Marx, Karl Heinrich

(1818–83)
   German founder of ‘scientific’ socialism. Marx’s father, Heinrich, belonged to the generation of Jews that was abruptly emancipated by the French conquest of the Rhineland and had its rights abrogated equally abruptly after the defeat of NAPOLEON. Heinrich, a lawyer, would have been unable to practise if he had remained a Jew, and he was converted to the Protestant Church in 1817. He was in any case detached from Judaism. In 1824 he had all his children baptized.
   Karl grew up to be a brilliant radical journalist and philosopher whose political views and activities caused him to be expelled from several countries. Not long after the 1848 revolution, during which he edited a revolutionary newspaper in Germany, he settled in London and spent the rest of his life there. He was the leading figure in the International Workingmen’s Association (The First International) founded in 1863.
   It was during the 1840s that Marx developed his distinctive social philosophy. He saw human history as a series of struggles between social classes which was to culminate in the victory of the industrial proletariat over the bourgeois- capitalist class. Socialists, instead of trying to construct blueprints for the ideal society, should aid the proletariat in its revolutionary struggle, which would lead eventually to a classless society and a totally new phase in human history. The best-known of Marx’s many writings are The Communist Manifesto, a pamphlet written jointly with Friedrich Engels at the end of 1847, and the massive Das Kapital, which appeared between 1867 and 1893, the unfinished work being completed by Engels.
   Marx’s attitude to Jews and Judaism was strongly hostile and has often been called one of self-hatred. For a while, in his teens, he was deeply attached to Christianity, though he later became an atheist. In an essay on the Jewish question which appeared in 1844 Marx said that true emancipation, for Jews and others, would come only when society was emancipated from Judaism, which he equated with bourgeois capitalism. The essay was written at a time when Marx was engaged in working out his own political philosophy, but his other writings, both journalism and private letters, contain many anti-Semitic clichés. Marx was ignorant of Jewish history and culture. Though he wrote that the Jews had acted as a source of religious heresy in medieval Europe, he seems to have been unaware of Jewish martyrdom. More surprisingly, he was ignorant of contemporary Jewish social conditions outside Western Europe; in particular, Eastern European Jewry seems not to have existed for him. The only sympathetic article about Jews that he wrote came after he had discovered that there were poor Jews in Jerusalem. His daughter Eleanor (d. 1898), however, regarded herself as Jewish (though Marx’s wife was not a Jew) and liked to spend time among the Jewish workers in the East End of London. Marx’s hostility to Jews did not prevent enemies, from the anarchist Bakunin to the Nazis, from attacking him and his system in anti-Semitic terms. In the Soviet Union, where Marxism-Leninism was the official ideology, mention of his Jewish origin was deleted in reference works published from the end of the 1940s to the end of the 1980s.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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