Remembering Karl Marx’s Abandoned Son, the First Victim of Communism

karl marx abandoned child

For millions of people around the world, Karl Marx and his close associate Friedrich Engels are the face of love and compassion—the alleged champions of the working class who tirelessly toiled away throughout their lives to support the “little guy.” But perception is not always reality, especially when dealing with socialist “heroes.”

Not only was Marx a lazy, selfish person, he showed a great lack of compassion in his own personal life. This reality is best epitomized by the sad case of Marx’s forgotten secret son, Fredrick Demuth.

While working in England in 1851, Marx had an affair with Helene Demuth while Marx’s wife was living apart from him. Demuth was a working-class maid who had been hired by the mother of Marx’s wife, Jenny. (Marx could never have afforded to hire his own maid, since he rarely worked and generally depended on the money provided to him by others, especially Engels.)

As sad as the affair was, especially given the economic hardships Jenny Marx had to endure throughout her life, the story gets much worse. Demuth and Marx conceived a child together, and rather than acknowledge his mistake, Marx is believed to have gone to great lengths to cover it up.

As Ralph Buultjens noted in an article for The New York Times, “Fearing that this indiscretion would destroy his marriage and damage his public image, he organized an effective cover-up … Engels pretended he was the father and Miss Demuth confirmed the deception. The infant, Fredrick Demuth, was given away to be brought up by a working-class family in London.”

For more than 40 years, no one knew about the deception, including Marx’s son, Fredrick. It was only after Engels admitted to the sad story on his deathbed in 1895 that the affair was revealed.

Broken-hearted about the news, one of Marx’s daughters, Eleanor, committed suicide three years after learning of Fredrick. (Marx’s second daughter also committed suicide, in 1911.)

Fredrick Demuth grew up poor, received no financial support from Marx, and was never allowed to see his father. Engels did allow Frederick to occasionally visit his mother, who later became Engels’ housekeeper, but he was banned from entering Engels’ home through the front door. Instead, he entered through the home’s servants’ quarters and kitchen.

When Fredrick died in 1929, he was poor and reportedly unaware that his father was Marx, not Engels.

Why, exactly, Marx chose not to accept his son has been debated by academics, but historian Paul Johnson argued in his 1998 book Intellectuals (h/t to Richard Ebeling) that the reason Marx abandoned his child is because he “was terrified that Freddy’s paternity would be discovered and that this would do him fatal damage as a revolutionary leader and seer.”

Of course, just because Marx was a truly despicable person does not mean his ideology was despicable. Many terrible people have done wonderful things. Why, then, write an article pointing to the poor treatment of Freddy Demuth? There are at least two reasons.

First, the irony is overwhelming. Here, we have Marx, the so-called savior of the “working man,” having an affair with a working-class woman, impregnating her, and then refusing to take responsibility for his actions. Hardly sounds like the champion of the working class to me.

Second, and more importantly, it puts on full display the ends-justify-the-means mentality that has been deeply engrained in socialism and communism for more than a century.

The allegedly “compassionate” Marx abandoned his own child, not because he could not find employment and financially support him, but because he didn’t want his precious revolution to suffer.

Marx spent so much of his time on Earth trying to convince people how to make the world a better place, yet he was never willing to make sacrifices for the people who needed him most in his own personal life. Doing so would have, in his estimation, hurt the global communist revolution he so desperately wanted.

Or, put another way, the ends (communist revolutions) justified the means (abandoning Freddy). In that sense, it’s fair to say that Fredrick Demuth was the first victim of communism.

PHOTO: Karl Marx painting. Photo provided by Flickr user thierry ehrmann.Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) For more information, go here.

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