Friday, April 24, 2015

Karl Marx’s Life 1845–1849

In January 1845, Marx moved from France to Belgium (Sperber 2014: 146). In April 1845, Helene “Lenchen” Demuth (1820–1890), a von Westphalen family servant, joined Marx’s household as a housekeeper and maid. In 1850, Marx would have an affair with her and an illegitimate son Frederick Demuth was born in 1851.

In summer 1845, Marx and Engels travelled to Britain, and much time was spent in Manchester, though surprisingly little is known about what they did apart from readings on political economy (Sperber 2014: 155). On the way back to Belgium, they also visited London where they met German émigré radicals.

Marx had already conceived an idea for a book on political economy and his publisher Karl Leske anticipated that Marx would deliver it by summer 1845; however, Marx had already abandoned the project and had only written a table of contents (Wheen 2001: 92).

In 1846, Marx and Engels formed the Communist Correspondence Committee of Brussels, a communist organisation with the aim of formulating tactics and creating a political movement (Wheen 2001: 103).

But, in the 1846 to 1847 years, Marx had a famous falling out with numerous friends and members of the Communist Correspondence Committee, such as Moses Hess, Wilhlem Weitling and Karl Grün and at one point even with Engels (Sperber 2014: 177).

As one reads the details of these squabbles, Marx seems to emerge as a domineering control freak who couldn’t tolerate dissent, and who wished to create loyal followers and acolytes. By 1846 Marx had alienated Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Karl Grün who rapidly became hostile to Marx and his ideas (Sperber 2014: 182–183; Wheen 2001: 106–109). Often Marx’s disputes with other socialists or communists involved mainly personal differences (Sperber 2014: 185, 267, 271).

While in Brussels Marx published or wrote three publications:
(1) Marx and Engels, The Holy Family, 1845.
This was written mostly by Marx in Paris, and criticised the Young Hegelian movement as associated with Bruno Bauer. Reviewers of the book in Germany saw Marx at this time as a follower of Ludwig Feuerbach (Sperber 2014: 162).

(2) Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, written 1845 to 1847.
This was never published in Marx’s lifetime, and refers to manuscripts that were not wholly consistent started in late 1845 but abandoned in mid-1847 (Sperber 2014: 164). This continued Marx’s critique of the Young Hegelians and attacked Max Stirner (Sperber 2014: 166). Assessments of Marx’s work haven’t been kind: it has been largely dismissed as puerile polemic (Sperber 2014: 166).

(3) Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847
This was an attack on Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s The System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty. Marx also set out his materialist view of history in this work (Wheen 2001: 108), in which he had moved on from both Hegel and Ludwig von Feuerbach.
Marx’s financial difficulties in Belgium became worse and worse and he was forced in May, 1846 to pawn the family gold and silver and move into a hotel (Sperber 2014: 186–187).

Sperber (2014: 189) concludes that Marx’s revolutionary career had been marked by serious failures by 1846 but that the 1848 revolutions revitalised him.

Marx had been involved with the London-based “League of the Just” since his 1845 trip to Britain. The League had been formed in 1836 by German émigrés at Paris and was associated with the utopian socialist ideas of Gracchus Babeuf and agitated for a socialist republic in Germany.

In June 1847, the League held a meeting in London in which it decided to merge with Marx and Engels’s Communist Corresponding Committee. The new organisation was called the “Communist League” (1847–1852).

There was a second congress of the league in London from November 1847 (Sperber 2014: 198–199), and while attending Marx was given the task of writing a manifesto, which of course became The Communist Manifesto, first published on 21 February, 1848.

In Belgium, Engels and Marx also joined an international Democratic Association that organised public speeches in 1847 and 1848. In January 1848 Marx made a public speech in French in an idiosyncratic defence of – of all things – free trade (Sperber 2014: 198).

In 1848, revolutions swept across Europe, and they had been preceded by an economic crisis, which seems to have been driven fundamentally by bad harvests raising food prices in the mid-1840s; this in turn induced a contraction in demand for manufactured goods, and then the familiar pattern of an industrial recession, businesses failures and a debt, credit and banking crisis (Sperber 2013: 393). With the overthrow of the monarchy in France in February 1848, the political authorities in Belgium had had enough of Marx’s revolutionary activities: he was expelled in March 1848 after a night in jail (Sperber 2014: 215).

Marx and other communists fled to France in the aftermath of the proclamation of a Republican government (Sperber 2014: 216). By April, 1848 Marx and various communists had returned to Cologne (which was in nationalist revolutionary ferment) in Germany and had begun a campaign of radical agitation (Sperber 2014: 217).

