10 very interesting things about Karl Max

Karl Max

Karl Max- Image- Wikimedia

‘From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs’

Meet one of the world’s most famous and influential theorists, Karl Max. You might have, in your studies or work heard about Karl Max who was German. He was the father of socialism and communism and wrote theories on society, politics, and economics, in what would be classified as critical theories. To simplify Karl Max’s work, one of the things he is known for is Marxism which stipulates a societal way or means of organizing a society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the working class/ masses; otherwise known as the proletariat. 

Since Karl Max and his works are no stranger to the world of academics, let us look at some of the most interesting facts about him. Some will blow your mind.

1. He died broke

Karl Max on his fiftieth birthday wrote to his friend and The Communist Manifesto co-author Friedreich Engels mentioning his mother’s word ‘if only Karl made capital instead of just writing about it’. He lived in abject poverty and died broke, though he wrote and preached capitalism. At some point in his life, he could not leave his house because his wife pawned his pants so that they could buy food! In London, he used false names so that his creditors could not locate him! Four of his seven children died in childhood due to poverty. He died a poor man and was buried in the London Highgate Cemetery in a section set aside for atheists and secularists. 

2. Das Kapital was published in Russia

Das Kapital By Karl Max

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Karl Max’s book Das Kapital was first published in Russia even though Russia censored works that they considered communist, but they said his masterwork was ‘purely scientific’ and could be published there. The government claimed that very few people in Russia could read and comprehend it! Mmmmmh interesting!

3. Someone once plotted to kill him 

Prussian born revolutionary communist August Willich once publicly insulted Karl Max as a way of luring him into a duel, where he planned to kill him. Karl Max did not agree to his advances and that way he escaped death. Willich was a co-founder of an anti-Marx group who accused Karl Max of being too conservative! 

4. His ‘weak chest’ helped him avoid military service   

He smoked, drank and too much partying and a bad diet made his bad chest worse; which worked out for him since he could avoid military conscription. His father encouraged him to avoid it but urged him to reduce his smoking.

5. He didn’t attend his father’s funeral; only 11 people attended his.

Karl Max’s father Heinrich died of Tuberculosis in May 1838 but Karl Max who was then a student at the University of Berlin did not travel for his burial. He had a strained relationship with his family due to his rebellious ways in the university. Interestingly, only about 11 people attended Karl’s funeral; his close family, his longtime friend Friedrich Engels, and his communist associates. During the burial, his friend Engels said ‘his name will endure through the ages, and so will his work’. How accurate!

6. He was arrested in college

His college years at the University of Bonn were extremely dramatic. He was always drunk and disorderly, which always put him in trouble with the local authorities. He was even a president of a drinking society called the Trier Tavern Club whose main aim was to antagonize aristocratic organizations in the university (who knew such clubs and societies existed!). He was jailed for 24 hours due to his involvement with this club, at some point. He was also a member of the Poet’s club, a radical group. This was not the only thing, he even carried a gun around which worsened his relationship with the police and in one of the duels with a Borrusia Korps member, Karl Max sustained a cut below his left eye. He later moved to the University of Berlin. 

7. He suffered very poor health died of acute Bronchitis 

Karl Max, though very sharp, had very bad luck with his health. He suffered insomnia, headaches, bad chest, eye inflammation, skin problems (hidradenitis), gall bladder and liver problems, joint pains, and bronchitis which killed him. These problems were worsened by the philosopher’s bad habits that included too much drinking and smoking, really bad diets, working long hours and not resting enough. An interesting thing is that his poor health did not slow down his work and he continued working even when he had very bad boils that could not allow him to sit down! 

8. His marriage was very controversial 

Karl Max met his wife when he was one; she was six and their families were good friends. Jenny canceled her engagement with a young aristocrat member and she was engaged to Karl when she was 22. The society and community they lived in at the time frowned upon marriages where the husband was younger than the wife!

9. He lived in exile with his family and he was expelled from most countries

Karl Max Souvenir

Karl Max Souvenir- Wikimedia Commons

Karl Max was just rebellious from his university days and even in his adulthood, he was expelled from countries that he visited; mostly due to his ideologies. Prussia expelled him in 1842, France in 1845, Belgium in 1848; he moved to England in 1849 but Britain refused to grant him citizenship, Prussia also refused to re-neutralize him. He finally applied to the mayor of Trier, his birthplace for an immigrant visa! 

10. His friend Friedrich Engels sent money


Karl Marx’s Grave- Source: Wikimedia Commons

Up until his death at 64 years, it is said that Engels had sent Karl about 36, 000 Euros! The two met at a restaurant when Karl lived in Paris and they formed a strong friendship. They ended up writing The Communist Manifesto and even gave Karl the money to publish his publication Das Kapital. 

Karl Max might have died a pauper but he makes money in death since his tomb is visited by about 200 people per day and the and the graveyard which houses his grave recently commissioned a 6 Euro charge for people to see his grave!

Karl Max lived an interesting life; he also wrote poems for his wife and even enchanting novels- which never saw the light of day. You wouldn’t think that one of the greatest philosophers of all time lived like this- living in poverty and poor health- but that’s not the end. In 1999, a BBC Poll voted him ‘The Greatest Thinker of the Millennium’, which is okay; but no one understands who put him as a contender for ‘The Greatest Beard of the Millennium’!