But a lot of the significance of the work lies in its downstream effects.
However he managed it, and despite the fact that, as Sperber and Stedman Jones demonstrate, he can look, on some level, like just one more nineteenth-century system-builder who was convinced he knew how it was all going to turn out, Marx produced works that retained their intellectual firepower over time.
As ideologies disappeared which had once made inequality appear natural and ordained, it was inevitable that workers everywhere would see the system for what it was, and would rise up and overthrow it.
The writer who made this prediction was, of course, Karl Marx, and the pamphlet was “The Communist Manifesto.” He is not wrong yet.
Considering his rather glaring relevance to contemporary politics, it’s striking that two important recent books about Marx are committed to returning him to his own century.
“Marx was not our contemporary,” Jonathan Sperber insists, in “Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life” (Liveright), which came out in 2013; he is “more a figure of the past than a prophet of the present.” And Gareth Stedman Jones explains that the aim of his new book, “Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion” (Harvard), is “to put Marx back in his nineteenth-century surroundings.”The mission is worthy.That’s the point of the famous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have hitherto only it.” Marx was not saying that philosophy is irrelevant; he was saying that philosophical problems arise out of real-life conditions, and they can be solved only by changing those conditions—by remaking the world.And Marx’s ideas were used to remake the world, or a big portion of it.The new modes of production, communication, and distribution had also created enormous wealth. As cities and towns industrialized, as wealth became more concentrated, and as the rich got richer, the middle class began sinking to the level of the working class.Soon, in fact, there would be just two types of people in the world: the people who owned property and the people who sold their labor to them.Interestingly, given the similarity of their approaches, there is not much overlap.Still, Marx was also what Michel Foucault called the founder of a discourse. “I am not a Marxist,” Marx is said to have said, and it’s appropriate to distinguish what he intended from the uses other people made of his writings.By the middle of the twentieth century, more than a third of the people in the world were living under regimes that called themselves, and genuinely believed themselves to be, Marxist.This matters because one of Marx’s key principles was that theory must always be united with practice.or about February 24, 1848, a twenty-three-page pamphlet was published in London.Modern industry, it proclaimed, had revolutionized the world.