This year is the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth (May 5, 1818). The anniversary is being celebrated throughout the world. It is especially celebrated in Trier, Germany, where Marx was born. China presented the city a large bronze statue of Marx. Trier changed its pedestrian lights to show images of the famous philosopher. Memorabilia available for purchase includes a very popular souvenir 0-EURO bank note with his face printed on the bill. The British Library held exhibitions, and held author talks about him. Publishers published new books about the man and his ideas.
Marx was a 19th-century German philosopher and activist. His ideas had a profound effect on the history of the 20th century The Russian Revolution of 1917 ushered in the first communist government. After World War II, socialism and communism spread across the world.
The focus of Marx’s work was the capitalist system and its flaws. Marx’s two most influential works are:
- The Communist Manifesto, a brief critique of the capitalist system, and
- Das Kapital(Capital) where he expands on his theories.
Frederick Engels, his friend and collaborator, referred to Das Kapital(Capital) as “the Bible of the working class.”
There has been a resurgence of interest recently in Marx’s ideas, but are they still relevant today? Here is some of what he had to say:
He argued for:
- A progressive income tax to help fight income inequality.
- Free education for all children in public schools.
- Abolition of child labor.
He believed the capitalist system:
- Is chaotic, creating cycles of boom and bust.
- Leads to the development of powerful monopolies; as businesses compete against each other in a Darwinian struggle for survival.
- Encourages globalization as businesses seek access to raw materials, new markets, and cheap labor.
- Works to create a “reserve army of labor” so that competition for jobs keeps wages low and profits high.
During the Cold War, the opposing powers of regulatory government and the labor movement helped create a more equal and stable society. Since the end of the Cold War, we have seen the re-emergence of the type of unrestrained capitalism familiar to Marx.
The gap between rich and poor is growing throughout the world. Wealth is becoming more concentrated in the hands of only a few. According to a recent Oxfam report, there are eight men who have the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people in the world. Perhaps it is time to take a fresh look at Marx’s writings and judge for ourselves whether his 19th-century ideas have 21st-century relevance.
If you would like to learn more Karl Marx, click on the link below to access a list of titles both by him, and about him.
This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx (May 5, 1818). Recently, there has been renewed interest in his works in part due to the financial crisis of 2008, and the global recession. Whether you prefer to read Marx’s own writings, or a new title with a fresh perspective on his work; watch a movie of the young Marx working for change in 1840s Europe, or access some free online courses on Das Kapital (Capital); there is something on this list for you. Take the opportunity this year to become reacquainted with the philosopher whose ideas had such a profound influence on the history of the 20th century.