Commentary Magazine


The “Real” Marx

It used to be said that the three great giants of modern times—indeed the creators of modernity—were Marx, Darwin, and Freud. In the past few decades we have witnessed major reevaluations and revisions of all three, so that a “classical” Marxist, Darwinist, or Freudian would hardly recognize the doctrines that now pass under their names. Of the three, Marxism has been most thoroughly transformed. In the case of Darwinism and Freudianism, we have been content to expand or modify the doctrine in order to accommodate later findings and theories; what has changed is not our reading of the original doctrine, not our understanding of what Darwin or Freud actually said or meant, but our sense of what we want to retain of these doctrines and what we can now make of them. In the case of Marx, the process of revisionism has been much more radical. For we have actually created—discovered, some would say—a new Marx, a Marx with a new identity, a new ideology, even a new corpus of work. And it is out of this new Marx that a new Marxism has been fashioned.

The Meaning of Karl Marx by Bruce Mazlish1 is the latest contribution to this re-creation. Since Mazlish is a distinguished proponent and practitioner of “psychohistory”—the psychoanalytic interpretation of historical persons and events—his rendering of “Marx with a Human Face” (as the title of one chapter puts it) carries a special authority. It is a formidable undertaking, and would be even if the text of the book were several times longer than 150 pages. For it is meant to elucidate not only Marx as a person but Marx as a thinker, the “real meaning,” we are told on the first page, of his writings and ideas. And not only Marxism as Marx himself conceived it, but Marxism as it has affected the one-and-a-half or two billion people who are said to be under its sway. Indeed it is the point of this enterprise that the ideas can only be understood in terms of the person, “Marx the humanist” in terms of “Marx the human”:

How else can we understand the real power and meaning of his work, humanist or scientific, except in the light of knowledge of the real, living human being, Karl Marx, as best we can know him historically? While Marxism the “religion” takes on a life—and thus a history—of its own, it all begins in the life of its originator. Marxism, I am arguing, is Marx writ large.

Some of us might answer that rhetorical question differently, believing that the best way to understand the “real power and meaning” of Marx’s work (or that of anyone else) is through the work itself, that to try to understand it in terms of the personal life of its “originator” is necessarily reductive and simplistic. We may even suspect that “Marx writ large” is Marxism writ small. But leaving aside that general question, we have enough to do to try to discern the “human face” of Marx and the “humanistic” soul of Marxism.

The book takes a curious turn at the very outset. For it starts not, as one might expect, with the “living human being” but with the doctrine itself, the great “secular religion” of modern times. Moreover, the origins of that religion are located not in Marx’s life but in his times, the Industrial Revolution that created a new society which then had to be “validated” by a new religion. Mazlish argues, persuasively, that Marxism, while professedly atheistic, is essentially religious—messianic, eschatological, redemptive, apocalyptic. He finds it ironic that this religion, the great “creative response” to industrialism and urbanism, has had its only real triumphs in the least industralized, least urbanized countries of the world. But he does not explain this fact; nor the equally ironic one that the country that did experience the Industrial Revolution to the fullest was least responsive to that secular religion; nor that the human being who originated that religion did so long before he himself witnessed the Industrial Revolution that presumably inspired it.

When our attention is directed to the author of this doctrine, we are introduced to him first as a nineteen-year-old university student writing poetry to his fiancée. The poems are admittedly derivative and conventional, typical of a familiar kind of adolescent Weltschmerz. Yet they are seen as exhibiting the symptoms of “strife” and “alienation,” “Promethean” strivings and “romantic anti-capitalist feelings,” which are prophetic of that great “epic poem,” Capital. “The same person,” the chapter concludes, “who wrote the great Marxist works wrote the awkward, adolescent poems we have been analyzing.” But that same person later laughed at them as “youthful follies,” and his great friend and collaborator, Friedrich Engels, thought it absurd that anyone should be interested in them.

