Marx vs Wagner: a Timeline Comparison with Analysis

Here's a wee exercise, comparing the timelines of Karl Marx and Richard (Geyer) Wagner. Quite similar I would say: maybe Wagner was a socialist, not quite as extreme as the communism of Marx as he was welcomed back to Germany in 1862 for a period of strong personal resurgence! Wagner was more active in the later part of his life, maybe encouraged by a 2nd partner, Cosima Liszt, 24 years younger than himself. The information below has been extracted by me from Wikipedia pages so it should be well known but it's not! The timeline is followed by some discussion on Wagner's complex relationships with Jews and, in view of his socialist attitudes, on his unlikely choice as a founder of the Third Reich.

Karl Marx

Richard (Geyer) Wagner


1818 (Trier, Lower Rhine, Prussia)

1813 Leipzig (Saxony) in Jewish quarter


Jew (father converted to Evangelical Church)

Possibly Jewish if father is Ludwig Geyer


Heinrich Marx (1777–1838)

Carl Friedrich Wagner (1770-1813 or

Ludwig Geyer (1779-1821)

Father's occupation

Lawyer, owned vineyards, (wealthy)

Clerk to police



Henriette Pressburg (1788–1863)

Johanna Rosine Pätz (1774-1848)

Maternal notes

Maternal grandfather was a Dutch rabbi

Johanna married Carl Friedrich Wagner on June 2nd, 1789 who died in November 1813 (only 6 months after Richard's birth), during the Typhus epidemic following the Battle of the Nations. She then married the painter, poet and actor Ludwig Geyer on August 28th, 1814.

Practising religion


Pagan/idiosyncratic Christian


Jenny von Westphalen, an educated baroness of the Prussian ruling class

Christine Wilhelmine "Minna" Planer, actress, married 1836 Königsberg; she died 1866

Francesca Gaetana Cosima Liszt, pianist, married 1870 Lucerne; as director she developed Bayreuth Festival into a major event; died 1930, Bayreuth, aged 92

Views on workers in industry

Influenced by Engels from his experiences in Salford: ugly exploitation of workers in factories (Engels, 1845, The Condition of the Working Class in England)

Rheingold (part 1 of The Ring, 1854) has been considered to portray a capitalist nightmare with Alberich, the Nibelung, depicted as a brutal factory manager

Problems with state

Radical left-wing publications

Left-wing anarchist; participating in May 1849 uprising in Dresden; wrote inflammatory material encouraging revolution (polemics)


Paris (1843-45), Brussels (1845-1848), Paris (1849) before final expulsion from the continent

Zürich (1849)


London (1850-1883)

Switzerland (1849-1858), Venice and Paris (1858-1862), before return to Germany

Early writings on Jews

On the Jewish Question (1843)

Jewishness in Music (1850)


Engels, Hegel

Engels, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Adorno, Nietzsche

Major Publications

Textual: 1848 pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto (1848), and the three-volume Das Kapital (1859)

Music/libretto: The Ring (1848-1874, love and power, readily perceivable as socialist, music drama, leitmotifs, leading to film music), Tristan und Isolde (1857-1864, love and longing, towards atonality with chromaticity and 12 tone scale), Parsifal (1857-1882, idiosyncratic Christianity, designed for Bayreuth staging, leitmotifs and chromaticism)


1883 (London)

1883 (Venice), buried Bayreuth (Bavaria)

A Comparison of the Timelines of Karl Marx and Richard Wagner

The unfair focus on Richard Wagner as the sole inspiration for anti-Semitism and the Third Reich's contradictory reliance on left-wing ideology is highlighted in a blog: The Judenfrage (Jewish Question) Wagner vis-à-vis Marx (2012). This commences:

In the endless discussions of the historical origins of the Holocaust, an emotive populist view has arisen that fantastically exaggerates Richard Wagner's role, as though he were virtually the sole writer in the 19th century to have addressed the ethnic tensions between Jew and Gentile following emancipation—the so-called Judenfrage (Jewish question). The reason for this is that too many want to prove the Goldhagenist hypothesis that a racially based exterminationist anti-Semitism was culturally pervasive in Germany well before the rise of National Socialism in the twentieth century, to the point that Germany was long culturally predestined to be a nation of "Hitler's willing executioners". It is a simpleton's narrative that sees twentieth-century genocidal anti-Semitism as an outgrowth of nineteenth-century German Romanticism, as though National Socialist ideology had emerged fully formed, begging to be enacted out by the regime. To fit the narrative, the term Judenfrage is forced to take on an exclusively Wagnerian meaning. Both Wagner and German anti-Semitism are henceforth deemed a priori synonymous with a call for genocide awaiting its fulfilment in National Socialism. In this, we see not only Wagner, but a whole nation on trial.

What is often deliberately skirted over is the fact that, apart from Wagner, other left-wing ideologists of the day also expressed, what are by today's standards, uncomfortably anti-Semitic ideas. One example of such a thinker is Karl Marx.


It seems there is a double standard here. If Marx says it, then it is just because of the old fashioned anti-Judaic attitudes of his generation, which must be seen in the greater light of the liberalism of his thinking. If Wagner says it, it is incontrovertible evidence that he single-handedly caused WWII and the Holocaust, because Hitler was merely the mindless automaton of a Disciple acting out the commands of Prophet Richard. If you ignore these simplistic myths and examine the reality of the situation, by reading Wagner's writing in the context of the social mores of the times, it is really very much consistent with left-wing thinking, right down to his liberal belief in the assimilation of the Jews.

