When Karl Marx died in March 1883, only about a dozen people attended his funeral at a cemetery in London, England, including family members. Yet, for more than a century after his death – and even until today – there have been few thinkers whose ideas have been as influential on various aspects of modern world history. Indeed, as some have said, no other faith or belief-system has had such a worldwide impact as Marxism, since the birth of Christianity and the rise of Islam.
In attempt to make a “better” world, communist regimes have killed as many as 200 million people in the 20th century.
Marx’s critique of capitalism and capitalist society has shaped much of the social thinking in Western countries that led to the welfare state and extensive government intervention into economic affairs. And it served as the ideological banner that inspired the socialist and communist revolutions of the twentieth century – beginning in Russia in 1917 and still retaining political power today in such countries as Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and China.
In the name of the Marxian vision of a “new society” and a “new man,” socialist and communist revolutions led to the mass murders, enslavement, torture, and starvation of tens of millions of people around the world. Historians have estimated that in the attempt to make that “new” and “better” socialist world, communist regimes have killed as many as, maybe, 200 million people in the twentieth century.
Marx’s Private Life
Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, in the Rhineland town of Trier. His parents were Jewish, with a long line of respected rabbis on both sides of the family. But to follow a legal career in the Kingdom of Prussia at the time, Karl Marx’s father converted to Protestantism. Karl’s own religious training was limited; at an early age he rejected all belief in a Supreme Being.
After studying for a time in Bonn, he transferred to the University of Berlin to work on a doctoral degree in philosophy. But he was generally a lazy and good-for-nothing student. The money that his father sent to him for tuition at the University was spent on food and drink, with many of his nights spent at coffee houses and taverns getting drunk and arguing about Hegelian philosophy with other students. He finally acquired his doctoral degree by submitting his dissertation to the University of Jena in eastern Germany.
Marx would not allow his illegitimate child to visit their mother when he was at home.
Marx’s only real jobs during his lifetime were as occasional reporters for or editors of newspapers and journals most of which usually closed in a short period of time, either because of small readership and limited financial support or political censorship by the governments under which he was living.
His political activities as a writer and activist resulted in his having to move several times, including to Paris and Brussels, finally ending up in London in 1849, where he lived for the rest of his life, with occasional trips back to the European continent.
Though Marx was “middle class” and even “Victorian” in many of his everyday cultural attitudes, this did not stop him from breaking his marriage vows and committing adultery. He had sex enough times with the family maid that she bore him an illegitimate son – and this under the same roof with his wife and his legitimate children (of which he had seven, with only three living to full adulthood).
But he would not allow his illegitimate child to visit their mother in his London house whenever he was at home, and the boy could only enter the house through the kitchen door in the back of the house. In addition, he had his friend, longtime financial benefactor, and intellectual collaborator, Fredrick Engels, claim parentage of the child so to avoid any social embarrassment falling upon himself due to his infidelity.
As historian Paul Johnson explained in his book, Intellectuals (1988):
In all his researches into the iniquities of British capitalism, he came across many instances of low-paid workers but he never succeeded in unearthing one who was paid literally no wages at all. Yet such a worker did exist, in his own household… This was Helen Demuth [the life-long family maid]. She got her keep but was paid nothing… She was a ferociously hard worker, not only cleaning and scrubbing, but managing the family budget… Marx never paid her a penny…
“In 1849-50… [Helen] became Marx’s mistress and conceived a child… Marx refused to acknowledge his responsibility, then or ever, and flatly denied the rumors that he was the father… [The son] was put out to be fostered by a working-class family called Lewis but allowed to visit the Marx household [to see his mother]. He was, however, forbidden to use the front door and obliged to see his mother only in the kitchen.
“Marx was terrified that [the boy’s] paternity would be discovered and that this would do him fatal damage as a revolutionary leader and seer . . . [Marx] persuaded Engels to acknowledge [the boy] privately, as a cover story for family consumption… But Engels… was not willing to take the secret to the grave. Engels died, of cancer of the throat, on 5 August 1895; unable to speak but unwilling that Eleanor [one of Marx’s daughters] should continue to think her father unsullied, he wrote on a slate: ‘Freddy [the boy’s name] is Marx’s son…”
Marx’s Mean and Mendacious Manner
In temperament, Marx could be cruel and authoritarian. He treated people with whom he disagreed in a crude and mean way, often ridiculing them in public gatherings. Marx had no hesitation about being a hypocrite; when he wanted something from someone he would flatter them in letters or conversation, but then attack them in nasty language behind their backs to others. He often used racial slurs and insulting words to describe the mannerisms or appearance of his opponents in the socialist movement.
For instance, in an 1862 letter to Frederick Engels, Marx described leading nineteenth-century German socialist, Ferdinand Lassalle, in the following way:
The Jewish Nigger Lassalle . . .fortunately departs at the end of this week . . . It is now absolutely clear to me that, as both the shape of his head and his hair texture shows – he descends from the Negros who joined Moses’ flight from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the paternal side hybridized with a nigger). Now this combination of Germanness and Jewishness with a primarily Negro substance creates a strange product. The pushiness of the fellow is also nigger-like.”
In Marx’s mind, the Jew in bourgeois society encapsulated the essence of everything he considered despicable in the capitalist system, and only with the end of the capitalist system would there be an end to most of those unattractive qualities. Here is Marx’s conception of the Jewish mind in nineteenth century Europe, from his essay “On the Jewish Question” (1844):
What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldlyTags: Karl Marx