We are next taken back two years to the seventeen-year-old sitting for his final examinations at the Gymnasium. From the essays written on that occasion—one on the assigned topic, “The Union of Believers with Christ,” and another on “The Choice of a Profession”—Mazlish deduces that the young Marx was a “true believer . . . deeply steeped in the Christian tradition,” and that this faith was the source of the religious nature both of his vocation and of his teaching. A more cynical reader might regard these papers as exercises in “gradesmanship,” the student uttering whatever pieties or platitudes might please the examiner (which these did). One might also think that the case for Marxism as a secular religion rests on the eschatological nature of the doctrine rather than on any dubious assumption about Marx’s early beliefs.

The next chapter, promisingly entitled “Father and Son, and the Ghost of Hegel,” also relies heavily on a document written for self-serving purposes: a letter written by Marx, then at the University of Berlin, in response to his father’s anxieties about his health and career, his mounting debts, dissoluteness, and difficulties with the authorities. (His father had once had to intervene to prevent his arrest on the charge of carrying a gun, and later Karl was imprisoned in the university jail overnight for drunkenness and disturbing the peace.) This letter certainly demonstrates, as Mazlish says, that the young Marx had read Hegel and that he had an exalted sense of himself as being, like the Hegelian Spirit (or like the bohemian “free spirit”), above the petty-bourgeois concerns of his father. But it is less certain that Marx’s casual reference to the “turbulent specters” of his restless soul can be “projected” into the “specter” of Communism that he was later to unleash on Europe, or that his reply to his father previewed his own role as the “father” of scientific socialism, “the alienated son of his own earthly father.”

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It is curious to find so much made of these bits of evidence while so much else of obvious psychological importance is left unexamined. Mazlish boldly states the premise of this study: “Karl Marx’s ontogeny recapitulates philosophy’s phylogeny.” Yet there is remarkably little “ontogeny” here, not even the barest facts of his life, such as that he was the third of nine children and that the first-born, a boy, died a year after Karl was born, which left Karl in the position of the oldest son (a matter of some significance, even in a once-Jewish family). We are told nothing of his relations with his siblings (his sisters remembered him as a “terrible tyrant”); or with his mother, whom he refused to see when she stopped paying his debts and allowance (he was then twenty-four and she a widow in reduced circumstances with five daughters to provide dowries for), and with whom he was reconciled only after she agreed to contribute to his household expenses and advanced part of his inheritance. In passing we are told of his visiting his hometown fifteen years later “on the occasion of his mother’s death,” but not that he went there only after her death to collect the rest of his inheritance. (One wonders how a biographer, especially a “psychobiographer,” could resist relating the prophecy made by Marx’s mother long before her death, and mentioned by Marx himself in a letter to his wife, that she would die on the anniversary of her marriage—a prophecy which came true to the very hour.) Again in passing we learn of his father’s death while Marx was still at the university, but not that he failed to attend his funeral, nor that he carried his father’s photograph with him later in life when he traveled (although he refused, according to his daughter, to show it to strangers, claiming it was not a good likeness).

Marx’s wife figures more prominently here. Citing Freud’s dictum about the importance of love and work, Mazlish has Marx’s wife providing the “firm and lasting” love that permitted him to focus his energies on his work. That love, we are assured, survived all the difficulties of their marriage. The greatest difficulty—long suppressed by family, friends, and biographers—was Marx’s affair with Helene Demuth, the family servant (“Lenchen,” as she was called), which resulted in the birth of his illegitimate son. Mazlish surmises that this was only a “temporary straying” which did not affect the undying love of wife and husband, and that Marx would have avoided any more permanent affair lest it imperil his marriage. Yet there is reason to think that the “straying” was known to his wife and bitterly resented by her. On one occasion Marx complained to Engels of his wife’s “floods of tears”; that letter was written not, as Mazlish says, upon the death of their oldest child (in November 1850), but in July 1851, a few weeks after the birth of Helene’s child. To another friend he railed against the “idiotic talebearers” whose colossal “tactlessness” was adding to his wife’s misery. A short autobiographical memoir written years later by his wife contains a cryptic allusion to this unhappy summer; and her single passing reference to their lifelong family retainer contrasts sharply with her loving description of Helene’s sister, who worked for them only a few years.2 Even if the affair was terminated after the birth of the child, Lenchen’s continued presence in the household might well have been a source of suspicion and jealousy, all the more because the family was so dependent upon her. It was she who dealt with the pawnbrokers, nursed the parents as well as children through their numerous illnesses, and ran the household almost as if she were mistress of the house.

