Childhood and early education: 1818–1836
Marx was born on 5 May 1818 to Heinrich Marx (1777–1838) and Henriette Pressburg (1788–1863). He was born at Brückengasse 664 in Trier, a town then part of the Kingdom of Prussia's Province of the Lower Rhine. Marx was ethnically Jewish. His maternal grandfather was a Dutch rabbi, while his paternal line had supplied Trier's rabbis since 1723, a role taken by his grandfather Meier Halevi Marx. His father, as a child known as Herschel, was the first in the line to receive a secular education. He became a lawyer and lived a relatively wealthy and middle-class existence, with his family owning a number of Moselle vineyards. Prior to his son's birth, and after the abrogation of Jewish emancipation in the Rhineland, Herschel converted from Judaism to join the state Evangelical Church of Prussia, taking on the German forename Heinrich over the Yiddish Herschel.
Largely non-religious, Heinrich was a man of the Enlightenment, interested in the ideas of the philosophers Immanuel Kant and Voltaire. A classical liberal, he took part in agitation for a constitution and reforms in Prussia, at that time being an absolute monarchy. In 1815, Heinrich Marx began working as an attorney and in 1819 moved his family to a ten-room property near the Porta Nigra. His wife, Henriette Pressburg, was a Dutch Jewish woman from a prosperous business family that later founded the company Philips Electronics. Her sister Sophie Pressburg (1797–1854) married Lion Philips (1794–1866) and was the grandmother of both Gerard and Anton Philips and great-grandmother to Frits Philips. Lion Philips was a wealthy Dutch tobacco manufacturer and industrialist, upon whom Karl and Jenny Marx would later often come to rely for loans while they were exiled in London.
Little is known of Marx's childhood. The third of nine children, he became the eldest son when his brother Moritz died in 1819. Marx and his surviving siblings, Sophie, Hermann, Henriette, Louise, Emilie and Caroline, were baptised into the Lutheran Church in August 1824 and their mother in November 1825. Marx was privately educated by his father until 1830, when he entered Trier High School, whose headmaster, Hugo Wyttenbach, was a friend of his father. By employing many liberal humanists as teachers, Wyttenbach incurred the anger of the local conservative government. Subsequently, police raided the school in 1832 and discovered that literature espousing political liberalism was being distributed among the students. Considering the distribution of such material a seditious act, the authorities instituted reforms and replaced several staff during Marx's attendance.
In October 1835 at the age of 17, Marx travelled to the University of Bonn wishing to study philosophy and literature, but his father insisted on law as a more practical field. Due to a condition referred to as a "weak chest", Marx was excused from military duty when he turned 18. While at the University at Bonn, Marx joined the Poets' Club, a group containing political radicals that were monitored by the police. Marx also joined the Trier Tavern Club drinking society (German: Landsmannschaft der Treveraner), at one point serving as club co-president. Additionally, Marx was involved in certain disputes, some of which became serious: in August 1836 he took part in a duel with a member of the university's Borussian Korps. Although his grades in the first term were good, they soon deteriorated, leading his father to force a transfer to the more serious and academic University of Berlin.
Hegelianism and early journalism: 1836–1843
Spending summer and autumn 1836 in Trier, Marx became more serious about his studies and his life. He became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, an educated baroness of the Prussian ruling class who had known Marx since childhood. As she had broken off her engagement with a young aristocrat to be with Marx, their relationship was socially controversial owing to the differences between their religious and class origins, but Marx befriended her father Ludwig von Westphalen (a liberal aristocrat) and later dedicated his doctoral thesis to him. Seven years after their engagement, on 19 June 1843, they married in a Protestant church in Kreuznach.
In October 1836, Marx arrived in Berlin, matriculating in the university's faculty of law and renting a room in the Mittelstrasse. During the first term, Marx attended lectures of Eduard Gans (who represented the progressive Hegelian standpoint, elaborated on rational development in history by emphasizing particularly its libertarian aspects, and the importance of social question) and of Karl von Savigny (who represented the Historical School of Law). Although studying law, he was fascinated by philosophy and looked for a way to combine the two, believing that "without philosophy nothing could be accomplished". Marx became interested in the recently deceased German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, whose ideas were then widely debated among European philosophical circles. During a convalescence in Stralau, he joined the Doctor's Club (Doktorklub), a student group which discussed Hegelian ideas, and through them became involved with a group of radical thinkers known as the Young Hegelians in 1837. They gathered around Ludwig Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer, with Marx developing a particularly close friendship with Adolf Rutenberg. Like Marx, the Young Hegelians were critical of Hegel's metaphysical assumptions, but adopted his dialectical method in order to criticise established society, politics and religion from a leftist perspective. Marx's father died in May 1838, resulting in a diminished income for the family. Marx had been emotionally close to his father and treasured his memory after his death.
