Karl Marx Essay Research Paper Essay on

Karl Marx Essay, Research Paper Essay on Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx was the oldest surviving boy of nine children. His father, Heinrich, a successful lawyer, was a man of the

Karl Marx Essay, Research Paper

Essay on Karl Marx

Karl Heinrich Marx was the oldest surviving boy of nine children.

His father, Heinrich, a successful lawyer, was a man of the

Enlightenment, devoted to Kant and Voltaire, who took part in

agitations for a constitution in Prussia. His mother, born Henrietta

Pressburg, was from Holland. Both parents were Jewish and were

descended from a long line of rabbis, but, a year or so before Karl

was born, his father–probably because his professional career

required it–was baptized in the Evangelical Established Church.

Karl was baptized when he was six years old. Although as a youth

Karl was influenced less by religion than by the critical, sometimes

radical social policies of the Enlightenment, his Jewish background

exposed him to prejudice and discrimination that may have led him

to question the role of religion in society and contributed to his

desire for social change.

Marx was educated from 1830 to 1835 at the high school in Trier.

Suspected of harbouring liberal teachers and pupils, the school was

under police surveillance. Marx’s writings during this period

exhibited a spirit of Christian devotion and a longing for self-sacrifice

on behalf of humanity. In October 1835 he matriculated at the

University of Bonn. The courses he attended were exclusively in the

humanities, in such subjects as Greek and Roman mythology and the

history of art. He participated in customary student activities, fought

a duel, and spent a day in jail for being drunk and disorderly. He

presided at the Tavern Club, which was at odds with the more

aristocratic student associations, and joined a poets’ club that

included some political activists. A politically rebellious student

culture was, indeed, part of life at Bonn. Many students had been

arrested; some were still being expelled in Marx’s time, particularly

as a result of an effort by students to disrupt a session of the Federal

Diet at Frankfurt. Marx, however, left Bonn after a year and in

October 1836 enrolled at the University of Berlin to study law and


Marx’s crucial experience at Berlin was his introduction to Hegel’s

philosophy, regnant there, and his adherence to the Young

Hegelians. At first he felt a repugnance toward Hegel’s doctrines;

when Marx fell sick it was partially, as he wrote his father, “from

intense vexation at having to make an idol of a view I detested.” The

Hegelian pressure in the revolutionary student culture was powerful,

however, and Marx joined a society called the Doctor Club, whose

members were intensely involved in the new literary and

philosophical movement. Their chief figure was Bruno Bauer, a

young lecturer in theology, who was developing the idea that the

Christian Gospels were a record not of history but of human

fantasies arising from emotional needs and that Jesus had not been a

historical person. Marx enrolled in a course of lectures given by

Bauer on the prophet Isaiah. Bauer taught that a new social

catastrophe “more tremendous” than that of the advent of

Christianity was in the making. The Young Hegelians began moving

rapidly toward atheism and also talked vaguely of political action.

The Prussian government, fearful of the subversion latent in the

Young Hegelians, soon undertook to drive them from the

universities. Bauer was dismissed from his post in 1839. Marx’s

“most intimate friend” of this period, Adolph Rutenberg, an older

journalist who had served a prison sentence for his political

radicalism, pressed for a deeper social involvement. By 1841 the

Young Hegelians had become left republicans. Marx’s studies,

meanwhile, were lagging. Urged by his friends, he submitted a

doctoral dissertation to the university at Jena, which was known to

be lax in its academic requirements, and received his degree in April

1841. His thesis analyzed in a Hegelian fashion the difference

between the natural philosophies of Democritus and Epicurus. More

distinctively, it sounded a note of Promethean defiance:

Philosophy makes no secret of it. Prometheus’

admission: “In sooth all gods I hate,” is its own

admission, its own motto against all gods, . . .

Prometheus is the noblest saint and martyr in the

calendar of philosophy.

In 1841 Marx, together with other Young Hegelians, was much

influenced by the publication of Das Wesen des Christentums

(1841; The Essence of Christianity) by Ludwig Feuerbach. Its

author, to Marx’s mind, successfully criticized Hegel, an idealist

who believed that matter or existence was inferior to and dependent

upon mind or spirit, from the opposite, or materialist, standpoint,

showing how the “Absolute Spirit” was a projection of “the real man

standing on the foundation of nature.” Henceforth Marx’s

philosophical efforts were toward a combination of Hegel’s

dialectic–the idea that all things are in a continual process of change

resulting from the conflicts between their contradictory

aspects–with Feuerbach’s materialism, which placed material

conditions above ideas. (See dialectical materialism.)

In January 1842 Marx began contributing to a newspaper newly

founded in Cologne, the Rheinische Zeitung. It was the liberal

democratic organ of a group of young merchants, bankers, and

industrialists; Cologne was the centre of the most industrially

advanced section of Prussia. To this stage of Marx’s life belongs an

essay on the freedom of the press. Since he then took for granted

the existence of absolute moral standards and universal principles of

ethics, he condemned censorship as a moral evil that entailed spying

into people’s minds and hearts and assigned to weak and malevolent

mortals powers that presupposed an omniscient mind. He believed

that censorship could have only evil consequences.

