The Holocaust Historiography Project

Karl Marx (Part A)

Karl Marx was born on 5 May 1818 in the Rhineland city of Trier. His grandfather was a Rabbi Marc Levy, who had gradually dropped the Levy, and changed the Marc to Marx. Shortly after Karl’s birth, his father too changed his name, from Heshel Marx to Heinrich Marx. He also adopted the Lutheran religion, into which the boy Karl was baptized.

Karl’s father was an attorney, who later branched into a career as an entrepreneur, chiefly as a moneylender. He defended the predominance of Jews in the financial business “because they had been barred from more socially useful occupations".

As on his paternal side, Marx’s mother was descended from a long line of rabbis. She clung to the family’s traditional faith much longer than her husband. She was to make a profound impression on her son Karl, who was the first son to survive through childhood. Many of her characteristics appear to be those of a possessive, manipulative, stereotypical Jewish mother.

Karl developed a love-hate relationship toward his mother, and many Jewish commentators have sought to explain Karl Marx’s gross anti-Semitic statements as a rebellion against his mother’s manipulation. For example:

“To begin with, Marx was a man who, unlike other Jewish sons, hated his mother. In his innermost roots, he had none of the reassurances of maternal love …

“The Promethean complex, we perceive, is basically different from the kind associated with Napoleonic ambition. A Napoleon could venture forth fortified by his mother’s love, with supreme self-confidence, Marx, choosing Promethean revolt as his life’s plan — a perpetual struggle against the gods — was always to re-enact a search for self confidence, always seeking recognition as a god, always anticipating rejection. His world was always to be one of struggle because he was never secure in love …

“Marx’s hatred for Judaism — otherwise inexplicable — was the outcome of an animosity toward all that his mother signified for him. His youthful essay On The Jewish Question (1843) was the confused argument of a man who hates his Jewish heritage so much that he cannot bring himself to say plainly that he supports political and civil rights for the Jews.”

Lewis S. Feuer: “Karl Marx and the Promethean Complex,” Encounter, December 1968.

Although somewhat sophistic and casuistic (Marx also expressed equally vitriolic comments about Christians, Negroes, Slavs, rivals and all) there is more than a grain of truth in this argument.

Karl was almost certainly his mother’s favorite. She called him her “child of fortune". Her letters to him were addressed to “greatly beloved dear Carl” or to “dear darling Karl” and were signed “your eternally loving Mother". In return, he referred to her as his “Angel Mother". Her possessiveness over Karl extended right through to his death in 1863, when Marx was middle-aged. When he was a university student she would write him to remind him to “have a weekly scrub with soap and water” (a piece of advice which, judging by the published comments of his associates, he failed to heed throughout his life). His drunken rowdiness was a source of maternal complaint from his university days through some two decades later.

Upon his father’s death when Karl was 23, his mother argued that Karl should take up remunerative work and fend for the family he now headed. Karl reacted with indignation, suggesting in correspondence that his mother’s continued tenure on life was standing between him and the family fortune. His mother compounded her son’s envy by steadily expanding her investments, even though she was poorly educated and could write only fractured German.

Karl’s correspondence with his mother increasingly became mere begging letters, and his letters to friends became callous speculations about how much longer she would live. When Engels' lover Mary Burns died suddenly in 1863, Marx expressed regret that it had been Mary who had died and not his mother. However, Marx’s mother was not long in fulfilling his wishes, and on 2 December 1863 she passed away, leaving Marx with a more than proportionate part of her estate. However, Marx had already borrowed enormous amounts of money from his banker uncle, and thus most of his windfall went toward paying off that loan. The rest was soon squandered.

Marx then turned his attention to his patron, the Anglo-German textile magnate, Friedrich Engels. In almost every one of his letters to Engels, he begs for handouts. In one letter, written from London, Marx complains that he is so hard up he has been obliged to pawn the maid’s shoes in order to pay for his daughter’s private education. It is of course ironic that Marx, the arch-opponent of Capitalism, would rely on the profits of sweat and child labor in the Manchester cotton mills for his living.

Most of what we know about Marx’s personal, as opposed to published, views can be gleaned from the Marx-Engels correspondence. However, one has to be careful in dealing with published editions of this correspondence. A German socialist edition, edited by Bebel and Bernstein, and published in Berlin in 1927-32, tones down many of Marx’s slurs. Editions published in Moscow and in post-war East Germany also should be handled with care.