By 1837, Marx was writing both fiction and non-fiction, having completed a short novel, Scorpion and Felix, a drama, Oulanem, as well as a number of love poems dedicated to Jenny von Westphalen, though none of this early work was published during his lifetime. Marx soon abandoned fiction for other pursuits, including the study of both English and Italian, art history and the translation of Latin classics. He began co-operating with Bruno Bauer on editing Hegel's Philosophy of Religion in 1840. Marx was also engaged in writing his doctoral thesis, The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, which he completed in 1841. It was described as "a daring and original piece of work in which Marx set out to show that theology must yield to the superior wisdom of philosophy". The essay was controversial, particularly among the conservative professors at the University of Berlin. Marx decided instead to submit his thesis to the more liberal University of Jena, whose faculty awarded him his PhD in April 1841. As Marx and Bauer were both atheists, in March 1841 they began plans for a journal entitled Archiv des Atheismus (Atheistic Archives), but it never came to fruition. In July, Marx and Bauer took a trip to Bonn from Berlin. There they scandalised their class by getting drunk, laughing in church and galloping through the streets on donkeys.
Marx was considering an academic career, but this path was barred by the government's growing opposition to classical liberalism and the Young Hegelians. Marx moved to Cologne in 1842, where he became a journalist, writing for the radical newspaper Rheinische Zeitung (Rhineland News), expressing his early views on socialism and his developing interest in economics. Marx criticised right-wing European governments as well as figures in the liberal and socialist movements, whom he thought ineffective or counter-productive. The newspaper attracted the attention of the Prussian government censors, who checked every issue for seditious material before printing, as Marx lamented: "Our newspaper has to be presented to the police to be sniffed at, and if the police nose smells anything un-Christian or un-Prussian, the newspaper is not allowed to appear". After the Rheinische Zeitung published an article strongly criticising the Russian monarchy, Tsar Nicholas I requested it be banned and Prussia's government complied in 1843.
In 1843, Marx became co-editor of a new, radical leftist Parisian newspaper, the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals), then being set up by the German socialist Arnold Ruge to bring together German and French radicals and thus Marx and his wife moved to Paris in October 1843. Initially living with Ruge and his wife communally at 23 Rue Vaneau, they found the living conditions difficult, so moved out following the birth of their daughter Jenny in 1844. Although intended to attract writers from both France and the German states, the Jahrbücher was dominated by the latter and the only non-German writer was the exiled Russian anarchist collectivist Mikhail Bakunin. Marx contributed two essays to the paper, "Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right" and "On the Jewish Question", the latter introducing his belief that the proletariat were a revolutionary force and marking his embrace of communism. Only one issue was published, but it was relatively successful, largely owing to the inclusion of Heinrich Heine's satirical odes on King Ludwig of Bavaria, leading the German states to ban it and seize imported copies (Ruge nevertheless refused to fund the publication of further issues and his friendship with Marx broke down). After the paper's collapse, Marx began writing for the only uncensored German-language radical newspaper left, Vorwärts! (Forward!). Based in Paris, the paper was connected to the League of the Just, a utopian socialist secret society of workers and artisans. Marx attended some of their meetings, but did not join. In Vorwärts!, Marx refined his views on socialism based upon Hegelian and Feuerbachian ideas of dialectical materialism, at the same time criticising liberals and other socialists operating in Europe.
, whom Marx met in 1844; the two became lifelong friends and collaborators.
On 28 August 1844, Marx met the German socialist Friedrich Engels at the Café de la Régence, beginning a lifelong friendship. Engels showed Marx his recently published The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, convincing Marx that the working class would be the agent and instrument of the final revolution in history. Soon, Marx and Engels were collaborating on a criticism of the philosophical ideas of Marx's former friend, Bruno Bauer. This work was published in 1845 as The Holy Family. Although critical of Bauer, Marx was increasingly influenced by the ideas of the Young Hegelians Max Stirner and Ludwig Feuerbach, but eventually Marx and Engels abandoned Feuerbachian materialism as well.
