1920s >> 1929 >> no-304-december-1929

Another Life of Marx – Part 2



I have now given sufficient information to enable the reader to judge of the biased and unreliable nature of Ruhle’s “Life of Marx.” The last few pages of the book give us the apparent reason for this attempt to blacken the personal character of Marx. All through the book the writer is endeavouring to show (but without sound evidence) that Marx was a very clever thinker —but allowed his personal feelings to override his judgment. The author is compelled to admit time after time that Marx’s judgments were ultimately sound, as witness quotations given. But he persists all through the book in trying to give the reader this impression of uncertainty. Why? Here is the explanation :—


Marxism, being primarily called upon to stir up the proletarian masses, to make them collect their forces, and to lead them on to the battlefield, must necessarily display itself at the outset in a guise which would encourage optimism; in a guise which, by representing historical evolution as the guarantee of the liberation of mankind, would make the workers believe in their own mission. To gain headway, it must relentlessly clear out of the path all rationalistic and utopian systems of Socialism, and must inexorably proceed on its own course. To-day, when its work is finished, Marxism begins to assume a new aspect. In our own time, not merely can Marxism occasionally recur to the systems of the Utopists and the rationalists; it is directly faced in this direction by the practical demands of the day by the growing claims for positive achievements in the class struggle. (p. 396.) (Italics ours.)


There you have it. Marxism was all right in the past, but now times have changed—Labour rules !—and we can indulge in wars, and all the rest of the reformer’s stock-in-trade. Actually, of course, there has been no change, and practical affairs of the day demand a still stricter adherence to the basic principles taught by Marx unless the workers are to flounder in the morass of Labourism for another century.


Mr. Ruhle, however, in branding Marx as a neurotic, is really making a special plea for himself and his friends. On the last page of the book he writes :—


The main thing was the work which had to be done; the qualities of the doer mattered little. Or, rather, the doer of the work which had to be done, had to be spurred to his task by an impetus such as could only be furnished by the neurosis from which Marx suffered! To-day, we have different problems to solve, and they must be solved by highly qualified persons who have freed themselves from neurosis; must be solved by champions of the class struggle who approach the undertaking with a keen sense of responsibility, an awakened consciousness, and a strongly developed community feeling, (p. 397.)


Now we begin to see light. We must forget Marx’s view, that the workers must accomplish their own emancipation, and put our trust in nice, kind, gentlemanly people like Ruhle and MacDonald, and the rest of the silk-hatted, frock-coated crowd.


It will be observed that I am now suffering from “stomach-ache” and getting personal. Ruhle’s attack on Marx is a fitting reflection of the former’s practical career. A disciple of Alfred Adler, of Vienna, he belonged to the German Social Democratic Party and voted with Liebknecht against the war in 1914. In the German post-war upheaval he took a leading part and was a member of the Council of Workers and Soldiers. Now he is neither in the German S.D.P. nor in the Communist Party, but is a kind of anarchist and has written books on “The Soul of The Proletarian Child,” and similar topics. Hence his kindly feelings towards Lassalle and Bakunin.


In one respect, however, this book can certainly be recommended. It contains voluminous extracts from some of the earlier and less known writings of Marx. These extracts reveal how early Marx obtained a clear grasp of the driving force in history.


Marx’s approach to Socialism was from the philosophical side. His early studies were concerned mainly with law and philosophy. His father wished to make of him a lawyer, but philosophy had a greater appeal at the beginning and ultimately he obtained a degree as Doctor of Philosophy, though he did not make use of it.


While working on the “New Rhenish Gazette,” Marx found his ignorance of economics constantly placing him in difficulties when dealing with questions of the day. When that paper was suppressed he immediately set about making up for the deficiency. In 1843 he did a tremendous amount of reading in history and economics, the first fruits of which was an article in the French and German Year Book entitled ‘‘Introduction to a Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right.” The following extracts give an idea of his early progress towards Socialist knowledge (at the time he was only 25 years old):—


   ‘Man makes religion; religion does not make man. Religion, indeed, is the self-consciousness and the self-feeling of the man who either has not yet found himself, or else (having found himself) has lost himself once more. But man is not an abstract being, squatting down somewhere outside the world. Man is the world of men, the State, society. This state, this society, produce religion, produce a perverted world consciousness, because they are a perverted world. Religion is the generalised theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compend, its logic in a popular form . . . The fight against religion is, therefore, a direct campaign against the world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people.
. . . . Thus the criticism of heaven is transformed into a criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into a criticism of law, the criticism of theology into a criticism of politics, (pp. 57 and 58.)


