As Karl Marx the icon has fallen along with so many communist regimes, we are left with the mystery of Karl Marx the man, the complexities of a life that has profoundly affected millions. A Requiem for Karl Marx is Frank Manuel’s searching meditation on that life, a learned and elegantly written engagement with the man and his work.
Manuel gives us a psychological portrait rendered with sympathy and critical detachment, a probing look at the connections between the private drama of Marx’s life and his revolutionary ideas. Manuel pursues these connections from Marx’s adolescence and education in Trier through his university studies, marriage to a German baroness, and early affiliation with French and German radical groups. Here we see Marx in moments of youthful rapture, in periods of despair, in maneuvers of blatant hypocrisy, in outbursts of self-mockery. We follow his involuted response to his status as a converted Jew, observe the psychic toll of debilitating bouts of illness, and witness the shattering effects of his aggressive, often brutal conduct toward friend and foe alike. Manuel analyzes in intricate detail the central role of Marx’s enduring relationship with Friedrich Engels, which appears to transcend the bounds of friendship, and his changing behavior toward his wife, Jenny, the neurotic and tragic figure who shared his dismal London exile.
What becomes clear in this narrative is the link between Marx’s personal life and his ideas about class struggle, revolutionary strategy, and utopia—as well as the impact of his personal vision and political tactics on the movements that followed him, down to our day.