On Oct. 15, 1842, Marx became editor of the Rheinische

Zeitung. As such, he was obliged to write editorials on a variety of

social and economic issues, ranging from the housing of the Berlin

poor and the theft by peasants of wood from the forests to the new

phenomenon of communism. He found Hegelian idealism of little use

in these matters. At the same time he was becoming estranged from

his Hegelian friends for whom shocking the bourgeois was a

sufficient mode of social activity. Marx, friendly at this time to the

“liberal-minded practical men” who were “struggling step-by-step

for freedom within constitutional limits,” succeeded in trebling his

newspaper’s circulation and making it a leading journal in Prussia.

Nevertheless, Prussian authorities suspended it for being too

outspoken, and Marx agreed to coedit with the liberal Hegelian

Arnold Ruge a new review, the Deutsch-franz sische Jahrb cher

(”German-French Yearbooks”), which was to be published in Paris.

First, however, in June 1843 Marx, after an engagement of seven

years, married Jenny von Westphalen. Jenny was an attractive,

intelligent, and much-admired woman, four years older than Karl;

she came of a family of military and administrative distinction. Her

half-brother later became a highly reactionary Prussian minister of

the interior. Her father, a follower of the French socialist

Saint-Simon, was fond of Karl, though others in her family opposed

the marriage. Marx’s father also feared that Jenny was destined to

become a sacrifice to the demon that possessed his son.

Four months after their marriage, the young couple moved to Paris,

which was then the centre of socialist thought and of the more

extreme sects that went under the name of communism. There,

Marx first became a revolutionary and a communist and began to

associate with communist societies of French and German

workingmen. Their ideas were, in his view, “utterly crude and

unintelligent,” but their character moved him: “The brotherhood of

man is no mere phrase with them, but a fact of life, and the nobility

of man shines upon us from their work-hardened bodies,” he wrote

in his so-called “+konomisch-philosophische Manuskripte aus dem

Jahre 1844″ (written in 1844; Economic and Philosophic

Manuscripts of 1844 [1959]). (These manuscripts were not

published for some 100 years, but they are influential because they

show the humanist background to Marx’s later historical and

economic theories.)

The “German-French Yearbooks” proved short-lived, but through

their publication Marx befriended Friedrich Engels, a contributor

who was to become his lifelong collaborator, and in their pages

appeared Marx’s article “Zur Kritik der Hegelschen

Rechtsphilosophie” (”Toward the Critique of the Hegelian

Philosophy of Right”) with its oft-quoted assertion that religion is the

“opium of the people.” It was there, too, that he first raised the call

for an “uprising of the proletariat” to realize the conceptions of

philosophy. Once more, however, the Prussian government

intervened against Marx. He was expelled from France and left for

Brussels–followed by Engels–in February 1845. That year in

Belgium he renounced his Prussian nationality.

Marx, Karl

Brussels period

The next two years in Brussels saw the deepening of Marx’s

collaboration with Engels. Engels had seen at firsthand in

Manchester, Eng., where a branch factory of his father’s textile firm

was located, all the depressing aspects of the Industrial Revolution.

He had also been a Young Hegelian and had been converted to

communism by Moses Hess, who was called the “communist rabbi.”

In England he associated with the followers of Robert Owen. Now

he and Marx, finding that they shared the same views, combined

their intellectual resources and published Die heilige Familie

(1845; The Holy Family), a prolix criticism of the Hegelian idealism

of the theologian Bruno Bauer. Their next work, Die deutsche

Ideologie (written 1845-46, published 1932; The German

Ideology), contained the fullest exposition of their important

materialistic conception of history, which set out to show how,

historically, societies had been structured to promote the interests of

the economically dominant class. But it found no publisher and

remained unknown during its authors’ lifetimes.

During his Brussels years, Marx developed his views and, through

confrontations with the chief leaders of the working-class

movement, established his intellectual standing. In 1846 he publicly

excoriated the German leader Wilhelm Weitling for his moralistic

appeals. Marx insisted that the stage of bourgeois society could not

be skipped over; the proletariat could not just leap into communism;

the workers’ movement required a scientific basis, not moralistic

phrases. He also polemicized against the French socialist thinker

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in Mis re de la philosophie (1847; The

Poverty of Philosophy), a mordant attack on Proudhon’s book

subtitled Philosophie de la mis re (1846; The Philosophy of

Poverty). Proudhon wanted to unite the best features of such

contraries as competition and monopoly; he hoped to save the good

features in economic institutions while eliminating the bad. Marx,

however, declared that no equilibrium was possible between the

antagonisms in any given economic system. Social structures were

transient historic forms determined by the productive forces: “The

handmill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steammill, society

with the industrial capitalist.” Proudhon’s mode of reasoning, Marx

wrote, was typical of the petty bourgeois, who failed to see the

underlying laws of history.

An unusual sequence of events led Marx and Engels to write their

pamphlet The Communist Manifesto. In June 1847 a secret

society, the League of the Just, composed mainly of emigrant

German handicraftsmen, met in London and decided to formulate a

political program. They sent a representative to Marx to ask him to

join the league; Marx overcame his doubts and, with Engels, joined

the organization, which thereupon changed its name to the

Communist League and enacted a democratic constitution.

