Karl Marx (Germany/Britain, 1818-83)


Figure 1.--There are few availavle images of Marx and his family. We suspect that the virtual poverty they lived in was a factor. A CIH reader has found this drawing of the young Marx lecturing his siblings while his parents look on. We do not know who the illistrator was, but it is a modern drawing. Marx grew up in a liberal home with humanistic ideas. Irinically he would give birth to titalitrian Communist responsibe for mass killing on an unpresedented scale.

Karl Heinrich Marx was born into a well-to-do middle-class family in Trier (1818). Trier was, as result of the Napoleonic Wars in the Prussian Rhineland at the time. His father was a lawyer, but came from a long line of destinguished Rabbis. He had to convert to Protestantism in order to work as a lawyer. Karl entered the University of Bonn to study law at the age of 17 years. Here he became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, whose father, Baron von Westphalen, convinced Marx to read Romantic literature and Saint-Simonian politics. A year later, Marx's father moved him to the University of Berlin where he became fascinated by Hegelianism He was influenced by Ludwig Feurbach. Marx from an early point was attracted to G.W.F. Hegel's dialectics and became convinced of the idea of historical inevitability--essentially proceeding to the point of converting history and economics to a science. Marx wasnot satified with the idealism and abstract thought of philosophy. Rather he concluded that the force and material base of economics drove history and could be studied and predicted like a natural science. He diverged from Hegel's focus on the philosophy of law. Marx saw civil society as the sphere to be studied in order to understand the historical development of man. Marx was awarded his doctorate at Jena writing a disertation on the materialism and atheism of Greek atomists (1841). After completeting his uiversity studies he worked for the Rheinische Zeitung, a radical Cologne newspaer. He also began working on a materialist theory of history. He published extensively during his lifetime. He moved to Paris (1843) where he began writing for other radical newspapers. It is here that he first met Friedrich Engels. The two become lifelong friend and collaborator. The Revolution of 1848 and rhe Rise of Napoleon III changed the political envirinment in France. Napoleon expelled Marx as he had enough French radicals to deal with. Marx moved to London with his wife and chilren where he did most of his research and writing. His most important works were 'The Communist Manifesto' (1848), published while still in Paris and Das Kapital (1867–1894). Marx's work in economics and history was the first systimized attempt to the relationhip between labor and capital, and highly influential subsequent economic thought. He became a tireless campaigner for socialism and a significant figure in the International Workingmen's Association. Marx's theories have been proven wrong in practice. The wealthy countries of the world are all liberal democracies with strong capitalist sectors. These countries which adopted Communism, either on their own, or through Soviet occupation proved to be not only poor with low living standards, but terible abusers of human rights, many guilty of mass murder. Even so the ideology of socilism is so appealing that it contiunues to attract ardent devotees.

Parents

Marx's parents were Heinrich Marx (1777-1838) and Henrietta Pressburg (1788–1863). Heinrich was a successful lawyer. And despite the fact that he discended from a family with many destinguished rabbis going back generations, he was not much concerned with religion. He converted to Protestantism. This was not a reliogus matter. There were still many restictions to being a Jew, affcting both education and employment. He had to convert to become a lawyer. This was the case throughout Germany, although the laws and regulations varied from state to state. It was a major reason that many German Jews emigrated to America. Until after the Civil War, most American Jews had German origins. Marx's mother's family was Dutch and had more of a business orientation, althhough his matermal grandfather was also a rabbi. The family would found Phillips, the Dutch electronics giant. His mother's family would help support the Marx family in London.

