the only way to bring about Capitalism he never stated that this was necessarily a violent revolution though he also never discounted the idea that revolution might manifest itself through violence. Marx often distances himself from moral judgments when talking about how Communism will come about, and these views are more reflective of his Hegelian views toward history than any moral claims. Marx thought that Capitalism would collapse because it was not sustainable and rarely makes attacks against Capitalism that could be called moral arguments. All of Marx’s arguments are essentially economic arguments and not moral ones, which makes him unique among political theorists who mostly made their arguments based on moral judgments. Marx saw the period after revolution to be one where the proletariat had seized control of society (although, in regard to morality, historical materialism recognizes no eternal code whatever and teaches that each social class has its own morality. The highest moral rule for the proletariat (the most progressive class) is that only that is morally good which contributes to the destruction of bourgeois society). His version of communism was essentially a loosely democratic one. He saw the government being run by small groups of workers unions that would elect their own representatives to government. Contrary to how his views are usually portrayed, Marx was not a strong supporter of a strong central government control. His version of communism would have theoretically been one where all means of production are run collectively by society. Workers would all have an equal say and would be able to share in profits equally. Such concepts are still employed in worker owned businesses in the modern day and have been successful in certain circumstances.Over a hundred years later, Marx is still described as one of the most controversial and influential figures in human history. He is often criticized unfairly for the oppressive communist regimes of the Soviet Union and China that did not follow his principles at all but used the concept of communism for their own purposes. He is also seen as a militant atheist for statements such as “religion is the opiate of the masses” (a misquote which is often attributed to him and taken completely out of context) and for his views that Jews should do more to blend into mainstream society to avoid anti-Semitism which mirrors the views of reform Judaism of that time. Despite all of the negativity attached to his persona, he is still considered to be one of the most insightful critics of capitalism and is typically cited as one of the principal architects of modern social science.