Thus early in his mental development Marx saw in religion an attempt on the part of the oppressed to escape from the troubles that afflicted them in the world of practical affairs. He also saw that the solution lay, not in theological disputations, not in new philosophical views, but in changing the constitution of society:—


    The criticism of religion ends with the doctrine that man is the highest being for man; it ends, that is to say, with the categorical imperative that all conditions must be revolutionised in which man is a debased, an enslaved, an abandoned, a contemptible being . . .  a radical is one who cuts at the roots of things.
A radical revolution, the general emancipation of mankind, is not a Utopian dream for Germany; what is Utopian is the idea of a partial, an exclusively political revolution, which would leave the pillars of the house standing.
What, then, are the practical possibilities of German emancipation? Here is the answer. They are to be found in the formation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society; of an estate which is the dissolution of all estates; of a sphere which is endowed with a universal character by the universality of its sufferings; one which does not lay claim to any particular rights, the reason being that it does not suffer any one specific injustice, but suffers injustice unqualified; one which can no longer put forward a historically grounded title, but only a general human title; one which is not in any sort of one-sided opposition to the consequences, but only in general opposition to the presuppositions of the German political system; and, finally, a sphere which cannot emancipate itself, without emancipating itself from all the other spheres of society—one which, in a word, has been completely deprived of its human privileges, so that it can only regain itself by fully regaining these human privileges. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is—the proletariat.
If the proletariat herald the dissolution of the world order as hitherto extant, it is merely, thereby, expressing the mystery of its own existence, for it is the actual dissolution of this previous world order. (p. 60.)


In the above extracts we have a remarkably clear foreshadowing of Marx’s final conclusions as embodied in his materialist conception of history and theory of surplus value which together form the foundations of scientific Socialism. And it is a remarkably clear and logical contribution from one so youthful considering the range of the subject and the state of philosophical, historical and economic science at the time he was writing.


I would like to give many more extracts from these earlier works of Marx, but, unfortunately, they would lengthen out this review too much. I must therefore refer anyone who wishes to watch the mental development of Marx to the book itself, in which there is a great deal of useful quotations from these early writings.


There are one or two further points, however, I must mention before concluding.


On page 198 “Hic Rhodus, hic salta!” is translated as “Here is the Rose; dance here!” Surely this really refers to the traveller in one of the ancient classical tales, who, returning home after considerable wanderings, boasted to his friends of his wonderful achievements; among others that while at Rhodes he saw a tremendous statue with gigantic legs spread far apart, and that he had leaped from one of the feet to the other. His friends, already sickened by his tall stories, and wishing to “take down” the boaster, cried, “Here is Rhodes, now leap,” or, in other words— “pretend this is Rhodes, now show us how you can jump.”


On page 199, writing of Engels, Ruhle says he “unselfishly devoted his evenings, year after year, when the day’s work was over, to writing the necessary articles for the ‘New York Tribune.’ ” In a review of a previous book on Marx by Ryazanoff we gave our reasons for contesting this view, and we must refer the reader to that review for a full statement. Engels certainly helped Marx by putting his articles into English at a time when Marx had not yet acquired a complete command of English, and he also wrote some of the articles dealing with military matters, but that is all. Ruhle’s appetite for detraction leads him to make these sweeping statements where opportunity offers.We cannot commend the translators for the bibliography at the end. They seem more concerned with their own translations than with giving the reader a list of Marx’s writings that are accessible to those who can only read English, e.g., “Value, Price and Profit,” “Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy,” “Lord Palmerston,” “The Eastern Question,” “Class Struggles in France,” etc.


Ruhle, in his book, has taken his evidence of Marx’s personal character from those who were his bitter enemies, and who knew comparatively little of Marx’s private life. Let me give the evidence of one who knew Marx for the greater part of his life and one who also suffered greatly and gave the whole of his life work—apart from the time necessary to earn a living—to the struggle for working class freedom. I refer to Frederick Lessner. Liebknecht’s tribute to Marx is well known, but Ruhle is pleased to look upon Liebknecht with the eye of suspicion. No one, however, has yet presumed to throw any mud at Lessner. Here is an extract from his “Recollections of an Old Communist,” with which I very fittingly close this review:—


   Marx was, as are all truly great men, free from conceit, and appreciated every genuine striving, every opinion based on independent thinking . . . as already mentioned, he was always eager to hear the opinion of the simplest working man on the labour movement. Thus he would often come to me in the afternoon, fetch me for a walk, and talk about all sorts of matters. . . . Generally he was an excellent companion, who extremely attracted, one might say, charmed, everybody that came in touch with him. His humour was irrepressible; his laugh a very hearty one. . . .


   Some comrades proposed to erect a monument to him. But no monument could be of finer foundation than his teachings, his actions, and his struggles, which are engraved now into the hearts and heads of millions of workers for ever.