Jewish Background

Marx was etnically Jewish on both sides of his family. His maternal grandfather was a Dutch rabbi. His paternal grandfather descended from a long line of Trier rabbis, beginning in 1723. His paternal grandfather, Meier Halevi Marx, followed this trdition. Most Jews unil the 19th century attended their own schools even as German states, especially Prussia, began building public school systems. Karl's father as a boy was named erschel. He was the first member of the family to attend a secular school. As a young man he convrted to Luthernism. the primary Christian denomination in Prussia. This allowed him to practice law in which he proved successful. He was able to bring his family up in comfort and buy land. He owned several Moselle vinyards. He cganged him name from the Yiddish Herschel to the German Heinrich. Marx was also related to the German Romantic poet Heinrich Heine, also born into a Rhineland Jewish family. They would become frequent correspondent after Marx found refuge in London. Marx's father was basically non-religious. He was an educated man embued with the ideas of the Enlightenment. He read the works of philosophers like Immanuel Kant and Voltaire. He would be described today as a classical liberal, but at the time that liberalism was on the cutting edge of politics. After the Napoleonic Wars, power was returned to the conservative monarchies. Prussia was closr to an absolute monarchy. It is at this time that Marx's father began working as an attorney. Marx and his parents were not religious Jews. Marx is famous for writing that 'religion is the opium of the people". His ideas on religion, however, are much more nanced than that would suggest. And while he did not practice Judaism, it seems difficult to dismiss the ideas like social responsibility and a desire for a better world and other ideas from his Jewish heritage. It is reason thar Marxist ideas has had such resonance in the Jewish community, even among non-relogious Jews. You see that in American politics. You als see that in Israel which was founded by two major groups, relgious Jews and socialists.

Childhood

Karl Heinrich Marx was born into a prosperous well-to-do middle-class Jewish family in Trier (1818). Trier was, as result of the Napoleonic Wars was the Rhineland province of the Lower Rhine, part of the Prussian Kingdom. As a result he would have had a comfortable childhood, although virtually nothing is known about. Marx wrote voluminously, but virtually nothing about his childhood. He was the third of nine children. He became the oldest son when his brother Moritz died (1819). He was baptised into the Lutheran Church with his surviving siblings, Sophie, Hermann, Henriette, Louise, Emilie and Caroline (1824). Their mother was baptised the next year.

Education

Karl did not attend primary school. Rather his father edicated him and his siblings at home. He enrolled in the Trier High School (1830). The headmaster, Hugo Wyttenbach, was a friend of his father and shared his liberal orientation. This helped ease the entry of a Jewish boy into a German secular school. And Wyttenbach emmployed teachers with the same liberal, humanist ideas in which they believed. This caught the attention of the conservative Prussian authorities. The Prussian police raided the school while Marx was there (1832). They found literature espousing political liberalism which was being discussed and distributed to the students. The Prussian authorities demanded changes at the school and the dismissal of some of the teachers. Karl entered the University of Bonn to study law at the age of 17 years. Law was not his choice, but his fther insisted seeing it as more practical to ensuring a future income. It is at Bonn that he met Jenny von Westphalen, his future wife. Marx at first got good grades, but away from hime his attention slipped. He joined a radical group that thevpolice were monitoring. He also joined a drinking club. He even had a duel. His grades slipped. Marx's father moved him to the University of Berlin where he became fascinated by Hegelianism He was influenced by Ludwig Feurbach. Marx from an early point was attracted to G.W.F. Hegel's dialectics and became convinced of the idea of historical inevitability--essentially proceeding to the point of converting history and economics to a science. Marx at university was not satified with the idealism and abstract thought of philosophy. Rather he concluded that the force and material base of economics drove history and could be studied and predicted like a natural science. He diverged from Hegel's focus on the philosophy of law. Marx saw civil society as the sphere to be studied in order to understand the historical development of man. Marx as a young as a young, idealistic university student in Germany he was disturbed by the economic inequalities of the day and did not think that they could be corrected by the conservative monarchies of the day or the liberal democracy developing in Britain. America was not yet on his radar screen except for the issue of slavery. While still in the university, he joined a movement known as the Young Hegelians, after Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. He was a German philosopher and major sicial critic. Hegel became an important figure in German idealism. Hegel's effort at sytemizing thought and creating a historical construct clearly influenced the young Marx still at university. Marx became a journalist, but the radical nature of his articles upset authorities. He was disturbed by the social inequalities of the day and did not think that they could be corrected by liberal democracy. Officials in Germany, France and Belgium expelled him as a disruptive influence. Marx was awarded his doctorate at Jena writing a disertation on the materialism and atheism of Greek atomists (1841).

