Was Marx’s Probable Enemy Hidradenitis Suppurativa?

Hidradenitis Suppurativa – Marx’s Probable Enemy
Christopher Dallo, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston

Corresponding Author:
Christopher Dallo, B.S.
301 University Blvd, Galveston, TX 77555

Abstract: This manuscript describes the history of a famous political figure who likely dealt with the hidradenitis suppurativa. This manuscript provides insight into Karl Marx’s skin disease and how it influenced aspects of his personal and professional life.

Keywords: humanities, history, hidradenitis suppurativa, Karl Marx, skin disease

No funding sources for the manuscript. No Conflicts of Interest.

What was Karl Marx’s greatest enemy? Capitalism seems like the obvious answer. However, Karl Marx fought a foe that threatened his ability to write during his career. The enemy lived on his skin for many years, and had pushed him on the edge of poverty. This culprit is believed to have been hidradenitis suppurativa.

From 1833 to 1895, a compilation of unpublished letters written between Marx and his wife and friends, provide insight into his skin condition. His lesions were referred to as “carbuncles” and “furuncles” by him, his wife, and his physician, yet the pattern and distribution of his lesions as well as his described comorbidities provoke the idea that his clinical features may instead be attributed to hidradenitis suppurativa.

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic, inflammatory disorder secondary to obstructed apocrine ducts that clinically manifests as relapsing painful nodules and abscesses with a predisposition for skin folds, such as the axillae and groin.

In one letter, Marx comments on “carbuncles” on the axillae, breasts, genital and perianal region, and upper thigh.1 He remarked that his lesions were causing extensive tissue damage, “the considerable areas where the CUTIS has been completely destroyed.”1 He also mentioned of his recurrent, accompanying abscesses, and wrote “this is the most painful of the known abscesses that I have ever had, and I hope it will finally terminate the series. In the meantime, I can neither walk, nor stand, nor sit, and even lying down is damned hard.”1

In 1849, Marx began to complain of liver problems that persisted for over a decade. He wrote in one letter that he was “suffering from inflammation of the liver.”1 His episodic liver pain was frequently accompanied bt headaches, eye inflammation, and rheumatic pains. In his letters he revealed these ailments, “Recurrence of rheumatic pains in my right shoulder, which is seriously disturbing my sleep. I have been prevented from writing, hence also to you, by a severe inflammation of the eyes which is not fully cleared up yet.”1

Marx never received the diagnosis of hidradenitis suppurativa since the condition was not recognized in the medical literature until 1933. It is possible that his comorbid disorders may have been a separate occurrence from his carbuncles and furuncles, though hidradenitis suppurativa has been known to present with rheumatic disease and inflammatory eye disease.

In 2007, a retro-diagnosis of Marx’s skin disease was made by the dermatologist Sam Shuster of Newcastle University. Given the chronic recurrent episodes of his skin disease, the predilection, depth, and duration of his lesions, as well as the extra-cutaneous symptoms documented in Marx’s letters, Shuster believed Marx’s skin condition was most consistent with hidradenitis suppurativa rather than just boils.2 Additionally, Shuster speculated that Marx may have been dealing with psychological aspects from the disease as it significantly “reduced his self-esteem” and may have been a reflection of the alienation Marx had towards capitalism and the inspiration behind communism.1, 2

Perhaps Marx’s desire to find communism was for his own security. Communism in its purest form is unconditional equality. For someone attempting to “fit in” but unable to do so because of some disfigurement, communism would be the ideal retreat to run to.


  1. Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1982-1993). Karl Marx Frederick Engels: Collected Works. Vol 38 – 46, Karl Marx: 1844-83. N.Y., NY: International /Progress.
  2. Shuster, S. (2008), The nature and consequence of Karl Marx’s skin disease. British Journal of Dermatology, 158: 1-3. Doi: doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.2007.08282.x.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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