Saturday, April 25, 2015

Karl Marx’s Life 1850–1860

Marx arrived in London in August 1849 and a new phase of his life began. If anything, Marx’s revolutionary politics became even more extreme in these years. He seems to have thought that European proletarian revolutions would happen within 15–50 years from about 1850 (Sperber 2014: 266).

Marx also joined the German Workers’ Educational Society (established in 1840), whose meetings were held in Great Windmill Street, Soho. Marx lived at 64 Dean Street, Soho (8 May–2 December, 1850) and then 28 Dean Street (1850–1856) (Wheen 2001: 166).

In 1850 Wilhelm Liebknecht (1826–1900) arrived in London, and became a member of the German Workers’ Education Society, and was vetted by Marx and Engels. In his latter memoir, Liebknecht noted how Marx was an advocate of phrenology:
“Marx endeavoured to make sure of his men and to secure them for himself. He was not such a zealous devotee of phrenology as Gustav Struve, but he believed in it to some extent, and when I first met him—I have already mentioned it—he not only examined me with questions, but also with his fingers, making them dance over my skull in a connoisseur’s style. Later on he arranged for a regular investigation by the phrenologist of the party, the good old painter, Karl Pfaender, one of the ‘oldest,’ who helped to found the Communist Alliance, and was present in that memorable council to which the Communist Manifesto was submitted, and by whom it was discussed and accepted in due form. ….

Well, my skull was officially inspected by Karl Pfaender and nothing was found that would have prevented my admission into the Holiest of Holies of the Communist Alliance.” (Liebknecht 1901: 64–65).
Around this time Marx gave lectures on political economy, as described by Liebknecht:
“During the years 1850 and 1851 Marx delivered a course of lectures on Political Economy. He made up his mind to it rather unwillingly; but once he had read a few private lectures to a small circle of friends, he yielded to us and agreed to teach before a larger audience. In this course that was a rare treat to all who had the good fortune to take part in it, Marx already developed his system in all its fundamental outlines, as presented to us in ‘Capital.’ In the crowded room of the Communist Alliance, or ‘Communist Laborers’ Educational Club,’ at that time still domiciled in Great Windmill street—in the same room where one year and a half previous the Communist Manifesto had been confirmed—Marx exhibited a remarkable talent of popularizing.” (Liebknecht 1901: 68).
It seems extremely doubtful, however, that Marx’s ideas on economics as they later appeared in Capital were worked out at this stage of his life.

From 1850 during the next 6 years Marx and his family endured extreme poverty (Sperber 2014: 253) and lived in Soho (Sperber 2014: 255). Marx also had difficulty learning English: as late as 1856 was not very good (Sperber 2014: 256). In 1850 Marx considered moving to New York but could not afford the trip (Sperber 2014: 258). Late in 1850 Engels went to work at his father’s business at Manchester, and so soon came to acquire a regular income but his assistance to Marx was not great in the early years (Sperber 2014: 259; Wheen 2001: 160).

Late in 1849 Marx resumed his involvement in the central authority of the Communist League (Sperber 2014: 247). However, there was a split in the league by late 1850. August Willich and Karl Schapper, who urged an extreme and immediate violent form of revolution, broke away in 15 September, 1850 and formed their own Communist league (Sperber 2014: 265). Willich even denounced Marx as a reactionary and challenged him to a duel (Wheen 2001: 164). In the 1850s Marx wasted a great deal of time in personal vendettas with fellow communists by attacking them with ad hominem abuse in pamphlets (Wheen 2001: 191–192).

After the break, the rump Communist League following Marx had only about a dozen members, and Marx gradually withdrew from direct political activism (Sperber 2014: 265). The bad feeling between the two communist factions actually degenerated into violence on some occasions (Sperber 2014: 269–270). Marx also fell out with the radical German democrats in London (Sperber 2014: 267). This isolation drove Marx and Engel closer together (Sperber 2014: 273).

In June 1850 Marx acquired an admission card to the library of the British Museum and began his routine of reading there from 9 am to 7 pm (Sperber 2014: 265).

