Author Mary Gabriel begins her article about her new biography of the marriage of Karl and Jenny Marx with this tired phrase:
Karl Marx famously said, “If anything is certain it is that I am not a Marxist.” Nowhere was that more evident than in the Marx family home in London.
Gabriel is obviously aware that the one of the greatest minds in human history was a real jerk to his wife and child. Marx, for all his revolutionary fervor, was not that great at keeping his family clothed and fed. Indeed, much has been written about how Engels, an astute mind in his own right, ended up bankrolling the Marx clan for many years.
Gabriel seems to lament the life the life Marx never lived. Marx, a well educated German man whose family had converted to Lutheranism from Judaism in order to gain access to a better social standing, chose the path of most resistence.
It could have easily been otherwise. Marx was an educated Prussian married to a baron’s daughter. He might have used his considerable intellectual abilities and her aristocratic status to gain a position that would have ensured his family’s security. Marx, however, never truly entertained that traditional, easy path as an option. He had a mission to build a more just society, which ultimately became a mission to save the masses—working man and middle class—from the excesses of capitalism. The sad irony was that as much as he loved his family, he did not seem to consider that they, too, needed saving. Like an artist single-mindedly dedicated to his vision, Marx expected his wife and children to fall into place behind him because they also recognized the significance of his work. He believed that they, too, must be ready to sacrifice for his goals. Lovingly and without hesitation, they did.
From the essay that Gabriel wrote, I am not sure whether the reader is supposed to lament the life of Marx’s wife and daughters and hate the author of Das Kapital.
Marx may have been a less than stand up father and husband, but he was not the only barring factor towards female liberation from paternalism, and to act as such is intentionally misleading.
As to Gabriel’s opening quote? It is actually taken from a quip Marx said regarding leaders of the French Communists whose ideas were radically different than his own and has woefully been taken out of context for over a century.
I look forward to reading Gabriel’s work, if only to see how people with no concept of Marxism get published.