When Karl Marx was born in Prussia (now part of Germany) in 1818, 94 percent of the world’s population lived in poverty. 84 percent lived in extreme poverty. Feudalism as an economic system left a lot to be desired, like food. The capitalist system, under the Constitution of the United States, changed all of that dramatically.
In one of the greatest achievements in the history of mankind, just 9.6 percent of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty today. Back in 1818, America was just 42 years old and still developing, but it was already becoming the envy of the world. The capitalist — or free market — system was beginning to take hold and pull this country’s citizens out of poverty. It offered new opportunities for millions of citizens and immigrants were beginning to flood its shores.
Europe was a different matter. Monarchy and feudalism was still embedded throughout much of the continent. But great change was taking hold. Industrialization was bringing scores of people from the country to the cities — which were quickly becoming overcrowded. This led to massive discontent.
Marx, who despised what he saw of capitalism, would take advantage of this discontent, becoming radicalized at an early age.
After receiving his doctorate in philosophy, Marx and his wife moved to Paris in 1843, where he would meet a man who would become his life-long friend and colleague — Friedrich Engels. The two had supposedly been drawn to the plight of the workers from their childhoods. They both believed profits generated by the companies that employed them were stolen from wages the workers should have received.
As the two fed off each other, they became more and more radical in their thinking, until they became all-out revolutionaries and were both expelled from France. They moved to Belgium and in 1848, began to work on a pamphlet to share their beliefs. Initially entitled A Communist Confession of Faith, the pamphlet — written mostly by Marx — was published as The Communist Manifesto.
In 1867, Marx wrote another handbook for communist thinkers, Das Kapital. It was published in his home country, Germany, and translated into many other languages. In it, Marx made the point that capitalism exploited workers, and property rights simply kept rich people rich and poor people poor. He went on to write two additional volumes, which were published after his death at the age of 64 in 1883, by Engels.
Marx never experienced the Communist Revolution he sought in his lifetime. But his ideas would be remembered in the minds of others for decades to come. One young Russian was heavily and immediately influenced by Marx’s writing — a 17-year-old boy named Vladimir Lenin.