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Monday, 4 April 2016

Karl Marx


Karl Marx was born May 5, 1818 at Bruckenstrausse 10, Trier, Prussia, (now Germany). It is now a museum.

Marx's birthplace in Trier. By Berthold Werner, Wikipedia Commons

Karl Marx was born into a progressive middle class Jewish family. His father Heinrich, descending from a long line of rabbis, was a lawyer. Karl Marx's grandfather Meier Halevi Marx and uncle, Samuel Marx, both served as chief rabbi of Trier.

 In 1817 Heinrich Marx converted to the Prussian state religion of Lutheranism to keep his position as a lawyer, which he had gained under the Napoleonic regime.

Young Karl himself was baptized a Christian at the age of 6.

The Marx family was very liberal and the Marx household hosted many visiting intellectuals and artists during Karl's early life.

Marx was deeply attached to his father and he always carried a photo of him.

In 1830 the 12 year old Karl Marx started attending Trier High School. The Protestant educational establishment was under police surveillance as they were suspected of employing liberal teachers.

Marx received good grades at his secondary education school. His senior thesis, which anticipated his later development of a social analysis of religion, was a treatise entitled Religion: The Glue That Binds Society Together, for which he won a prize.

In 1833 Marx enrolled in the University of Bonn to study law, at his father's behest. He joined the Trier Tavern Club and at one point served as its president.

Marx's grades suffered at Bonn as he spent most of his time singing songs in beer halls. The next year, his father made him transfer to the far more serious and academically oriented Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin (now known as the Humboldt University).

In Berlin, Marx's interests turned to philosophy, much to his father's dismay, and he joined the circle of students and young professors known as the "Young Hegelians", led by Bruno Bauer. Some members of this circle drew an analogy between post-Aristotelian philosophy and post-Hegelian philosophy.


Marx abandoned philosophy for journalism and between 1842-43, he edited the Rheinische Zeitung, a radical Cologne newspaper, until its suppression.

After the Rheinische Zeitung was shut down in 1843, in part due to Marx's conflicts with government censors, he returned to philosophy. From then on Marx concentrated on political activism, and worked as a freelance journalist.

On August 28, 1844, Marx met the German socialist Friedrich Engels at the Café de la Régence in Paris. Engels was a textile manufacturer whose ideas were in complete accord with Marx’s and they begun a lifelong friendship.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

While residing in Brussels in 1846, Marx associated with the secret radical organisation League of the Just. In June 1847 the League of the Just was reorganized by its membership into a new open "above ground" political society that appealed directly to the working classes.This new open political society was called the Communist League.

In late 1847, Marx and Engels began writing  a program of action for the Communist League. Written from December 1847 to January 1848, The Communist Manifesto was first published on  February 21, 1848.

 first edition of The Manifesto of the Communist Party, published in German in 1848

Marx had friends among the German labor unions and he was considered a threat to the autocrats. In 1848 the political activist was targeted for assassination when he met with two Prussian officers in his Cologne house. Dressed in his bathrobe he forced the officers out at the point of a revolver which, it turned out, was not loaded.

 In early June 1849 Marx was expelled from Prussia so he settled in London. He  would remain based in the city for the rest of his life.

When not stirring up agitation, Marx was busy in British Museum's reading room researching the works of political economists and on economic data.

Between 1851-62, Marx was  European Correspondent for the New York Tribune. He was paid a guinea each for his contributions. Together with Engels, he wrote around 500 articles for the newspaper over the eleven year period. As a columnist Marx is considered to be one of the great Victorian journalists.

In 1864, Marx became involved in the International Workingmen's Association (also known as First International), to whose General Council he was elected at its inception in 1864. He presided over the First International in London for the next eight years.

Apart from sporadic journalism, Marx shunned gainful employment. He never did a day of manual work in his life. He once applied for a job as a railway clerk, but was rejected as his writing was so atrocious.


In 1841 The German philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, published The Essence of Christianity, which promoted humanistic atheism. The book argued that mankind had invented God as a spiritual answer to their needs, hopes and fears. His work proved to be a great influence on Karl Marx  when he was a student at the University of Berlin.

Karl Marx joined the Communist League, which was originally a German refugee organization, in 1844 with his life long collaborator, Engels.

During his time in England, Marx saw the harsh working conditions and poverty of workers which helped fuel his principles.

According to Marx, history is moving relentlessly in the direction of the communist society. When that society is reached private property will be a thing of the past.

Marx declared "Religion is the sigh of the hard pressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, as it is the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people." He taught that religion should have been stamped out by natural selection but the proletariat would assist this evolutionary process.


The Communist Manifesto was written over 6–7 weeks in the winter of 1847- 1848. Although Engels is credited as co-writer, the final draft was penned exclusively by Marx.

At first the Communist Manifesto was largely ignored . It only began to shift some copies in 1872 when it was reprinted.

Karl Marx published the first volume of his political and economic treatise Das Kapital, subtitled A Critique of Political Economy, on September 14, 1867. It was researched mainly in the British Museum's reading room, where he spent ten hours a day gathering evidence for this communist philosophy.

