Karl Marx (1818-83) was born into a middle-class family in Germany.
At university he was one of many radically-minded philosophers. In
his mid-20s, partly under the influence of workers' socialist groups
he met during a stay in Paris, he decided to throw in his lot with
the working class then emerging as a social force in Europe.
He joined a group called the Communist League and wrote the famous
Communist Manifesto for it. That appeared in early 1848. Within a few
days revolutionary upheavals exploded in France and Germany (then
ruled by monarchies, with very little space for democracy). From June
1848 to May 1849 Marx edited a revolutionary newspaper, the Neue
Rheinische Zeitung, in Cologne. As the revolution ebbed, he had to
seek exile in Britain, and lived in London for the rest of his life.
There were many socialists and communists before Marx. But, in short
pamphlets like the Communist Manifesto and in longer, more analytical
books like Capital (1867), Marx developed a new perspective for
socialism - no longer based on presenting blueprints for an ideal
society to humanity in general, or on semi-military conspiracies, but
on struggles for democracy and for better conditions by the working
class generated by capitalism itself.
During Marx's life, his sort of socialism was a small minority force.
He was unworried by being at odds with "public opinion", concluding
his preface to Capital with a phrase from Dante: "Go your own way,
and let the people talk". But he was active in the International
Workingmen's Association, the first workers' international, from its
founding in 1864 until it shattered in the reaction after the Paris
Commune of 1871. Marx and his co-thinker Frederick Engels (1821-95)
helped socialists form workers' parties in Germany and France. They
campaigned for solidarity with the anti-slavery struggle in the US
civil war, with national struggles in Poland, with the Paris Commune,
and with socialists forced into exile after the defeat of the Commune.
Mass workers' parties and trade unions developed in Europe in the
decades between Marx's death and World War 1 (1914). Until his death
in 1895, Engels was a respected (but not always heeded) adviser to
those new labour movements.