Karl Marx was a German journalist, economist and philosopher who is one of the most influential figures in history and whose ideals have served as guiding principles of many nations. As a young college student Marx was imprisoned for drunkenness and fought a duel. Through his life, he worked as a journalist for a number of newspapers including the New York Daily Tribune. Marx spend most of his adult life in poverty and it was the financial support of his friend Friedrich Engels that enabled him to concentrate on his revolutionary work. His most famous works include the Communist Manifesto, one of the most influential political manuscripts of all time; and Das Kapital, considered his magnum opus in economy. Marx was relatively unknown in his lifetime and it was only after his death that he became an international icon. Know about the family, life, career, education, marriage, influential works and death of Karl Marx through these 10 interesting facts.

 

#1 His mother’s family later founded the company Philips Electronics

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 at Bruckengasse 664 in Trier, then a town in the Kingdom of Prussia and now a city in Germany. He was the third of nine children of Heinrich Marx and his wife Henrietta Pressburg. He became the oldest son when his brother Moritz died in 1819. Heinrich Marx was a successful lawyer and a man of the Enlightenment, interested in the ideas of the philosophers Immanuel Kant and Voltaire. He took part in agitation for a constitution and reforms in Prussia. Henrietta Pressburg belonged to a prosperous business family that later founded the company Philips Electronics, presently one of the largest electronics companies in the world. Both parents of Marx were Jewish and were descended from a long line of rabbis. However, prior to the birth of Karl, Heinrich converted from Judaism to Lutheranism, probably to escape the constraints of anti-Semitic legislation. Karl was baptized when he was six years old.

Birthplace of Karl Marx
Bruckenstrasse 10 – Birthplace of Karl Marx in Trier, Germany

 

#2 Marx fought a duel during his time at the University of Bonn

Young Karl Marx
Portrait of Karl Marx as a young man

Initially Karl was privately educated by his father Heinrich Marx. From 1830 to 1835, he attended the Trier High School. In October 1835, at the age of 17, he entered the University of Bonn. While at Bonn, Marx joined the Poets’ Club, a group containing political radicals; and was co-president of Trier Tavern Club drinking society. At one point, he was imprisoned for drunkenness. Marx was also challenged to a duel by a member of the university’s Borussian Korps; a challenge he accepted. Marx was shot at and was lucky to get away with nothing worse than a small wound in his left eye. Not too pleased with his actions, Heinrich Marx enrolled Karl at the University of Berlin in October 1836. Although he studied law at the University of Berlin, Marx became fascinated by philosophy and was particularly interested in the ideas of German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel.

#3 His early writings included fictional works

In Berlin, Marx joined the Doctor Club, a student group which discussed Hegelian ideas; and then he became associated with a group of radical thinkers known as the Young Hegelians, who were critical of Hegel’s metaphysical assumptions but adopted his method of reasoning in order to criticize established society, politics and religion. During his years as a student, Marx wrote a short novel, Scorpion and Felix (1837); a drama, Oulanem (1839); and a number of love poems. However, he soon abandoned fiction for other pursuits. None of this early work was published during his lifetime. In 1841, Marx completed his doctoral thesis, The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. As the essay was controversial among the conservative professors at the University of Berlin, he submitted his thesis to the more liberal University of Jena, whose faculty awarded him his PhD in April 1841.

#4 He wrote for a number of newspapers which were banned for being too radical

Due to Prussian government’s growing opposition to the Young Hegelians, it became difficult for Karl Marx to further his academic career. In 1842, Marx moved to Cologne in Germany. Here he began writing for the liberal democratic newspaper Rheinische Zeitung (Rhineland News) and soon became the paper’s editor. The following year, the Prussian government banned the paper for being too radical; and for publishing an article which strongly criticized the Russian monarchy. In 1843, Marx moved to Paris where he became co-editor of a new, radical leftist newspaper, the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals). However, the paper proved to be short-lived and after its collapse, Marx began writing for Vorwärts! (Forward!), the only uncensored German-language radical newspaper left. In 1845, due to pressure from the Prussian government, the French government shut down Vorwärts! Also, along with the principal collaborators of the paper, Marx was expelled from France and he emigrated to Brussels in Belgium in February 1845.

Front page of the Rhineland News
Front page of the Rheinische Zeitung – 16 October, 1842

 

#5 His friend Friedrich Engels provided him financial support for most of his adult life

In 1842, Friedrich Engels, on his way to Manchester, visited the office of the Rheinische Zeitung and met Karl Marx for the first time. They met again at Café de la Régence in Paris on 28th August 1844, quickly became close friends and remained so their entire lives. Engels was the son of a wealthy German cotton textile manufacturer. He lived a double life as a cotton lord by day and a communist by night. Engels provided money to Marx to publish their revolutionary ideas. In fact, Marx lived in poverty for most of his adult life and Engels provided him financial support for nearly 40 years. He frequently sent Marx as much as £50 a year, equivalent to around $7,500 now. This was about a third of the annual allowance he received from his parents. Engels provided Marx support for his famous work Das Kapital and co-authored the influential Communist Manifesto.

Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels in his twenties

 

#6 Karl Marx co-authored the highly influential Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto first edition
Cover of the first edition of the Communist Manifesto, published in February 1848

In 1846, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels established a small political circle in Brussels known as the Communist Corresponding Committee. The League of the Just was a socialist group which had been founded by German émigrés in Paris in 1836. In June 1847, the League of the Just merged with the Communist Corresponding Committee to establish an international political party called the Communist League. Marx and Engels jointly wrote the Manifesto of the Communist League, which was first published on 21 February 1848. The Communist Manifesto had an influence, restricted to Germany, during the Europe-wide Revolution of 1848. It would later gain in stature with the rise of communism in late nineteenth century and is now considered one of the most influential political manuscripts. It is still widely read and many consider it as a valuable insight into present day society as well as an explanation for today’s world of recurrent wars and repeated economic crisis.

#7 He worked as a correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune

During the Europe-wide Revolution of 1848, Marx was accused by the Belgian Ministry of Justice of aiding Belgian workers who were planning revolutionary action. Hence he was forced to flee from Belgium. He temporarily settled in Paris before moving to Cologne. Here he started a daily newspaper named Neue Rheinische Zeitung (New Rhenish Newspaper). While he was editor of this paper, Marx was regularly harassed by the police and brought to trial on several occasions, but was acquitted each time. Marx’s paper was suppressed after democratic parliament in Prussia collapsed and Marx was ordered to leave the country in May 1849. He temporarily resided in Paris before moving to London, where he would remain for the rest of his life. While in London, Marx and Engels both began writing for six different newspapers around the world. Most of Marx’s writing was as a European correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune for around 10 years.

 

#8 Marx highlighted the shortcomings of capitalism in his groundbreaking work Das Kapital

Karl Marx wrote numerous works during his career, many of which remained unpublished or largely unread during his lifetime but later influenced subsequent intellectual, economic and political history. Marx is most renowned for providing a revolutionary critique of nineteenth-century capitalism and many believe that his theories on the exploitative relationship between capitalist employers and their employees remain valid till today. In 1867, Marx published the first volume of his magnum opus Das Kapital (Capital: Critique of Political Economy). The second (1885) and third (1895) volumes were published after his death by Friedrich Engels. Das Kapital predicts the downfall of capitalism due to its shortcomings and its replacement by a system where the working class inherits economic and political power. It is the foundational theoretical text of communist philosophy, economics and politics; and one of the most influential works in history.

First editions of the three volumes of Das Kapital
Title pages of the first editions of Das Kapital – Volume I (1867), Volume II (1885) and Volume III (1894)

 

#9 He might have had an illegitimate son with his housekeeper

In 1836, Karl Marx became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, who was four years elder to him and belonged to a prominent family of the Prussian aristocracy. Karl and Jenny frequently met as children and became close friends as teenagers. Their match was controversial due to difference in their religious and class origins but Karl was friends with Jenny’s father Ludwig von Westphalen. Karl Marx married Jenny von Westphalen on 19th June 1843 in a Protestant church in Kreuznach in present day Germany. The couple had seven children but only three survived to adulthood: Jenny Caroline (1844 – 1883); Jenny Laura (1845 – 1911); and Jenny Julia Eleanor (1855–1898). Marx named all his daughters after his wife and loved to give funny nicknames to his children, like ‘Qui Qui’ and Tussy’. Marx is also said to have had an illegitimate son named Freddy with his lifelong housekeeper and friend, Helene Demuth. However, this claim cannot be established with certainty.

Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen
Karl Marx and his wife Jenny von Westphalen in 1869

 

#10 Marx suffered from ill health through most of his life

In 1849, Karl Marx started experiencing health problems and they continued to plaque him for the rest of his life. The attacks often came with headaches, eye inflammation, neuralgia in the head and rheumatic pains. He was affected by a serious nervous disorder in 1877 due to which he suffered insomnia, which he suppressed with narcotics. There are several speculations regarding the nature of his disease including liver and gall problems; and a chronic skin disease known as hidradenitis suppurativa. Marx’s illness was aggravated by excessive nocturnal work and bad eating habits coupled with his fondness for liquors and excessive smoking. Following the death of his wife in December 1881, Marx developed a catarrh that kept him in ill health and eventually brought on the bronchitis and pleurisy that killed him. Karl Marx died on 14th March 1883 in London. He was 64 years old. He was survived by his daughters Eleanor and Laura. After Engels died in 1895, he left Marx’s daughters a significant portion of his $4.8 million estate.

Karl Marx in 1882
Karl Marx in 1882, the year before his death

 

Famous Quotes by Karl Marx

“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” – Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843)

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” – Theses on Feuerbach (1845)

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. – The Communist Manifesto (1848)

“Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!” – The Communist Manifesto (1848)

From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. – Critique of the Gotha Program (1875)

1 COMMENT

  1. Karl Marx was a filthy loser in life, so he created the ideology “I’m lazy, so the government should take care of me.” I find it sad that people are in support of communism even though it has had the most horrible effects on peoples lives throughout history and even today. If you are a Marxist and are reading this, please stop, and socialism isn’t better, how about instead of calling Trump supporters Nazis, how about you look into what the Nazi party was.

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