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Karl Marx never wrote anything directly on education but the influence he has on writers, academics, intellectuals and educators who came after him has been profound. His theories, ideas and views hold relevance even today. The power of his ideas has changed the way we look at the world.

Whether you accept his analysis of society or whether you oppose it, he cannot be ignored. As Karl Popper, a fierce opponent of Marxism has claimed ‘all modern writers are indebted to Marx, even if they do not know it’.

Early Life

Karl Marx was born in Prussia on May 5, 1818. Karl Heinrich Marx was one of nine children and his father was a successful lawyer as well as a passionate activist. Both his parents were Jewish but Karl’s father converted to Christianity in 1816 at the age of 35.

Marx was an average student and was educated at home until he was 12. He spent five years (1830-1835), at the Jesuit high school in Trier, which at that time was known as the Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium. He is known to be one of the major contributors of socio-political theories in the world and is one of the most influential men in modern history.  

In 1848, he published The Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels and thereafter exiled to London. There he wrote the first volume of Das Kapital and spent the rest of his life.


In October of 1835, Marx began studying at the University of Bonn which was known for its lively and rebellious culture. Marx was actively involved in such activities that led to his imprisonment for drunkenness and disturbing the peace. He also incurred debts and participated in a duel.

As a result of this his father insisted him to enroll in the more serious University of Berlin at the end of the year. He studied law and philosophy in Berlin and was introduced to the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel, who had been a professor at Berlin until his death in 1831.

Karl Marx

Painting By Anjula Singh Bhadauria

This slowly led to his inclination towards Hegelian ideologies. He received his doctorate from the University of Jena in 1841, but he could not procure a teaching position because of his radical politics. He began to work as a journalist, and in 1842, he became the editor of Rheinische Zeitung, a liberal newspaper in Cologne. Just one year later, the government ordered the suppression of that newspaper. In October, he moved to Paris with his spouse.

Later Life

Paris was the political heart of Europe in 1843. There, along with Arnold Ruge, Marx founded a political journal titled Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals). In August 1844, the journal brought Marx together with Friedrich Engels, who later became his collaborator and lifelong friend.

The result of Marx and Engels’s first collaboration was published in 1845 as The Holy Family.  Marx was expelled from France for writing in another radical newspaper, Vorwärts!, which had strong ties to an organization that later become the Communist League. He moved to Brussels where he wrote The German Ideology, in which he first developed his theory on historical materialism.

At the beginning of 1846, Marx founded a Communist Correspondence Committee in an attempt to link socialists from around Europe. Inspired by his ideas, socialists in England held a conference and formed the Communist League. He wrote Communist Manifesto that was published in 1848, and shortly after, in 1849, Marx was expelled from Belgium.

He went to France but was deported from there as well therefore he finally moved to London. Although Britain denied him citizenship, he remained in London until his death. In London, Marx helped found the German Workers’ Educational Society, as well as a new headquarters for the Communist League.

He continued to work as a journalist, including a 10-year stint as a correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune from 1852 to 1862, but he never earned a living wage and was largely supported by Engels. Marx became increasingly focused on capitalism and economic theory, and in 1867, he published the first volume of Das Kapital.

Karl Marx as a thinker

Marx’s literary work is difficult to categorize for while his major work, Das Kapital, translated into English as Capital, is a work of economics, he is more popularly recognised as a social scientist and a political philosopher. As C.Wright Mills has explained:

“as with most complicated thinkers, there is no one Marx. The various presentations of his work which we can construct from his books, pamphlets, articles, letters written at different times in his own development, depend upon our point of interest …; every student must earn his own Marx.”

So today, we have Marxist anthropology, Marxist literary criticism, Marxist aesthetics, Marxist pedagogy, Marxist cultural studies, Marxist sociology etc. His intellectual output lasted from the early 1840s to the early l880s and over that long period of 40 years produced a number of works that have enriched the thinking of those who came after him. There are many who see different stages in the thinking of Karl Marx.

His earlier works are sometimes referred to as showing a humanistic Marx, a philosophical Marx who was concerned with the role of the individual, with what human beings are actually like, with the relationship between consciousness and existence. The later Marx, we are told, wrote as a social scientist, a political economist who was more concerned with social structure than with individuals.


The Marxist Perspective on Education

Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. The Capitalist (BOURGEOISE) society put constraints on education because education is a social product whose form is determined by sequence of social change and they fear that any change in the system will after their statue or thereafter vested interests. According to the Marxist perspective on education, the system performs three functions for these elites:

  • Reproduces class inequality.
  • Legitimates class inequality.
  • It works in the interests of capitalist employers

Kari Marx & Frederick Engels (1965) [The German Ideology] Marxists divided modern society into two major classes:

(i)            The Exploiters or ‘The Oppressors’ or‘The Bourgeoise’. Those who own the mean of production but do not produce.

(ii)          The Exploited or ‘The Oppressed’ or ‘The Proletariat’. Who do not own means of production but are direct producers of goods and services.

Marxist view highlighted the inevitability of the proletarian revolution. Marx’s position about the ruling class was they have the power to control the working classes not with force but with ideas. These ideas justify their dominant position and conceal the true source of their power along with their exploitation of the subject class.

Marxism is a belief that capitalism allows the owners of capital (the ruling-class or bosses) to exploit the workers (employees) and this causes conflict between the two classes (known as social-class conflict).

The High rate of social mobility resulting from education would tend to weaken class solidarity (mutual dependence) and will thus lead to problematic situation where there would be no chance for the ‘have nots’ to topple down the system of ‘haves’.

In Marx’s view this ruling class ideology is far more effective in controlling the subject classes than physical force, as it is hidden from the consciousness of the subject class – this is known as ‘false consciousness’. One example Marxists might use is the role of meritocracy in education to control the working classes by getting the working classes used to being rewarded for being good and doing as told.

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Marx died of pleurisy in London on March 14, 1883. While his original grave had only a nondescript stone, the Communist Party of Great Britain erected a large tombstone, including a bust of Marx, in 1954. The stone is etched with the last line of The Communist Manifesto (“Workers of all lands unite”), as well as a quote from the Theses on Feuerbach. In his rich repertoire of work, he produced many jewels with the crowning glory as Das Kapital.

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