The first volume of Das Kapital

Marx wrote Das Kapital while living in unhygienic squalor at 28 Dean Street, Soho, London in two small rooms above what subsequently became the Quo Vadis restaurant. He was residing there with his wife, maid and five children. They were so poor that all the family slept in the same bed (including the housekeeper.)

Marx sent a copy of Das Kapital to Charles Darwin who responded that both works would ultimately add to the long-term happiness of mankind.

The second and third volumes of Das Kapital were edited from Marx's notes by Engels and published posthumously


Marx had a long black beard, which turned white as he grew older.  He was fairly short, with bushy eyebrows, sand hard eyes but a pleasant expression. He had the features of a cultivated Jew and was swarthy enough to be nicknamed “moor”.

Marx in 1875

Marx was assertive as a younger man, but developed an inferiority complex as he got older. He was impatient, dogmatic and not generally liked.


At the age of 17 Marx fell in love with the gifted and beautiful Jenny Von Westplalen, a childhood friend and the daughter of an official in Prussian administration at Trier. She was four years older than him.

Jenny von Westphalen came from an aristocratic background. Her uncle was Lion Philips, father of the brothers Gerard and Anton who founded the famous Philips company in 1891.

,Jenny von Westphalen in the 1830s

Marx and Jenny married on June 19, 1843 in the Kreuznacher Pauluskirche (the Kreuznach church of Saint Paul), Bad Kreuznach, in spite of both families misgivings.

Following their marriage, Karl and Jenny Marx moved to Rue Vaneau in Paris.

She called him "schwarzwildchen", German for "little wild one."

They had four daughters all named Jenny after her: Jenny Laura, Jenny Caroline, Jenny Eveline Frances ("Franziska"), who died aged one, and Jenny Julia Eleanor.

After moving to London, the Marx family relied mainly on Engels' support and lived in virtual poverty. They received some legacies from Jenny’s rich relatives whose deaths Marx greeted with cheers.

Karl Marx (1818–1883), Friedrich Engels (1820–1895), and Marx's daughters: Jenny Caroline (1844–1883), Jenny Julia Eleanor (1855–1898), and Jenny Laura (1845–1911)

Their children learned to pretend their father was not at home when his creditors called.

The Marx family liked to picnic on Hampstead Heath but were often forced because of their poverty to survive on bread and potatoes.

Whilst picnicking on Hampstead Heath the Marxses liked to produce family performances of Shakespeare.

Asked later in her life if her marriage had been happy when they were poor, Jenny wistfully replied "yes we were happy enough, but I wish dear Karl could have spent some time acquiring capital instead of writing about it."

Jenny died of cancer on December 2, 1881 when Marx was 63, which left him a "moral cripple." The next year his favorite eldest daughter Caroline died.

Upon his own death in 1895, Engels left Marx's two surviving daughters a "significant portion" of his $4.8 million estate.

His youngest daughter Eleanor Marx (1858-98) was a left wing activist who eventually committed suicide.

It was controversially discovered after Marx's death that he had fathered a son by a maid servant, Freddie Deumuth, who had previously been passed off as Engels' offspring. Engels had loyally pretended to be the father.


Marx was an excellent player on the checkerboard. He acquired such a dexterity at this game that it was difficult to win a game from him.

Marx also enjoyed, which he wasn't so good at. He tried to make up what he lacked in tactical acumen by zeal, impetuousness of attack and surprise.


Marx suffered from piles while penning Das Kapital. He wrote "I hope the Bourgeoisie will remember my carbuncles."

When he was 56, Marx fell sick with enlargement of the liver which made him feel permantly ill and prone to imagining sicknesses. He toured the English spas to try to recover his health.

According to a British expert, Karl Marx suffered from a chronic skin disease with known psychological effects that may well have influenced his writings.


Following the death of Jenny, Marx developed a catarrh that kept him in ill health for the last 15 months of his life. It eventually brought on the bronchitis and pleurisy that killed him in London on March 14, 1883. He passed away while contemplating realms of statistics about the Russian economy.

Marx in 1882

Family and friends in London buried his body in Highgate Cemetery, London, on March 17, 1883. There were only around ten mourners at his funeral including the loyal Engels who paid tribute to the father of communism saying “On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep—but forever.”

At Highgate Cemetery there is a large bust of Marx with ”Workers of the World Unite,” the final line of The Communist Manifesto, carved on its base.

Grave of Karl Marx at Highgate Cemetery 

By the 1980s more than a billion humans had lived under communist regimes. Marx had a greater influence on social change in the 20th century than any other man.

Statues of Karl Marx are dotted around the world, attracting tourists, controversy, garlands and graffiti. In 1971, a huge bronze head of Marx was unveiled in Chemnitz, once known as Karl-Marx-Stadt - it is a second largest bust in the world.

According to a 1999 BBC online poll Marx was the leading thinker of the Millennium.

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