'Mere Auxiliaries to the Movement': How Intellectual Biography Obscures Marx's and Engels's Gendered Political Partnerships

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Abstract

Four women have been conventionally framed as wives and/or mistresses and/or sexual partners in the biographical reception of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) as heterosexual men. These women were Jenny Marx (née von Westphalen) (1814-1881), Helene Demuth (“Lenchen”) (1820-1890), Mary Burns (1821-1863), and Lydia Burns (1827-1878). How exactly they appear in the few contemporary texts and rare images that survive is less interesting than the determination of subsequent biographers of the two “great men” to make these women fit a familiar genre, namely intellectual biography. An analysis of Marx-Engels biographies shows how this masculinized genre enforces an incuriosity that makes gendered political partnerships unthinkable and so invisible. By contrast a positive interest in these women that rethinks what a gendered political partnership is, or could be, results in a significantly different view of the two men. As historical figures, they shift from being individualized or paired-with-each-other “great thinkers” to communist/socialist activists working in and through everyday spaces and material practices. Their pamphlets, articles and books thus appear more as immediate political interventions and less as timeless theorizing, or as the raw material for such intellectualizing re-constructions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-609
Number of pages17
JournalHypatia
Volume33
Issue number4
Early online date21 Sep 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

Keywords

  • Karl Marx
  • Friedrich Engels
  • Jenny Marx (wife)
  • Mary Burns
  • Lydia Burns
  • Helene Demuth
  • Henry Frederick Lewis Demuth
  • intellectual biography
  • feminist history
  • public/private distinction

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