During the time that he lived at 38 Rue Vanneau in Paris (from October 1843 until January 1845), Marx engaged in an intensive study of political economy (Adam Smith, David Ricardo, James Mill, etc.), the French socialists (especially Claude Henri St. Simon and Charles Fourier) and the history of France. The study of political economy is a study that Marx would pursue for the rest of his life and would result in his major economic work—the three-volume series called Capital. Marxism is based in large part on three influences: Hegel's dialectics, French utopian socialism and English economics. Together with his earlier study of Hegel's dialectics, the studying that Marx did during this time in Paris meant that all major components of "Marxism" were in place by the autumn of 1844. Marx was constantly being pulled away from his study of political economy—not only by the usual daily demands of the time, but additionally by editing a radical newspaper and later by organising and directing the efforts of a political party during years of potentially revolutionary popular uprisings of the citizenry. Still Marx was always drawn back to his economic studies: he sought "to understand the inner workings of capitalism".
An outline of "Marxism" had definitely formed in the mind of Karl Marx by late 1844. Indeed, many features of the Marxist view of the world's political economy had been worked out in great detail, but Marx needed to write down all of the details of his economic world view to further clarify the new economic theory in his own mind. Accordingly, Marx wrote The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. These manuscripts covered numerous topics, detailing Marx's concept of alienated labour. However, by the spring of 1845 his continued study of political economy, capital and capitalism had led Marx to the belief that the new political economic theory that he was espousing – scientific socialism – needed to be built on the base of a thoroughly developed materialistic view of the world.
The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 had been written between April and August 1844, but soon Marx recognised that the Manuscripts had been influenced by some inconsistent ideas of Ludwig Feuerbach. Accordingly, Marx recognised the need to break with Feuerbach's philosophy in favour of historical materialism, thus a year later (in April 1845) after moving from Paris to Brussels, Marx wrote his eleven "Theses on Feuerbach". The "Theses on Feuerbach" are best known for Thesis 11, which states that "philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it". This work contains Marx's criticism of materialism (for being contemplative), idealism (for reducing practice to theory) overall, criticising philosophy for putting abstract reality above the physical world. It thus introduced the first glimpse at Marx's historical materialism, an argument that the world is changed not by ideas but by actual, physical, material activity and practice. In 1845, after receiving a request from the Prussian king, the French government shut down Vorwärts!, with the interior minister, François Guizot, expelling Marx from France. At this point, Marx moved from Paris to Brussels, where Marx hoped to once again continue his study of capitalism and political economy.
Unable either to stay in France or to move to Germany, Marx decided to emigrate to Brussels in Belgium in February 1845. However, to stay in Belgium he had to pledge not to publish anything on the subject of contemporary politics. In Brussels, Marx associated with other exiled socialists from across Europe, including Moses Hess, Karl Heinzen and Joseph Weydemeyer. In April 1845, Engels moved from Barmen in Germany to Brussels to join Marx and the growing cadre of members of the League of the Just now seeking home in Brussels. Later, Mary Burns, Engels' long-time companion, left Manchester, England to join Engels in Brussels.
In mid-July 1845, Marx and Engels left Brussels for England to visit the leaders of the Chartists, a socialist movement in Britain. This was Marx's first trip to England and Engels was an ideal guide for the trip. Engels had already spent two years living in Manchester from November 1842 to August 1844. Not only did Engels already know the English language, he had also developed a close relationship with many Chartist leaders. Indeed, Engels was serving as a reporter for many Chartist and socialist English newspapers. Marx used the trip as an opportunity to examine the economic resources available for study in various libraries in London and Manchester.
In collaboration with Engels, Marx also set about writing a book which is often seen as his best treatment of the concept of historical materialism, The German Ideology. In this work, Marx broke with Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner and the rest of the Young Hegelians, while he also broke with Karl Grun and other "true socialists" whose philosophies were still based in part on "idealism". In German Ideology, Marx and Engels finally completed their philosophy, which was based solely on materialism as the sole motor force in history. German Ideology is written in a humorously satirical form, but even this satirical form did not save the work from censorship. Like so many other early writings of his, German Ideology would not be published in Marx's lifetime and would be published only in 1932.