Entrusted with the task of composing their program, Marx and

Engels worked from the middle of December 1847 to the end of

January 1848. The London Communists were already impatiently

threatening Marx with disciplinary action when he sent them the

manuscript; they promptly adopted it as their manifesto. It

enunciated the proposition that all history had hitherto been a history

of class struggles, summarized in pithy form the materialist

conception of history worked out in The German Ideology, and

asserted that the forthcoming victory of the proletariat would put an

end to class society forever. It mercilessly criticized all forms of

socialism founded on philosophical “cobwebs” such as “alienation.”

It rejected the avenue of “social Utopias,” small experiments in

community, as deadening the class struggle and therefore as being

“reactionary sects.” It set forth 10 immediate measures as first steps

toward communism, ranging from a progressive income tax and the

abolition of inheritances to free education for all children. It closed

with the words, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their

chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries,


Revolution suddenly erupted in Europe in the first months of 1848,

in France, Italy, and Austria. Marx had been invited to Paris by a

member of the provisional government just in time to avoid

expulsion by the Belgian government. As the revolution gained in

Austria and Germany, Marx returned to the Rhineland. In Cologne

he advocated a policy of coalition between the working class and

the democratic bourgeoisie, opposing for this reason the nomination

of independent workers’ candidates for the Frankfurt Assembly and

arguing strenuously against the program for proletarian revolution

advocated by the leaders of the Workers’ Union. He concurred in

Engels’ judgment that The Communist Manifesto should be

shelved and the Communist League disbanded. Marx pressed his

policy through the pages of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, newly

founded in June 1849, urging a constitutional democracy and war

with Russia. When the more revolutionary leader of the Workers’

Union, Andreas Gottschalk, was arrested, Marx supplanted him

and organized the first Rhineland Democratic Congress in August

1848. When the king of Prussia dissolved the Prussian Assembly in

Berlin, Marx called for arms and men to help the resistance.

Bourgeois liberals withdrew their support from Marx’s newspaper,

and he himself was indicted on several charges, including advocacy

of the nonpayment of taxes. In his trial he defended himself with the

argument that the crown was engaged in making an unlawful

counterrevolution. The jury acquitted him unanimously and with

thanks. Nevertheless, as the last hopeless fighting flared in Dresden

and Baden, Marx was ordered banished as an alien on May 16,

1849. The final issue of his newspaper, printed in red, caused a

great sensation.

Early years in London

Expelled once more from Paris, Marx went to London in August

1849. It was to be his home for the rest of his life. Chagrined by the

failure of his own tactics of collaboration with the liberal bourgeoisie,

he rejoined the Communist League in London and for about a year

advocated a bolder revolutionary policy. An “Address of the

Central Committee to the Communist League,” written with Engels

in March 1850, urged that in future revolutionary situations they

struggle to make the revolution “permanent” by avoiding

subservience to the bourgeois party and by setting up “their own

revolutionary workers’ governments” alongside any new bourgeois

one. Marx hoped that the economic crisis would shortly lead to a

revival of the revolutionary movement; when this hope faded, he

came into conflict once more with those whom he called “the

alchemists of the revolution,” such as August von Willich, a

communist who proposed to hasten the advent of revolution by

undertaking direct revolutionary ventures. Such persons, Marx

wrote in September 1850, substitute “idealism for materialism” and


pure will as the motive power of revolution instead of

actual conditions. While we say to the workers: “You

have got to go through fifteen, twenty, fifty years of

civil wars and national wars not merely in order to

change your conditions but in order to change

yourselves and become qualified for political power,”

you on the contrary tell them, “We must achieve power


The militant faction in turn ridiculed Marx for being a revolutionary

who limited his activity to lectures on political economy to the

Communist Workers’ Educational Union. The upshot was that

Marx gradually stopped attending meetings of the London

Communists. In 1852 he devoted himself intensely to working for

the defense of 11 communists arrested and tried in Cologne on

charges of revolutionary conspiracy and wrote a pamphlet on their

behalf. The same year he also published, in a German-American

periodical, his essay “Der Achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis

Napoleon” (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte), with

its acute analysis of the formation of a bureaucratic absolutist state

with the support of the peasant class. In other respects the next 12

years were, in Marx’s words, years of “isolation” both for him and

for Engels in his Manchester factory.

From 1850 to 1864 Marx lived in material misery and spiritual

pain. His funds were gone, and except on one occasion he could not

bring himself to seek paid employment. In March 1850 he and his

wife and four small children were evicted and their belongings

seized. Several of his children died–including a son Guido, “a

sacrifice to bourgeois misery,” and a daughter Franziska, for whom

his wife rushed about frantically trying to borrow money for a coffin.

For six years the family lived in two small rooms in Soho, often

subsisting on bread and potatoes. The children learned to lie to the

creditors: “Mr. Marx ain’t upstairs.” Once he had to escape them

by fleeing to Manchester. His wife suffered breakdowns.

During all these years Engels loyally contributed to Marx’s financial

support. The sums were not large at first, for Engels was only a

clerk in the firm of Ermen and Engels at Manchester. Later,

however, in 1864, when he became a partner, his subventions were

generous. Marx was proud of Engels’ friendship and would tolerate

no criticism of him. Bequests from the relatives of Marx’s wife and

from Marx’s friend Wilhelm Wolff also helped to alleviate their

economic distress.

