How did Marx’s ideas develop over time? Discuss with examples?


Born in 1818 in Trier, a prominent town in the Rhine province of Prussia, Karl Marx grew up amidst practically the last phase of capitalist transition in Europe.

While elaborating the nature and conditions of capital and labor in his Paris Manuscripts, Marx indicated three aspects of labour’s alienation, viz. (1) that from the material, objective product of his work, (2) that from the labourer’s work activity itself, and (3) that from other fellow human beings. Considering the date of the Paris Manuscripts, it appears that Marx did not consider the effects of capital-labour production relation (the term production relation not used in Paris Manuscripts), only in terms of the sphere of production.

He pointed to its envelopment of the entire framework of capitalist social relationship (i.e. alienation of human beings from one another). Thus, capitalism brings about a kind of alienation that violates the very nature of man as a species-being.


For Marx, all this had to be comprehended not merely as an image of capitalist evils. He was bent on arriving at a theoretical understanding which would clarify the reality of capitalism as a historical stage subject to its own contradictions. Such contradictions have to be appropriately resolved for any transition to socialism. The historical course towards socialism would depend on discerning the nature of those contradictions and their bearing upon the negation of capitalism.

During his student days at the Bonn and Berlin universities, particularly at the latter, Marx was largely influenced by the method and range of Hegelian philosophy. He joined the ‘Young Hegelians’ whose interpretation of Hegelian philosophy and criticism of Christian thought presented a kind of bourgeois democratic thought and political interest. Friedrich Engels (1820-95) met Marx in 1844 and they became life-long friends and collaborators.

Both of them were critical of the idealist philosophical position of ‘Young Hegelians’ and emphasized the need for investigating material social relations at the roots of the spiritual life of society. The Holy Family or the Critique of Critical Critique (1845), jointly written by Marx and Engels, launched a piercing attack on philosophical idealism. The ‘Young Hegelians’ were facetiously named the ‘Holy Family’.

The book upheld the position of the Enlightenment philosophers for their emphasis on empirical test of truth. At the same time, the dialectical method was rigorously applied to arrive at an adequate idea of changing social relations and also that of recognizing the proletariat as the gravedigger of capitalism.


Capitalist private property necessarily creates its own antagonist in the proletariat. And as private property grows, the proletariat develops as its negation, a dehumanized force becoming the precondition of a synthesis to do away with both capital and wage labor in opposition to each other.

The German Ideology was the next joint work of Marx and Engels. Though written in 1845, the book could not be published in their lifetime. It appeared for the first time in the Soviet Union in 1932. In his preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), Marx referred to The German Ideology (still unpublished) as an effort to settle accounts with their previous philosophical conscience.

In addition to their critique of idealism, Marx and Engels exposed the contemplative nature of Feuerbach’s materialism which failed to consider really existing active men as they live and work in the midst of any particular socio-economic formation. The German Ideology provided for the first time the ideas of historical stages in relation to class struggle and social consciousness to help our comprehension of movements in history.

Marx’s These on Feuerbach (written in 1845) was found in his notebook and was first published as an appendix to Engel’s Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy (1888). Later it was also an appendix to The German Ideology when the latter had been released as a book. Altogether we have eleven theses commenting, step by step, on the limitations of idealism and earlier versions of materialism (that of Feuerbach included) for not properly understanding the kind of dialectical interaction between human social beings and their surrounding circumstances.


The position of idealism is caught up in abstractions without appropriate cognizance of the realities of human social living. On the other hand, earlier materialism could regard human beings only as creatures of their circumstances, failing to recognize the role of human sensuous activity in the making of circumstances. Marx’s position was memorably expressed in his eleventh thesis, which was as well the last aphorism of the series, ‘the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point however is to change it.’

The Communist Correspondence Committee set up by Marx and Engels in 1845-46 started working in places like London and Paris. A preliminary conference of those committees held in the summer of 1847 in London took the decision to unite in a body. A second meeting held in November-December, in London, named the united body as the Communist League and commissioned Karl Marx to prepare a manifesto of the Communist Party. It would then be published by the League.

The Communist Manifesto (1848) appeared to be jointly authored by Marx and Engels from the two names on its title page. Later, Engels pointed out that the basic thought belonged solely and exclusively to Marx and the actual writing was done by Marx. It has four sections.

The first section, (viz. Bourgeois and Proletarians), gives a history of society as a succession of class societies and struggle. The laws of social development are manifest in the replacement of one mode of production by another. The second section, (viz. Proletarian and Communists), turns on the supersession of capitalism in the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat led by the communists. The communists differ from other working class groups. But they are not opposed to such groups.


The communists are distinguished for their being international and fully conscious of the role of the proletarian movement. Rejecting the bourgeois objections to communism, this chapter gives an outline of the measures to be adopted by the victorious proletariat after seizing power and mentions and need and relevance of the dictatorship of the proletariats.

