Notes on Marx
by ALEX CARNEVALE
The biggest phony, the most long-lasting piece of garbage was Karl Marx. I hate saying his name.
On the 8th of March, Marx wrote, “Yesterday we were informed of A VERY HAPPY EVENT. The death of my wife’s uncle, aged ninety.” Why would Karl Marx write such an awful thing? Because he stood to make £100 from it.
This is where Marx really believed wealth came from — inheritance.
Marx made disgusting comments about both Jews and blacks in his letters to Friedrich Engels. For Marx, ethnic identity was a kind of egoism, which allowed people to set themselves apart from one another. Of a enemy who he slandered as a Jew, Marx wrote to Friedrich Engels that “the fellow’s importunity is also nigger-like.”
Engels’ family loathed Marx, who was financially sustained by them for most of his life. They wanted Engels to work in the family business, which was cotton. Papa Engels asked his son to choose between a life in Calcutta or one in New York. In order to support Marx and his family, Engels joined his father’s company. He received 200 pounds plus expenses in his job there, which allowed him to fund the “political” work Karl was doing.
Marx taught himself English by memorizing Shakespeare. He eventually brought in some money by selling his political columns to newspapers. If he needed more money for alcohol or drugs, Marx pawned his wife’s family silverware or begged for it.
On Christmas Marx gave his kids gifts. He explained the event by suggesting that Christ was a poor carpenter killed by rich men. One biographer, discussing the fact that Marx’s writing rarely made logical sense, writes, “his vices were also his virtues, manifestations of a mind addicted to paradox and inversion.” Jesus Christ.
While his pregnant wife was off asking a relative for money, Marx drank a lot and threw rocks at policemen. To amuse himself, Marx fucked the housekeeper, a maid named Helene Demuth. The family all slept in one disgusting room. Engels paid for the ensuing child to be removed from Marx’s presence. The baby boy, Frederic, was given to a Jewish family in London. The child was so ashamed of his real family he visited his mother by the back door of the house.
Marx regretted getting married at all. He believed marriage was a silly institution, and he taught his daughters the same.
The phrase “from each according to his abilities” was originally an insult that Karl Marx levied at his intellectual rivals. It meant the individual in question had no ability. So we begin to understand the foundation of an all-powerful state — it presides over idiots for their own good.
Fascism tells us that all men are liars, that they cannot be trusted. Communism suggests all men are fools. Marx took almost forever to compose his magnum opus, Capital, forcing his family to live in abject poverty while he wrote the book’s volumes in longhand. At first things seemed to be coming together quickly; Marx told Engels in April of 1851 that “I am so far advanced that I will have finished the whole economic shit in five weeks time.” He still had not, sixteen years later.
Prussian spies tasked with covering Marx could not believe how he lived. In their reports they noted
He leads the existence of a real bohemian intellectual. Washing, grooming and changing his linen are all things he does rarely, and he likes to get drunk. He often stays up all night, and then lies down fully clothed on the sofa at midday and sleeps till evening, untroubled by the coming and goings of the whole world.
Marx had asked for the position of London correspondent in a number of letters. The New York Tribune, a newspaper that he roundly denigrated to Engels, reached an audience of 200,000. He told the editor, Charles Anderson Dana, that he would be ecstatic if they featured his columns. So began Marx’s career in journalism, and the regular income was sorely needed.
Marx took a break from writing his column in 1853, because a boil between his nose and mouth became so infected that he could not speak. Except for that sabbatical, he rarely missed a week.
In a 1951 epistle to Engels, he wrote, “At home everything’s always in a state of siege. For nights on end, I am set on edge and infuriated by floods of tears. So I cannot of course do very much. I feel sorry for my wife. The main burden falls on her, and fundamentally, she is right. Industry must be more productive than marriage.”
Marx idolized his father and spoke often of the man, a well-to-do lawyer who converted to Lutheranism because of anti-Semitism. He loathed his mother, a housewife who spoke German with a heavy Dutch accent, after she cut off his allowance. He was not the slightest bit upset when she passed. “Blessed is he who hath no family,” he wrote once in a letter to Engels.