Marx had one relatively steady source of earned income in the

United States. On the invitation of Charles A. Dana, managing

editor of The New York Tribune, he became in 1851 its European

correspondent. The newspaper, edited by Horace Greeley, had

sympathies for Fourierism, a Utopian socialist system developed by

the French theorist Charles Fourier. From 1851 to 1862 Marx

contributed close to 500 articles and editorials (Engels providing

about a fourth of them). He ranged over the whole political universe,

analyzing social movements and agitations from India and China to

Britain and Spain.

In 1859 Marx published his first book on economic theory, Zur

Kritik der politischen +konomie (A Contribution to the Critique

of Political Economy). In its preface he again summarized his

materialistic conception of history, his theory that the course of

history is dependent on economic developments. At this time,

however, Marx regarded his studies in economic and social history

at the British Museum as his main task. He was busy producing the

drafts of his magnum opus, which was to be published later as Das

Kapital. Some of these drafts, including the Outlines and the

Theories of Surplus Value, are important in their own right and

were published after Marx’s death.

Role in the First International

Marx’s political isolation ended in 1864 with the founding of the

International Working Men’s Association. Although he was neither

its founder nor its head, he soon became its leading spirit. Its first

public meeting, called by English trade union leaders and French

workers’ representatives, took place at St. Martin’s Hall in London

on Sept. 28, 1864. Marx, who had been invited through a French

intermediary to attend as a representative of the German workers,

sat silently on the platform. A committee was set up to produce a

program and a constitution for the new organization. After various

drafts had been submitted that were felt to be unsatisfactory, Marx,

serving on a subcommittee, drew upon his immense journalistic

experience. His “Address and the Provisional Rules of the

International Working Men’s Association,” unlike his other writings,

stressed the positive achievements of the cooperative movement and

of parliamentary legislation; the gradual conquest of political power

would enable the British proletariat to extend these achievements on

a national scale.

As a member of the organization’s General Council, and

corresponding secretary for Germany, Marx was henceforth

assiduous in attendance at its meetings, which were sometimes held

several times a week. For several years he showed a rare

diplomatic tact in composing differences among various parties,

factions, and tendencies. The International grew in prestige and

membership, its numbers reaching perhaps 800,000 in 1869. It was

successful in several interventions on behalf of European trade

unions engaged in struggles with employers.

In 1870, however, Marx was still unknown as a European political

personality; it was the Paris Commune that made him into an

international figure, “the best calumniated and most menaced man of

London,” as he wrote. When the Franco-German War broke out in

1870, Marx and Engels disagreed with followers in Germany who

refused to vote in the Reichstag in favour of the war. The General

Council declared that “on the German side the war was a war of

defence.” After the defeat of the French armies, however, they felt

that the German terms amounted to aggrandizement at the expense

of the French people. When an insurrection broke out in Paris and

the Paris Commune was proclaimed, Marx gave it his unswerving

support. On May 30, 1871, after the Commune had been crushed,

he hailed it in a famous address entitled Civil War in France:

History has no comparable example of such greatness.

. . . Its martyrs are enshrined forever in the great heart

of the working class.

In Engels’ judgment, the Paris Commune was history’s first example

of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Marx’s name, as the leader

of The First International and author of the notorious Civil War,

became synonymous throughout Europe with the revolutionary spirit

symbolized by the Paris Commune.

The advent of the Commune, however, exacerbated the

antagonisms within the International Working Men’s Association and

thus brought about its downfall. English trade unionists such as

George Odger, former president of the General Council, opposed

Marx’s support of the Paris Commune. The Reform Bill of 1867,

which had enfranchised the British working class, had opened vast

opportunities for political action by the trade unions. English labour

leaders found they could make many practical advances by

cooperating with the Liberal Party and, regarding Marx’s rhetoric

as an encumbrance, resented his charge that they had “sold

themselves” to the Liberals.

A left opposition also developed under the leadership of the famed

Russian revolutionary Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin. A veteran of

tsarist prisons and Siberian exile, Bakunin could move men by his

oratory, which one listener compared to “a raging storm with

lightning, flashes and thunderclaps, and a roaring as of lions.”

Bakunin admired Marx’s intellect but could hardly forget that Marx

had published a report in 1848 charging him with being a Russian

agent. He felt that Marx was a German authoritarian and an

arrogant Jew who wanted to transform the General Council into a

personal dictatorship over the workers. He strongly opposed

several of Marx’s theories, especially Marx’s support of the

centralized structure of the International, Marx’s view that the

proletariat class should act as a political party against prevailing

parties but within the existing parliamentary system, and Marx’s

belief that the proletariat, after it had overthrown the bourgeois

state, should establish its own regime. To Bakunin, the mission of

the revolutionary was destruction; he looked to the Russian

peasantry, with its propensities for violence and its uncurbed

revolutionary instincts, rather than to the effete, civilized workers of

the industrial countries. The students, he hoped, would be the

officers of the revolution. He acquired followers, mostly young men,

in Italy, Switzerland, and France, and he organized a secret society,

the International Alliance of Social Democracy, which in 1869

challenged the hegemony of the General Council at the congress in

Basel, Switz. Marx, however, had already succeeded in preventing

its admission as an organized body into the International.

