Saturday 5 May 2018

The Lesser-Known Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Karl Marx, 1836
Public Domain, Link
Karl Heinrich Marx was born on this day in 1818, in the German town of Trier. As on previous occasions, the anniversary is being celebrated around the world – a reflection of the enormity of his influence, which seems to grow exponentially with each succeeding generation and all the more so every time he is 'ridiculed' and 'proved wrong'.

Taking time out from all of that therefore, we thought that we would use the occasion of his 200th anniversary to reflect on some of the lesser known aspects of Marx's literary output and activities. Just as his writings include subject matter that is wide-ranging and all-embracing, the German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist, all-round man of letters, lent his talents, during his lifetime, to a variety of literary styles. He was, by turns, an academic, journalist, pamphleteer, in addition to what might be regarded as his primary career, as political agitator and organiser. His literary style is, perhaps, most noteworthy for a unique ability to clarify and demystify even the most complex, weighty and serious of issues.

What might come as a surprise therefore, is that, among his earliest canon of writings, he also found time to work on that which, for someone of his talents, might appear trivial. By 1837, we are told, when he still had not reached his 20th year, Marx was working a short novel, Scorpion and Felix, a drama, Oulanem, as well as a number of love poems, dedicated to his childhood sweetheart and future wife, Jenny von Westphalen.

Scorpion and Felix is described as " A Humoristic Novel", thought to be inspired, or at least influenced by The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Irish novelist, Laurence Sterne (1713-1768). The work was never completed and only fragments of it remain. It has been suggested that parts of the novel could have been burned by Marx himself, along with other of his early works. Those fragments that did survive were included as a supplement to his Book of Verse (1837).

Oulanem is a drama or poetic play written by Karl Marx in 1839, during his years as a student. The action takes place in a mountain town in Italy. It is available to read online at Marxist Internet Archive, along with other of Marx's early writings.

Marx's early writing are also available, in English, as part of Volume 1 of Marx-Engels Collected Works, published by Lawrence & Wishart (a self-described independent and radical publishing house) in 1975. A digital version of this collection has since been made available to university libraries, through Project Muse.

This circumstance however, appears to have given rise to some dispute. In 2014, Lawrence & Wishart required Marxists Internet Archive to take down work over which it claims copyright! Marxists Internet Archive have countered by arguing that "the reaction of the 'Marxist community' at large has been wholly negative to the actions — completely legal — by L&W".

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