Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818 – March 14, 1883) was a German philosopher, sociologist, historian, political economist, political theorist and revolutionary socialist, who developed the socio-political theory of Marxism. His Marxist ideas played a significant role in both the development of modern social science and also in the socialist political movement. He published various books during his lifetime, with the most notable being The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Capital (1867-1894), many of which were co-written with his friend, the fellow German revolutionary socialist Friedrich Engels.
Born into a wealthy middle class family in Trier, Prussia, Marx went on to study at both the University of Bonn and the University of Berlin, where he became interested in the philosophical ideas of the Young Hegelians. Following the completion of his studies, he became a journalist in Cologne, writing for a radical newspaper, the Rheinische Zeitung, where he began to use Hegelian concepts
of dialectical materialism to influence his ideas on socialism. Moving to Paris, France in 1843, he began writing for other radical newspapers, the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher and Vorwärts!, as well as writing a series of books, several of which were co-written with Engels. Exiled to Brussels in Belgium in 1845, he became a leading figure of the Communist League, before moving back to Cologne, where he founded his own newspaper, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Exiled once more, in 1849 he travelled to London, England where, living in poverty, he proceeded to continue writing and formulating his theories about the nature of society and how he believed it could be improved, as well as campaigning for socialism and becoming a significant figure in the International Workingmen’s Association.
Marx’s theories about society, economics and politics, which are collectively known as Marxism, hold that all society progresses through class struggle. He was heavily critical of the current form of society, capitalism, which he called the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, believing it to be run by the wealthy middle and upper classes purely for their own benefit, and predicted that, like previous socioeconomic systems, it would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system, socialism. Under socialism, he argued that society would be governed by the working class in what he called the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, the “workers state” or “workers’ democracy”. He believed that socialism would, in its turn, eventually be replaced by a stateless, classless society called pure communism. Along with believing in the inevitability of socialism and communism, Marx actively fought for the former’s implementation, arguing that both social theorists and underprivileged people should carry out organised revolutionary action to topple capitalism and bring about socio-economic change.
While Marx remained a relatively obscure figure in his own lifetime, his ideas and the ideology of Marxism began to exert a major influence on socialist movements shortly after his death. Revolutionary socialist governments following Marxist concepts took power in a variety of countries in the 20th century, leading to the formation of such socialist states as the Soviet Union in 1922 and the People’s Republic of China in 1949, whilst various theoretical variants, such as Leninism, Trotskyism and Maoism, were developed.