After completing German Ideology, Marx turned to a work that was intended to clarify his own position regarding "the theory and tactics" of a truly "revolutionary proletarian movement" operating from the standpoint of a truly "scientific materialist" philosophy. This work was intended to draw a distinction between the utopian socialists and Marx's own scientific socialist philosophy. Whereas the utopians believed that people must be persuaded one person at a time to join the socialist movement, the way a person must be persuaded to adopt any different belief, Marx knew that people would tend on most occasions to act in accordance with their own economic interests, thus appealing to an entire class (the working class in this case) with a broad appeal to the class's best material interest would be the best way to mobilise the broad mass of that class to make a revolution and change society. This was the intent of the new book that Marx was planning, but to get the manuscript past the government censors he called the book The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) and offered it as a response to the "petty bourgeois philosophy" of the French anarchist socialist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon as expressed in his book The Philosophy of Poverty (1840).
Marx, Engels and Marx's daughters
These books laid the foundation for Marx and Engels's most famous work, a political pamphlet that has since come to be commonly known as The Communist Manifesto. While residing in Brussels in 1846, Marx continued his association with the secret radical organisation League of the Just. As noted above, Marx thought the League to be just the sort of radical organisation that was needed to spur the working class of Europe toward the mass movement that would bring about a working class revolution. However, to organise the working class into a mass movement the League had to cease its "secret" or "underground" orientation and operate in the open as a political party. Members of the League eventually became persuaded in this regard. Accordingly, in June 1847 the League was reorganised by its membership into a new open "above ground" political society that appealed directly to the working classes. This new open political society was called the Communist League. Both Marx and Engels participated in drawing up the programme and organisational principles of the new Communist League.
In late 1847, Marx and Engels began writing what was to become their most famous work – a programme of action for the Communist League. Written jointly by Marx and Engels from December 1847 to January 1848, The Communist Manifesto was first published on 21 February 1848. The Communist Manifesto laid out the beliefs of the new Communist League. No longer a secret society, the Communist League wanted to make aims and intentions clear to the general public rather than hiding its beliefs as the League of the Just had been doing. The opening lines of the pamphlet set forth the principal basis of Marxism: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles". It goes on to examine the antagonisms that Marx claimed were arising in the clashes of interest between the bourgeoisie (the wealthy capitalist class) and the proletariat (the industrial working class). Proceeding on from this, the Manifesto presents the argument for why the Communist League, as opposed to other socialist and liberal political parties and groups at the time, was truly acting in the interests of the proletariat to overthrow capitalist society and to replace it with socialism.
Later that year, Europe experienced a series of protests, rebellions and often violent upheavals that became known as the Revolutions of 1848. In France, a revolution led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the French Second Republic. Marx was supportive of such activity and having recently received a substantial inheritance from his father (withheld by his uncle Lionel Philips since his father's death in 1838) of either 6,000 or 5,000 francs he allegedly used a third of it to arm Belgian workers who were planning revolutionary action. Although the veracity of these allegations is disputed, the Belgian Ministry of Justice accused Marx of it, subsequently arresting him and he was forced to flee back to France, where with a new republican government in power he believed that he would be safe.
Temporarily settling down in Paris, Marx transferred the Communist League executive headquarters to the city and also set up a
German Workers' Club with various German socialists living there. Hoping to see the revolution spread to Germany, in 1848 Marx moved back to Cologne where he began issuing a handbill entitled the Demands of the Communist Party in Germany, in which he argued for only four of the ten points of the Communist Manifesto, believing that in Germany at that time the bourgeoisie must overthrow the feudal monarchy and aristocracy before the proletariat could overthrow the bourgeoisie. On 1 June, Marx started publication of a daily newspaper, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, which he helped to finance through his recent inheritance from his father. Designed to put forward news from across Europe with his own Marxist interpretation of events, the newspaper featured Marx as a primary writer and the dominant editorial influence. Despite contributions by fellow members of the Communist League, according to Friedrich Engels it remained "a simple dictatorship by Marx".
