In this essay, I intend to address how Marx’s ideas were formulated, after which I will move onto an outline of his theory of historical materialism which in turn relates to his theory of history, the focus of this work, starting with the idea of feudalism then moving onto the change to capitalism (and a critique thereof) and eventually the future move towards communism.
Karl Marx, son of lawyer Heinrich, was born and educated in Prussia, Germany. He was educated at the University of Bonn where he studied Law, later moving on to the University of Berlin, upon the request of his father. It was in Berlin, that Marx became involved with a group known as the ‘Young Hegelians’ and Bruno Bauer under who’s influence, Marx “seized on orthodox religion as the chief illusion standing in the way of human self-understanding.”
From this, Marx and the other Young Hegelians formed a critique of religion based on Hegel’s ideas in the ‘Phenomenology’, although they came to somewhat more radical conclusions, “to criticise religion and show human beings that God is their own creation, thus ending the subordination of humanity to God and the alienation of human beings from their own true nature.” This critique was seen as an attempt to combat organised religion and to liberate humanity.
1841 saw the publication of ‘The Essence of Christianity’, a work by Ludwig Feuerbach who argued that God is the creation of man (the essence of the human species) and that God’s qualities including wisdom, love and benevolence are in fact, attributes of humanity, yet we attribute them to God. So by creating God in our image, humanity had alienated itself from itself, (leaving humanity as a lower, lesser version of the image of God) what we believe of God is really true of ourselves and humanity can regain what religion has forced out of us.
It was Feuerbach’s later works, particularly his critique of Hegel, that interested Marx the most, “Hegel had taken Mind as the moving force in history, and humans as manifestations of Mind. This locates the essence of humanity outside human beings and thus, like religion, serves to alienate humanity from itself”.
Marx’s earlier work focused on human freedom and alienation but concerning Marx’s account of social and political change in history, it is not possible to cite one source as “Marx never spelt out his ...
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...ning this new area, “Marx shattered the assumption that our intellectual and spiritual lives are entirely independent of our economic existence” .
In conclusion, communism was Marx’s ideal, he expected it in his lifetime yet over a century after he died, the revolution hasn’t happened and doesn’t look like it is going to. Many countries have claimed to follow in Marx’s teachings but their versions of communism have fallen short of what he wanted, it remains unclear as to whether the revolution will ever come.
‘Why Read Marx Today?’ by Jonathan Wilff (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2002)
‘Marx’ by Peter Singer (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1980)
‘Karl Marx: Selected Writings’ (Second Edition) by David McLellan (Oxford University Press, Oxford: 2000)
‘Marx, A Clear Guide’ by Edward Reiss (Pluto Press, Chicago: 1997)
‘Interpretations of Marx’ by Tom Bottomore (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford: 1988)
‘A History of Modern Political Thought’ by Iain Hampsher-Monk (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford: 1992)
http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/philosophy/history/marx_historical_materialism.html (16th May 2005, ‘Marx and Historical Materialism’)
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