All of this, one might think, would be grist for the psychologist’s mill, especially in view of Marx’s celebrated pronouncements on the nature of the family. If Marxism is Marx writ large, if there is a necessary “correspondence,” as Mazlish claims, between his life and his thought, surely Marx’s marital and extramarital affairs must have some bearing on his theory that marriage under capitalism was nothing more than a form of “prostitution.” His own experience (as well as that of Engels, whose mistress had been a worker in his father’s factory) throws into sharp relief the famous passage in the Communist Manifesto: “Our bourgeois, not content with having the wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives.” Yet Mazlish is reluctant to establish that “correspondence,” concluding his brief account of this passage of the Manifesto with the dismissive comment: “Rather than diverting his readers from his main message, however, Marx’s animadversions on such subjects were merely titillating.”

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There is another subject, however, on which Marx’s “animadversions” cannot be so lightly passed over. By now the evidence of his anti-Semitism has been so amply demonstrated that one should not have to labor the point. It is often said, by way of extenuation, that the animus against Judaism expressed in the essay “On the Jewish Question,” published in 1844, was really an attack on religion and capitalism. But this does not gainsay the fact that it was Judaism that Marx singled out as the most heinous form of religion, and that it was the Jews whom he identified with capitalism at its worst. Nor can it be denied that these views were part of the classic repertoire of anti-Semitism:

What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly god? Money. . . .

Money is the jealous god of Israel, in face of which no other god may exist. Money degrades all the gods of man—and turns them into commodities. . . .

The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange. . . .

The chimerical nationality of the Jew is the nationality of the merchant, of the man of money in general.

Nor was it only in this essay that Marx presented the Jew as the archetype of the bourgeois. The German Ideology, written the following year, compared the attitude of the bourgeois to the institutions of his regime with the attitude of the Jew to the law: “He evades them whenever it is possible to do so in each individual case, but he wants everyone else to observe them.” Just as marriage, property, and the family continue to be the conditions of bourgeois existence even when they are violated, so “the constantly evaded law makes the religious Jew a religious Jew.” Nor was it only the “young Marx” (he was twenty-six when “On the Jewish Question” was published) who thought so ill of the Jews. One of his articles in the New York Daily Tribune, written a dozen years after this essay, was an all too familiar diatribe against Jewish financiers:

Thus we find every tyrant backed by a Jew, as is every Pope by a Jesuit. In truth, the cravings of oppressors would be hopeless, and the practicability of war out of the question, if there were not an army of Jesuits to smother thought and a handful of Jews to ransack pockets. . . . The fact that 1855 years ago Christ drove the Jewish money-changers out of the temple, and that the money-changers of our age enlisted on the side of tyranny happen again chiefly to be Jews, is perhaps no more than a historical coincidence. The loan-mongering Jews of Europe do only on a large and more obnoxious scale what many others do on one smaller and less significant. But it is only because the Jews are so strong that it is timely and expedient to expose and stigmatize their organization.3

One does not have to be a convert from Judaism to be anti-Semitic. But it surely makes the situation more piquant, especially for the psychobiographer. In a footnote Mazlish refers to Marx’s characterization of Ferdinand Lassalle, his socialist “friend,” as “the Jewish Nigger.” (Marx was as given to racist epithets as to anti-Semitic ones; in Lassalle he saw the worst features of both “races”—the evidence, he said, of the mingling of the races in Moses’s time.) But Mazlish’s attention is especially caught, in the essay “On the Jewish Question,” by the words “egoism” and “money” which Marx “reified” in the Jew. Those words, Mazlish explains, echoed the earlier complaints of his father, as well as the familiar anti-Semitic accusations to which a “Jewish Christian” like Marx was susceptible. To restore his self-esteem, Marx took these sources of “potential self-loathing” and projected them outward. Thus he “stumbled on toward his fruitful insights about society, capitalism, and history.” And thus “he, who was alienated from his self, could glimpse the source of alienation in society.”

