First, take the most well known one: Marx’s conspiracy theories about Lord Palmerston.
Around 1854 Marx was befriended by David Urquhart (1805–1877), a British aristocrat and vitriolic anti-Russian conspiracy-theorist, who thought Lord Palmerston was a secret Russian agent (Wheen 2001: 189). Marx, who also hated Tsarist Russia, was converted to this conspiracy theory by 1853 to 1854, and, even though he met Urquhart early in 1854 and regarded him as mad, continued to uphold the view that Palmerston was in the employ of Russia (Wheen 2001: 210–211; Sperber 2014: 305–307).
Marx in 1856 even took money and wrote for Urquhart’s journal the Free Press a series of sensational articles claiming to have found evidence for his anti-Russian conspiracy theories, and even arguing that the Crimean war (which occurred between October 1853–February 1856) had been a secret plot to disguise the true alliance between Russia and Britain (Wheen 2001: 211; Sperber 2014: 305–306). Even worse, Marx thought that many British politicians for over a century had been traitors in the pay of the Czar (Sperber 2014: 305–306).
Needless to say, these ideas were unhinged and there has never been the slightest evidence for them, and the Soviet regime of the 20th century was deeply embarrassed by Marx’s anti-Russian fantasies (Wheen 2001: 212). Marx’s association with Urquhart continued to 1859 when he participated in anti-Russian meetings in London organised by Urquhart’s movement (Sperber 2014: 329).
Another one of Marx’s conspiracy theories is analysed by Philip Pilkington here and here, and concerns the Irish famine (1845–1852). In essence, there are passages in Capital that suggest that Marx thought the Irish potato famine was a deliberate and cold-blooded secret plot by the English and Anglo-Irish capitalist elite to murder about a million people “to thin the population of Ireland down to the proportion satisfactory to the landlords” (Marx 1906: 782, n. 2). Now one can accuse the British of many things, but this is a crazy conspiracy theory, as pointed out here.
The causes of the Irish famine was obviously over-reliance on potatoes, a bad natural disaster, British incompetence, fanatical support of free trade and their grotesque and callous indifference to human suffering, not secret genocidal plans to kill the Irish.
Yet another conspiracy theory occurs in Marx’s analysis of Irish mass immigration into Britain, which is analysed here. Marx expressed the following view:
“But the evil does not stop here. It continues across the ocean. The antagonism between Englishmen and Irishmen is the hidden basis of the conflict between the United States and England. It makes any honest and serious co-operation between the working classes of the two countries impossible. It enables the governments of both countries, whenever they think fit, to break the edge off the social conflict by their mutual bullying, and, in case of need, by war between the two countries.”But this quite clearly conjures up images of government elites in Britain or America secretly conspiring to fabricate “false flag” international conflicts and wars whenever domestic labour tensions at home became problematic.
Letter of Karl Marx to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt, 9 April 1870
But what is the evidence for this? In fact, British and American relations became closer and closer by the late 19th century, and at the time of very bad labour tensions and violence in the 1890s Britain and America had come to have good diplomatic and international relations.
So Marx’s worldview included quite bizarre conspiracy theories, such as the idea that powerful capitalist elites and traitors secretly conspire to commit mass murder and also engage in “false flag” operations to distract attention away from their evil policies at home.
Hmmm, whom does that remind you of?
If they had television in the 19th century would Marx have sounded like this guy? My guess is yes. (Please watch right to the end to appreciate him in its full glory!)
Pilkington, Philip. “Did Capitalism Cause the Irish Famine?,” Fixing the Economists, July 25, 2013
Pilkington, Philip. “Karl Marx’s Conspiracy Theories,” Fixing the Economists, July 27, 2013
Marx, Karl. 1906. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (vol. 1; rev. trans. by Ernest Untermann from 4th German edn.). The Modern Library, New York.
Sperber, Jonathan. 2014. Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life. Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York.
Wheen, Francis. 2001. Karl Marx: A Life. W. W. Norton & Company, New York and London.