Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Karl Marx was a German philosopher, journalist and revolutionary socialist. whose socialist writings got him expelled from Germany and France. In 1848, he published The Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engels and was exiled to London, where he wrote the first volume of Das Kapital and lived the remainder of his life. His political and economic ideas, along with the works of Friedrich Engels became known as Marxism.
Marxism is a political theory that emphasises the idea that social life is based upon conflicts of interests. The most fundamental being between the Bourgeoisie (those who own and control the means of production in society, capitalists) and the Proletariat (the workers , labour power in a capital market). The main concern is to expose the political and economic contradictions inherent in Capitalism (for example, the fact that while people co-operate to produce goods, a Capitalist class appropriates these goods for its private profit) in order to head towards the establishment of a future Communist society.
Marx believed that, eventually, workers would unite and overthrow the capitalist ruling class. He thought that the bourgeois-capitalist ruling structure would give way to a revolution led by workers who would replace the order with a fairer system.
Whether or not we consider Marxism to still be relevant today similarities can be drawn to these theories. For example the image below, taken during the UK miners’ strike of 1984-1985, has strong Marxist connotations.
The photograph was taken at a British Steel coking plant in Orgreave, South Yorkshire on 18th July 1984. The confrontation between police and picketing miners became known as The Battle of Orgreave.
The image is in black and white (despite it being taken on a summers day) which adds to the dramatic effect and emphasises the opposing sides, black versus white. The police are in black with helmets, arms entwined, giving an impression of authority and solidarity. They represent the state or capitalist/bourgeoisie. Whilst the lone miner is casually dressed, holding a cigarette which signifies the working class. He is symbolic of the proletariat.
There is a ‘ them and us’ feel reminiscent of Marxist mentality. The photo representing the battle between two classes. Unlike other photos taken at the time this one doesn’t seem to represent the working classes fighting back to overcome the system. It points to the dominance of the ruling classes. The police appear to be smiling and mocking the miner whilst he looks on with disdain. The upper classes are very much in power.