1950s >> 1959 >> no-658-june-1959

Lyndoe on Marx

A reader asks us to comment on an article from the pen of one Edward Lyndoe who is by profession an “astrologist.”

In the November 1958 number of Prediction this writer has turned his attention to the “Chart of—Karl Marx.” His article tells us nothing about Marx personally, and less than nothing about his ideas—which are what have made him so notorious, but concentrates entirely on trying to show that Marx’s actions, in his practical everyday life, were the results of his “chart” or horoscope. In doing this, Mr. Lyndoe shows his utter ignorance of Marxism, but reveals unintentionally, quite a lot about the methods of fortune-tellers, crystal gazers and palm-readers who profess to reveal the future, for a suitable fee.

As Karl Marx died in 1883 the only thing Mr. Lyndoe can do in his case, is to try to show that Marx’s astrological chart, that is the relative positions of the planets on his birth day, would confirm what Mr. Lyndoe puts forward as Marx’s biography and “explain” his actions. His main contention is that Marx was a hypocritical old fraud who, in fact, had no “sympathy with humanitarian ideals,” whose “poverty” in London was “largely a sham,” and that when Marx became a revolutionary he was only “acting on the stage.”

To make his otherwise very dull and boring article a bit more tasty, Mr. Lyndoe has thrown in, as a titbit, a further allegation, culled from the pages of the Vienna gutter press, that Herr Raab the Austrian Chancellor took with him to Moscow last year a recently discovered letter from the files of the Secret Police, purporting to have been sent to Frankfort Political Police by Karl Marx reporting on Austrian and German political exiles in London. He further alleges that Marx was actually living in London on £5 monthly paid to him by the secret police. During his life-time, on more than one occasion, Marx showed himself well able to deal with this sort of pin-prick when resorted to by those he crushed in controversy.

Regarding the alleged letter in the Vienna files, we should require more proof than the statement of Mr. Lyndoe. So far as the established facts of Marx’s London exile are concerned, they are on record in the numerous biographies and biographical sketches. Let any reader in doubt consult Mehring’s Karl Marx or the sketches by Liebknecht and Lafargue.

That Marx lived in the direst poverty, prior to Engels retirement, is so well known that we apologise to readers for repeating it. As a typical example, here is an extract from the Diary of Frau Marx, showing the suffering and hardship the Marx family underwent in London.

At Easter 1852 our poor little Franziska fell ill with severe bronchitis. For three days the poor child struggled against death and suffered much. Her small lifeless body rested in our little back room whilst we all went together into the front room and when night came we made up beds on the floor. The three surviving children lay with us and we cried for the poor little angel who now rested so cold and lifeless in the next room. The poor child’s death took place in a period of bitterest poverty. (Karl Marx by F. Mehring. Allen and Unwin page 217.)

In actual fact, he lost three children through infant starvation. At one period the body of his baby son lay on the table in a wooden box while his father strove frantically to find the small sum necessary for his burial. In fact, tragic though they were at the time, episodes such as the occasion when Marx found himself at Bow Street for trying to pawn his wife’s valuable silver are now regarded humourously.

This, as Socialists, is not our main concern. What Mr. Lyndoe is completely ignorant of, and what he must do, to write about Marx for intelligent people is get some idea of what it was that Marx was advocating. Significant for the ideas of Marx is not that he was born in the conjunction of Uranus— Neptune, but in the early stages of a new kind of social order—Capitalism.

Incidentally Mr. Lyndoe cannot have it both ways. If the actions of individuals are not their own, but predestined by their “charts” or “stars,” what is Mr. Lyndoe complaining about —fraud, hypocrite, spy or not, Marx was merely fulfilling his destiny—he couldn’t have been anything else. But the critic makes these actions the grounds for moral strictures and homilies. He complains that “Marxian Communism is the religion which not only glorifies the ends regardless of the means, but glorifies the means themselves. We should not be too sanctimonious about some of the methods used in our part of the globe—but, at least we do not feel disposed to trumpet them abroad as a new morality.” What all this has to do with Marx and his stars nobody will ever know!

Here, dear Mr. Lyndoe, are the important facts. A German philosopher, turned journalist, found himself unable to answer some of the questions his readers were asking about social conditions in the Rhineland in 1843. He resigned and resolved to study to try to clarify the position. This job of studying the social position eventually became a life-work, and led him through many strange unexpected paths making him many enemies, and not a few friends.

Now unlike Mr. Lyndoe, we would not hold that Marx or anyone else is a pawn in the hands (or beams) of Uranus. Within well defined limits a certain amount of choice was his. He could either publicly renounce the inevitable logical conclusions of his researches and findings, or boldly proclaim his adherence to them. Marx unravelled the law of social development, he explained the rise of the new ruling class and saw within Capitalism the seeds of yet another form, Socialism.

In the Communist Manifesto he wrote explicitly of various class spokesmen and representatives and the fact that some individuals, though not born in the ranks of the oppressed and exploited, take their place among them.

Just as in former days part of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie—so now part of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariate. Especially does this happen in the case of some of the bourgeois ideologists, who have achieved a theoretical understanding of the historical movement as a whole. (Communist Manifesto. Page 38. Ryazanov edition.)

This “understanding of the historical movement as a whole” is a closed book to Lyndoe. So far as workers are concerned it is vital— it is their destiny as a class which is at stake. The action to deal with their problems will be taken by themselves, with the help of Marx’s ideas.

So far as Marx’s personal character and actions come into it at all, it only remains to add that Socialism was probably particularly fortunate to stumble across a man of Marx’s mental and personal integrity. Whatever the consequences—whatever the outcome of his conclusions—he stood by them. They could not have been more unpopular with capitalists, those of wealth and power, who saw to it that if they couldn’t physically maltreat and victimise him—at least they could take it out of his wife and children—which they did. Once he had signed the Communist Manifest the author of the slogan “Workers of all lands! Unite” could not get a job as a Railway Clerk, degree or not!

Karl Marx, of course, is not the only instance of someone of genius whose explosive ideas have incurred the wrath of the powers that be—Bruno burnt at the stake, Galileo tortured on the rack, Hypatia cut to death with sharp shells.

Others like Lyell and Darwin have also been the target for vituperation though not physical outrage. In our own day there are those to whom Professor Pauling and Bertrand Russell are anathema because they do not support some suicidal war policy.

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury can admit that the Earth is millions, not thousands of years old—that life has evolved and was not “created.” But no capitalist can tolerate the idea that capitalism is obsolete and superfluous— that it thrives on exploitation—that its days (and his days) are doomed, that a superior and inevitable alternative, Socialism, is on the way.

All these things Marx proved. The best estimate of his personal character, was that of the man best qualified to make it—Frederick Engels, who at his graveside said “Marx was, above all, a revolutionary. The battle was his element.”

HORATIO

(Socialist Standard, June 1959)