Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a German philosopher, writer and journalist whose enormous impact on the world — for good or bad — continues today. The “inventor” of communism was born Karl Heinrich Marx in the German city of Trier (then in Rhenish Prussia) to a Jewish family whose members were all practicing Lutherans.
Marx studied at the universities of Bonn, Berlin, and Jena. He was greatly influenced by the writings of the German philosopher Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Because of his rebellious tendencies, Marx spent most of his adult life in exile.
After 1849, he lived the rest of his life in London with his wife and children, usually on the verge of starvation. Before going into British exile, Marx and his friend Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) had completed the Communist Manifesto (“Workers of the world, unite!”), first published in London in February 1848. Also in London, Marx helped organize the First International (workers party, 1864) and wrote Das Kapital (1867-1894) — a work that consumed the last 25 years of his life. He was only able to finish the first three of five volumes before his death. (Engels completed the work based on Marx’s notes.)
Most of Marx’s influence came after his death, primarily in connection with Lenin’s 1917 revolution in Russia (Marxism-Leninism). Today, his birthplace, the Karl-Marx-Haus in Trier, is a museum. (See web links below.) The grave of Marx and his family is located in the eastern section of London’s Highgate Cemetery.
Karl Marx Timeline
1818: Karl Heinrich Marx is born in Trier, Prussia on May 5 in the house pictured below. His father, Heinrich, is a lawyer. Little is known about Karl’s childhood.
1835: At the age of 17, Karl Marx graduates from high school. In October, he goes to Bonn to study law, following his father’s wishes.
1836: Marx switches to the university in Berlin and continues to live beyond his means. He falls in love with Jenny von Westphalen (b. 1814). They are now secretly engaged.
1838: Karl’s father dies.
1841: Marx earns his doctorate from the University of Jena with a dissertation on ancient Greek philosophy.
1842: Marx begins writing for the Rheinische Zeitung in Cologne, soon advancing to editor. When the paper is banned in the spring of 1843, Marx loses his job.
1843: Marx finishes his studies in Berlin and begins to look for a job. On June 19, he and Jenny marry in Bad Kreuznach. In the late fall, they move to Paris, where Karl makes contact with French socialists and German workers living there. One of them is a young German-born merchant named Friedrich Engels (1820-1895).
1844: Marx and Jenny’s first child, a daughter (Jenny Caroline), is born in Paris. Marx and Engels begin work on a book together. The Marx family is living in true poverty. Karl Marx never held a solid job or had a bank account in his entire life. He was a great philosopher, but a terrible provider. Three of his children died because the family could not afford medicine for them. A fourth died before being named (1857).
1845: Marx and Engels publish their first book together, a polemic against the Young Hegelians entitled Die heilige Familie oder Kritik der kritischen Kritik (“The Holy Family or Critique of Critical Critique”). At the end of this year, Marx gives up his Prussian citizenship. He would remain a stateless person until the end of his life. Marx is expelled from France (because of pressure from Prussia) and the family moves to Brussels.
1847: Marx and Engels (who is now also living in Brussels) are asked to write a communist manifesto for the Communist League in London.
1848: The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels is published. This is a revolutionary year in many parts of Europe, spreading out from the “February Revolution” in France. But the “Manifesto” plays no role, and all of the civil revolutionary movements across Europe, including those in Prussia, fail to achieve lasting results. Many of the revolutionaries, along with Marx and Engels in Prussia, had to flee their homelands. The “Manifesto” goes largely unnoticed by most of the world — until 1917.
1848: In April, Marx and Engels go to Cologne and publish the Neue Rheinische Zeitung to support the workers’ movement all across Prussia. With the collapse of the revolutionary forces, the newspaper was forced to shut down in May 1849.
1849: Once again expelled from Prussia, Marx and his family are now living in London, where they depend mostly on the kindness of friends and relatives. The family moves frequently, finally ending up on Dean Street in London’s Soho district.
1864: Two separate inheritances improve the family’s situation — with a better house and even two maids.
1881: Marx’s wife (and secretary) Jenny dies of cancer on December 2. Only three of her seven children will outlive their parents (all daughters).
1883: Karl Marx dies at his desk in London on March 14. He has willed all his written works to Engels.
Marx for Beginners by Rius (paperback) – An illustrated guide to Marx and Marxist philosophy, written in a humorous, entertaining yet informative style.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Marx for Beginners
More | Featured Biographies
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- Trier City Guide – Our guide to Marx’s birthplace in Germany
- Mini Bios A-Z – More brief biographies of notable people from the German-speaking world
- Featured Biographies – More detailed bios of notable people from the German-speaking world
- Notable Germans, Austrians and Swiss – More bios
- Notable Women from Austria, Germany, Switzerland
- Famous Graves – The graves and cemeteries of the famous, including Karl Marx
ON THE WEB
- Das Karl-Marx-Haus is now a museum in Trier (site in English, French or German)
- Highgate Cemetery – London – Wikipedia
- Karl Marx (Wikipedia, in English)
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