I have encountered quotes similar to this one on the internet in the past few days, attributed to Karl Marx's mother and referring to him:

I wish you were more interested in accumulating capital instead of just writing about it. Maybe then you could stop asking me for it.

(Some examples I found online: No One Knows You Better Than Your Mother: Just Ask Karl Marx’s Mom, Unbiased America, Confessions of a secret Marxist).

In the process of looking for the source, I found that most places omit the last bit (Maybe then you could stop asking me for it.), and others change the sentence as if she was talking about him ("I wish Karl were..."). The few places who cite the source refer to Intellectuals, by Paul Johnson. I have not found the primary source for it.

Did Marx's mother say anything of the like?


1 Answer 1


I could not find a source of Marx's mother saying it, only Marx retelling it. This quote, or some variation, is likely real and may have even been a joke said by Marx when he was talking about his finances.

David McLellan's "Karl Marx, A Biography", published in 1973, provides the quote on page 326:

During 1867 Marx recognised that Engels had given him 'an enormous sum of money' but claimed that its effect was negated by his previous debts which amounted to £200. The next year, on his fiftieth birthday, he bitterly recalled his mother's words, 'if only Karl had made Capital, instead of just writing about it'.

McLellan is apparently a scholar of Marxism so he seems pretty reliable, however his source for the quote is simply "Marx to Engels, MEW xxxi". I have been unable to find that exact quote in volume 31 of Marx/Engels Collected Works, though McLellan wrote the biography in 1973 so it might simply be a different volume now.

However, I did find a variation of the quote in this version of volume 43 of the Marx/Engels Works, on page 25:

As that Prussian lieutenant said to you: '20 years of service and still lieutenant', I can say: half a century on my shoulders, and still a pauper. How right my mother was: 'If only Karell had made capital instead of etc ' Salut. Your K. Marx

This version of the quote is in a letter from Marx to his bearded accomplice Friedrich Engels. Since he shortened his mother's quote in a letter to a long-time friend, we can assume this isn't the first time Marx told Engels the saying and it seems like something Marx said often enough to not need to write the full quote.

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    I'm so surprised to find it's true. Very good find and a well-sourced answer Jun 15, 2018 at 16:42
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    Wow....so interesting..had Marx and Engels ( who was the owner of a factory ) been combined at that time, they both would've been the Rothchild back then. But considering the volume of the books sold after his death, may be she might be wrong haha.
    – Kentaro
    Jun 17, 2018 at 7:11

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