When considering historical figures responsible for great, influential movements, it’s worth considering if those persons’ personal lives substantiate or undermine their ideology. As Aristotle noted: “Men start revolutionary changes for reasons connected with their private lives.”
This month marks the anniversary of the first congress of the Communist League in London (1847), when Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were commissioned to write the “Communist Manifesto.” Although much scholarly output has catalogued the many problems with Marxist political and economic ideology as outlined in that seminal work, often overlooked in repudiations of Marxism has been the actual person of Karl Marx.
Indeed, when considering historical figures responsible for great, influential movements, it’s worth considering if those persons’ personal lives substantiate or undermine their ideology. As Aristotle noted: “Men start revolutionary changes for reasons connected with their private lives.” In Marx’s case, as Grove City College professor Paul Kengor recounts in his recent book “The Devil and Karl Marx,” the record is not in his favor.
As a student, Marx was not exemplary. He also squandered his parents’ money, while remaining silent for months at a time, even when both his mother and father were ill. When Karl did write, it was typically to request more funds.
In one December 1837 letter to Karl, Heinrich reprimands his selfishness, writing, “You have caused your parents much vexation and little or no joy….” A few months later, Heinrich died at age 56. Karl did not attend the funeral. He had “other things to do,” one biographer explains.
Karl then turned to his mother for hand-outs. Even after getting married in 1843, he remained dependent on his mother to finance his intellectual career, draining his parents’ savings. Even so, he went nearly 20 years without visiting his mother, and when he finally did see her, it was for money.
When his mother died, Karl was able to secure about $6,000 in gold and francs as inheritance. That, notes Kengor, is a bit rich, given that point three of the “Communist Manifesto” calls for abolishing the right of inheritance.
The Marx family’s sentiments regarding their son’s profligate tendencies was shared by his wife, Jenny von Westphalen. She told him: “Karl, if you had only spent more time making capital instead of writing about it, we would have been better off.”
Indeed, only a year after “Communist Manifesto” was published, Marx’s landlord evicted him and his family. The landlord, Kengor tells us, was also frustrated with Karl’s grooming. “Washing, grooming, and changing his linens are things he does rarely, and he likes to get drunk,” notes one Prussian police report on him.