A short biography


Karl Marx was born into a progressive and wealthy Jewish family in Trier, Prussia. His father Herschel, descending from a long line of rabbis, although harboring many deistic tendencies, converted to the Christian religion, joining the relatively liberal Lutheran denomination, in order to become a lawyer. The Marx household hosted many visiting intellectuals and artists during Karl's early life.

    In 1835 Marx enrolled in the University of Bonn to study law, where he joined the Trier Tavern Club and at one point served as its president; his grades suffered as a result. The following year, his father forced him to transfer to the far more serious and academically oriented Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin. During his stead, Marx wrote much poetry and essays concerning life, using the theological language acquired from his liberal, deistic father, such as "the Deity." It was during this period that he absorbed the atheistic philosophy of the left-Hegelians.

    In Berlin, Marx's interests turned to philosophy, and he joined the circle of students and young professors known as the "Young Hegelians". For many of them, the so-called left-Hegelians, Hegel's dialectical method, separated from its theological content, provided a powerful weapon for the critique of established religion and politics. Some members of this circle drew an analogy between post-Aristotelian philosophy and post-Hegelian philosophy. Another Young Hegelian, Max Stirner, applied Hegelian criticism and argued that stopping anywhere short of nihilistic egoism was mysticism. His views were not accepted by most of his colleages; nevertheless, Stirner's book was the main reason Marx abandoned the Feuerbachian view and developed the basic concept of historical materialism.

    One of Karl Marx's teachers of Hegelian Society was Baron Von Westphalen, father of Jenny Von Westphalen whom Karl Marx later married. When his mentor, Bruno Bauer, was dismissed from Friedrich-Wilhelms' philosophy faculty in 1842, Marx abandoned philosophy for journalism and went on to edit the Rheinische Zeitung, a radical Cologne newspaper. After the newspaper was shut in 1843, in part due to Marx's conflicts with government censors, Marx returned to philosophy, turned to political activism, and made his living as a freelance journalist. Marx was soon forced to move, something he would do often as a result of his views. Marx first moved to France, where he re-evaluated his relationship with Bauer and the Young Hegelians, and wrote On the Jewish Question, mostly a critique of current notions of civil rights and political emancipation that also includes several offensive references to Judaism and Jewish culture.

    It was in Paris that he met and began working with his life-long close friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels, a committed Communist, who kindled Marx's interest in the situation of the working class and guided Marx's interest in economics. After he was forced to leave Paris for his writings, Marx and Engels moved to Brussels, Belgium. There they co-wrote The German Ideology, a scathing criticism of the philosophy of Bruno Bauer, Hegel and the Young Hegelians. Marx next wrote The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), a critique of French socialist thought. These works laid the foundation for Marx and Engels' most famous work, The Communist Manifesto, first published on February 21, 1848, which was commissioned by the Communist League (formerly, the League of the Just), an organization of German émigrés whom Marx had converted in London.

    That year Europe experienced revolutionary upheaval; a working-class movement seized power from King Louis Philippe in France and invited Marx to return to Paris. When this government collapsed in 1849, Marx moved back to Cologne and restarted the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, only to be swiftly expelled again. In 1864 Marx organized the International Workingmen's Association, later called the First International, as a base for continued political activism. In his inaugural address, he purported to quote Gladstone's speech, to the effect that, "This intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power is entirely confined to classes of property." He repeated the citation in Volume 1 of Capital. The discrepancy between Marx's quote and the Hansard version of the speech (which was well-known) was soon employed in an attempt to discredit the International. Marx attempted to rebut the accusations of dishonesty, but the allegation continued to resurface. Marx later gave as his source the newspaper The Morning Star. Engels devoted a good deal of attention to the affair in the preface to the fourth edition of Capital – which, likewise, did not put the matter to rest. Engels claimed that it was not The Morning Star but The Times that Marx was following. Indeed, modern critics of Marx continue to invoke Marx's supposed misquotation as evidence of general dishonesty.

    Karl Marx's engagement to Jenny von Westphalen, an aristocrat, was kept secret at first, and for several years was opposed by both the Marxes and Westphalens. Jenny and Karl had many children, several of whom died young. Their daughter Eleanor (1855-1898), who was born in London, was a committed socialist who helped edit her father's works. Marx was generally impoverished during the later period of his life, depending on financial contributions from close friend and fellow author, Friedrich Engels, to help with his family's living expenses and debts. Following the death of his wife Jenny in 1881, Marx died in London in 1883, and is buried in Highgate Cemetery, London. The message carved on Marx's tombstone – a monument built in 1954 by the British Communist Party – is: "Workers of all lands, unite". Marx's original tomb was humbly adorned.

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