To the Bakuninists, the Paris Commune was a model of

revolutionary direct action and a refutation of what they considered

to be Marx’s “authoritarian communism.” Bakunin began organizing

sections of the International for an attack on the alleged dictatorship

of Marx and the General Council. Marx in reply publicized

Bakunin’s embroilment with an unscrupulous Russian student leader,

Sergey Gennadiyevich Nechayev, who had practiced blackmail and


Without a supporting right wing and with the anarchist left against

him, Marx feared losing control of the International to Bakunin. He

also wanted to return to his studies and to finish Das Kapital. At the

congress of the International at The Hague in 1872, the only one he

ever attended, Marx managed to defeat the Bakuninists. Then, to

the consternation of the delegates, Engels moved that the seat of the

General Council be transferred from London to New York City.

The Bakuninists were expelled, but the International languished and

was finally disbanded in Philadelphia in 1876.

Last years

During the next and last decade of his life, Marx’s creative energies

declined. He was beset by what he called “chronic mental

depression,” and his life turned inward toward his family. He was

unable to complete any substantial work, though he still read widely

and undertook to learn Russian. He became crotchety in his political

opinions. When his own followers and those of the German

revolutionary Ferdinand Lassalle, a rival who believed that socialist

goals should be achieved through cooperation with the state,

coalesced in 1875 to found the German Social Democratic Party,

Marx wrote a caustic criticism of their program (the so-called

Gotha Program), claiming that it made too many compromises with

the status quo. The German leaders put his objections aside and

tried to mollify him personally. Increasingly, he looked to a

European war for the overthrow of Russian tsarism, the mainstay of

reaction, hoping that this would revive the political energies of the

working classes. He was moved by what he considered to be the

selfless courage of the Russian terrorists who assassinated the tsar,

Alexander II, in 1881; he felt this to be “a historically inevitable

means of action.”

Despite Marx’s withdrawal from active politics, he still retained

what Engels called his “peculiar influence” on the leaders of

working-class and socialist movements. In 1879, when the French

Socialist Workers’ Federation was founded, its leader Jules Guesde

went to London to consult with Marx, who dictated the preamble

of its program and shaped much of its content. In 1881 Henry

Mayers Hyndman in his England for All drew heavily on his

conversations with Marx but angered him by being afraid to

acknowledge him by name.

During his last years Marx spent much time at health resorts and

even traveled to Algiers. He was broken by the death of his wife on

Dec. 2, 1881, and of his eldest daughter, Jenny Longuet, on Jan.

11, 1883. He died in London, evidently of a lung abscess, in the

following year.

Character and significance

At Marx’s funeral in Highgate Cemetery, Engels declared that

Marx had made two great discoveries, the law of development of

human history and the law of motion of bourgeois society. But

“Marx was before all else a revolutionist.” He was “the best-hated

and most-calumniated man of his time,” yet he also died “beloved,

revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow-workers.”

The contradictory emotions Marx engendered are reflected in the

sometimes conflicting aspects of his character. Marx was a

combination of the Promethean rebel and the rigorous intellectual.

He gave most persons an impression of intellectual arrogance. A

Russian writer, Pavel Annenkov, who observed Marx in debate in

1846 recalled that “he spoke only in the imperative, brooking no

contradiction,” and seemed to be “the personification of a

democratic dictator such as might appear before one in moments of

fantasy.” But Marx obviously felt uneasy before mass audiences

and avoided the atmosphere of factional controversies at

congresses. He went to no demonstrations, his wife remarked, and

rarely spoke at public meetings. He kept away from the congresses

of the International where the rival socialist groups debated

important resolutions. He was a “small groups” man, most at home

in the atmosphere of the General Council or on the staff of a

newspaper, where his character could impress itself forcefully on a

small body of coworkers. At the same time he avoided meeting

distinguished scholars with whom he might have discussed questions

of economics and sociology on a footing of intellectual equality.

Despite his broad intellectual sweep, he was prey to obsessive ideas

such as that the British foreign minister, Lord Palmerston, was an

agent of the Russian government. He was determined not to let

bourgeois society make “a money-making machine” out of him, yet

he submitted to living on the largess of Engels and the bequests of

relatives. He remained the eternal student in his personal habits and

way of life, even to the point of joining two friends in a students’

prank during which they systematically broke four or five

streetlamps in a London street and then fled from the police. He was

a great reader of novels, especially those of Sir Walter Scott and

Balzac; and the family made a cult of Shakespeare. He was an

affectionate father, saying that he admired Jesus for his love of

children, but sacrificed the lives and health of his own. Of his seven

children, three daughters grew to maturity. His favourite daughter,

Eleanor, worried him with her nervous, brooding, emotional

character and her desire to be an actress. Another shadow was cast

on Marx’s domestic life by the birth to their loyal servant, Helene

Demuth, of an illegitimate son, Frederick; Engels as he was dying

disclosed to Eleanor that Marx had been the father. Above all,

Marx was a fighter, willing to sacrifice anything in the battle for his

conception of a better society. He regarded struggle as the law of

life and existence.

