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Vladmir Ilyich Lenin

Robert Owen

Karl Marx

Friedrich Engels

Eduard Bernstein

Vladmir Ilyich Lenin

Samuel Gompers

Eugene V. Debs

Benito Mussolini

Clement Atlee

Julius Nyerere

Mao Zedong

Deng Xiaoping

Mikhail Gorbachev

Karl blair

KARL MARX       1818-1883
FRIEDRICH ENGELS       1820-1895

Although Robert Owen's movement had adopted the physical trappings of religion, erecting church-like "halls of science" where sermons were delivered at Sunday services, Marx and Engels achieved the far more profound breakthrough of imbuing socialism with something of the intellectual and spiritual force of the great religious texts.

In 1844, two young German writers met in Paris and became close friends and collaborators. Karl Marx was a genius, capable of arresting flights of prose and evocations of human suffering. But he was also a snarling, angry man and, though born Jewish, a violent anti-Semite. Son of a successful lawyer, Marx made criticizing the middle class “bourgeoisie” a mainstay of his life’s work.

Communist Manifesto page containing quote 'history of…class struggles' in German
Communist Manifesto page containing quote "history of…class struggles" in German (1848, IISH)

Friedrich Engels was a debonair ladies' man who loved fine wine and riding horses during weekends in Manchester. While less well known today, Engels was no less important to the development of the socialist idea. Sure that Marx's powerful mind held the crown jewels of the doctrine they shared, Engels supported Marx and his family by working at a hated job in his family's business. But, it was Engels' skills as an organizer, interpreter and popularizer that brought Marx’s ideas to the world.

In 1848, Marx and Engels released the Communist Manifesto. Marx described history through the lens of “class struggle,” a perpetual conflict between those that owned the means of production and a working class that provided the labor but derived none of the benefits. The Communist Manifesto predicted that as capitalism progressed, the working class would become so large and so poor that revolution would be inevitable. The result: socialism, a new workers’ state where people contributed according to their ability and received according to their need. In time, government itself would become unnecessary and give way to a new stateless society, a final evolutionary stage called “communism.” It took Marx nearly twenty years to complete his next work, the first volume of Das Kapital, published in 1867. It was Marx’s attempt to analyze all aspects of life through the economic forces of history.

Karl Marx, author of Das Kapital and The <i>Communist Manifesto</i>
Karl Marx, author of Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto (1867, Marx Memorial Library)
Friedrich Engels
"Friedrich Engels (1877, Marx Memorial Library)

Two centuries later, critics and supporters continue to argue over Marx’s logic and relevance. His theories have been applied to literary, artistic and social criticism. Separate from its evolution as a system of government, Marxism and the controversy accompanying it, continue to influence academic approaches to nearly every area of life.


For more information, read interviews with:

Sheri Berman
New York University
Author, The Social Democratic Moment

Manfred Steger
Illinois State University
Author, The Quest for Evolutionary Socialism: Eduard Bernstein and Social Democracy

Gareth Stedman Jones
University of Cambridge
Author, Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History 1832-1982


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