Family

Marx met Jenny von Westphalen when he entered the University of Bonn. She was both bright and well read. Her father, Baron von Westphalen, convinced Marx to read romantic literature and Saint-Simonian politics. The Westphalen family was a prominent Prussian aristocratic family and very conservative. Despite the wildly different political views, the families remained on amiable terms. The Baron was an associate of Marx's father and unlike many Prussian aristocrats did notv have a problem with Jews. Jenny was known as the 'most beautiful girl in Trier' They married (1843) and the two were totally devoted to each other, which did not include providing for the family. They had seven children, but four died in infancy or childhood which was high even for the standards of the day. By all account he deeply loved his daughters. And despite the lack of money, they rciprocated. Two of the three, Jenny and Laura, married Frenchmen, perhaps reflecting the greater socilist movement in France. Marx's two French sons-in-law became prominent French socialists and members of Parliament. Eleanor was active as a labor organizer in Britain. Jenny's death was a blow from which he never recovered. He himself died 2 years later. Marx spent almost most of his working time in the British Museum, doing research and reading viracuiously.

Journalism

After completeting his uiversity studies he worked for the Rheinische Zeitung, a liberal Cologne newspaer, radical for the times. He became the paper’s editor (1842). The Prussian government banned the news paper as too radical (1843). The now unemployed Marx with his new wife, Jenny von Westphalen, moved to Paris. He began writing for other liberal newspapers. It was in Paris that Marx met another German émigré, Friedrich Engels. hey became lifelong friends and colabortors. They published a criticism of Bauer’s Young Hegelian philosophy entitled 'The Holy Father', their first collaboration (1845). He also began working on a materialist theory of history. Hecbecame nvolved in the growing international workers’ movement, radicalizing European workers. This was a step beyond the liberalism of his father. Marx was interested in America, taking a special interest in the fight against slavery and ultimately the Civil War, in part because he supported himself by writing for American newspapers. Some of his articles are insightful, but he never saw what was happening in American beyond abolition.

Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engles another scion of a well-to-do Germany family, although more wealthy than the vMrx family. They were both born at about the same time and grew up in the repressive Prussian Kingdom. The revolutionary Communism that they expoused is today known as Marxism not Englesism. This is probably because it was Marx who offered the monumental Das Kapital. The two men were, however, life-long associates and the ideas in Das Kapital or an amalgum, the product of inumerable disussion and exchange of letters. There was no fundamental issue on which they disagreed. And Engles helped support Marx and his family which lived in near poverty. The stressed the same maters and conveniently igored the same facts that would havecalered to the problems with rgeir scirbtific socialist theoroies. Engles lived longer than Marx and wouls edit volumes II and III of Das Kapital which Marx had not yet published at the time of his death. Engles was able to do this becme he lived more than a decade after his friend Marx died.

Revolution of 1848

The Prussian government was displeased with Marx's writings that reached Germany from Paris. They convinced the French Government to expell him. Both he and Engels moved to Brussels. While in Belgium, he renounced his Prussian citizenship. The just formed Communist League in London, England, commissioned Marx and Engels to write 'The Communist Manifesto'. It was published the following year as Europe erupted -- the Revolution of 1848 (1848). Marx and Engles depicted history as a class struggles which became known as historical materialism. It was the idea that there were conflicts inherent in the capitalist system that would ultimately destroy the whole system. They predicted that the inevitable proletarian revolution would would destroy the capitalist system and the working class proleterit would become the new ruling class. The revolution that swept Europe was not a Communist Revolution, but a combination of liberal and nationalist movements. Their 'Communist Manifesto' introduced a new concept in European thinking -- socialism. Marx had to flee Europe after the 1848 revolutions failed. The Revolution of 1848 led to Rise of Napoleon III, not the Lliberals had hoped to achieve. There were reforms inbGermany, but the monrchies weathered the political storm.

Refuge in Britain

Marx moved to London with his wife and chilren where he did most of his research and writing. His most important works were 'The Communist Manifesto' (1848), published while still in Paris and Das Kapital (1867–1894). Marx's work in economics and history was the first systimized attempt to define the reltionship between laobr and capital. It proved to be a highly influential bsequent economic thought. He became a tireless campaigner for socialism and a significant figure in the International Workingmen's Association.

