Sunday 4 November 2007
It emerged this week that Karl Marx, the father of communism, suffered from a chronic and excruciating skin disease with known psychological effects that might have had an impact on his political theories.
The 19th-century revolutionary thinker had a condition called hidradenitis suppurativa, in which the sweat glands in his armpits and groin become blocked and inflamed and his skin covered in boils and carbuncles.
Or so argues Sam Shuster, a professor of dermatology at Britain’s University of East Anglia.
«In addition to reducing his ability to work, which contributed to his depressing poverty, hidradenitis greatly reduced his self-esteem», writes Shuster in the current British Journal of Dermatology. «This explains his self-loathing and alienation, a response reflected by the alienation Marx developed in his writing.»
But does it also explain communism? Could Marx’s anger over the class struggles of history and the ongoing oppression of the proletariat have been fuelled by his disease?
Marx published Das Kapital in 1867, the same year in which he wrote to his Communist Manifesto co-author Friedrich Engels that «the bourgeoisie will remember my carbuncles until their dying day.»
Though hardly known for it, was Marx joking? Entirely?