The third chapter, (viz. Socialist and Communist literature), contains an extended criticism of the doctrines of socialism. The reactionary, bourgeois types are merely examples of feudal atavism and bourgeois and petty bourgeois man oeuvres masquerading behind some pretensions of socialism. Some Utopian socialists may be sincere in their moral sentiments and disapproval of capitalism. But they are misleading in their search for a way out of the realities of capitalist exploitation. The forth chapter, (viz. attitude of the communists towards the various opposition parties) sets forth the communist tactics in their dealing with the various opposition parties.

This would certainly depend on the position of a party in regard to the stage of development of its particular country and society. The Manifesto concluded with the slogan- ‘Working men of all countries unite!’ The distinction of Marx’s thought is clear from the contrast in the tenor of this slogan from that of the motto-‘All men are brother’-used by Fraternal Democrats, and earlier international society including Chartists and European political exiles in London.

Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy (1847) in French. The book was directed against Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-65), a French political figure, philosopher, sociologist, and economist, who considered the history of society as the struggle of ideas and believed in achieving ‘just exchanges’ between capitalist commodity producers through the device of an ideal organization.


The book gave a definite impression of Marx’s unrelenting effort to have a fuller understanding of the capitalist mode of production. He was engaged in looking for a theoretical result that would combine the structural observations of classical political economy with dialectical comprehension of a society changing under the pressure of its contradictions in the process of history.

Among many other assignments and responsibilities including the day-to-day work of the Communist League to organize the working people of Europe, Marx never neglected his project for the critique of political economy. He could see its necessity for bearing out the rationale for scientific socialism. This is where the seven notebooks written by Marx in 1857-58, now known as Grundrisse (Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy) – first English edition in Pelican Marx Library, Harmondsworth, England, in 1973, trs. Martin Nicolaus – bring out the precious point that the question of historical transition from capitalism to socialism can be answered in all fitness by formulating Ricardo’s ideas of political economy with Hegelian language and Hegel’s ideas of historical movement with Ricardian language.

In his analysis of capitalist economic development Ricardo discovered ‘the disharmonious’ tendencies in the processes. But for him, capitalism was an immutable natural system, which could not be changed under any circumstances. On the other hand, Hegelian dialectics had a dynamic view of society, but could not discern the real core of contradiction in the material life of society.

Marx combined Hegelian dialectics with his critical study of political economy and arrived at an understanding of historical supersession of capitalism by socialism. For Marx, such a fusion of economic and philosophical thoughts started with the Paris Manuscripts of 1844. In Grundrisse, it reached the point of articulating that the politico-economic interpretation of capitalism is fulfilled in the proletarian praxis of revolutionary transformation.

Following the point of arrival in his articulation of historical materialism, Marx’s immediate concern was to interpret the contradiction of the capitalist social formation. No doubt, the veracity of a new theory of social change is closely linked to the evidence of the present as history.

The economics of the capitalist mode of production is the subject matter of Marx’s Capital, which Marx considered to be his lifework. Its first volume was published in 1867; the second and the third volumes were posthumously published in 1885 and 1894 •respectively, under the editorial supervision of Engels.

The first volume gives us a logical elaboration of capital-labour relationship at a level of abstraction and in analytical forms that can best crystallize the most significant structural characteristic and dynamic tendencies of the capitalist system. The second and the third volumes deal with the realities of capitalism on a much lesser level of abstraction and in terms of concrete things and happenings. Their areas are circulation of capital (vol. 2) and then the process of capitalist production as a whole (vol. 3).

The Theories of Surplus:

Value (1862-63) (often mentioned as the fourth volume of Capital) turned upon the historical substantiation of Marx’s theory in the light of other earlier and contemporary writings on Political Economy.

Marx points to the source of profits in a competitive capitalist economy. The value of a commodity is determined by socially necessary labour time necessary to produce it. Labour power is a commodity as well as exchanged for wages. The value of labour power (i.e. wages) is equal to the value of what is needed for the subsistence and maintenance of a worker and his family. The peculiarity of labour power as a commodity is that it can create more value than what is paid in wages as its value.

This difference between the values produced by labour power and its wages is surplus value. Surplus value accrues to the capitalist employer and here lies the source of profits. Larger and larger accumulation out of these profits is the main aim of capitalist production. More and more accumulation results in the advance of productive forces and increased productivity.

It also leads to centralization of capital. In Marx’s words, ‘one capitalist always kills many’. Many capitalists are knocked out by the working of competition. All this is associated with cumulative increase of misery, oppression, slavery and degradation.

The conditions become rife for the revolt of the working class. The advance of productive forces can no longer be compatible with the insatiable urge of capital to maximize profits at the expense of the proletariat. The tendencies towards a falling rate of profit and also that of overproduction (i.e. inadequate market demand for what is produced) appear as symptoms of capitalist crisis. The issues relating to profit rate and overproduction are analyzed in some details in the third volume of Capital.

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