Whilst editor of the paper, Marx and the other revolutionary socialists were regularly harassed by the police and Marx was brought to trial on several occasions, facing various allegations including insulting the Chief Public Prosecutor, committing a press misdemeanor and inciting armed rebellion through tax boycotting, although each time he was acquitted. Meanwhile, the democratic parliament in Prussia collapsed and the king, Frederick William IV, introduced a new cabinet of his reactionary supporters, who implemented counter-revolutionary measures to expunge leftist and other revolutionary elements from the country. Consequently, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was soon suppressed and Marx was ordered to leave the country on 16 May. Marx returned to Paris, which was then under the grip of both a reactionary counter-revolution and a cholera epidemic and was soon expelled by the city authorities, who considered him a political threat. With his wife Jenny expecting their fourth child and not able to move back to Germany or Belgium, in August 1849 he sought refuge in London.
Move to London and further writing: 1850–1860
Marx moved to London in early June 1849 and would remain based in the city for the rest of his life. The headquarters of the Communist League also moved to London. However, in the winter of 1849–1850 a split within the ranks of the Communist League occurred when a faction within it led by August Willich and Karl Schapper began agitating for an immediate uprising. Willich and Schapper believed that once the Communist League had initiated the uprising, the entire working class from across Europe would rise "spontaneously" to join it, thus creating revolution across Europe. Marx and Engels protested that such an unplanned uprising on the part of the Communist League was "adventuristic" and would be suicide for the Communist League. Such an uprising as that recommended by the Schapper/Willich group would easily be crushed by the police and the armed forces of the reactionary governments of Europe. Marx maintained that this would spell doom for the Communist League itself, arguing that changes in society are not achieved overnight through the efforts and will power of a handful of men. They are instead brought about through a scientific analysis of economic conditions of society and by moving toward revolution through different stages of social development. In the present stage of development (circa 1850), following the defeat of the uprisings across Europe in 1848 he felt that the Communist League should encourage the working class to unite with progressive elements of the rising bourgeoisie to defeat the feudal aristocracy on issues involving demands for governmental reforms, such as a constitutional republic with freely elected assemblies and universal (male) suffrage. In other words, the working class must join with bourgeois and democratic forces to bring about the successful conclusion of the bourgeois revolution before stressing the working class agenda and a working class revolution.
After a long struggle which threatened to ruin the Communist League, Marx's opinion prevailed and eventually the Willich/Schapper group left the Communist League. Meanwhile, Marx also became heavily involved with the socialist German Workers' Educational Society. The Society held their meetings in Great Windmill Street, Soho, central London's entertainment district. This organisation was also racked by an internal struggle between its members, some of whom followed Marx while others followed the Schapper/Willich faction. The issues in this internal split were the same issues raised in the internal split within the Communist League, but Marx lost the fight with the Schapper/Willich faction within the German Workers' Educational Society and on 17 September 1850 resigned from the Society.
New-York Daily Tribune and journalism
In the early period in London, Marx committed himself almost exclusively to revolutionary activities, such that his family endured extreme poverty. His main source of income was Engels, whose own source was his wealthy industrialist father. In Prussia as editor of his own newspaper, and contributor to others ideologically aligned, Marx could reach his audience, the working classes. In London, without finances to run a newspaper themselves, he and Engels turned to international journalism. At one stage they were being published by six newspapers from England, the United States, Prussia, Austria and South Africa. Marx's principal earnings came from his work as European correspondent, from 1852 to 1862, for the New-York Daily Tribune,:17 and from also producing articles for more "bourgeois" newspapers. Marx had his articles translated from German by
Wilhelm Pieper , until his proficiency in English had become adequate.
The New-York Daily Tribune had been founded in April 1841 by Horace Greeley. Its editorial board contained progressive bourgeois journalists and publishers, among them George Ripley and the journalist Charles Dana, who was editor-in-chief. Dana, a fourierist and an abolitionist, was Marx's contact.
The Tribune was a vehicle for Marx to reach a transatlantic public to make a "hidden war" to Henry Charles Carey. The journal had wide working-class appeal from its foundation; at two cents, it was inexpensive; and, with about 50,000 copies per issue, its circulation was the widest in the United States.:14 Its editorial ethos was progressive and its anti-slavery stance reflected Greeley's.:82 Marx's first article for the paper, on the British parliamentary elections, was published on 21 August 1852.
