Karl Marx, born on 5th April, 1818, in Trier, Germany, spent much of his life in exile, finding it unsafe to live in Germany, France or Belgium. Britain provided a haven, though, and Marx spent much of his time in the reading room of the British Museum. He is famous for two principal publications. First came “The Communist Manifesto” in 1848, co-authored with Friedrich Engels, a textile magnate who supported Marx for 40 years out of the profits from his mills.
Second was “Das Kapital,” the first volume of which appeared in 1867. The two works are regarded as the foundation stones of Communism. Marx was undoubtedly a talented and original thinker, but his works were treated with a religious fervor that was unmerited, largely due to their appropriation by Lenin as the justification for the Bolshevik seizure of power and the establishment of the decades-long Soviet tyranny.
Marx saw history in terms of class struggle, and was Hegelian enough to think that history was working towards a foreordained conclusion. This would of course be the dictatorship of the proletariat to bring about the classless society. At which point history would stop. He sympathized with the plight of working people, and saw them as victims of capitalism and its lust for profit. He thought their labour was exploited, and that they were not given the full value of what they produced.
Some people still think this, but a more real-world picture might see capitalists as people who commit resources to produce what they think people will want to buy, and who do so hoping to gain a return thereby on their investments. In doing so, they provide working people with the chance to better their lives by earning money. On such a view the capitalists benefit both the people who buy their goods and the workers who earn wages producing them. The capitalists risk losing their investment if they guess wrong, and people don’t buy the goods.
The fact is that the socialism Marx wanted to replace capitalism does not work, and has never worked when it has been tried, even though millions have died while this truth was being made apparent. In the name of Marxism, lives have been blighted and terminated, misery, poverty and destitution have spread, and none of the results it claimed to seek have been achieved.
Despite his tunnel vision of history, Marx did make an important contribution to its study, recognizing that the productive technology of different ages has an influence on their ideas and their culture. He thought it determined them, which is too extreme, but his recognition of its influence is a useful one.
Marx was one of history’s most influential thinkers, but the crimes against humanity committed under the banner of his name will forever taint his record. Most of the influence he had was malign.