In Karl Marx studied law in Bonn and in

In this essay I will be critically analysing famed Karl philosopher
economist, political theorist and revolutionary socialist Karl Marx and his
main theoretical tradition, his critique of political economy. Firstly I will
be introducing Karl Marx providing background to him and his tradition of the
critique of political economy, than I will contextualise the research of Karl
Marx and analyse his ideas and how they contribute to a grand narrative. Finally,
I will draw a conclusion by summarising the significance of this tradition.

Son of a successful Jewish lawyer, Karl Heinrich Marx was
born on the 5th of May 1818 in the city of Trier located in western
German. As a young man Karl Marx studied law in Bonn and in Germany’s capital
Berlin, he graduated with a degree in philosophy from the University of Jena. In
the year 1843 Karl Marx moved to Paris which at the time was a breeding ground
for extreme and radical political view and theories, in Paris Marx became a
revolutionary communist and met German philosopher and social scientist Friedrich
Engels who became not only his friend but his lifelong collaborator as they  co-authored ‘The Communist Manifesto’ in 1848.
Towards the end of his life Marx moved to London and produced his most famous
and important piece of work ‘Das Kapital’ which is still being read to this day
and remains relevant, Karl Marx passed away in 1881 in London and Is still one
of the most famous critical minds in history even being called “the first great user of critical
method in social sciences” (Calhoun 2002 pg.120.123).

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When Marx published his first serious economic work ‘Capital:
A Critique of Political Economy’ he expanded on the labour theory of value
which was advocated by British political economist, his work was very enthusiastically
received as the first edition sold out in quick fashion (Fedoseyev 1973 pg.318).
From the success of his first edition, this encouraged Karl Marx to complete ‘Das
Kapital’ and his Theory of Surplus Value where he discussed and criticised other
theorist of political economy, mostly Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Marx’s book
‘Theories of Surplus Value’ is arguably thought of and referred to as one of
the first clear examples of the history of economic thought (Rockmore 2002
pg.128).

Karl Marx like any other political theorist or author has an
agenda which influences their main ideas and ultimately changes their work,
Karl Marx’s main ideas were relative to the social and economic issues of his
time which includes the idea that class struggle is the engine of history, he
states this by stating ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the
history of class struggles’ (Marx, Engels 2009). Marx’s quite cynical idea that
class struggle is what drives history may be a product of his environment as
although he was born into a comfortable middle class family he was still born
in a time period which was Europe in the 19th century which had extremely
unideal working and living standards for most people, he even saw the Spring of
Nations in 1848 which until today remains the most widespread revolution in the
history of Europe. These factors must have given him a very negative outlook on
the human condition, it could be argued that this cynical outlook on society
and life during this period is a trend seen throughout his life’s work as the
living conditions of the times he was living in was nowhere near the high
levels it is today.

In addition to the concept of class struggle, Marx also had
other main ideas such a his view of history which is commonly known as
historical materialism, Marx wanted to rewrite the idea of history to form
around a materialist ideology, unlike Hegel (a famous German Philosopher) who
thought the human spirit was the driving force behind history, Marx however
believed that material possession is the driving force of history and that the material
world hides us from reality, Marx also believed that the struggle to make end
meet is what determines each of our reality. This is another example of a
cynical view Marx presents which seems to fall into the grand narrative of negativity
and cynicism, even the type of language he uses in most of his work is in a
gothic style, an example of this is in his book ‘Das Kapital’ where he states
how capital is the ‘necromancy that
surrounds the products of labour” (Marx 1867).

Marx had
very strong personal feelings and concepts about labour, Marx felt that social
change was only obtained through opposing ideas which were being propelled through
background economic forces and that the accumulation of capital is what really
shapes the social system (Clark 1998 pg.57-59), these ideas were the main body
for Karl Marx’s Conflict Theory. Marx distinguished between different
historical eras in terms of means of production for example technology or natural
resources, Marx thought that the major source of conflict was due to the mismatch
of economic structure and social structure which goes to show how he viewed the
economy as an omnipresent power ruling and dictating society rather than
viewing it a social construct he saw the economy as something which no individual
or state can go up against (Clark 1998) once against showing what I believe to
be his deep mistrust of the system and a cynical view of human nature.

Marx believed
the idea of Capitalism was seriously flawed despite it being an improvement
from the feudal system, his view was quite double sided. On the one hand he
Marx saw the main aspects of capitalism to be alienation and depression leading
to mass unemployment. Marx saw the capitalist class as revolutionary as it was
constantly seeking improvement which is accurate as when you look at capitalist
states one hundred years ago in comparison to today there is clear progress.

Marx had a
unique belief for the time, he believed that capitalist take advantage of the
labour market and capitalist treat the labour market as if it were any other market
not recognising its uniqueness and value and taking advantage of it. Karl Marx
saw that input costs are lower than output costs, Marx coined the phrase between
the two surplus value and argued that its value was purely in surplus labour
which was the difference of what it costs to maintain a worker living the absolutely
minimum value to stay alive an what they can produce. This view of capitalists follows
the grand narrative of mistrust and cynicism which is seen through the work of
Marx but shouldn’t be taken lightly as in Marx’s time this was what was
happening as capitalist were taking advantage of workers with only enough money
to live. Marx describes capitalists to be vampires sucking worker’s blood
(Calhoun 2002) and thought that the true problem lays within the issue of
capital especially the relations between workers and owners which some would
argue is what the economic system is all about.

Marx
greatly emphasised that capitalism was an unstable system and was prone to periodic
crises (Baird, Kauffman 2008) which is evident throughout history, during the
19th century when Marx was present there was many economic crises
mostly caused by bank runs, stock market crashes, currency crises and financial
bubbles. This assessment of capitalism follows his grand narrative of a flawed
system which evidently is accurate as during his lifetime there as many economic
crises. Marx also believed that the main focus of capitalist would soon turn
from labourers to technology, this idea could have come from the new
technological innovations of the 19th century such as usable electricity
and new forms of transportation, this idea is still relevant today’s world is becoming
more apparent with emphasis placed on technology for convince rather than
labourers. Marx believed that in the long term the constant cycle of the capitalist
system collapsing and growing would empower the elite class to impoverish the
members of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Karl Marx’s
ideas have had a massive impact on the world and his political tradition remains
significant today not only in terms of world politics but intellectual thought.
From an academics points of view, Marx is one of the most figures who
contributed to the birth of what sociology is today and is put in the same category
and Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes in terms of importance. Marxist
sociological theory today is recognised as arguably the main classical
perspectives, Marx has a long lasting legacy and massive influence in many different
disciplines such as philosophy, literature and the arts.

To
conclude, it is obvious that the grand narrative of Marx’s work is clearly
different from anyone before him and arguably after him as he presents a
distrust and suspicious view to the system which dominates the world and wasn’t
a conformist in the sense of believing capitalism was a completely flawless
system and he foresaw the crisis prone nature of capitalism and predicts is
collapse which has nearly happened many times the most recent time being the
2008 financial crises. Marx provided a comprehensive and relevant critique of
political economy as well as offering many theories such as the theory of capital
accumulation and the labour theory of value.