Karl Marx, in full Karl Heinrich Marx, (born May 5, 1818, Trier, Rhine province, Prussia [Germany]—died March 14, 1883, London, England), revolutionary, sociologist, historian, and economist. He published (with Friedrich Engels) Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (1848), commonly known as The Communist Manifesto, the most celebrated pamphlet in the history of the socialist movement. He also was the author of the movement’s most important book, Das Kapital. These writings and others by Marx and Engels form the basis of the body of thought and belief known as Marxism. (See also socialism; communism.)

Born in Trier, Prussia, in 1818, Karl Marx was the son of a lawyer who had converted from Judaism to Christianity. Marx studied law but became interested in philosophy, in which he gained a PhD from Jena University. In 1842, Marx moved to Cologne and started work as a journalist. He married German theatre critic and political activist Jenny von Westphalen in 1843. His socialist views soon led to censorship, and he fled to Paris with his wife, Jenny. It was in Paris that he met the German-born industrialist Friedrich Engels, with whom he wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848. He moved back to Germany briefly the following year, but when the revolutions were quashed, he left for London, where he spent the rest of his life. There, he devoted his time to writing, notably Capital, and died in poverty in 1883, aged 65, despite continual financial assistance from Engels. 

Marx’s critical theories about society, economics, and politics, collectively understood as Marxism, hold that human societies develop through class conflict. In the capitalist mode of production, this manifests itself in the conflict between the ruling classes (known as the bourgeoisie) that control the means of production and the working classes (known as the proletariat) that enable these means by selling their labour-power in return for wages. Employing a critical approach known as historical materialism, Marx predicted that capitalism produced internal tensions like previous socioeconomic systems and that those would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system known as the socialist mode of production. For Marx, class antagonisms under capitalism—owing in part to its instability and crisis-prone nature—would eventuate the working class’s development of class consciousness, leading to their conquest of political power and eventually the establishment of a classless, communist society constituted by a free association of producers. Marx actively pressed for its implementation, arguing that the working class should carry out organised proletarian revolutionary action to topple capitalism and bring about socio-economic emancipation.

Marx has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history, and his work has been both lauded and criticised. His work in economics laid the basis for some current theories about labour and its relation to capital. Many intellectuals, labour unions, artists, and political parties worldwide have been influenced by Marx’s work, with many modifying or adapting his ideas. Marx is typically cited as one of the principal architects of modern social science.

Key works

1848 Manifesto of the Communist Party (with Friedrich Engels),

1858 Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

1867, 1885, 1894 Capital: A Critique of Political Economy

Link to Karl Marx at the History of Economic Thought Website

Link to Karl Marx at Encyclopedia Britannica

Link to Wikipedia page on Karl Marx