The influence of Marx’s ideas has been enormous. Marx’s

masterpiece, Das Kapital, the “Bible of the working class,” as it

was officially described in a resolution of the International Working

Men’s Association, was published in 1867 in Berlin and received a

second edition in 1873. Only the first volume was completed and

published in Marx’s lifetime. The second and third volumes,

unfinished by Marx, were edited by Engels and published in 1885

and 1894. The economic categories he employed were those of the

classical British economics of David Ricardo; but Marx used them

in accordance with his dialectical method to argue that bourgeois

society, like every social organism, must follow its inevitable path of

development. Through the working of such immanent tendencies as

the declining rate of profit, capitalism would die and be replaced by

another, higher, society. The most memorable pages in Das Kapital

are the descriptive passages, culled from Parliamentary Blue Books,

on the misery of the English working class. Marx believed that this

misery would increase, while at the same time the monopoly of

capital would become a fetter upon production until finally “the knell

of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are


Marx never claimed to have discovered the existence of classes

and class struggles in modern society. “Bourgeois” historians, he

acknowledged, had described them long before he had. He did

claim, however, to have proved that each phase in the development

of production was associated with a corresponding class structure

and that the struggle of classes led necessarily to the dictatorship of

the proletariat, ushering in the advent of a classless society. Marx

took up the very different versions of socialism current in the early

19th century and welded them together into a doctrine that

continued to be the dominant version of socialism for half a century

after his death. His emphasis on the influence of economic structure

on historical development has proved to be of lasting significance.

Although Marx stressed economic issues in his writings, his major

impact has been in the fields of sociology and history. Marx’s most

important contribution to sociological theory was his general mode

of analysis, the “dialectical” model, which regards every social

system as having within it immanent forces that give rise to

“contradictions” (disequilibria) that can be resolved only by a new

social system. Neo-Marxists, who no longer accept the economic

reasoning in Das Kapital, are still guided by this model in their

approach to capitalist society. In this sense, Marx’s mode of

analysis, like those of Thomas Malthus, Herbert Spencer, or

Vilfredo Pareto, has become one of the theoretical structures that

are the heritage of the social scientist.



Childhood and education.

Durkheim was born into a Jewish family of very modest means. It

was taken for granted that he would study to become a rabbi, like

his father. The death of his father before Durkheim was 20, which

burdened him with heavy responsibilities, and the increased rivalrous

tensions between France’s eastern provinces and Germany, may

have contributed to making Durkheim a severely disciplined young

man. As early as his late teens Durkheim became convinced that

effort and even sorrow are more conducive to the spiritual progress

of the individual than pleasure or joy.

His outstanding success at school designated him clearly as a

candidate to the renowned +cole Normale Sup rieure in Paris–the

most prestigious teachers’ college in France. While preparing for the

+cole Normale at the Lyc e Louis le Grand, Durkheim took his

board at the Institution Jauffret in the Latin Quarter, where he

became acquainted with another gifted young man from the

provinces, Jean Jaur s, later to lead the French Socialist Party and

at that time inclined like Durkheim toward philosophy and the

moral and social reform of his countrymen.

Durkheim passed the stiff competitive examination for the +cole

Normale one year after Jaur s, in 1879. It is clear that his religious

faith had vanished by then. His thought had become altogether

secular but with a strong bent toward moral reform. Like a number

of French philosophical minds during the Third Republic, he looked

to science and in particular to social science and to profound

educational reform as the means to avoid the perils of social

disconnectedness or “anomie,” as he was to call this condition in

which norms for conduct were either absent, weak, or conflicting.

(See anomie.)

He enjoyed the intellectual atmosphere of the +cole Normale–the

discussion of metaphysical and political issues pursued with

eagerness and animated by the utopian dreams of young men

destined to be among the leaders of their country. He soon enjoyed

the respect of his peers and of his teachers, but he was impatient

with the excessive stress then laid in French higher education on

elegant rhetoric and surface polish. His teachers of philosophy

struck him as too fond of generalities and of monotonous worship of

the past.

Fretting at the conventionality of formal examinations, he passed the

last competitive examination in 1882, but without the brilliance that

his friends had predicted for him. He then accepted a series of

provincial assignments as a teacher of philosophy at the state

secondary schools of Sens, Saint-Quentin, and Troyes between

1882 and 1887. In 1885-86 he took a year’s leave of absence to

pursue research in Germany, where he was impressed by Wilhelm

Wundt, pioneer experimental psychologist. In 1887 he was

appointed as lecturer at the University of Bordeaux, where he

subsequently became professor and taught social philosophy until


Analytic methods.

Durkheim was familiar with several foreign languages and reviewed

volumes in German, English, and Italian at length in the learned

journal L’Ann e Sociologique, which he founded in 1896. But it

has been noted, at times with disapproval and amazement, by

non-French social scientists, that he travelled little and that, like

many French scholars as well as the notable British anthropologist

Sir James Frazer, he never undertook any fieldwork. The vast

information he studied on the tribes of Australia or of New Guinea

or on the Eskimos was all collected by other anthropologists,

travellers, or missionaries.