To trace the origins of Marx’s ideology, we must go to the early part of his career, just after he gained his mail-order doctorate from Jena university. Marx drifted to Cologne, the most liberal and richest city in the Rhineland. Here he met Moses Hess, a 30 year old Jewish socialist, Zionist and mystic. Like Marx, Hess was descended from a long line of Talmudic rabbis. He had been raised by his rabbi grandfather, and thus was thoroughly steeped in Talmudic traditions. Hess believed that Communism could best be brought about by the promotion of Zionism and Hassidism (Orthodox Judaism). Hess is still recognized today as being one of the founding fathers of Zionist thought, for in 1954 his remains were disinterred from their European burial place and shipped to Israel, where they were reburied alongside the ancient Kabbalistic rabbi Simon Ben Yohai (see Jewish Voice 29 October 1954). Yohai’s best-known contribution to Zionist theology was his scholarly slogan: “Tob shebe — goyyim harog” — “The best of the Goyim deserve to be killed". The modern-day Israelis obviously thought that Hess would feel at home in such distinguished company. After all, Hess’s Communism has been responsible for the deaths of millions of the best “Goys” right up until the present day!

Hess negotiated with some of his wealthy Jewish business friends in Cologne for Marx to be given an editorial job on the Neue Rheinische Zeitung newspaper, which was just starting up in 1842. During this period, Marx editorially attacked just about every ideology: Christianity, despotism and once or twice, Communism. But the newspaper was to be short-lived, for the Prussian censorship board closed it down.

Marx worked with Hess in writing Die Deutsche Ideologie (1845), and it is possible he may have inspired Hess’s most famous book Rom und Jerusalem. This corner-stone of Zionist thought was not published in English until 1945, by the Jewish publishing specialists Bloch & Co. of New York City. This book is a hymn of praise to the Jewish people, and predicts how the future world will be ruled by the Jews from Palestine, which of course is strategically located “between Europe and far Asia … the roads that lead to India and China … the World will once again pay homage to the oldest of peoples.” (pp 139-140)

When he was not formulating the founding principles of Communism for his protege Marx, and the theological underpinnings for Zionism (to be picked up later by the journalist Theodore Herzl), Hess also found time to indulge in his mystical interests. He was a great admirer of the supposedly supernatural powers of the Kabbalistic Hassidic Jews, from which origins he himself had sprung. Hess effectively translated the abstract messianic notions of Hassidism from the ancient Talmudic books of magick, into his own practical formula of political Communism, which in turn became a battering-ram for Zionism.

After more flitting around the European continent, Marx and his family eventually settled in London. Here he lived in Soho — at that time something of a bohemian quarter; today it is London’s red light district. Despite his shortcomings in the English language, he was appointed London correspondent of the New York Daily Tribune, the largest and most influential newspaper in America. His friend Engels translated Marx’s writings from German into English, and also wrote about a third of the articles himself. Later, Engels would also write much of “Marx's” weighty Das Kapital, which Marx spent many years researching in the dusty library of the British Museum.

It was during this period that Marx exhibited one of the most extraordinary phenomena of psychohistory: a gross, neurotic anti-Semitism. Of course, anti-Semitism was nothing new to Marx. While still in Germany he had penned a short essay “On the Jewish Question". This had contained such niceties as:

“What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly cult of the Jews? Haggling. What is his worldly god? Money! … What is contained abstractly in the Jewish religion — contempt for theory, for art, for history, for man as an end in himself … “

Nor was his contempt limited to generalities. Every other Jew who crossed Marx’s path was subjected to anti-Semitic ridicule, usually of the most puerile kind, dealing with physical features and so on. One of the principal victims of Marx’s slurs was Ferdinand Lassalle, a rival German-Jewish socialist with whom Marx worked from time to time. In a letter to Engels dated 30 July 1862, Marx wrote that “the Jewish Nigger, Lassalle” was fortunately leaving London that weekend to return to Germany, adding:

“It is now absolutely clear to me that, as both the shape of his head and his hair texture shows — he descends from the Negroes who joined Moses' flight from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the paternal side hybridized with a Nigger). Now this combination of Germanness and Jewishness with a primary Negro substance necessarily creates a strange product. The pushiness of this fellow is also Niggerish.”

After a run-in with Fleet Street’s Daily Telegraph, Marx launched into a diatribe against Moses Joseph Levy, the newspaper’s editor. In a bizarre attack on Levy, Marx wrote that “the great art of Levy’s nose consists in the fact that it caresses foul odors, and that it can sniff them out over a hundred miles and attract them … an elephant’s trunk, an antenna, a lighthouse, a telegraph.”

Marx then continued his attack with the even more curious insinuation that a man named Moses Joseph Levy was trying to conceal his Jewish origin. Marx argued that Levy was not a Jewish name, and therefore the editor had changed his real Jewish name to Levy to pretend that he was not Jewish! This incident would appear to be a straight case of projection, for Marx’s true family name was of course Levy, and his family’s adoption of token Christianity was purely for business, rather than theological reasons.

