Birth of Karl Marx, Author of “The Communist Manifesto” and “On the Jewish Question”

May 5, 1818

Karl Marx, whose theories of modern socialism will form the framework of the Communist Revolution in Russia, is born in Trier, a town in West Prussia (present day Germany).  Marx’s father was a lawyer.  After an edict prevented Jews from practicing law, he converted to Protestantism.  One year later, Karl is born to a Protestant father and Jewish mother.  In 1824, when Karl Marx is six, he will be baptized and converted along with his seven brothers and sister.

Best known for the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, in 1844, Karl Marx will write his most notable work on Judaism.  He will write in response to Bruno Bauer’s argument against Jewish emancipation, titled The Jewish Question.  A German theologian and philosopher, Bauer will criticize the Jews for clinging to their nationality and resisting “the movements and changes of history.”  He will argue that history is synonymous with progress, but that Jews are content to “stay forever where they are.”  In Bauer’s view, Jews can only be emancipated and fully integrated into modern society after they renounce Judaism.  In his words, the oppression of the Jews is “a result of their own decision to place themselves against the wheel of history.”[1]

Responding to Bauer, Karl Marx will advocate the abolition of all religion and will equate Judaism with the evils of capitalism in his essay.  He will argue that “money is the jealous god of Israel, in the face of which no other god may exist,” and boldly proclaim that “emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.”[2]

[1] Mendes-Flor, Paul and Jehuda Reinharz. The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. 321-326.

[2] Marx, Karl. “On the Jewish Question.” Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, 1884.