It is extraordinary that both Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) lived and worked in the same city at the same time. Both were, in a sense, evangelists contending for the souls of men with their competing visions of humanity.
My next book (after this one) will focus on two men whose graves I have visited many times. The first lies in North London at Highgate Cemetery. Among the fifty-three thousand graves there, one finds a few notables: Michael Faraday, inventor of the electric motor, and Adam Worth, the real-life basis for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s evil Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes stories, are two. Most notable of all is the resting place, a monument really, of Karl Marx. Though Prussian, Marx lived in London the last thirty-four years of his life. There he refined his radical secular ideology and produced Das Kapital, setting loose upon the world ideas that have wrecked half of it and now threaten to wreck the other half.
The second lies in South London at West Norwood Cemetery. Among the forty-two thousand graves there, one also finds a few men of renown: Paul Julius Baron von Reuter, founder of the global news organization of the same name, and Hiram Maxim, inventor of the first portable fully automatic machine gun, are interred here. Perhaps more illustrious than either of these is the grave of Charles Spurgeon. The “Prince of Preachers,” Spurgeon was the nineteenth-century’s British equivalent of Billy Graham. He pastored what was allegedly the largest church congregation in the world.
It is extraordinary to me that both Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) lived and worked in the same city at the same time. Both were, in a sense, evangelists contending for the souls of men with their competing visions of humanity. Moreover, each was at the height of his powers at the same time as the other. While Marx was preaching salvation through bloody revolution, Spurgeon, on the other side of the city, was preaching salvation through the blood and grace of Jesus Christ.
The London of Marx and Spurgeon was the center of world governance and epoch-defining ideas. With Queen Victoria’s missionaries to civilize it and her ministers, armies, and navy to rule it, the British Empire was at its zenith so that the sun literally never set upon it. Whether it was David Livingstone searching for the source of the Nile or Charles Darwin penning On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Britain was at the forefront of all that was considered progress.
But the Britain of this era convulsed with the problems endemic to massive social change. So much so, that an air of revolution lingered like some ominous storm gathering on the horizon, threatening to engulf this peaceful kingdom as it had intermittently done on the continent since the French Revolution in 1789.
The island nation was in the throes of the bare-knuckled phase of the Industrial Revolution which brought with it a special kind of human degradation. The urban poor crowded the slums and populated the novels of Charles Dickens. Child labor laws were in their infancy. Black factory smoke choked the air and coal dust filled lungs.
It was into this combustible atmosphere that Karl Marx stepped. The man with a beard so wild that it might have landed him on a Kansas album cover were he born a century later, had revolution on his mind when he moved from Paris to London in 1849. Of course, revolution had always been on his mind. Marx had sought the overthrow of governments throughout Europe, and in the ensuing turmoil of 1848, he was forced to flee the continent.
Once in London, Marx spent his days at the British Museum preparing his magnum opus, Das Kapital, a critique of capitalism that could fill a sizable pothole. Although he fashioned himself as a scholar, he was more of a dilettante, a dabbler in scholarly activity. A scholar begins with a tentative thesis and allows the facts to dictate his conclusions. He is, in other words, committed to the truth. In sharp contrast to this methodology, Marx—like “woke” media and “woke” policies and “woke” academia—began with a conclusion and worked backward from it, facts be damned.
“Communism abolishes eternal truths,” he declared openly in The Communist Manifesto (1848). “It abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis …”
In another passage of that dangerous little book, he says:
Abolish the family! The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital…The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of Modern Industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labour.
Much as Mein Kampf (1925) would be a bald statement of Hitler’s intentions should he ever attain power, The Communist Manifesto is likewise clear in stating the objectives of communists (i.e., socialists) should they ever attain power. No one could justly say he was not forewarned. (So, it is, too, with Black Lives Matter, where one finds all of this restated in oblique terms on their website.)
Lazy and like socialists of any era, Marx did not mind accepting monetary handouts from wealthy capitalists while criticizing the means by which they had acquired the wealth. (Black Lives Matter, a Marxist organization, has received almost $2 billion in corporate contributions.) Marx was allergic to work, it seems, and never held a steady job. Even as he extolled the evils of capitalist industry, there is no evidence he ever visited a factory at any point in his miserable life. His mother bitterly complained that she wished that her son would “accumulate capital instead of just writing about it.”
In the spirit of other would-be revolutionaries before and since, Marx was a Manichean who divided the world into two camps: the Revolution and its enemies. These were simply identified as those who agreed with this dogmatic Prussian and those who did not. The former were considered intelligent and enlightened; the latter were berated in racist and anti-Semitic rants. Marx attacked one opponent as a “Jewish nigger.” One can well imagine Marx fitting right in with the modern “cancel culture” Twitterati. He saw capitalism as a poison perpetrated on humanity by Jews and he hated them for it, though it seems anti-Semitism came naturally to him. To read Marx’s personal letters or published works is to encounter a bitter, evil mind concealing a hate in what he (and others) promoted as a noble vision of humanity.
But a noble vision it is not.