In fact, there were some people in the Nazi party who did tweak to the high irony of the fact that their art school reject had inadvertently enthroned a virtual "Bolshevik" as a state-approved composer. Brian Magee tells us:

As Heinz Tietjen, who had been general manager at Bayreuth during the Nazi era, said after the Second World War: ‘In reality the leading party officials throughout the Reich were hostile to Wagner . . . The party tolerated Hitler's Wagner enthusiasm, but fought, openly or covertly, those who, like me, were devoted to his works—the people around Rosenberg openly, those around Goebbels covertly.’ This was chiefly because the political and social tendencies of these works, if taken in the least bit seriously, were contrary to everything the Nazis stood for. During Wagner's career up to and including the writing of the Ring libretto his political views were radically left-wing ...

Magee: Wagner and Philosophy, Penguin Books 2001


In conclusion, I cannot overemphasise the importance of staunchly denying attempts by the political right to distract attention away from themselves by displacing the origins of National Socialist genocidal racism onto a left-wing scapegoat, irrespective of whether that scapegoat be Wagner, Bakunin, or Marx. The narrative about the origins of such vile genocidal ideas must instead focus firmly back on the political right. It is easy to find plenty of such genocidal anti-Semitic lunatics without ever having to examine a word of Marx or Wagner's writings. Not only that but the far-right was placed in power by those who traditionally belonged to the middle right. This included the Christian centre-right who feared the "Godless communists" and had a centuries-old tradition of teaching about the "spawn of Judas." The churches ended up being complicit with National Socialism because they considered it the lesser of two evils compared to Godless communism.

In rejecting the idea that genocidal anti-Semitism is purely the creation of the political left, we must also pour cold water over sensationalist narratives that continually point the finger at Wagner to "prove" the myth that already by the nineteenth century all Germans were psychopaths rabidly infected with a deliriously genocidal anti-Semitism that made "Hitler's willing executioners" out of them all.

It is indeed remarkable that the Holocaust survivors regard Wagner as the embodiment of the Third Reich. Around 2012 there was a move in several quarters, notably in Israel, to force a serious review of Wagner's claimed influence over the Third Reich. For instance the documentary film Wagner’s Jews: A Fascinating Perspective on Wagner’s Attitude to the Jews (14/10/2013)

The German opera composer Richard Wagner was notoriously anti-Semitic, and his writings on the Jews were later embraced by Hitler and the Nazis. But there is another, lesser-known side to this story. For years, many of Wagner’s closest associates were Jews — young musicians who became personally devoted to him, and provided crucial help to his work and career. They included the teenaged piano prodigy Carl Tausig; Hermann Levi, a rabbi’s son who conducted the première of Wagner’s Parsifal; Angelo Neumann, who produced Wagner’s works throughout Europe; and Joseph Rubinstein, a pianist who lived with the Wagner family for years and committed suicide when Wagner died. Even as Wagner called for the elimination of the Jews from German life, many of his most active supporters were Jewish — as Wagner himself noted with surprise.

While the film does attempt some revision of the attitudes towards Wagner, it tries to accommodate the views of those who are convinced that Wagner was responsible for the Holocaust. Comments above like 'elimination' rather than 'assimilation' come from William Ellis Ashton's translations of Wagner's prose – Richard Wagner's Prose Works – which have been strongly challenged in recent times – Faithful, All Too Faithful By David Cormack (2002); The Appalling State of English Translation of Wagner's Prose Work (2012)

A PhD student in Israel, Irad Atir, is cited in an article – Wagner Didn't Hate All Jews, Just 'Bad' Ones, Argues Israeli Scholar – in interview in Haaretz 28/01/2013

His opposition to Jewishness was part of his opposition to the sociopolitical and cultural reality of the period in general, including the non-Jewish German reality," Atir says. "He criticized certain aspects of Germanism; for example, the conservatism, religiosity, pride in aristocratic origins, and militarism. He also criticized Jewish separatism and lust for money. For him, there were good Germans and bad Germans, good Jews and bad Jews.” According to Atir, the only way to understand Wagner’s art, which expresses political, sociological and musicological ideology, is to approach it neutrally. The usual link between Wagner, racism, anti-Semitism and Hitlerism should be ignored.

What's the main new element in your theory? “All the research done so far – and it's plenty – has viewed dealing with Judaism in Wagner's operas as something marginal. But research paid more attention to this after the war, after 1945, because the Jewish issue was very sensitive. I argue that [Wagner’s] dealing with Judaism as the other – complementary – side of his dealing with Germanism is prominent in all his important operas. A possible explanation for this is that Wagner, a non-Jewish composer, knew and worked with more Jews than any other significant composer. He also suspected he was half Jewish. The detailed research I’ve done on this obsessive preoccupation shows that Wagner's attitude toward Jews and Judaism was complex and changing. It certainly wasn't just hatred.”

Wagner’s attitude toward Felix Mendelssohn figures centrally in your work. “True. I show that despite Wagner’s criticism of Mendelssohn in his essay ‘Das Judenthum in der Musik,’ he wrote that Mendelssohn’s works expressed great talent, but they couldn't touch the depths of the soul because of his Judaism, because Jews don't have the ability to create real art. "But Wagner was an admirer of Mendelssohn. In his youth he wrote with enthusiasm about Mendelssohn’s oratorio ‘St. Paul,’ and Wagner in his operas quoted famous Mendelssohnian motifs and used Mendelssohnian themes that the audiences of his day knew. And he used them not necessarily to identify Jewish characters.” Are the quotations of the Mendelssohnian motifs significant? “Of course. Wagner didn't lack innovation; he didn't lack melodies.” Is Mendelssohn’s presence in Wagner’s work prominent in other studies? “Hardly at all. A scholar named Larry Todd mentions it in a marginal way.”

This work is in progress!