But the alienation was more serious than this suggests. For Marx was not only born a Jew; his forefathers, maternal as well as paternal, had for centuries produced an unbroken succession of rabbis. We are told that there were 260 Jews in Marx’s hometown, Trier (of a population of 12,000-15,000), but not that his uncle was chief rabbi of that small community during his youth. It is true, as Mazlish says, that many Jews at that time were converted—but not all that many with such a lineage. Disraeli, cited as one of the more prominent converts, did not repudiate his Jewish heritage; on the contrary, he invented one that was more distinguished, and more distinctively Jewish, than his real one. So far from being “alienated” from himself or from Judaism, he proudly affirmed himself to be of the “Hebrew race.” What remains to be explained is why one convert’s self-esteem was such that he regarded Jews as of a “superior race,” while another’s could only be restored by projecting his self-hatred onto that “race.”

Mazlish recognizes the anti-Semitic stereotype in Marx’s “reified” image of the Jew, and even goes so far as to say that his demand for the “emancipation” of mankind from Judaism brings us “close to the ravings of an Adolf Hitler.” But he hastens to add that this does not mean that Marx was a Nazi or “even an anti-Semite as such.” The overt message of his essay, we are told, is simply that “Judaism is a synonym for capitalism.” And the essay itself is “extraordinary” because it combines “the embryos of many of Marx’s most important and penetrating mature theories with a farrago of nonsense and almost incredibly bad reasoning.” Presumably it is his account of Judaism that is nonsensical, while his account of capitalism foreshadows the best of the “mature” Marx. But if Marx was so incredibly wrong about Judaism, may it not be that he was also wrong about its “synonym,” capitalism? If his theory about the Jewish role in capitalism is a “piece of exceptionally poor history,” can we be more confident of the role he assigned to the capitalists? It is, after all, this “outstanding historian of capitalism,” in the great work of his maturity, who described capitalists as “inwardly circumcised Jews.”

In fact the overt message of the essay is not only that Judaism is synonymous with capitalism but that a properly organized society has no room either for the “Sabbath Jew” or for the “secular Jew,” either for the Jewish religion or for the capitalism that is presumed to be its true essence. In both senses Judaism is said to represent an “anti-social element” that has to be “abolished.” Judaism is thus doubly damned: as a religion that promotes “false consciousness,” and as an economic interest that promotes exploitation. And the revolution that is to abolish capitalism will, by the same token, abolish Judaism. Is this not anti-Semitism “as such”? Is it any less anti-Semitic because it condemns Jews as a “class” as well as a religion? Is it not, indeed, more insidious because it gives anti-Semitism a new rationale and thus a new legitimacy and respectability?

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Mazlish’s discussion of the essay on Jews appears in the chapter entitled “Marx with a Human Face.” It is his thesis that the young Marx who wrote this essay is both the “human” and the “humanistic” Marx. Moreover, this is the “one Marx,” the Marx who, in youth as in maturity, was dedicated to the principle of “universal human emancipation.” Whatever contradictions there might seem to be between the early writings and the later ones are said to be unified by the “self,” the “human being expressing his deepest feelings, wishes, and thoughts in his life work.”

