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Karl Marx

Later Work and Life

In 1847 Marx joined the Communist League and with Engels wrote for it the famous Communist Manifesto (1848), which strikingly expressed his general view of the class struggle. The failure of the revolutions of 1848 convinced Marx of the need to stimulate the consciousness and solidarity of the working class through the founding of open revolutionary parties. Exiled from most continental centers, he settled permanently in London in 1849. He lived in poverty, made more bitter by his own chronic illness and the death of several of his children. At times he was able to earn funds as a correspondent for the New York Tribune, but he was continually dependent on Engels for financial aid. Nonetheless, he pursued research in the British Museum and continued to write steadily.

In 1864 Marx helped to found the International Workingmen's Association. Through this First International and through the work of Ferdinand Lassalle and others, Marx's ideas began to gain primacy in European socialist and radical thought. This primacy was greatly furthered with the publication of the first volume of Das Kapital (Vol. I, 1867, tr. 1886; Vol. II–III, ed. by Engels, 1885–94; tr. 1907–9). The manuscript for the fourth volume was edited by Karl Kautsky and published as Theorien über den Mehrwert (3 parts, 1905–10; tr. of 1st part, A History of Economic Theories, 1952). A monumental work, Das Kapital provided a thorough exposition of Marxism and became the foundation of international socialism.

As Marx's reputation spread, so too did public fear of him. He insisted on authoritarian sway within the International, and finally, after controversy with Mikhail Bakunin, virtually destroyed the International for fear of losing control over its direction. He remained the prophet of socialism and was often consulted by the various socialist party leaders. His role was frequently that of urging more hard-minded policies, further removed from bourgeois embellishments; The Gotha Program (1891, tr. 1922), a critique, illustrates this position. The complexity and vituperation of this polemic characterize much of Marx's prose. In his last years Marx's great intellectual vigor continued unabated. The importance of his dialectical method and of his theories goes far beyond their immense political influence; many scholars consider him a great economic theoretician and the founder of economic history and sociology.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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