1920s >> 1929 >> no-304-october-1929

Another Life of Marx: Queues at Truth

Karl Marx,” by Otto Ruhle. Translated by Eden & Cedar Paul. Allen & Unwin, 15s.

This book has been written with a heavy hand. It is a curious mixture of contradictions, bitterness, excellent quotations and “modern” psychology. When a man gets on his hobby horse he is apt to leave the world of reality and ride off into the realm of dreams. The author of this book has a hobby horse and when he gets astride of it his dreams are ugly ones. Such was my view when half-way through the book, but as I read on I began to get suspicious. The blacks in the picture were put in a little too thickly and too often. The last two pages supplied the key, and I have come to the conclusion that the book was written for its last two pages and is, in fact, an apology and an excuse for the actions of German Social Democracy. However, I will deal with this last point later.

Now there are. already a number of Lives and Monographs of Marx in existence, including Liebnecht’s, Spargo’s (the photos in which are practically identical with those in this book), Beer’s, Ryazanoff’s and others. Why then this new one, which, apart from mud spattering and some new quotations, adds nothing to what has already been done?

On page 371 the author sets out his psychological views upon the subject of his biography in the following terms:

   If we translate into psychological terms these principles of the method of historical materialism, we get the following. Man forms his character out of his organic constitution and his social and family position. The biological and social interests that promote his safeguarding find expression (unconsciously) in aims. The main trend of his behaviour arises with reference to these aims. Opinions, conceptions, ideas, manifest themselves as forms of expression of the individual’s aim to safeguard his own existence. Decisive for each of us in the formation of character and in the development of trend of behaviour is, in the individualistic epoch, the urge to self-expression as an individuality, an urge dictated by the circumstances of life.
When, in the light of these guiding principles, we contemplate the man Marx—contemplate him solely as a man, apart from his work—our attention is riveted by three characteristics:—
First, his persistent ill-health, from which we infer that there was constitutional weakness or organic defect.
Secondly, his Jewish origin, which he felt as a social stigma.
Thirdly, his position as a first-born child.

The author then proceeds to elaborate his theory, the essence of which is that Marx suffered severely from an “inferiority complex” arising primarily from a bad constitution, and this was the motive that urged him to outstrip everybody and abhor a rival “near the throne.” The “scientific” nature of the author’s analysis of Marx may be gathered from the following further quotation (page 376):

If, in the light of these considerations, we turn to examine the personality of Marx, we see the before-mentioned biological, social and family traits in a new and instructive light. But the traits in question are only the elements, the first crude constituents, of a psychological analysis— with which we have to content ourselves, since we lack more detailed materials as regards the life of Marx. Obviously, they do not suffice for an exhaustive analysis. Many of the gaps in our observation will have to be filled in artificially; a schematic construction will have to supplement the defects of observation. Nevertheless, we can get a great deal further than was possible by earlier psychological methods. Even if we do not achieve definitive knowledge, in this respect psychological analysis is no more inadequate than the other sciences, for science has to leave many ultimate problems open.

What all this amounts to, then, is that his view of Marx is guess-work; there are gaps, but these are filled up by assumptions! But if psychological science has not progressed far enough for an accurate analysis, why guess now? What was the urgency of the matter in this special case—particularly as the enemies of the Socialist movement are at their wits end for weapons with which to hinder our progress? And if so much of it is guess-work, why the particular bitterness of the diatribes against Marx by the author? The following are specimens of the author’s estimate of Marx. I have numbered each quotation for convenience in dealing with them:

(1) He (Grun) had wrongfully accused Marx of not protesting with sufficient vigour against expulsion from France, and Marx, who was always too ready to take offence, had therefore conceived an animus against Grun which formed the undertone of a fierce criticism of the latter’s attitude towards the problems of Socialism, (p. 98.)
(2) . . . . One day, when Marx insisted upon the rejection of fanciful and over-enthusiastic schemes for universal happiness (passing by the name of Communism), Weitling advocated the cause of the Utopists, the dispute leading to an open breach between him and Marx. Since the latter had an unhappy talent for introducing personal animus into theoretical disputes, the relations between the two men were poisoned henceforward, and they became irreconcilable enemies, (p. 123.)
(3) There is no use blaming a man for his character. All we are to infer from these descriptions is that Marx, despite his thirty years, his extensive achievements and his reputation as a man of learning and a politician, was still what he had been in youth, one fighting to secure recognition, one doubtful as to his prestige. His arrogance, his self-conceit, his dogmatism and disputatiousness and irritability, must reveal themselves to everyone who understands human nature as masks for a lack of self-confidence, under stress of which he was perpetually trying to avert the danger of exposure. He could not listen quietly to an opponent, because he was afraid that his opponent might get the better of him if allowed to continue. He had to shout down every hostile opinion because he was haunted by spectral doubts lest this opinion should gain adherents and leave him unsupported. He tried to discredit his adversaries because he hoped that personal onslaughts would shake the validity of opposing arguments. He could not tolerate rivals because he was perpetually tortured with the dread lest it should become apparent in one way or another that not he, but his rival, was the ablest of the able, the most efficient of the efficient, the most revolutionary of the revolutionists.
This domineering behaviour was animated by the unconscious conviction that he would be able to overawe the timid among his opponents. When he made fun of the opinions of others, he was trying to fortify the sense of his own superiority. When he crowned himself with anticipatory laurels, he did so in the belief that this would ensure his triumph, and entitle him to wear the laurel crown.
Only one person would Marx allow to express opinions—Engels. The sole reason for his tolerance in this quarter was that he could rely on being able to use Engels’ remarkable talents for his own purposes as dictator, without Engels expecting any return or thanks, or grant of equality. As long as a collaborator was a willing servant, he could work on the best of terms with Marx. But when this collaborator expressed an opinion of his own, or claimed to assert his own will against that of Marx, the fat was in the fire. , Marx was a typical authoritarian. (p. 158.)

