Karl Marx

A review of Karl Marx by Rob Mason

A Nineteenth Century Life

Jonathan Sperber's biography of Marx dazzales. It comprises 560 pages but is well worth the effort to read.  It changes your whole idea of Marx and also ones idea of the labour movement. Jonathan Sperber the author has this to say: "Marx's revolutionary aspirations were distinctly rooted in his formative years during the first half of the nineteenth century, these aspirations and his intransigence about proceeding towards them, whether openly expressed or hidden for tactical purposes, might be a key to the long term resonance of his ideas.  It is remarkable how advocates of so many different causes were drawn to the man and his doctrines, or what they imagined his doctrines to be.  Leaders of the mass labour movements of early twentieth century Europe, proponents of violent overthrow of the authority of the czar, cadres of global communist revolution, anti-imperialist activities in Asia, Africa, Latin America in the mid decades of the twentieth century, or discontented young intellectuals in the consumer society of 1960's Western Europe and North America were all Marxists.  Also proclaiming their Marxism were the leaders of the twentieth-century communist regimes in Europe and Asia.  Their plans to wrench the ecomically underdeveloped countries they ruled into an industrialised and productive future in drastic, violent, and totalitarian fashion could take a downright genocidal turn, as they did in Stalin's USSR and Mao's China. These campaigns of Marxist regimes were reminiscent of nothing in Marx's own writing so much as his description of the brutal British modernization of colonial India or his account in Capital, of the cruel, early phase of capitalist primal accumulation.

All these Marxisms drew the hostility of supporters of the capitalist status quo, who continue to rage agaianst them and their purported founder two decades and more after the end of the ostensibly Marxist Eastern Bloc.  Marx's actual ideas and political practice - developed in the matrix of the early 19th century, the age of the French Revolution and it's aftermath , Hegel's philosophy and it's Young Hegalian critics, of the early industrialisation of Great Britain and the theories of political economy emerging from them - and at most only partial connections with the ones his latter- day friends and enemies found in his writings.  In some ways, the actual intellectual connections were beside the point.  Marx's passionate irreconcilable, uncompromising and intransigent nature has been the feature of his life that has had the deepest and most resonant appeal, and has generated the sharpest rebukes and opposition, down to the present day." 

For an educational and exciting book about the life of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, his family and friends, you must read it. However if you're unable to read the book right now I recommend you watch a brilliant You Tube presentation from the Kansas City Library in which Jonathan Sperber himself talks about some of the main ideas of Karl Marx.


(Please be patient for 8 minutes while Jonathan Sperber is introduced by Crosby Kemper of the Kansas City Public Library)