On 21 March 1857 Dana informed Marx that, due to the economic recession, only one article a week would be paid for, published or not; the others would be paid for only if published. Marx had sent his articles on Tuesdays and Fridays, but, that October, the Tribune discharged all its correspondents in Europe except Marx and B. Taylor, and reduced Marx to a weekly article. Between September and November 1860, only five were published. After a six-month interval, Marx resumed contributions in September 1861 until March 1862, when Dana wrote to inform him that there was no longer space in the Tribune for reports from London, due to American domestic affairs.
In 1868, Dana set up a rival newspaper, the New York Sun, at which he was editor-in-chief.
In April 1857, Dana invited Marx to contribute articles, mainly on military history, to the New American Cyclopedia, an idea of George Ripley, Dana's friend and literary editor of the Tribune. In all, 67 Marx-Engels articles were published, of which 51 were written by Engels, although Marx did some research for them in the British Museum.
By the late 1850s, American popular interest in European affairs waned and Marx's articles turned to topics such as the "slavery crisis" and the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, in the "War Between the States".
Between December 1851 and March 1852, Marx worked on his theoretical work about the French Revolution of 1848, titled The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. In this he explored concepts in historical materialism, class struggle, dictatorship of the proletariat, and victory of the proletariat over the bourgeois state.
The 1850s and 1860s may be said to mark a philosophical boundary distinguishing the young Marx's Hegelian idealism and the more mature Marx's scientific ideology associated with structural Marxism; however, not all scholars accept this distinction. For Marx and Engels, their experience of the Revolutions of 1848 to 1849 were formative in the development of their theory of economics and historical progression. After the "failures" of 1848, the revolutionary impetus appeared spent and not to be renewed without an economic recession. Contention arose between Marx and his fellow communists, whom he denounced as "adventurists". Marx deemed it fanciful to propose that "will power" could be sufficient to create the revolutionary conditions when in reality the economic component was the necessary requisite.
Recession in the United States' economy in 1852 gave Marx and Engels grounds for optimism for revolutionary activity. Yet, this economy was seen as too immature for a capitalist revolution. Open territories on America's western frontier dissipated the forces of social unrest. Moreover, any economic crisis arising in the United States would not lead to revolutionary contagion of the older economies of individual European nations, which were closed systems bounded by their national borders. When the so-called "Panic of 1857" in the United States spread globally, it broke all economic theory models, and was the first truly global economic crisis.
Financial necessity had forced Marx to abandon economic studies in 1844 and give thirteen years to working on other projects. He had always sought to return to economics.
The First International and Capital
Marx continued to write articles for the New York Daily Tribune as long as he was sure that the Tribune's editorial policy was still progressive. However, the departure of Charles Dana from the paper in late 1861 and the resultant change in the editorial board brought about a new editorial policy. No longer was the Tribune to be a strong abolitionist paper dedicated to a complete Union victory. The new editorial board supported an immediate peace between the Union and the Confederacy in the Civil War in the United States with slavery left intact in the Confederacy. Marx strongly disagreed with this new political position and in 1863 was forced to withdraw as a writer for the Tribune.
In 1864, Marx became involved in the International Workingmen's Association (also known as the First International), to whose General Council he was elected at its inception in 1864. In that organisation, Marx was involved in the struggle against the anarchist wing centred on Mikhail Bakunin (1814–1876). Although Marx won this contest, the transfer of the seat of the General Council from London to New York in 1872, which Marx supported, led to the decline of the International. The most important political event during the existence of the International was the Paris Commune of 1871, when the citizens of Paris rebelled against their government and held the city for two months. In response to the bloody suppression of this rebellion, Marx wrote one of his most famous pamphlets, "The Civil War in France", a defence of the Commune.
Given the repeated failures and frustrations of workers' revolutions and movements, Marx also sought to understand capitalism and spent a great deal of time in the reading room of the British Museum studying and reflecting on the works of political economists and on economic data. By 1857, Marx had accumulated over 800 pages of notes and short essays on capital, landed property, wage labour, the state and foreign trade and the world market, though this work did not appear in print until 1939 under the title Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy.
Finally in 1859, Marx published A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, his first serious economic work. This work was intended merely as a preview of his three-volume Das Kapital (English title: Capital: Critique of Political Economy), which he intended to publish at a later date. In A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx expands on the labour theory of value advocated by David Ricardo. The work was enthusiastically received, and the edition sold out quickly.
