Karl Marx’s Boils: A biographical note on praxis while covered in smelly pus-filled lumps

This blog’s first domain (marxsboils.wordpress.com) was a tribute to the pus-filled lumps historically misidentified as boils in the body of Karl Marx.

Most of Marx’s biographies mention he suffered from bouts of painful and incapacitating boils that frequently halted his work and made his life a living hell. However, dermatologist Sam Shuster published an article in the British Journal of Dermatology that concludes Marx’s famous boils were in fact Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS).

Combing through Marx’s correspondence, Shuster noticed the frequency and location of the lumps were not consistent with boils, but with this rare disease. According to MayoClinic, HS is a long-term skin condition that features small, painful lumps under the skin. They typically develop where the skin rubs together, such as the armpits, the groin, between the buttocks and under the breasts. The lumps may break open and smell or cause tunnels under the skin. HS develops when hair follicles become blocked and inflamed, and no one knows exactly why this occurs. It is not caused by an infection, it is not contagious, and it is not due to poor hygiene. It should be noted that it follows that Shuster’s findings cannot be utilized to argue Marx had poor hygiene.

MayoClinic adds that the location, drainage and odor of the sores can cause embarrassment and reluctance to go out in public, leading to sadness or depression. While there is no cure, treatments were developed during the 20th century to help control pain, promote wound healing, keep new lumps from forming and prevent complications. These did not exist during Marx’s lifetime, so his life was quite painfu, marked by wounds that never healed, and new lumps consistently forming.

Many researchers who have dived into Marx’s biographies have noted that he was quite evidently an asshole. He may be summarized as a rude and condescending man.

Reading more about his condition may foster more understanding towards his foul personality. Also, the fact that he made such profound contributions in theory and practice while being covered in painful, stinky, pus-filled lumps is an undoubtedly impressive feat. Furthermore, it suggests Marx’s contributions would have been even grander if he had lived without the painful, stinky, pus-filled lumps.

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