Marx: not just a dour old socialist

2011-11-07 00:00

VETERAN journalist Mary Gabriel spent eight years poring over the personal lives of Karl Marx and his aristocratic wife Jenny.

The result is a revealing portrait of Marx as a husband, father and human being. Gabriel spoke about her work: Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution.

Wasn’t Marx a crowded field for a writer?

There are libraries of books on Marx and books on his theory in every conceivable language, but I was shocked to find that among all those volumes there was not a single book that focused on Marx and his family. Marx’s personal life has been a controversial subject from the time of his death in 1883. Immediately after his burial, efforts began by his followers to sanitise his story so that this “socialist god” would not seem human.

I believed there was room for another biography that told the story of Marx and his family, that readers ought to be introduced to Marx as husband, father and friend — for better or worse. Readers will see that this man was not at all the stern patrician he appeared to be in socialist and communist propaganda. I also found that uncovering the private Marx helped me understand his theory. Having done so, I can’t imagine reading Marx’s works without understanding the circumstances in which they were written and the historical events that were unfolding around him as he did so.

What surprised you most about Marx?

I was shocked by how approachable Marx was, and how much, by the end of the project, I enjoyed his company (I “moved in” with the Marxes for about eight years). He was funny, brilliant, passionate and completely exasperating, which in a sense only made him more endearing.

I came to the book with an image in my head of Marx’s Highgate monument. He was utterly remote — no doubt as stony in life as he was in death. But when I encountered him in his letters, or those of his friends and family, and understood his commitment and the sacrifices he made for his work, I realised how wrong I had been about him. Whatever one thinks of his politics or vision, one can’t ignore his dedication to his mission — which he believed was to save mankind from the excesses of capitalism.

Do you think Marx would have been surprised by how “communism” under the Soviets actually turned out?

I think Marx would have turned over in his grave if he had lived to see Lenin or Stalin at work. Soviet Russia could not have looked less like Marx’s vision of a communist society — which in fact was never completely articulated. From the time he was a young man, Marx abhorred the notion of the state imposing its will upon the people. He had a horror of state surveillance of citizens, a surveillance he was subjected to. And he would have never advocated state violence in order to suppress dissent.

Of all the characters, who did you admire most and why?

I really loved Jenny Marx, Karl’s wife, and his eldest daughter Jennychen, but I must say I enjoyed Marx’s closest collaborator Friedrich Engels most of all. Engels was part playboy, part saviour, part soldier, part philosopher. He not only provided Marx with the all-important “material” upon which to build his economic theories, by introducing him to the actual horrors of industrial capitalism, which he knew intimately because he worked at his father’s factory in Manchester, England, but he also gave Marx the material means to survive.

What was it like for Jenny, the daughter of a Prussian aristocrat, to stay married to Marx?

Sometimes it’s hard from our perspective to understand why Jenny stayed with Marx. There were many times when a modern wife in her position might have walked away, but that was not done in those days. He would have been an absolute trial to live with, but I think she believed — like Engels — that she was orbiting around a very special star and that her difficult job was to try to protect and nurture it. — Reuters.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.