The Young Karl Marx

Those attending The Young Karl Marx might expect that they will see a baby become an infant, a teenager, and emerge as an adult. But Haitian-born director Raoul Peck starts the film in 1843, when Karl Marx (played by August Diehl) was about 25 years old, steeped in esoteric philosophical writings. His father, a lawyer, had converted from Judaism to Lutheranism to avoid discrimination. While attending the University of Berlin, Marx married Jenny von Westphalen (Vicky Krieps), an educated baroness of the Prussian ruling class, who was attracted to Marx because he conceived of a better life for workers while paternalistic feudalism was being displaced by industrial capitalism. Because philosophers are only paid if they land jobs in universities, where his views did not fit in, he became a journalist after college, going to Köln. But his first publishing outlet was soon shut down by the government as too radical, whereupon he became co-editor of another leftist publication. One day early in the film the police round up Karl and expel him from the country. He then travels to Paris with his family, writes for a publication owned by Arnold Ruge (Hans-Uwe Bauer), who pays him only a pittance. Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), whose German father (Peter Benedict) owns a large textile mill in Manchester, England, meets Marx at Paris in 1844. The film then becomes a dual biopic. Engels, shocked at working conditions in his father’s mill, gravitates to Paris to find intellectuals with similar perspectives. But the French government is not eager to host those who profess a better day for industrial workers, so Marx receives a notice to leave France in 24 hours. They pack up and move to Brussels. In 1845, Engels moves to Brussels to join Marx, and their collaboration begins; Engels persuades Marx that the working class must revolt. Engels, the more literary writer, publishes his own book on the plight of workers in Manchester and helps Marx to write fluent prose. The first crisis of capitalism begins in 1845 and extends to 1847, including the Irish potato famine, with industry shutting down due to inflation and a collapse in consumer spending. Marx and Engels join the League of the Just, which is seeking action on behalf of the industrial workers. After the League dissolves in 1847, the Communist Party is formed. Engels then prevails upon Marx to write a short, concise statement for the party to serve as an inspiration to organize a worker revolt. The result, published in January 1848, is the Manifesto of the Communist Party. One month later a serious or worker revolts breaks out throughout Europe. Titles at the end of the film imply that the Manifesto deserves credit for resulting regime changes. The Political Film Society has nominated The Young Karl Marx for an award as best film exposé of 2018. MH