The successful sales of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy stimulated Marx in the early 1860s to finish work on the three large volumes that would compose his major life's work – Das Kapital and the Theories of Surplus Value, which discussed the theoreticians of political economy, particularly Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Theories of Surplus Value is often referred to as the fourth volume of Das Kapital and constitutes one of the first comprehensive treatises on the history of economic thought. In 1867, the first volume of Das Kapital was published, a work which analysed the capitalist process of production. Here Marx elaborated his labour theory of value, which had been influenced by Thomas Hodgskin. Marx acknowledged Hodgskin's "admirable work" Labour Defended against the Claims of Capital at more than one point in Capital. Indeed, Marx quoted Hodgskin as recognising the alienation of labour that occurred under modern capitalist production. No longer was there any "natural reward of individual labour. Each labourer produces only some part of a whole, and each part having no value or utility of itself, there is nothing on which the labourer can seize, and say: 'This is my product, this will I keep to myself'". In this first volume of Capital, Marx outlined his conception of surplus value and exploitation, which he argued would ultimately lead to a falling rate of profit and the collapse of industrial capitalism. Demand for a Russian language edition of Capital soon led to the printing of 3,000 copies of the book in the Russian language, which was published on 27 March 1872. By the autumn of 1871, the entire first edition of the German language edition of Capital had been sold out and a second edition was published.
Volumes II and III of Capital remained mere manuscripts upon which Marx continued to work for the rest of his life. Both volumes were published by Engels after Marx's death. Volume II of Capital was prepared and published by Engels in July 1893 under the name Capital II: The Process of Circulation of Capital. Volume III of Capital was published a year later in October 1894 under the name Capital III: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole. Theories of Surplus Value derived from the sprawling Economic Manuscripts of 1861–1863, a second draft for Capital, the latter spanning volumes 30–34 of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels. Specifically, Theories of Surplus Value runs from the latter part of the Collected Works' thirtieth volume through the end of their thirty-second volume; meanwhile, the larger Economic Manuscripts of 1861–1863 run from the start of the Collected Works' thirtieth volume through the first half of their thirty-fourth volume. The latter half of the Collected Works' thirty-fourth volume consists of the surviving fragments of the Economic Manuscripts of 1863–1864, which represented a third draft for Capital, and a large portion of which is included as an appendix to the Penguin edition of Capital, volume I. A German language abridged edition of Theories of Surplus Value was published in 1905 and in 1910. This abridged edition was translated into English and published in 1951 in London, but the complete unabridged edition of Theories of Surplus Value was published as the "fourth volume" of Capital in 1963 and 1971 in Moscow.
During the last decade of his life, Marx's health declined and he became incapable of the sustained effort that had characterised his previous work. He did manage to comment substantially on contemporary politics, particularly in Germany and Russia. His Critique of the Gotha Programme opposed the tendency of his followers Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel to compromise with the state socialism of Ferdinand Lassalle in the interests of a united socialist party. This work is also notable for another famous Marx quote: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need".
In a letter to Vera Zasulich dated 8 March 1881, Marx contemplated the possibility of Russia's bypassing the capitalist stage of development and building communism on the basis of the common ownership of land characteristic of the village mir. While admitting that Russia's rural "commune is the fulcrum of social regeneration in Russia", Marx also warned that in order for the mir to operate as a means for moving straight to the socialist stage without a preceding capitalist stage it "would first be necessary to eliminate the deleterious influences which are assailing it (the rural commune) from all sides". Given the elimination of these pernicious influences, Marx allowed that "normal conditions of spontaneous development" of the rural commune could exist. However, in the same letter to Vera Zasulich he points out that "at the core of the capitalist system ... lies the complete separation of the producer from the means of production". In one of the drafts of this letter, Marx reveals his growing passion for anthropology, motivated by his belief that future communism would be a return on a higher level to the communism of our prehistoric past. He wrote that "the historical trend of our age is the fatal crisis which capitalist production has undergone in the European and American countries where it has reached its highest peak, a crisis that will end in its destruction, in the return of modern society to a higher form of the most archaic type – collective production and appropriation". He added that "the vitality of primitive communities was incomparably greater than that of Semitic, Greek, Roman, etc. societies, and, a fortiori, that of modern capitalist societies". Before he died, Marx asked Engels to write up these ideas, which were published in 1884 under the title The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.