This was not, in Durkheim’s case, due to provincialism or lack of

attention to the concrete. He did not resemble the French

philosopher Auguste Comte in making venturesome and dogmatic

generalizations and disregarding empirical observation. He did,

however, maintain that concrete observation in remote parts of the

world does not always lead to illuminating views on the past or even

on the present. To him facts had no meaning for the intellect unless

they were grouped into types and laws. He claimed repeatedly that

it is from a construction erected on the inner nature of the real that

knowledge of concrete reality is obtained, a knowledge not

perceived by observation of the facts from the outside. He thus

constructed concepts such as that of the sacred or of totemism,

exactly in the same way that Karl Marx developed the concept of


In truth, Durkheim’s vital interest did not lie in the study for its own

sake of so-called primitive tribes, but rather in the light such a study

might throw on the present. The outward events of his life as an

intellectual and as a scholar may appear undramatic. Still, much of

what he thought and wrote stemmed from the events that he

witnessed in his formative years, in the 1870s and 1880s, and in the

earnest concern he took in them.

The Second Empire, which collapsed in the French defeat of 1870

at the hands of Germany, had seemed an era of levity and

dissipation to the earnest young Durkheim. France, with the

support of many of its liberal and intellectual elements, had plunged

headlong into a war for which it was unprepared; its leaders proved

incapable. The left-wing Commune that took over Paris after the

French defeat in 1871 led to senseless destruction, which appeared

to Durkheim’s generation, in retrospect, as evidence of the

alienation of the working classes from capitalist society.

The bloody repression that followed the Commune was taken as

further evidence of the ruthlessness of capitalism and of the

selfishness of the frightened bourgeoisie. Later, the crisis of 1886

over Georges Boulanger, minister of war, who demanded a

centralist government to execute a policy of revenge against

Germany, was one of several events that testified to the resurgence

of nationalism, soon to be accompanied by anti-Semitism. Such

major French thinkers of the older generation as Ernest Renan and

Hippolyte Taine interrupted their historical and philosophical works,

after 1871, to analyze those evils and to offer remedies.

Durkheim was one of several young philosophers and scholars,

fresh from their +cole Normale training, who became convinced that

progress was not the necessary consequence of the development of

science and technology, that it could not be represented by an

ascending curve, justifying complacent optimism. He perceived

around him the prevalence of “anomie,” a personal sense of

rootlessness fostered by the absence of social norms. Material

prosperity set free greed and passions that threatened the

equilibrium of society.

These sources of Durkheim’s sociological reflections, never remote

from moral philosophy, were first expressed in his very important

doctoral thesis, De la division du travail social (1893; The

Division of Labour in Society), and in Le Suicide (1897; Suicide).

In his view ethical and social structures were being endangered by

the advent of technology and mechanization. The division of labour

rendered workmen both more alien to one another and more

dependent upon one another, since none of them any longer built the

whole product by himself. Suicide appeared to be less frequent

where the individual was closely integrated with his culture; thus, the

apparently purely individual decision to renounce life could be

explained through social forces.

Effect of the Dreyfus affair.

These early volumes, and the one in which he formulated with

scientific rigour the rules of his sociological method, Les R gles de

la m thode sociologique (1895; The Rules of Sociological

Method), brought Durkheim fame and influence. But the new

science of society frightened timid souls and conservative

philosophers, and he had to endure many attacks. The Dreyfus

affair–resulting from the false charge against a Jewish officer, Alfred

Dreyfus, of spying for the Germans–erupted in the last years of the

century, and the slurs or outright insults aimed at Jews that

accompanied it opened Durkheim’s eyes to the latent hatred and

passionate feuds hitherto half concealed under the varnish of

civilization. He took an active part in the campaign to exonerate

Dreyfus. He was not elected to the Institut de France, although his

stature as a thinker suggests that he should have been named to that

prestigious, learned society. He was, however, appointed to the

University of Paris in 1902 and made a full professor there in 1906.

(See Dreyfus, Alfred.)

More and more, the sociologist’s thought became concerned with

education and religion as the two most potent means of reforming

humanity or of molding the new institutions required by the deep

structural changes in society. His colleagues admired Durkheim’s

zeal in behalf of educational reform. His efforts included participating

in numerous committees to prepare new curriculums and methods;

working to enliven the teaching of philosophy, which too long had

dwelt on generalities; and attempting to teach teachers how to teach.

A series of courses that he had given at Bordeaux on the subject of

L’+volution p dagogique en France (”Pedagogical Evolution in

France”) was published posthumously in 1938; it remains one of the

best informed and most impartial books on French education. The

other important work of Durkheim’s latter years dealt with the

totemic system in Australia and bore the title of Les Formes

l mentaires de la vie religieuse (1915; The Elementary Forms

of the Religious Life). The author, despite his own agnosticism,

evinced a sympathetic understanding of religion in all its stages.

French conservatives, who in the years preceding World War I

turned against the Sorbonne, which they charged was unduly

swayed by the prestige of German scholarship, railed at Durkheim,

who, they thought, was influenced by the German urge to

systematize, making a fetish of society and a religion of sociology.