The ascension of Napoleon gave Marx an easy target. His wife handled the secretarial work, churning out tract after tract from his illegible handwriting. When Marx was not writing, he hung out at a wine shop that he called his synagogue and binge drank. He smoked through the night, cheap cigars being the only thing Karl Marx could afford.
Engels was the only correspondent with whom Marx ever discussed intellectual matters. The rest of his letters were mostly trash talk, gossip, and complaints. He never engaged with any developments in philosophy, economics, social sciences, life sciences. He already knew better.
Marx’s fifth child, Franziska, died shortly after her first birthday from a bout of bronchitis. Marx could not afford funeral arrangements, so Jenny begged for two pounds. Cholera was among the bigger threats to the survival of Marx’s children, caused by sewage leaks to London wells. Only three of his kids lived to adulthood in such a poisonous environment.
Marx rarely managed to afford a doctor, so he spent what money he had a nice outfit for his wife. Pregnant with his next child, Jenny went to Trier to ask his relative for money. She had to look her best; it would too obvious if she went begging dressed as a pauper. Jenny returned with the needed cash; all the while Marx drank gin and his mistress took care of his children.
His sixth baby, Eleanor, was born sick. He wrote to Engels that the baby was “unfortunately of the ‘sex.’ If it had been a male child, well and good.” (That daughter, Eleanor Marx, later killed herself by swallowing cyanide when she found out her boyfriend married a younger woman.) The distraction of Eleanor’s infirmity was superseded by the sudden illness of their eight-year-old son Edgar, who was very ill with consumption. The boy died in Marx’s arms.
Though Marx suffered a great deal of avoidable tragedy, he was never sympathetic to anyone else’s pain. When Engels’ father passed away, Marx received an unexpected windfall. Engels’ inheritance allowed Marx to focus on Capital. He called the death of Friedrich Engels Sr. “a glorious surprise” and explained the whole family was “filled with glee” upon receiving £100 from Engels’ inheritance. Marx spent most of the money publishing a manuscript he had written about a rival who falsely claimed he was in league with the secret police.
Jenny was so overtired from copying and recopying Marx’s broadside that she contracted smallpox. The only thing that kept Marx from falling totally apart was the substantial distraction of a very bad toothache.
That book, Herr Vogt, sold 80 copies and the publisher went bankrupt. The printer demanded twenty additional pounds. Jenny recovered from her illness, but her face was a mess: she compared herself to a “hippopotamus which belongs in a zoological garden rather than in the ranks of the Caucasian race.”
To give himself distance from this monstrosity, Karl Marx went to Holland to ask his uncle for money. On the way he partied in Berlin, but soon found the Germans not to his liking. He met a woman there, a connected one who satisfied him sexually. Marx’s uncle gave him £160, money which lasted all of four months on Marx’s diet.
Engels had been tapped out by the decline in the cotton industry, and Marx had no choice but to consider a job. He secured a position at a British railway office. After decades of work on the manuscript, the publication of Capital was met with resounding silence. To be fair, reading the massive tome was likely to take weeks or months and most reviewers could not be bothered. The copy he sent to Charles Darwin was never touched after the first eighty pages. Darwin sent along a terse and unwelcoming thank you note. This insult inspired Marx to suggest an alternate theory of evolution: that it was prompted by changes in the soil.
Marx amused himself by copying French pornographic poetry to Engels in the interim. Capital began achieving its first real notices when it was translated into Russian. Marx had always railed against the Russian culture, specifically the aristocracy, so this reception came as a bit of surprise to him.
Engels decided to bail out of the family business and retired with £12,500. This was happy news for the Marx family, but when Engels’ wife died of heart disease Marx was less than sympathetic asent his friend a letter complaining about his finances for several pages and wishing it had been his mother who died. Engels forgave him in a letter later in the year, as he always did.
Jenny Marx died in 1881, and Marx prepared to follow her shortly thereafter. Marx was ill in his last years, travelling outside of Europe for the first time in his life, spending time at resorts in Algiers and Switzerland. He shaved off his hair and distinctive beard. His bronchitis worsened, but he never told his daughters, writing to a friend, “What’s the point of alarming them?”
Marx’s daughter Jennychen developed cancer while pregnant and beat her father to the grave, perishing in 1883. In his last days Marx drank a pint of milk mixed with rum and brandy for every meal. Only eleven people showed up for his funeral.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
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