It seems that Marx had an affair with Helene “Lenchen” Demuth (1820–1890), his family servant, in 1850, and an illegitimate child Henry Frederick was born on 23 June, 1851 (Sperber 2014: 262; Wheen 2001: 171–172). Marx tried to cover this up, and persuaded Engels to claim paternity, and his son was sent to foster parents. Engels confessed the truth on his death-bed (Wheen 2001: 172). Poor old Henry Frederick, however, managed to live right up until 1929.

With the failure of revolution in Europe, Marx started to rethink the nature of the proletarian revolution he thought would happen: only from 1850 did he now conceive the idea that it would happen after a cyclical crisis in capitalism (Sperber 2014: 274).

In October–November 1852 the Cologne communist trial saw a number of the members of the Communist league connected with Marx and Willich jailed as seditious revolutionaries, and Marx agreed to the dissolution of the league as it had been crippled (Sperber 2014: 282–285). Marx dissolved the league on 17 November, 1852.

In 1852, Marx published The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, an analysis of the French revolution of 1848 and the rise of the emperor Louis Napoleon III.

In these years right up until the 1860s, Marx thought that the final revolutionary outbreak that would lead to the proletarian revolution would begin in France (Sperber 2014: 289).

In the 1850s, Marx retreated into isolation and his personal and family life. His son Edgar died in April 1855. He was plagued by money problems, and at one point was arrested when trying to pawn his wife’s family silver because the police thought he had stolen it (Wheen 2001: 184). Despite all the money problems, only on one occasion did Marx ever seriously seek a job in England: in 1862 he applied for a job as a railway clerk but was rejected because his handwriting was indecipherable (Wheen 2001: 185).

From 1853 to 1862, Marx turned to journalism in papers in England, the US, Prussia, Austria and South Africa, but mostly in the New York Tribune, though apparently a significant amount of the New York Tribune articles were ghost-written by Engels (Sperber 2014: 294–295; Wheen 2001: 186). Wheen (2001: 187) suggests that about 50% of Marx’s articles were actually written by Engels! Marx (and Engels) covered the great issues of the day, including the Crimean war (1853–1856), the Indian mutiny (1857), the Second Opium War (1856–1859), the premiership of Lord Palmerston (British Prime Minister from 1855–1858 and 1859–1865), and the recession of 1857.

After his wife inherited money from her uncle in 1855 and mother in 1856 (Wheen 2001: 219), in the latter year Marx moved out of Soho to 9 Grafton Terrace in Kentish town, and into a house, but his financial troubles continued, despite a £200 a year salary as a correspond for the New York Tribune (Sperber 2014: 298).

From 1851 to 1855, it seems that Marx set aside serious work on his book on political economy (Wheen 2001: 189).

Around 1854 Marx was befriended by David Urquhart (1805–1877), a British aristocrat but anti-Russian conspiracy-theorist, who thought Lord Palmerston was a secret Russian agent (Wheen 2001: 189). Marx, who also hated Tsarist Russia, was converted to this conspiracy theory by 1853 to 1854, and, even though he met Urquhart early in 1854 and regarded him as mad, continued to uphold the view that Palmerston was in the employ of Russia (Wheen 2001: 210–211; Sperber 2014: 305–307). Marx in 1856 even took money and wrote for Urquhart’s journal the Free Press a series of sensational articles claiming to have found evidence for his anti-Russian conspiracy theories, and even arguing that the Crimean war (October 1853–February 1856) had been a secret plot to disguise the true alliance between Russia and Britain (Wheen 2001: 211; Sperber 2014: 305–306). Needless to say, these ideas were unhinged and there has never been the slightest evidence for them, and the Soviet regime of the 20th century was deeply embarrassed by Marx’s anti-Russian fantasies (Wheen 2001: 212). Marx’s association with Urquhart continued to 1859 when he participated in anti-Russian meetings in London organised by Urquhart’s movement (Sperber 2014: 329).

The recession of 1857 boosted Marx’s spirits, given that he thought it would be the prelude to the proletarian revolution he was constantly predicting (Sperber 2014: 320–323). He was disappointed, however, when the revolution failed to materialise – and would suffer disappointment time and again as other recessions did not turn into revolutions.

In 1859, Marx and Engels were involved with the German émigré paper Das Volk (The People) in London, but money problems caused it to cease publication by August 1859 (Sperber 2014: 330).

In 1860 Marx became anathema to the German émigré community in London when Karl Vogt accused Marx of being a police informer and having sold out his political allies (Sperber 2014: 331–333).

