Karl Marx did not know what we know: he did not know that he was Karl Marx. Had this knowledge been available to him, it would have consoled him during the many moments when he wondered whether his life's work would matter to anyone, whether the sacrifices he and his family endured in the process of constructing the edifice of his thought would ultimately be justified by his role in history. Perhaps even we, with the benefit of hindsight, still cannot answer that question: whether the effects of his work have been good or bad, on the whole, is an impossible question to answer, given the impossibility of imagining a Marx-less twentieth century. It cannot be doubted, though, that Marx had a profound and radical impact on that century and will continue to matter for the foreseeable future. The man who sometimes expressed skepticism about the power of ideas to alter reality and who famously wrote, “Philosophers have tried to describe the world — the point is to change it,” could not possibly have known the extent to which his ideas would alter the course of world events.
The influence of Marx's ideas has been so momentous that at this point the name Karl Marx hardly even seems to attach to a person. It is easy to forget that a human being stands behind those voluminous and forbidding books, and the even more forbidding system of thought those books express. As Mary Gabriel's new biography of the Marx family, “Love and Capital,” makes clear, though, Marx was indeed human: a philosopher and revolutionary thinker, yes, but also a husband and father who loved his family and who experienced a tremendous anxiety over his failure to provide for them.