In this classic work, which laid the foundation of ideas later developed in Capital, Marx polemicized against then premier French socialist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. Proudhon wanted to unite the best features of such contraries as competition and monopoly. He hoped to save the good features of 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 historical forms determined by the productive forces: "The handmill gives you society with the feudal lord; the stream mill, society with the industrial capitalist."
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About the Author
KARL MARX was born in Trier, Prussia, on May 5, 1818, to an intellectual Jewish family. At seventeen he enrolled at the University of Bonn and a year later transferred to the University of Berlin where he became interested in the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel. In 1841, Marx obtained his doctorate in philosophy, having presented a thesis on post-Aristotelian Greek philosophy.
As a young graduate deeply involved in the radical Hegelian movement, Marx found it difficult to secure a teaching post in the autocratic environment of Prussian society. In 1842 he became editor of the Cologne newspaper Rheinische Zeitung, but his probing economic critiques prompted the government to close the publication, whereupon Marx left for France.
While in Paris, Marx quickly became involved with emigre German workers and French socialists, and soon he was persuaded to the communist point of view. His first expression of these views occurred in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, which remained unpublished until 1930. It was during this brief initial stay in France that Marx became associated with Friedrich Engels.
For his radical political activities, Marx was expelled from Paris toward the end of 1844. He moved, with Engels, to Brussels, where he was to remain for the next three years, except for occasional short trips to England. Here Marx wrote the manuscript for The German Ideology and the polemic The Poverty of Philosophy against idealistic socialism. Marx later joined the Communist League, a German workers group, for which he and Engels were to become the primary spokespersons. In 1847 Marx and Engels were asked to write a manifesto for the league conference in London. This resulted in the creation of the Communist Manifesto, one of the most influential popular political documents ever written. Its publication coincided with a wave of revolutions in Europe in 1848.
Marx returned to Paris in 1848 but soon after left for Germany, where in Cologne he founded the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, a radical newspaper that attacked Prussian rule. As revolutionary fervor waned, the government suppressed his paper and Marx fled to England in 1849. For the next thirty-four years Marx remained in England absorbed in his work. During this period he composed The Class Struggles in France (1848), The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1948), Grundrisse (1858), Theories of Surplus Value (1860), Das Kapital (Vol. 1, 1867), and The Civil War in France (1871). Karl Marx died in London on March 13, 1883.