Marx, Karl 1818–1883

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Karl Marx

Karl Marx was the author of the profoundly influential Communist Manifesto (1848) and Capital (vol. 1, 1867; vols. 2–3 posthumous). In his theory, often called historical materialism, class struggle over the organization of labor, and appropriation of its products, is the central historical dynamic that leads society from one stage to another. Earlier stages included primitive communism, slavery, and feudalism. Marx described modern society as capitalism. Capitalists had a monopoly over the means of production, whereas proletarians (wage earners) produced unpaid surplus labor, the source of capitalist profits. World trade created new markets and helped realize these profits, transforming commodities into money. While many German progressives favored protection of domestic industries, Marx supported free trade, to hasten the development of capitalism and precipitate proletarian revolution that would lead to the next stage, socialism or collective control of production (with full communism a distant prospect).

For Marx, European capitalism emerged from feudalism through "primitive accumulation," dispossessing peasants and artisans of land and tools. World trade (e.g., wool and textiles) stimulated this process. Later Marxists (Maurice Dobb, Paul Sweezy) debated whether trade initiated changes in social relations or responded to them.

In precapitalist areas such as nineteenth-century India, trade and competition from (then) cheaper European manufactured goods dissolved the traditional village community that had combined handicrafts and agriculture. The integration of these regions into the world market was described as imperialism (Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg). Contemporary globalization changes the division of labor among old and newly industrialized economies.

SEE ALSO China; Cuba; Engels, Friedrich; Germany; Korea;Socialism and Communism;Russia.


Avineri, Shlomo, ed. Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernisation. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1969.

Carver, Terrell, ed. Cambridge Companion to Karl Marx. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Marx, Karl. Capital, vols. 1–3. New York: International Publishers, 1967.

Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto, ed. Gareth Stedman Jones. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 2002.

Douglas Moggach