Many of Marx’s contributions to the Tribune were anti-Semitic in nature. Just by way of example, his feature published on 4 January 1856 read as follows:

“Take Amsterdam, for instance, a city harboring many of the worst descendants of the Jews whom Ferdinand and Isabella drove out of Spain and who, after lingering a while in Portugal, were driven out of there too and eventually found a place of retreat in Holland …, Here and there and everywhere that a little capital courts investment, there is ever one of these little Jews ready to make a little suggestion or place a little bit of loan. The smartest highwayman in the Abruzzi is not better posted about the locale of the hard cash in a traveller’s valise or pocket than these little Jews about any loose capital in the hands of a trader …

“Thus we find every tyrant backed by a Jew, as is every Pope by a Jesuit. In truth, the cravings of oppressors would be hopeless, and the practicability of war out of the question, if there were not an army of Jesuits to smother thought and a handful of Jews to ransack pockets … The fact that 1,855 years ago Christ drove the Jewish money-changers out of the temple, and that the money changers of our age, enlisted on the side of tyranny, again happen to be Jews is perhaps no more than a historic coincidence.”

Marx himself was extremely sensitive about his own Jewish origins. He married a Gentile woman, Jenny von Westphalen, a beautiful aristocratic Prussian who had fallen under Marx’s spell in their hometown of Trier. Marx himself was typically Jewish in appearance. According to Karl Peter Heinzen who worked with Marx in the 1840s, Marx had “wildly dishevelled, coal-black hair, and his complexion was dirty yellow. Whether the dirty complexion was as nature made it, or whether the dirt came from outside, can no more be decided than whether his shirt and his clothes were originally made in a dirty color or merely acquired dirt.” — Robert Payne: The Unknown Karl Marx (pp 154-5).

On one occasion when Marx’s son-in-law Charles Longuet wrote a flattering article about Marx in a Paris newspaper, he inadvertently outraged his subject by referring to his Jewish origins. Marx flew into a rage and demanded that the unfortunate Longuet never mention his name again in his writings.

Marx’s second daughter Laura married a Paul Lafargue in 1845. Marx had done everything possible to prevent the marriage, totally on account of Lafargue’s small portion of Negro blood. But when Lafargue’s wealthy parents promised a groom’s dowry of 100,000 francs, Marx’s attitude reversed. However, when the gift did not materialize, Marx reverted to racist slurs against his daughter’s husband. Marx remarked that one of his daughters was doing her bit in solving the color question by marrying “a nigger". He often referred to Lafargue as “the little Negro” or as “the Gorilla". When Laura bore a second child in 1870, Jenny Marx wrote Engels that she hoped her daughter would practice reproductive restraint and not produce “ten little nigger boys". When Lafargue decided to run in the municipal Paris elections, Engels too remarked that this was appropriate since the district contained the Paris Zoo, and “a nigger is a degree nearer to the animal kingdom than the rest of us".

In fact, Karl Marx was as racist as any Ku Klux Klansman. He believed that slavery was essential to American progress. He supported the idea of a Greater German Empire extending over the “lumpengesindle” (rabble) to the east. Many examples of this attitude are quoted in Nathaniel Weyl’s stunning book Karl Marx: Racist, Arlington House, 1979.

Weyl reveals that little of Marx’s economic theorizing was his own. Even his most famous slogan in The Communist Manifesto “Workers of the World unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains and a World to gain!” was lifted verbatim from a German revolutionary, Karl Schapper. The “Marxian” idea that society can be divided into two classes was as old as the hills. It had been propounded by Helvetius, by Marat, by Baboeuf and many others. The term “class struggle” had been in use in Britain as early as 1844 in the agitational writings of Chartist leader, Fergus O'Connor. The idea that “the working man has no country” was put forward long before Marx by the English novelist, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in 1833. His notion of thesis plus antithesis bringing about synthesis was originally put forward by Hegel.

In 1867 the first volume of Das Kapital was published in German. Marx had offered to dedicate it to Charles Darwin, but was politely declined. (Marx had earlier described Darwin’s book The Origin of the Species as being “developed in the coarse English manner.”) The first volume did not appear in English until 1887, translated by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, the latter being the common-law husband of Marx’s youngest daughter Eleanor. The second volume of the work was issued by Engels in 1885 after the death of Marx. The third volume appeared in 1894, and the final portion did not see the light of day until 1905-1910, under the editorship of Karl Kautsky (Jew).

Go to Part B