I will forbear quoting more, but there are numerous similar examples through the book. Now for a few remarks on the above.

(1) No evidence is given that Marx had “conceived an animus against Grun.” Surely an historian who claims to be scientific should at least give evidence for his charges? The justification for Marx’s “fierce criticism” is provided by Ruble himself. On the same page he gives the following description of Grun:

Among the “true Socialists,” perhaps the most notable was Karl Grun, a Westphalian. He had been one of Marx’s fellow students, and Moses Hess had made him acquainted with Engels. His socialist career had started from the radical “small-beer Liberalism.” Then he had coquetted with Fourierism for a time, until at length, having got into touch with Hess, he deviated towards early Socialism. All possible varieties of Socialism were jumbled together in his head. Out of borrowed and undigested thoughts from Proudhon, Feuerbach, Hess and Marx, he had brewed the most amazing elixir of happiness, whose formulas were aesthetically tinted and were couched in a feuilleton style. From Paris, writing hastily and irresponsibly, he sent his lucubrations to the German Press, and especially to the “ Triersche Zeitung.’’

(2) Weitlung, another of those towards whom Marx is accused of having a personal animus, is described by Ruhle as follows:

. . .  when Weitling turned up in Brussels, and joined the Workers’ Educational Society there, it became apparent that his development had proceeded no further, and that he had become infected with inordinate vanity, with an undue sense of superiority. He was continually miking about utopias and conspiracies, and imagined himself a prey to the persecution of envious rivals, (p. 122.)

Seemingly a very easy man to fall out with! But perhaps he also had the stomach-ache!

(3) This paragraph by the author is immediately based on the statement of Carl Schurz relating to a meeting he attended when he was 19. Schurz had hardly reached an age to give a dependable judgment. Besides, in harmony with the author’s theory, would it not be necessary to know all about Schurz and the other opponents of Marx to be able to decide whether their judgments were also vitiated by an “ inferiority complex.” In fact, according to this delightful theory, it would appear that one really “knows nothing about nothing,” but just goes on guessing!

The paragraph is also similar in essentials to Bakunin’s description of Marx, the value of which may be gauged from the following:

Bakunin honestly endeavoured to be on good terms with Marx [How does Ruhle know?] and to avoid friction. But he could not entertain cordial sentiments for Marx. The two men differed too much in mental structure, in theoretical trend, and in fundamental attitudes towards the revolutionary problem, for this to be possible. Bakunin loved the peasants; detested intellectualism and abstract systems with their dogmatism and intolerance; hated the modern State, industrialism and centralisation; had the most intense dislike for Judaism and all its ways, which he regarded as irritable, loquacious, unduly critical, intriguing, and exploitative, Everything for which he had an instinctive abhorrence, everything which aroused in him spiritual repugnance and antagonism, was for him incorporated in Marx. (p. 280.)

Evidently another very difficult man not to fall out with! But the strangeness of it! In face of the above, Ruhle yet drags in Bakunin as a witness for the prosecution!

At the period Marx was carrying on his work the working-class movement was youthful; it was honeycombed with emissaries of the various governments, whose mission it was to undermine and destroy the movement. Men of all kinds of opinion found their way in and tried to impose their schemes upon the rest. Political job hunters endeavoured to use the movement as means to personal aggrandisement, and Governments were ever ready to buy off dangerous opposition with either money or flattery. Marx plunged into this welter of ignorance, chicanery and egotism and endeavoured to build-up a movement on sound principles with a clear understanding of the necessities of the time. He met with bitter opposition from the earnest as well as from the treacherous. Always surrounded by intrigue, was it any wonder that he was suspicious and occasionally lost patience? Particularly as his suspicions were proved in so many cases to have been well-founded.

It is quite easy for Mr. Ruhle, in these comparatively comfortable times in Germany, to sit back in his chair and see in Marx’s bitterness only the results of stomach-ache, but surely the accumulations of surrounding treachery and pettiness can play upon the strongest nerves until they eventually produce irritability without such irritability having its original source in a feeling of inferiority!

Ruhle complains of Marx’s attitude towards Bakunin and Lassalle. Surely anyone familiar with their actions must agree that, apart from political and economical unsoundness, they lent themselves to suspicion: Bakunin by his underground tactics and Lassalle by his showy methods. The historian of the present has written information in front of him that was not in the hands of those fighting at the time, and if there is to be praising or blaming then it should be accorded with this in mind—unless the author has the stomach-ache!

That Marx had adequate reason for his bitter hostility to Bakunin is surely borne out by the following quotation, when it is remembered that Ruhle is at much pains to show that Bakunin was professing friendship for Marx during that time:

At the Berne Congress of the League of Peace and Freedom. Bakunin had tried to induce the League to adopt a revolutionary programme, and to affiliate to the International. When this attempt failed, he resigned from the League, and. in conjunction with J. P. Becker, founded the International Alliance of the Socialist Democracy, also known as the Alliance of Social Revolutionaries. His aim now was to get this Alliance accepted as part of the International; then, by degrees, to excavate and absorb the International until, at last, the International would be replaced by the Alliance, (p. 283.)

A very pretty plan! He aimed at quietly smashing up the International, and yet Ruhle cavils at Marx for his bitterness! Mr. Ruhle is really too well-mannered a gentleman altogether.

(To be continued.)


Link to Part 2