This is a curious way to resolve a controversy that has divided Marxist scholars for decades. One suspects that it will not dispose of that controversy, that there will remain those who think it possible for a “self,” a “human being,” to change his “feelings, wishes, and thoughts” so significantly as to warrant the distinction between “young” and “mature” (or “early” and “late,” as is often said). One can even cite Marx and Engels in support of that distinction: the Communist Manifesto, for example, where they ridiculed ideas, such as the “alienation of humanity,” which they themselves had once espoused; or Engels’s refusal to reissue Marx’s early writings, recalling that they had willingly abandoned The German Ideology to the “gnawings of the mice.”

If Mazlish’s justification of the “one Marx” theory is less than persuasive, one can nevertheless see why he, like so many commentators these days, insists upon it so strenuously. For this permits the “mature Marx” to be “humanized” by association with the “young Marx.” Thus the “scientific socialism” of the Communist Manifesto, Capital, and the other later works can be represented as a form of “scientific humanism.” Some readers, to be sure, might find it difficult to see evidence of a humanistic Marx even in the young Marx—in his essay on the Jewish question, for example. Yet it is true that compared with his later writings the earlier ones do tend to be less mechanistic, materialistic, and deterministic—less rigorous in assigning a necessary course to history, less insistent upon subsuming individuals under the categories of class, less reductivist in deriving the “superstructure” of society (culture, politics, philosophy, law, social relations, and institutions) from the “means of production.” In the present climate of opinion the early Marx is more congenial than the later: “alienation” sounds more profound than “exploitation,” and “universal human emancipation” is more agreeable than the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” By focusing on the young Marx, one can dissociate oneself not only from the Marxism that has become an instrument of tyranny, but also from the Marxist theories that have been so conspicuously belied by history: the polarization of classes and pauperization of the proletariat, the collapse of capitalism and universal triumph of Communism, the withering away of the state and emergence of a classless society.4

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The psychobiographer has additional reason to subscribe to the “one Marx” theory. It is difficult enough to establish any plausible correspondence between the life and thought of a “unified” self, still more difficult to establish such a correspondence in the case of a thinker whose ideas changed significantly. What was there in Marx’s personal life to make him reject the Young Hegelianism of his youth and embrace the deterministic, materialistic creed of “classic” Marxism? And what induced him to deny, so systematically and ruthlessly, the realities of his own life? This denial may be the most significant psychological fact about him. For Marx was a philosopher who denied the legitimacy of philosophy, an intellectual who denied the autonomy of ideas, a materialist who denied the materialistic basis of his own life and thought, an atheist who denied the religion of his youth as well as that of his forefathers, a revolutionary who denied any saving grace, any redemptive value, to his own class, to his native land, to the country that gave him refuge, to the world that, by his own account, made him what he was.

It is here that the psychologist has most to contribute to our understanding of Marx, for he is an expert on the phenomenon of “denial.” In a footnote Mazlish comments on the pattern in Marx’s “repudiations”: “Unable himself to be an academic philosopher, he demands the abolition of philosophy. It is as if he were saying, ‘If I can’t be a philosopher, nobody will be one.’ ” Marx was indeed a philosopher, even, in a sense, an “academic” one. In denying the reality of philosophy, he was denying the very “self” that is invoked as the unifying principle of his life and thought.

The same footnote comments on Marx’s habit of turning against his mentors and destroying them. This “cannibalistic trait” is said to be part of his “enormous creativity, a lived dialectic.” But this does not quite account for the nastiness of his polemics (especially against those from whom he had learned and borrowed most), the ad-hominem nature of his arguments (the name-calling and mockery), or the obsessive length to which he carried his feuds. Nor does it account for the scatological quality of so much of his rhetoric. A casual reader might find nothing offensive in his remark to his daughter: “I am a machine condemned to devour books and then to hurl them transformed onto the dunghill of history”; or in his letter commiserating with Engels on the death of his mistress, Mary Burns, who had given him a home “free and secluded from human filth” (Menschendreck). But a psychologist might find some significance in the persistent use of such language, might even be given pause by a “humanistic” Marx who could speak so casually of “human filth.” (The letter to Engels deserves mention if only because Engels was so deeply offended by it. Except for this callous postscript referring to Mary Burns, the letter was almost entirely devoted to a recital of Marx’s own financial difficulties.)