For an account of the 1848 revolution in Germany, see here.

Unfortunately, the Communist League was hopelessly disorganised and was unable to achieve much, and in Cologne they were outflanked by the far more successful socialist Andreas Gottschalk (Sperber 2014: 219–221), and even when Gottschalk was arrested in July 1848 and Marx and other communists moved to take over Gottschalk’s Cologne Workers’ Association, they badly failed. Their style of leadership caused membership in the association to collapse by 90% (Sperber 2014: 228).

From August 1848 we have this most fascinating portrait of Marx by the revolutionary (and future German émigré American politician) Carl Schurz (1829–1906) who had closely observed Marx’s performance at a meeting of the Cologne democrats:
“In the course of the summer Kinkel and I were invited to represent the club at a congress of democratic associations in Cologne. This assembly, in which I remained a shy and silent observer, became remarkable to me in bringing me into personal contact with some of the prominent men of that period, among others, the leader of the communists, Karl Marx. He could not have been much more than thirty years old at that time, but he already was the recognized head of the advanced socialistic school. The somewhat thick-set man, with his broad forehead, his very black hair and beard and his dark sparkling eyes, at once attracted general attention. He enjoyed the reputation of having acquired great learning, and as I knew very little of his discoveries and theories, I was all the more eager to gather, words of wisdom from the lips of that famous man. This expectation was disappointed in a peculiar way. Marx’s utterances were indeed full of meaning, logical and clear, but I have never seen a man whose bearing was so provoking and intolerable. To no opinion, which differed from his, he accorded the honor of even a condescending consideration. Everyone who contradicted him he treated with abject contempt; every argument that he did not like he answered either with biting scorn at the unfathomable ignorance that had prompted it, or with opprobrious aspersions upon the motives of him who had advanced it. I remember most distinctly the cutting disdain with which he pronounced the word ‘bourgeois’; and as a ‘bourgeois,’ that is as a detestable example of the deepest mental and moral degeneracy he denounced everyone that dared to oppose his opinion. Of course the propositions advanced or advocated by Marx in that meeting were voted down, because everyone whose feelings had been hurt by his conduct was inclined to support everything that Marx did not favor. It was very evident that not only he had not won any adherents, but had repelled many who otherwise might have become his followers.” (Schurz 1907: 139–140).
This is a truly priceless portrait. In fact, Schurz seems to describe perfectly the tactics of Marxists down through the ages:
“Everyone who contradicted him he treated with abject contempt; every argument that he did not like he answered either with biting scorn at the unfathomable ignorance that had prompted it, or with opprobrious aspersions upon the motives of him who had advanced it. I remember most distinctly the cutting disdain with which he pronounced the word ‘bourgeois’; and as a ‘bourgeois,’ that is as a detestable example of the deepest mental and moral degeneracy he denounced everyone that dared to oppose his opinion.” (Schurz 1907: 139–140).
Moreover, Schurz’s assessment of Marx obviously confirms other contemporary impressions people had of the man: he was an arrogant, divisive figure, intolerant of opposition, incapable of politely disagreeing with opponents, and a control freak.

The result of Marx’s bullying intolerance was that many people opposed him simply because they couldn’t tolerate him.

In 1848, Marx was mostly occupied with editing the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (New Rhineland News), whose first issue appeared in June 1848 (Sperber 2014: 222). Marx adopted an editorial policy of radical liberalism in the paper designed to attract an educated audience – and he did not pursue openly communist themes (Sperber 2014: 226).

In September 1848 there was an insurrection in Cologne but this was supressed by the Prussians and the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was shut down until October (Sperber 2014: 230; Wheen 2001: 137). Marx was involved in organising a tax boycott against Prussia in November 1848, but this was crushed by December and Marx was indicted for incitement to rebellion, but in a trial of February 1849 was acquitted (Sperber 2014: 232).

By 1849 the Neue Rheinische Zeitung had severe financial difficulties and there was an outbreak of insurrections throughout Germany in May 1849. This signalled the end of Marx’s time in Germany. The Prussian government expelled Marx and he left Cologne on 19 May, 1849, the same day on which the last issue of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was published (Sperber 2014: 236).

After the expulsion, Marx and Engels appear to have travelled to Frankfurt and Bingen; they were arrested in Bingen, sent to Frankfurt, but then released and returned to Bingen (Sperber 2014: 239). It appears that Marx was hoping to re-establish the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in a German city outside Prussian territory, but this failed by June 1849 (Sperber 2014: 240). Marx went to Paris, but was not welcome there under the new conservative government. Marx decided to move to England and arrived in London on 27 or 28 August, 1849. He was 32 years of age (Sperber 2014: 243).

