According to dermatologist Sam Shuster, Karl Marx’s life and attitudes could have been shaped by a skin disease called hidradenitis suppurativa which can also have severe psychological effects including self-loathing and alienation.
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a disease of the sweat glands, found in the armpits and the groins. The skin in the affected areas shows a mixture of blackheads, lumps that look like boils, spots and areas that leak pus. Doctors and Marx, called them “furuncles, boils and carbuncles”, but Professor Shuster is of the view that they were too persistent and recurrent for such descriptions. He searched Marx’s letters and found that he had started complaining of carbuncles in 1864, when he was 46, though it is possible that he had them earlier. In 1867 he wrote to Friedrich Engels of the boils “on my posterior and near the penis” – areas characteristic of the condition. Marx was often unable to work because of the pain. He wrote to Ludwig Kugelmann in 1867: “I still have a carbuncle on the left loin not far from the centre of propagation, as well as numerous furuncles.”
Marx was treated with arsenic, poultices and lancing, but with little effect. His only consolation, he told Engels, was that carbuncles were “a truly proletarian disease”.
Shuster could well be correct in his diagnosis and it is very possible that it had a profound effect on Marx. Personally it amuses me to think that Marxism may not have existed if antibiotics and steroid creams were available in the 19th century. The chances are that someone else would have come up with a similar ism. In a different universe the book Capital may have been the bedrock of McGonagallism...