10 Facts About Karl Marx

Lucy Quintanilla
Lucy Quintanilla

German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883) didn't invent communism, but he spent most of his life popularizing the socialist mantra, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Marx envisioned that the last phase of capitalism would be an inevitable workers’ revolt as the working class (or proletariat) would seize the means of production from the elites (or bourgeoisie) and share them in a new, classless society marked by economic equity. Here are 10 facts about Marx's life and work.

1. HIS BAPTISM AT AGE 6 WAS MOST LIKELY FOR POLITICAL REASONS.

Marx’s paternal ancestors had served as rabbis in Trier, Prussia (now in eastern Germany) since 1723, and his mother’s father was a rabbi. After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the French administration left Prussia and the new government began enforcing a law barring Jews from serving in professions or public office. Marx’s father Heinrich, a successful lawyer, converted to Lutheranism in 1816, most likely in response to the law. Marx and his siblings were all baptized in 1824.

2. HIS HIGH SCHOOL WAS RAIDED BY AUTHORITIES.

Heinrich, who was deeply influenced by Enlightenment philosophers like Voltaire, taught Marx at home until 1830. Marx then attended the Friedrich-Wilhelm Gymnasium. The headmaster, Johann Hugo Wyttenbach, frequently hired liberal teachers who advocated reason and the freedom of speech. The police suspected the school of protecting revolutionaries, and even went so far as to raid the school in 1832 during Marx's matriculation.

3. HIS "WEAK CHEST" HELPED HIM AVOID MILITARY SERVICE.

Marx evaded military conscription thanks to his "weak chest," a vague diagnosis which was certainly exacerbated by his late-night partying, bad diet, drinking, and chain-smoking. His father even told him how best to avoid the draft, writing to Marx, “If you can, arrange to be given good certificates by competent and well-known physicians there, and you can do it with good conscience … but to be consistent with your conscience, do not smoke too much.”

4. A DUEL AND JAIL TIME CHARACTERIZED HIS COLLEGE EXPERIENCE.

Marx attended the University of Bonn beginning in 1835, but most of his time seems to have been spent being drunk and disorderly. He joined a radical political group called the Poets’ Club and was co-president of the Trier Tavern Club, a drinking society that antagonized the more aristocratic organizations on campus. His involvement in the latter got him tossed in jail for 24 hours. He also ran afoul of the Borussia Korps, a militant group that forced college students to swear fealty to Prussian leadership. Marx carried a gun to defend himself (which got him into more trouble with the police) and once accepted a duel with a Borussia Korps member which resulted in Marx being cut over his left eye. After a year in Bonn, he transferred to the more rigorous atmosphere of the University of Berlin.

5. HE HAD A CONTROVERSIAL MARRIAGE TO A CHILDHOOD FRIEND.

A couple of years before Marx was born, his father had befriended Ludwig von Westphalen, a Prussian aristocrat with some liberal leanings. His daughter Jenny von Westphalen met Marx when she was 5 years old and he was 1. When she was 22, Jenny and Marx became engaged—she canceled a previous engagement to a young member of the aristocracy—even though they weren’t from the same social class, and men marrying older women was frowned upon at the time in Prussia.

6. MARX DIDN’T ATTEND HIS FATHER’S FUNERAL.

Marx’s wild college years drove a wedge between him and his family—an indication of his intellectual rebellion from their bourgeois complacency. Marx refused to visit them once he began attending the University of Berlin. His father was dismayed at his son’s recklessness and wrote, a year before he died, that Marx should try to establish his social respectability by writing an ode heaping praise upon Prussia and its rulers. It should "afford the opportunity of allotting a role to the genius of the monarchy ... If executed in a patriotic and German spirit with depth of feeling, such an ode would itself be sufficient to lay the foundation for a reputation." But Marx had no desire to capitulate. When Heinrich Marx died of tuberculosis in May 1838, Karl did not make the journey home from Berlin.

7. HE RELIED ON ENGELS FOR MONEY.

Marx lived in Paris—a hotbed of political thought in the mid-19th century—for only two years, but it was during that time that he met Friedrich Engels at the Café de la Régence and launched one of the most important philosophical friendships in modern times. Engels shaped Marx’s view on the proletariat with his real-world experience as an owner of his family's textile mill. They also collaborated on several essays (including The Communist Manifesto) and Engels fronted the money to publish Das Kapital. What’s more, Engels regularly gave the struggling Marx money for his family to live on (capitalism was not kind to the philosopher). The well-off industrialist reaped the rewards of his workers’ production while aiding Marx in championing a system that would overthrow his own power.

8. HE KEPT GETTING BANNED FROM COUNTRIES.

Orders that Marx should leave a country within 24 hours crop up regularly in his biography. He started the trend in Prussia in 1843 when Tsar Nicholas I asked the government to ban Marx’s newspaper, the Rheinische Zeitung, which caused Marx to become co-editor of a radical left newspaper in Paris and head to France. In 1845, the French government shut down his new periodical, Vorwarts!, and expelled Marx. He then went to Belgium, but authorities arrested him in 1848 on allegations that he’d spent a third of his inheritance on arming workers, and he fled back to France (then under a new government) before going back to Prussia to launch the doomed Neue Rheinische Zeitung. The government suppressed the paper and ordered Marx to leave Prussia in May 1849, but when he fled for France, the Parisian government also sent him packing, so he sought refuge in London with his wife, who was expecting their fourth child. He built a life in England, but died a stateless person.

9. HE WAS PLAGUED BY POOR HEALTH.

He referred to his health problems as “the wretchedness of existence.” According to biographer Werner Blumenberg, Marx suffered from headaches, eye inflammation, joint pain, insomnia, liver and gallbladder problems, and depressive symptoms. The pain was most likely exacerbated by Marx's bad habits: working late nights, eating liver-taxing food, and smoking and drinking excessively. Yet Marx kept up the pace of his work even after developing boils in 1863 that were so painful he couldn’t sit down. New research suggests some of Marx’s problems may have stemmed from a chronic, painful skin disease called hidradenitis suppurativa that can also cause depressed self-image and foul moods. And let's not forget the “weak chest” that kept him from serving in the military at 18, which may have been caused by pleurisy, an inflammatory condition of the lungs and thorax. It was that disease that ultimately killed him at age 64.

10. HIS LOVE POEMS AND NOVELS WERE UNPUBLISHED DURING HIS LIFETIME.

Beyond his political philosophy and economic projects, Marx also penned several love poems to Jenny, a play set in a mountain town in Italy, and a satirical novel called Scorpion and Felix. None of his fiction saw the light of day during his lifetime, and Scorpion and Felix has only survived in fragments, but all of his work was published posthumously in the 50-volume set of Marx and Engels's Collected Works.

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.