Marx’s publications and manuscripts in these years included:
(1) Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie (Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy), manuscript, 1857–1858.
About 800 manuscript pages by Marx on political economy which were not even published until 1939 (Wheen 2001: 227).

(2) Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859).
This was Marx’s initial, long-awaited work on political economy, but was a great disappointment to most of his followers (Wheen 2001: 237–238). Much of it was incorporated into the first volume of Capital.

(3) Marx, Herr Vogt (1860).
This was an attack on Marx’s political enemy Karl Vogt, where he accused Vogt of being an agent of Napoleon III (which was later vindicated when the emperor fell from power).
Marx’s books in these years attracted little attention and not much comment.

Marx’s wife Jenny fell seriously ill with smallpox in November 1860 and around the same time Marx read Darwin’s revolutionary book On the Origin of Species (Sperber 2014: 342). Much later in 1873, Marx posted Darwin a copy of the new edition of volume 1 of Capital (Browne 2002: 403). Darwin sent a polite note of thanks but never read it (Browne 2002: 403).

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

1861 – in spring Marx visits Holland

7 January, 1863 – Mary Burns (1823–1863), partner of Friedrich Engels, dies

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

March 1866 – Marx spends four weeks convalescing in Margate

1867 – the first volume of Das Kapital published

September 1872 – First International meets in the Hague; Bakunin was expelled from the International and the General Council was moved to New York, which effectively killed the International so that it dissolved in 1876

November 24, 1873 – Marx leaves London for a spa in Harrogate (North England), owing to bad heath; he is accompanied by Eleanor “Tussy” Marx; he stays until December 15

mid-April 1874 – Marx takes a three-week seaside cure alone at Ramsgate, owing to bad health

August 15, 1874 – Marx leaves London for a trip to the Karlsbad spa; he stays until September 19

September 1874 – Marx travels to Dresden, Leipzig (where he met Liebknecht), Berlin and Hamburg; he meets his publisher Meissner

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

August 1875 – Marx returns to the Karlsbad spa

1875 – Marx moved to 44 Maitland Street and lived here until he died

August–September 1876 – Marx returns to the Karlsbad spa

August 1877 – Marx and his wife stay for four weeks at the Rhenish spa Neuenahr

12 September, 1878 – Lydia “Lizzie” Burns, partner and wife of Friedrich Engels, dies

1878 – Anti-Socialist laws in Germany

August–September 1881 – Marx and his wife visit Argenteuil near Paris

December 1881 – Marx’s wife Jenny dies

1881–1882 – through Christmas and New Year Marx stays at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight

February 20, 1882 – Marx arrives in Algiers

early May 1882 – Marx leaves Algiers for France

October 1882 – Marx returns to London

November 1882–January 1883 – Marx goes to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight

11 January, 1883 – Marx’s daughter Jenny dies

January, 1883 – Marx returns to London

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

17 March, 1883 – Marx buried at Highgate cemetery

1885 – the second volume of Das Kapital published by Engels

8 August, 1888 – Engels leaves for New York

August–September 1888 – Engels in America

1894 – the third volume of Das Kapital published by Engels

1895 – Engels dies.
Browne, Janet. 2002. Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Volume 2. Jonathan Cape, London.

Liebknecht, Wilhelm. 1901. Karl Marx: Biographical Memoirs. C. H. Kerr & Co., Chicago.

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. What a coincidence. Am reading (or should say, listening to,it's an audiobook) Sperber's excellent biography of Marx right now, Have got to about 1864. I see that Das Kapital is also available as an Audiobook, at least the German original, which is he one I want, maybe I should try this one next. Any idea why Keynes (is supposed to have) said that Marx's theories were basically a misreading of Ricardo?

    1. I believe that Keynes said that Marx's theories were * founded* "on a silly mistake of old Mr Ricardo's" -- namely, the labour theory of value (LTV). Post Keynesians follow Keynes here and reject the LTV, e.g.,

      (1) for Sraffa, the LTV was "a purely mystical conception" :

      (2) for Kalecki the LTV was "metaphysical":

      (3) for Joan Robinson, the LTV is also "metaphysical":

      Robinson, Joan. 1964. Economic Philosophy. Penguin, Harmondsworth. p. 39.