Marx-Engels Subject Archive


photo 1875

Karl Marx, Jenny von Westphalen and Engels
On Love and Marriage

Marx married his childhood sweetheart, Jenny von Westphalen, and stayed married for life. He also took a close and traditional interest in the marriages of his daughters, Jenny and Laura, both to French men (and Eleanor fell in love with Henri Lissagaray, but did not marry). Although ruthlessly cynical in his polemical and theoretical writings, his personal views were somewhat more traditional and romantic. The following excerpts are from Marx’s youth:

Please give greetings from me to my sweet, wonderful Jenny. I have read her letter twelve times already, and always discover new delights in it. It is in every respect, including that of style, the most beautiful letter I can imagine being written by a woman.
Karl Marx’s Letter to his father, 10 November 1837

Simply as a matter of love, the wife ... of the individual is cherished deeply in his heart ... he wants to be assured that the wife is somewhere, in sensuous spatial existence, even if thing are going badly with her, rather than that she does not exist at all. The cloak of love is only a shadow – the naked empirical ego, self-love, the oldest love, remains at the core.
Karl Marx’s Doctoral Thesis, 1841

Editorial Note & On the Divorce Bill, Rheinische Zeitung, 18 December 1842

Jenny and Karl's Marriage Certificate, 12 June 1843

My dearest, unique Karl, you cannot believe, my darling, how very happy you make me by your letters, and how your last letter has once again restored calm and peace to your poor lamb. In the background dark feelings of anxiety and fear, the real menace of unfaithfulness, the seductions of a capital city.
From Jenny von Westphalen in Trier to Karl Marx in Paris, 18 August 1844.

The direct, natural, and necessary relation of person to person is the relation of man to woman. The relation of man to woman is the most genuine relation of human being to human being. It therefore reveals the extent to which man’s natural behaviour has become human, or the extent to which the human essence in him has become his natural essence. The relationship also reveals the extent to which man’s need has become a human need: the extent to which, therefore, the other person as a person has become for him a need.

... If you love without evoking love in return – if through the vital expression of yourself as a loving person you fail to become a loved person, then your love is impotent, it is a misfortune.
Private Property and Communism, 1844

See also the collection of Jenny's letters, for example, her letter to Louise Weydemeyer.

What critical criticism fights against here is not merely love but everything living.
Love first really teaches a man to believe in the objective world outside himself. It not only makes man the object but the object a man. Love makes the beloved into an external object, a sensuous object which does not remain internal, hidden in the brain
The Holy Family, Karl Marx, 1845 (See also Chapter 5.

If the reign of the wife over the husband, as inevitably brought about by the factory system, is inhuman, the former rule of the husband over the wife must have been inhuman too.
Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels, 1845.

What will be the influence of communist society on the family?
The Principles of Communism, Engels, November 1847

The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women.
He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production. For the rest, nothing is more ridiculous than the virtuous indignation of our bourgeois at the community of women which, they pretend, is to be openly and officially established by the Communists. The Communists have no need to introduce community of women; it has existed almost from time immemorial.
Our bourgeois, not content with having wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives.
Bourgeois marriage is, in reality, a system of wives in common and thus, at the most, what the Communists might possibly be reproached with is that they desire to introduce, in substitution for a hypocritically concealed, an openly legalised community of women. For the rest, it is self-evident that the abolition of the present system of production must bring with it the abolition of the community of women springing from that system, i.e., of prostitution both public and private.
The Communist Manifesto, 1848

* * *

As a father, Marx had to look out for the marriage of his three daughters:

Some wry comments on daughter Laura's huband-to-be, Paul Lafargue.
Letter from Marx to Laura, 28 August 1866

In this letter he is anxious that Paul Lafargue stay out of dangerous political work.
Letter from Marx to Lafaruge Snr., 12 November 1866

On the legalities concerning Laura's marriage to Lafargue.
Letter from Marx to Engels, 14 December 1867

On his efforts to prevent a third daughter (Eleanor) from marrying a Frenchman, Henri Lissagaray.
Letter from Marx to Engels, 31 May 1873

* * *

Engels On the impact of the French Revolution on sexual relations in France.
Socialism: Utopian & Scientific

Engels wrote a great deal about the historical development of marriage in The Origin of the Family, 1884. For example:

But if monogamy was the only one of all the known forms of the family through which modern sex-love could develop, that does not mean that within monogamy modern sexual love developed exclusively or even chiefly as the love of husband and wife for each other. That was precluded by the very nature of strictly monogamous marriage under the rule of the man. Among all historically active classes-that is, among all ruling classes-matrimony remained what it had been since the pairing marriage, a matter of convenience which was arranged by the parents. The first historical form of sexual love as passion, a passion recognized as natural to all human beings (at least if they belonged to the ruling classes), and as the highest form of the sexual impulse-and that is what constitutes its specific character-this first form of individual sexual love, the chivalrous love of the middle ages, was by no means conjugal. Quite the contrary. In its classic form among the Provenšals, it heads straight for adultery, and the poets of love celebrated adultery. The flower of Provenšal love poetry are the Albas (aubades, songs of dawn). They describe in glowing colors how the knight lies in bed beside his love-the wife of another man-while outside stands the watchman who calls to him as soon as the first gray of dawn (alba) appears, so that he can get away unobserved; the parting scene then forms the climax of the poem. The northern French and also the worthy Germans adopted this kind of poetry together with the corresponding fashion of chivalrous love; old Wolfram of Eschenbach has left us three wonderfully beautiful songs of dawn on this same improper subject, which I like better than his three long heroic poems.
The Origin of the Family, Engels, 1884.

With thanks to Ben Fowkes