Engels arrived in London on 12 November, 1849 (Wheen 2001: 153); soon many of Marx’s fellow communists and radical friends, fleeing from the collapse of the revolutions on the Continent, came to London too (Sperber 2014: 246).

Late in 1849 Marx resumed his involvement in the central authority of the Communist League (Sperber 2014: 247).

Chronology of Marx’s Life
5 May 1818 – Karl Marx born to Heinrich Marx (a middle class lawyer) and Henrietta Pressburg in Trier

1830–1835 – Marx attended Trier High School

1835–1836 – Marx attended the University of Bonn to study law

1836–1840 – Marx attended the University of Berlin and joined the Young Hegelians

April 1841 – Marx was awarded his PhD from the University of Jena called The Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature

1842 – Marx moved to Cologne in 1842, and became a journalist, often writing for Rheinische Zeitung

1843 – on 19 June Marx marries Jenny von Westphalen

October 1843–1845 – Marx moves to Paris and writes for the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (German-French Annals) and then Vorwärts! (Forward!).

28 August 1844 – Marx meets Friedrich Engels in Paris

1843–1845 – Marx studies political economy, including the works of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, James Mill and others.

April 1845 – Marx moves from Paris to Brussels

1845–1847 – Marx lives in Brussels in Belgium

July 1845 – Marx and Engels visit Britain

1847 – Marx publishes The Poverty of Philosophy

December 1847 to January 1848 – Marx and Engels write The Communist Manifesto

1848 – Marx in France

1848 – Marx moved to Cologne

1848–1849 – Marx in Cologne

August 1849 – Marx moves to London from Paris

1849–1883 – Marx lives in London.

1859 – Marx published A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

1864 – Marx elected to the International Workingmen's Association (First International)

1867 – the first volume of Das Kapital published

1875 – Marx writes the letter that would become The Critique of the Gotha Program

December 1881 – Marx’s wife Jenny dies

14 March 1883 – Marx dies in London of bronchitis and pleurisy

1885 – the second volume of Das Kapital published by Engels

1894 – the third volume of Das Kapital published by Engels

1895 – Engels dies.
Gooch, Todd. 2013. “Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Redding, Paul. 1997 (rev. 2010). “Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Wolff, Jonathan. 2003 (rev. 2010). “Karl Marx,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Schurz, Carl. 1907. The Reminiscences of Carl Schurz. Volume One 1829–1852. The McClure Company, New York.

Sperber, Jonathan. 2013. Revolutionary Europe 1780–1850. Routledge, Abingdon, UK, and New York.

Sperber, Jonathan. 2014. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life. Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York.

Wheen, Francis. 2001. Karl Marx: A Life. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London.


  1. Worth a look.

  2. In terms of "The Poverty of Philosophy", it is a disgraceful work. Marx invents quotes, tampers with quotes, selectively quotes Proudhon, attributes to him ideas which he does not hold, proclaims certain things so giving the impression that Proudhon does not know it but in fact he does, etc.

    It is shocking that Marx does -- but since no Marxist (or, apparently, writer on Marx!) bothers to read Proudhon's book this is unknown (and why would a Marxist read it? Marx has proclaimed Proudhon an idiot...)

    Not to mention that in 1847 Marx attacks Proudhon for using abstractions and building a model -- then, ten years latter, Marx embraces abstraction and model building! So with have Marxists twittering on about how "The Poverty of Philosophy" and its attack on abstraction is brilliant and how "Capital" with its use of abstraction is also brilliant!

    I could go on about this, but here are a few useful links:

    The Appendix on Marx from my Proudhon anthology "Property is Theft!"

    The extracts from "System of Economic Contradictions" have footnotes comparing what Marx says Proudhon said and what he actually wrote:

    I'm working on a reply to Marx's dishonest diatribe which I've blogged about recently:

    In terms of "labour-notes", I must stress that while Marx proclaims that Proudhon advocated them he never once quotes the Frenchman so doing. Sure, he quotes English socialist John Bray but Bray was an advocate of central planning, not a market socialist like Proudhon. Proudhon, in fact, explicitly states that there is no need to replace money with some other system in volume 2 of "System of Economic Contradictions"

    Also, a good introduction to how Marx later uses Proudhon methodology in 1857 after attacking it in 1847:

    I hope you find this of interest -- suffice to say, Marx' "The Poverty of Philosophy" is not a work of honest polemic. The first published work of Marxism is a distortion, a work of bad faith. Still, as no Marxist would read Proudhon they just do not know.

    An Anarchist FAQ