The Early Life of Karl Marx

Karl Marx

Karl Marx–Taken from The Naked Communist

Karl Marx first saw the light of day at Treves, Germany, May 5, 1818. He certainly had no need to apologize for his progenitors. For many generations his male ancestors on both sides had been outstanding scholars and distinguished rabbis. However, the father of Karl Marx decided to break the ties of the past both religiously and professionally. He withdrew his family from the local synagogue to join the congregation of a local protestant faith and then reached out after professional recognition as a practicing attorney. Karl Marx was six years of age when the traditional moorings of the family were thus uprooted, and some biographers of Marx attribute his rejection of religion in later years to the conflicts which this sudden change in his life precipitated.

In elementary school young Karl revealed himself to be a quick, bright scholar. He also revealed a quality which would plague him the rest of his life—his inability to keep a friend. Seldom, in all of Marx’s writings, do we find a reference to any happy boyhood associations. Biographers say he was too intense, too anxious to dominate the situation, too concerned about personal success, too belligerent in his self-assertiveness, to keep many friends. However, Karl Marx was not lacking in sentiment and genuine hunger for affection. At 17, when he began his university career, the letters which he wrote to his parents occasionally unveiled deeply sentimental, woman-like feelings. Here is an example:

“In the hope that the clouds which hang over our family will gradually disperse; that I shall be permitted to share your sufferings and mingle my tears with yours, and, perhaps, in direct touch with you, to show the profound affection, the immeasurable love, which I have not always been able to express as I should like; in the hope that you, too, my fondly and eternally loved Father, bearing in mind how much my feelings have been storm-tossed, will forgive me because my heart must often have seemed to you to have gone astray when the travail of my spirit was depriving it of the power of utterance; in the hope that you will soon be fully restored to health, that I shall be able to clasp you in my arms, and to tell you all that I feel, I remain always your loving son, Karl.”

Such expressions must have puzzled the elder Marx. Throughout his career as a father he was never able to counsel or cross this hot-tempered son without precipitating an emotional explosion. The letters of Karl Marx make frequent reference to the violent quarrels between himself and his parents; the letters from Karl’s parents complain of his egoism, his lack of consideration for the family, his constant demands for money and his discourtesy in failing to answer most of their letters.