(See “Elementary Forms of Religious Life, The”.)

In fact, Durkheim did not make an idol of sociology as did the

positivists schooled by Comte, nor was he a “functionalist” who

explained every social phenomenon by its usefulness in maintaining

the existence and equilibrium of a social organism. He did, however,

endeavour to formulate a positive social science that might direct

people’s behaviour toward greater solidarity.

The outbreak of World War I came as a cruel blow to him. For

many years he had expended too much energy on teaching, on

writing, on outlining plans for reform, on ceaselessly feeding the

enthusiasm of his disciples, and eventually his heart had been

affected. His gaunt and nervous appearance filled his colleagues with

foreboding. The whole of French sociology, then in full bloom

thanks to him, seemed to be his responsibility.

Death and legacy.

The breaking point came when his only son was killed in 1916,

while fighting on the Balkan front. The father stoically attempted to

hide his sorrow, but the loss, coming on top of insults by nationalists

who denounced him as a professor of “apparently German

extraction” who taught a “foreign” discipline at the Sorbonne, was

too much to bear. He died in November 1917.

Durkheim left behind him a brilliant school of researchers. He had

never been a tyrannical master; he had encouraged his disciples to

go farther than himself and to contradict him if need be. His nephew,

Marcel Mauss, who held the chair of sociology at the Coll ge de

France, was less systematic than Durkheim and paid greater

attention to symbolism as an unconscious activity of the mind.

Claude L vi-Strauss, who occupied the same chair of sociology and

resembles Durkheim in the way he combines reasoning with

intensity of feeling, also offered objections and corrections to

Durkheim’s views. With Durkheim, sociology had become in

France a seminal discipline that broadened and transformed the

study of law, of economics, of Chinese institutions, of linguistics, of

ethnology, of art history, and of history.



collective behaviour

Individual motivation theories

Among the analytic theories that seek to eschew evaluation, the

most popular ones stress individual motivation in accounting for

collective behaviour. Frustration and lack of firm social anchorage

are the two most widely used explanations for individual

participation in collective behaviour of all kinds. In the psychiatric

tradition, frustration heightens suggestibility, generates fantasy, brings

about regressions and fixations, and intensifies drives toward wish

fulfillment so that normal inhibitions are overcome. Since most forms

of collective behaviour promote thoughts that are otherwise difficult

to account for and that breech behavioral inhibitions, this is often a

fruitful source of explanation.

In the sociological tradition of +mile Durkheim, absence of firm

integration into social groups leaves the individual open to deviant

ideas and susceptible to the vital sense of solidarity that comes from

participation in spontaneous groupings. Drawing upon both the

psychiatric and the sociological traditions, Erich Fromm attributed

the appeal of mass movements and crowds to the gratifying escape

they offer from the sense of personal isolation and powerlessness

that people experience in the vast bureaucracies of modern life.

Extending Karl Marx’s theory of modern man’s alienation from his

work, many contemporary students attribute faddism, crowds,

movements of the spirit, and interest-group and revolutionary

movements to a wide-ranging alienation from family, community,

and country, as well as from work. (See Marxism.)

According to the approach suggested by the U.S. political scientist

Hadley Cantril, participation in vital collectivities supplies a sense of

meaning through group affirmation and action and raises the

member’s estimate of his social status, both of which are important

needs often frustrated in modern society. Eric Hoffer, a U.S.

philosopher, attributed a leading role in collective behaviour to “true

believers,” who overcome their own personal doubts and conflicts

by the creation of intolerant and unanimous groups about them.


A thin line separates crowd activities from collective obsessions.

The crowd is, first, more concentrated in time and space. Thus a

race riot, a lynching, or an orgy is limited to a few days or hours and

occurs chiefly within an area ranging from a city square or a stadium

to a section of a metropolitan area. Second, a concern of the

majority of the crowd (many participants do not always share the

concern) is a collaborative goal rather than parallel individual goals.

The “june bug obsession” cited earlier, in which dozens of women

went home from work because of imaginary insect bites, could have

turned into a crowd action if the women had banded together to

demand a change in working conditions or to conduct a ceremony

to exorcise the evil. Third, because the goal is collaborative, there is

more division of labour and cooperative activity in a crowd than in

collective obsessions. Finally, a major concern of a crowd is with

some improvement or social change expected as a result of its

activity. Labour rioters expect management to be more compliant

after the riot; participants in a massive religious revival expect life in

the community to be somehow better as a result.

The crucial step in developing crowd behaviour is the formation of a

common mood directed toward a recognized object of attention. In

a typical riot situation a routine police arrest or a fistfight between

individuals from opposing groups focuses attention. Milling and

rumour then establish a mood of indignation and hostility toward an

identified enemy or enemies. In a collective religious experience

there is usually an amazing event that rivets attention. Through

elementary collective behaviour the mood is defined as religious awe

and gratitude toward the supernatural and its agents.

As the mood and object become established, either an “active”

crowd or an “expressive” crowd is formed. The active crowd is

usually aggressive, such as a violent mob, though occasionally it acts

to propel members into heroic accomplishments. The expressive

crowd has also been called the dancing crowd because its

manifestations are dancing, singing, and other forms of emotional