It was not only in private discourse that Marx lapsed into gutter language. Some of the most blatant examples appear in Herr Vogt, a two-hundred page book upon which he expended much time and effort and which he printed at his own expense. (This is not a work of juvenilia; it was written in 1860, between the Critique of Political Economy and Capital.) The book contains, among other choice specimens of vituperation, an attack on Moses Levy, the editor of the Daily Telegraph, who had incurred Marx’s wrath by criticizing two of his articles. Marx jeers at Levy for trying to pass himself off as an “Anglo-Saxon” by changing his name from Levi to Levy, when “Mother Nature in extravagantly Gothic writing had inscribed his family tree in the middle of his face.” (Of the 22,000 Levis [Levites] whom Moses led in the wilderness, Marx remarks, not a single one spelled his name with a “y.” One recalls that Marx’s own grandfather was a Levi and that “Marx” itself was a Germanized version of Mordechai.) He then goes on to describe at some length that organ in the middle of the face—“an elephant’s trunk, antenna, lighthouse, and telegraph”—which permits Levy to sniff out dirty smells a hundred miles away. It is no exaggeration, Marx assures the reader, to say that “Levy writes his paper with his nose.” And the paper itself (here the metaphor changes slightly) is nothing else than a stinking sewer:

By means of an ingenious system of concealed plumbing, all the lavatories of London empty their physical refuse into the Thames. In the same way every day the capital of the world spews out all its social refuse through a system of goose quills, and it pours out into a great central paper sewer—the Daily Telegraph. Lie-big rightly criticizes the senseless wastefulness which robs the Thames of its purity and the English soil of its manure. Levy, however, the proprietor of this central paper sewer, is an expert not only in chemistry, but even in alchemy. Having transformed the social refuse of London into newspaper articles, he transforms the newspaper articles into copper, and finally the copper into gold. At the entrance which leads to the central paper sewer, the following words are written di colore oscuro: “hic . . . quisquam faxit oletum,” or as Byron translated it so poetically: “Wanderer, stop and—piss!”5

There are other subjects that might intrigue a psychologist—the carbuncles, for example, which plagued Marx intermittently for almost thirty years. These festering, ulcerous sores, emitting a stench almost as disagreeable as the pain itself, afflicted at one time or another almost every part of his body—his eyes, mouth, and ears, his chest, buttocks, even his penis. The attacks were worse during the writing of Capital, provoking the often-quoted remark to Engels: “Whatever happens, I hope the bourgeoisie, as long as they exist, will have cause to remember my carbuncles.” Surely those carbuncles deserve more than the casual comment that they “now seem to us psychosomatic,” or the reference to Marx, at the very end of the book, as “that great creative spirit with carbuncles.”

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The lacunae in this study become more perplexing when one considers Mazlish’s early work. Mazlish has been the most dedicated and prolific of psychohistorians, applying the theories of psychoanalysis to historical and contemporary subjects alike: James Mill and John Stuart Mill, Nixon, Kissinger, and Carter, and a group of “revolutionary ascetics” ranging from Cromwell and Robespierre to Lenin and Mao. These books utilize such familiar Freudian concepts as the Oedipus conflict and sibling rivalry, aggression and regression, repression and sublimation, compensation and displacement, transference and overdetermination, anality and orality, masculinity and femininity. It may seem churlish, for someone who found these concepts applied mechanically and arbitrarily in the other cases, to point out now that they have not been applied at all. Yet their absence—like the dog that did not bark in the night—may be the clue to some of the oddities of the book.

In a single parenthetical statement, midway in the introduction, Mazlish explains that this is not intended as a “psychohistorical study”:

(I might add that my attention to Marx’s individuality is not in terms of a psychohistorical study. Such a study, unlike this one, aims at a systematic application of specific psychological concepts and theories to its subject. I must also add that I cannot imagine any historical treatment, mine included, that is not informed by a particular sort of psychological understanding.)

