Karl Marx, the father of communism, is 200

Full Marx: Red is the colour associated with communism.

What can we learn from Karl Marx? The philosopher is famous for predicting that the poor would overthrow the rich. On the 200th anniversary of his birth, the world looks back at his legacy…

What’s happening

Karl Marx would have turned 200 this week. Born in the German town of Trier, Marx studied philosophy. Appalled by the poverty around him, he criticised the capitalist society he lived in, and argued for communism instead. He is one of the most influential — and controversial — thinkers in history.

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Though fairly well-off, Marx sympathised with the poor. He saw society in terms of labourers, who work hard but get paid almost nothing, and a small group of elites, who get very rich off the labourers’ efforts.

Marx believed that this capitalist system would not last long before the labourers rose up and took power, eventually creating a fair, classless society in which everyone could live comfortably. This communist ideal inspired several revolutions in the 20th century, from China to the Soviet Union.

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, many assumed that “Marxism” was dead. Yet it is staging something of a comeback. Sales of Marx’s books have soared in recent years, and politicians like Jeremy Corbyn are praising him.

Was he right after all?

Some say…

Yes. Inequality is still a huge problem: according to Oxfam, 82% of the wealth created in 2017 went to the richest 1%. Even in wealthy countries, the young struggle with student debt and unaffordable housing. The rise of politicians like Corbyn and Donald Trump shows how angry people are with the capitalist status quo. We can learn a lot from Marx.

Others think…

Get real. Since Marx’s day, capitalism has faced a few big crises — and survived. It has done so by gradually becoming more fair, through ideas like welfare. Meanwhile, communist states have crashed and burned, or become basically capitalist (like China). Marx lived in a fantasy land. We are better off than ever before, and things will not change.

You Decide

  1. Would the world be better if everyone had the same amount of money?

Activities

  1. Imagine Marx was still alive today. Write down five questions that you would ask him.

Some People Say...

“From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

Karl Marx

What do you think?

Word Watch

Capitalist
“Capital” is wealth, in the form of money or other possessions (like property).
Soviet Union
A group of communist states run by Russia, which existed for most of the 20th century.
Jeremy Corbyn
The leader of the Labour Party.
Oxfam
A charity which helps victims of disasters and works to raise living standards around the world.
Status quo
Things as they are.
Welfare
Government programmes aimed at helping people in need.

Subjects

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