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Ben Horowitz, a venture capitalist, has attributed a quote to Karl Marx on several occasions.

  • On his blog in 2012:

    Life is struggle. —Karl Marx

  • In a 2013 tweet.

  • In his 2014 book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, (p. 274):

    On my grandfather’s tombstone, you will find his favorite Marx quote: “Life is struggle.”

This last reference is further explained by David Horowitz (Ben's father), in Radical Son, p. 1:

I had directed the mason to inscribe it with the words "Life Is Struggle," a favorite quote from his mentor, Karl Marx.

However, John Patrick Leary in "The Poverty of Entrepreneurship: The Silicon Valley Theory of History", is critical of Horowitz and claims it is a misquote:

One chapter epigraph, “Life is struggle,” is misattributed to Karl Marx.

I would be curious to know if Karl Marx ever said or wrote this.

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Here is what I have found so far.

  • In Capital, Volume I, Chapter 25, Section 5A, there appears the following sentence:

    human life is but, in nine cases out of ten, a struggle for existence.

    However, Marx is quoting Gladstone! A footnote says it is from a speech in the House of Commons, 7th April, 1864. You can find it in Hansard. This in turn may have been an allusion to Darwin, who made prominent use of the phrase "struggle for existence" in On the Origin of Species, 1859.

  • The opening sentence of the first section of the Communist Manifesto (not counting the "specter is haunting Europe" prologue) is:

    The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

    This is somewhat similar in spirit, but specifically about class struggle, which gives it a rather different interpretation. Also, a footnote by Engels clarifies that "history" here refers only to written history.

  • In a book entitled The Technique of the Novel by Thomas H. Uzzell, Chapter 8 opens with the following passage:

    Karl Marx's biographer says that one afternoon Marx and his English colleague, Engels, were strolling along a northern France seashore. After a considerable silence, Engels asked, "What is?" Marx answered, "Struggle." Life is struggle.

    Unfortunately, the "biographer" is not identified, and of course quite a few biographies of Marx have been written. I searched for "struggle" in each of the biographies whose full texts appear here, but didn't find any such conversation reported.

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