It is a tantalizing statement. What is one to make of a study of Marx’s “individuality” which is not “psychohistorical” but is “informed” by a particular “psychological understanding”? If it is a different “understanding” from that provided by psychoanalysis, which Mazlish has always insisted upon as the basis of psychohistory, might we not expect to be told what that new understanding is? And if he is still committed to psychoanalysis, how can an adequate study of Marx as a “living human being” be “informed” by that theory, yet forgo all the concepts crucial to it? The issue goes beyond this book, for it involves not only our understanding of the “real meaning” of Marx, which is a serious enough matter, but also our understanding of psychohistory. In his book on Nixon—the “real” Nixon, as he then said—Mazlish argued that psychohistory is more scientific than conventional history because it is based on psychoanalysis, which is a “scientific system of concepts, based on clinical data.” Is he now retreating from that claim? Is he suggesting that we can understand the “real” Marx without inquiring into his infancy and childhood, or his relations with his mother and siblings, or his “psychosomatic” ailments?

Or is all this only a temporary retreat, a prudential suspension of the doctrine in the interests of some immediate purpose—the purpose, perhaps, of creating a “Marx with a human face,” without the warts (and carbuncles) that might disfigure that face? A comparison of this book with the earlier ones is suggestive. In the case of John Stuart Mill, for example, Mazlish made much of the phrase “lower classes” (which, in fact, Mill did not use) as symptomatic of Mill’s aversion both to the populace and to sex—“lower” signifying the “baser” parts of the body, thus implying that sexuality is “low” or “dirty.” Here there is no mention of a more dramatic example of such imagery: Marx’s famous description of the “lumpenproletariat” as “the ‘dangerous class,’ the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society.” Nor are there any specimens of Marx’s scatological-cum-sexual imagery. Imagine what Mazlish would have made of a similar quotation from Nixon:

You know that Heine is dead, but you do not know that Ludwig Simon of Trier had pissed on his grave—I meant to say, passed water—in the New York Neue Zeit. . . . The poet or troubadour of the Jewess Madame High-shit, High-ash, or High-lime of Frankfurt am Main discovers, naturally, that Heine was no poet. He had “no soul,” was full of “malevolence,” and slandered not only Kobe’s but even Berne’s lady-friend, the great Berne’s “mouse,” muse, or cunt, the Strauss woman.

Or imagine what he would have said had any of his other subjects been dependent on the largesse of another man? Or had any of them fathered an illegitimate son who was banished in infancy and totally ignored, without any hint of remorse or guilt? Or had two of their daughters, their only surviving children, committed suicide?

Nixon’s anti-Communism was explained as a reflection of his “authoritarian personality” and “paranoiac fears.” But Marx’s Communism is not seen as a reflection of his “dictatorial character”; nor, in spite of his notoriously bad relations with other socialists, is there any intimation that he was paranoiac. Nor is there any psychoanalytic interpretation of his crucial ideas. In the book on James and John Stuart Mill, political economy is identified with the libido economy, money with semen, spending with ejaculating, saving with abstinence, capitalist entrepreneurs with phallic types. Here there are no such interpretations, surplus value, for example, appearing in its conventional form as a purely economic concept. And Capital itself is treated not psychoanalytically but historically, even theologically: this “magnificent historical drama” is “the story of how capitalists exploited the workers in 19th-century England”; it is Marx’s chosen instrument in his eschatological mission, the “Worker’s Bible” rescuing man from the purgatory of capitalism and showing him the way to his “future salvation.”

This view of Capital would hardly survive the kind of psychoanalytic treatment accorded the Mills. If surplus value is related to sexual abstinence, what does this do to the drama of exploitation and redemption? If capitalist entrepreneurs are phallic types, what does this make of the workers—or, indeed, of socialists who would abolish capitalist enterprise? It has, in fact, been suggested by others that socialism represents a “feminization” of politics and society; but this is not the conclusion we are expected to draw from his work.

