"The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the thing, however, is to change it.”
Karl Marx’s father Heinrich was descended from a long line of Rabbis. Though Heinrich did not follow in the tradition of becoming a Rabi he was a well respected Jewish lawyer in Trier. Though Trier was a major Prussian town, it was also one of the poorest. As Heinrich Marx' clients began to leave the city to find employment elsewhere, his firm suffered. To fix his families situation he converted to Christianity shortly before Karl’s birth. In May of 1818 Karl was born.
At the age of seventeen Karl Marx graduated high school he enrolled in Bonn University. He studied law as his father had wished but he did not focus on his studies. After being arrested for dueling Karl returned to Trier. His father made one last attempt to get Karl a law degree and sent him off to Berlin University which was renowned for its law program. In 1838 Heinrich died of a liver inflammation. Without the expectations of his father lording over him Karl decided to study philosophy instead. ©Sergey Ivanov
After graduating with a Doctorate in Philosophy, Karl Marx returned to Trier to wed his childhood sweetheart, Jenny von Westphalen. He worked as an editor of a liberal daily paper in Köln where he was soon writing articles based on his radical political views. He attacked class privileges and the bureaucratic mess of politics. In just two months the paper had a huge increase in subscribers. The government grew anxious and banned the paper in spring of 1843. Marx was offered the position of the editor for a similar paper in Paris. In Paris too he was met with opposition. After two years he was expelled from France and made his way to Belgium where he met Friedrich Engels.
In Brussels he founded the German Workers’ Party and was active in the local Communist League. It was for the League that Engels and Marx published in 1848 the Communist Manifesto. Soon after this publication, the Belgian government expelled Marx. He returned to Cologne where he became editor of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. It did not take too long for the Prussian government to suppress the paper which under Marx had taken on quite a Communist undertone. Marx was once again exiled from Germany and returned to Paris. The French government expelled him again leaving him no choice but to flee the continent. Mark finally settled in London, where he lived as a stateless exile. England refused to grant him citizenship and Prussia refused to renaturalize him – for the rest of his life.
In London Marx supported himself as a journalist. He wrote for German and English language publications. For the next ten years he was a correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune.
Though employed, Marx scraped by since each article made only about 2 Pounds. With the continued financial support of Engles, Marx was literally saved from starvation. In 1864, Marx helped found the International Workingmen’s Association in London. In 1872 he dissolved the group to prevent the anarchist movements taking it over. After that his political activity remained low key and he mainly corresponded with radicals in Europe and America, offering help to various socialist and labor movements.
At the age of 67, his wife Jenny died of cancer in 1881, something Marx was never able to recover from. The Marxes had seven children, four died in infancy or childhood. Their three daughters went on to marry men involved in social change and labor movements. Marx himself experienced a large amount of illness in the last two decades of his life. This might have been due to his excessive smoking and drinking. Like his father, he too experienced liver problems. He died in his armchair on March 14, 1883, just shy of his 65th birthday. He is buried in London’s Highgate Cemetery.
Marx's headstone at Highgate Cemetary, London
© Michael Reeve, PhD