Marx at 200: How Do His Theories Hold Up?

Photograph Source Tobias Nordhausen | CC BY 2.0

This year marks the 200th birthday of Karl Marx. Activists continue to evoke his name in their struggles, academics continue to engage with his work in ways that are multidisciplinary and multivalent, and social scientists continue to test his empirical claims. Social scientists like, well, me.

Marx, in Brief

Marx’s writings are extensive and debate-worthy. That Marx wanted to influence real-world, political-economic change is obvious: while the front of his gravestone reads “Workers of All Lands Unite,” another side reinscribes his pragmatic vision: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

For academics, Marx is particularly notable for the central focus he placed on social class, defined by one’s relationship to the means of production. Briefly, Marx split classes into two camps: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The bourgeoisie control the means of production, owning businesses, farms, fields, and mines, while the proletariat has nothing to sell but its own labor.

The Communist Manifesto, which Marx wrote with his comrade and financial benefactor Friedrich Engels, puts forth many direct, testable claims. Far from Marx’s only influential work, the Manifesto remains Marx’s most widely read work. Most believe it is also among the clearest presentations of Marx’s understanding of domestic and global dynamics. Because he primarily focused…

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