The Tragedy of Karl Marx

Oct 15th, 2011 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

One of the most important thinkers of the modern era was Karl Marx, one of the key founders of ideological socialism and communism.  His Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital influenced the formation of the USSR, the Peoples Republic of China, Cuba, North Korea and many other smaller experiments (e.g., socialist Western European nations) in constructing a socialist/ communist utopia.  Except perhaps in American universities, there are few remaining advocates of ideological communism.  It is arguably one of the greatest failures of human history.

Recently, I have been reading several books and essays on Marx and his ideas.  In this Perspective, I seek to investigate the character and temperament of communism’s primary ideologue.  Marx was born in 1818 in Prussia, descending from a distinguished line of Jewish scholars.  His father was an attorney and, when a Prussian decree prohibited Jews from serving in such positions, he converted to Lutheranism.  Marx was therefore baptized as a Lutheran in 1824.  He earned a doctorate in philosophy and then got involved in the revolutionary politics of Europe.  Although he had stints at journalism as a reporter, he spent most of his adult life studying in the British Museum.  Two passions defined his life:  His wife Jenny, whom he married in 1824, and the destruction of the world.  The theme of the coming apocalyptic conflict occupied his thinking throughout his life.  He envisioned the end of history when the proletariat will rise up and destroy the capitalist world.  He wrote of human destiny:  “History is the judge, its executioner the proletariat.”  He loathed religion.  He wrote that “religion is the opiate of the people;” “Religion is only the illusionary sun around which man revolves, until he begins to revolve around himself.”  A close acquaintance of Marx once observed that “Marx does not believe in God, but he believes much in himself and makes everyone serve himself.  His heart is not full of love but of bitterness and he has little sympathy for the human race.”  His lifestyle was abhorrent:  He smoked and drank heavily.  He seldom bathed or washed.  He was totally incompetent at handling money.  He never seriously tried to get a job but lived off loans from family and friends that were never repaid.  Without his patron Friedrich Engels, he and his family would have starved.  The family’s silver service was often in the pawn shop, as were their clothes.  At one point only Marx had enough clothing to leave the house, and he was down to his last pair of pants.  His family life was a complete tragedy:  One of his daughters died of an opium overdose and another of a suicide pact.  When Franzisca, aged 1, died, they lacked the money to buy a coffin.  His son, Edgar, got gastro-enteritis due to the squalid conditions of the home and died in 1855.  The family employed a servant, Helen Demuth, from 1845-1890, calling her “Lenchen.”  She never received a cent in wages from Marx, only room and board.  She was Marx’s mistress, who fathered a son, Freddy, by her.  Freddy was permitted to visit his mother only by coming in the back door.  Marx only met his illegitimate son once.  When Jenny discovered his infidelity, she was devastated.  One can only reach one conclusion about Marx:  He was a man of immense selfishness and self-indulgence.  He never personally knew any working class members and the one he had as his family servant he did not pay and he used her as his mistress.

Why is all of this important?  Karl Marx gave birth to one of the great revolutionary movements of modern history.  But, as its ideological founder, his life was filled with gross inconsistencies and a failure to live the very tenets he so vigorously triumphed and defended.  He was hardly a model of virtue and hardly a worthy example of the utopia he envisioned.  What did this morally bankrupt man produce?  Among other things, his utopian ideals gave genesis to a totalitarian regime in the USSR that killed over 20 million people.  His ideas also fostered the regime of Mao Tse-tung who killed over 60 million people in his rise to power.  The Bible champions the moral and ethical character of leaders (e.g., Joseph, Daniel, and Jesus) and clearly infers that a nation or a church, or an institution is only as virtuous as its leader.  Marx failed on all counts and contributed in no small way to the butchery of the 20th century.  There is a connection between one’s personal character and one’s legacy.  One would never use the term virtue to describe the life of Karl Marx.  One would never use success to describe the legacy of Karl Marx either.  Evil is the only fitting term for both his character and his legacy.

See Paul Johnson, Intellectuals, pp. 71-81 and Church History in One Year, pp. 478-479. PRINT PDF

2 Comments to “The Tragedy of Karl Marx”

  1. Betty Arnold says:

    I enjoy your comments. There are some areas that might be a misprint in this article on Karl Marx. It states that he was born in 1818, baptized in 1824 and married in 1824. That would have made him married when he was 6 years old. I know, you were testing to see if anyone actually read this!! (*_*)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Boaz Whensu says:

    This is more of a psychological appraisal than an objective-intellectual-critique. He (Marx) could be uneven-tempered, an economically provoked personality who used his intellectual genius to expose a vicious system that legally registered his limits. No scholar or priest is HOLY, and not morally bankrupt in some areas of life.

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