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Mazlish’s own conclusion is quite explicit. Marx, we are told in the epilogue, was “a great creative battler, always striving for a better world.” As a doctrine or ideology, to be sure, Marxism is “outmoded.” (So, Mazlish hastens to add, is capitalist ideology.) But however outmoded, Marxism is with us today and we must accommodate to it. The slogan “Better dead than Red” is the invention of “violent anti-Marxists” who believe that Communism is a “monstrous evil, a world in the hands of the devil”; rather than living with that evil, they prefer to “bring the world crashing down on all our heads.” Against that “simple-minded notion,” Mazlish argues that Marxism is not “evil incarnate,” that whatever its flaws, it remains “a human, not inhuman, creation, with the potentiality for creating viable cultures . . ., one among a number of current ways of organizing human societies.” The problems confronting humanity today go beyond the “quarrels” of capitalism and Communism; they have to do with overpopulation, depletion of resources, pollution, and above all nuclear holocaust. In the face of such pressing concerns, “détente, coexistence, whatever one may call it, is the order of the day.” This policy should be carried out not grudgingly but wholeheartedly, in the “spirit of mutuality,” the spirit of Marx’s favorite maxim, “Nothing human is alien to me.” As Marx wrestled with the crisis of his time, so we must with ours. “This is the final meaning inhering in the life and work of Karl Marx.”

And this is the final sentence and message of this book. One wonders what Marx himself would have made of it—Marx whose entire work was dedicated to the proposition that Communism could not coexist with capitalism, that the struggle between the two was a struggle unto death (the death, needless to say, of capitalism), and whose personal life testified to his own inability to coexist even with his fellow socialists, let alone with the class enemy. One also wonders whether any of the critics of “détente, coexistence, whatever one may call it” (appeasement, perhaps?) could be quite as simple-minded and inhuman as those “violent anti-Marxists” who want to bring the world “crashing down on our heads,” or whether there is not something egregiously simple-minded and inhuman about a catalogue of the urgent problems of our time that includes pollution but not freedom or democracy.

It would be charitable to ignore the epilogue, if it did not help account for so much that is unsatisfactory in the book as a whole. For that political message explains the inadequate, curiously half-hearted psychological analysis. Any serious psychological study, certainly any psychoanalytical study, would reveal a “human” Marx who is, alas, all too human—which is to say, a human being with more than his share of faults and vices. So too any serious intellectual study would reveal a Marx whose writings (especially his major, “mature” writings) are so deterministic and materialistic, so uncompromising in denying the autonomy of mind, religion, law, government, literature, morals, as to forfeit the title of “humanist.”

_____________

 


Footnotes

1 Oxford, 188 pp., $17.95.

2 If the evidence is inconclusive it is because so much was deliberately destroyed. This memoir, for example, is a thirty-seven page manuscript of which eight pages are missing. Most of Marx's correspondence was destroyed, first by Engels after Marx's death, and then by Marx's daughters after Engels's death.

3 This article is omitted from both the modern German edition of the Werke of Marx and Engels and from the latest English edition of their Collected Works, as well as from a volume of their American Journalism (although the latter includes it in the appendix listing their contributions to the Tribune and attributes it specifically to Marx). My own attention was drawn to it by W. H. Chaloner and W. O. Henderson in Encounter.

4 It is important to remember that the only Marx known to Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and Mao, who proudly bore the banner of Marxism and made it the official creed of “almost half the planetary inhabitants,” was the later Marx. Only in the 1930's did most of the writings of the young Marx begin to be published, and only after World War II did they become well known. One of the few early writings that was available was “On the Jewish Question,” which was reprinted in the German socialist press toward the end of the 19th century and was widely quoted and praised.

5 The original Latin phrase, from Persius's Satires, includes the word veto: “Here it is forbidden to defecate.” In Marx's rendition, it becomes: “Here it is permitted to defecate.” In this instance and many others, the translation in the English edition has been much sanitized.

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