Basic Ideas

It was Marx who conceptualized some of the basic ideas of socialism. He employed a socioeconomic analysis that analyzes class relations and societal conflict by applying a materialist interpretation of historical development and a dialectical view of social transformation. Very importantly he did not address the vital isues economic efficency and productivity. Marx's main ideas include the historical dialectic (borrowed from Hegel), class struggle, the labor theory of value, social/common ownership, and distribution by needs.

Freedom

Ironically Marx would eventually find refuge in Britain, at the time the financial center of world capitalism. It was in London that he would be able to study and author his monumental work -- Das Kapital. It never occurred to Marx that there was an inherent strength in a society that allowed freedom of thought, something outside his economic construct. Nor did he identify the obvious question of why capitalism developed in Europe which also related to freedom. Marx did not address the idea of freedom. Now to be fair he also did not suggest that freedom needed to be supressed. He did not think it needed to be supressed. That is because as anacademic he did not run face the demands of applying his ideas to actually running a state. In fact, Marx insisted that Marxism is a way of thinking critically, but it is not a 'system' as it is often called. He wrote, "I have never established a 'socialist system’. [Marx, 'Notes ...'.] Lenin had to do this and Marx's ideas were so wrong about human nature and economic success that Lenin and even more so Stalin had to apply state coersive force wiyh unvelievablr brutality and the death of tens of millions of people. As we know, Lenin and Stalin were not for promoting 'criticl thinking'. And individuals who engaged in critical thinking did not go far in Soviet society.

Communism

Communism as a social force was founded by Karl Marx in his landmark work Das Kapital. He did not invent all the ideas, but it was Marx who first put them together in a coherent system. not to say he was correct, but it was coherent. It was also appealing. Socialist ideas are basically an economic fairy tale. We all wih that it was true. It would make for such a beautiful world with evryone living well. There would be no poverty, no hunger, no want. His ideas were both coherrent and appealing. The only problem is that he was wrong and his ideas not work. Marx's theories have been proven wrong in practice, time and time again. They even made oil rich Venezuela poor and hungry. Economic ideas after to badly wrong to make an oil rich country poor. The wealthy countries of the world are all liberal democracies with strong capitalist sectors. These countries which adopted Communism, either on their own, or through Soviet occupation proved to be not only poor with low living standards, but terible abusers of human rights, many guilty of mass murder. Even so the ideology of socialism is so appealing that it contiunues to attract ardent devotees.

America

By the time that Marx published his great work, Das Kapital America was emerging as the preminent world industrial power. Like the Imperial German Goverment, however, Marx did not understand why or begin to enter the massive expansion of American industrial power into his historical construct. In fairness to Marx, the horrendous Communist atrocities of the 20th century from the Soviet Union to China and Cambodia were not what Marx had predicted or desired. Over 100 million people have perished because of the political sytn that Marx played a central role in formulating. These atrocities resulted from what emerged in the Soviet Union -- Marxist-Leninism. Marx was a journalist and academic. The Bolsheviks found that to apply his teachings to goverening, force was needed-- brutality on an unprecedented level. This was because Marx was so wrong about economics and human behavior that only a totalitarian could force people to comply. We find that Communists and even some Socialists insist that Marx theorized a utopia system that was corupted by Lenin and Stalin. The only problem with this line of thouught is that brutality mass nurder has followed whereever Communism has been implemnted. Stalin can be explained away as a tragic exception, but it is difficult to explain Mao, Ho, the Kims, Pol Pat, Castro, Mengistu, and a long line of craven Eastern European Communist puppet leaders. There is obviously something fundametaly wrong with Marxist doctrine.

Death

Marx's excessive smoking oobably contributed to his death. He also drank large quantities of wine and ate spicy food. In his last decade of his life, his health deteriorated and he was no longer able to pursue his work vigorously. As a result the second and third volumes of Das Capital were left unpunlishd. He died in his armchair in London (1883).

Sources

Marx, Karl. “Notes on Adolph Wagner's Lehrbuch der politischen Ökonomie” (1880).






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Created: 11:34 AM 3/21/2017
Last updated: 11:34 AM 3/21/2017