That Devil Marx
The Red Prussian: The Life and Legend of Karl Marx.
by Leopold Schwarzschild.
New York, Scribner’s, 1947. 422 pp. $4.00.
This is the case of the prosecution against Karl Marx. The original indictment handed in some years ago by E. H. Carr was critical but sober. Now Leopold Schwarzschild rings all the changes in the repertory of the trial attorney. He exploits every bit of circumstantial evidence and tears to tatters the moral character of the accused. This is understandable, since the principal charge is difficult to sustain. The charge is that Marx is responsible for all the totalitarian evils of our time. He fathered Bolshevism and thereby grandfathered Nazism. “ . . . it is because of Marx that the rest of the world has for years been obliged to sacrifice one after another its liberal traditions to the necessity of self-preservation.”
The question naturally arises, how is it that former biographers of Marx failed to see this? Our author has a plausible answer. He says they overlooked the criminal because they did not know a crime had been committed. The corpus delicti has only recently turned up. “. . . the fruit [totalitarianism] which makes known the tree has in the meantime ripened and assumed tangible form.” It was probably such reasoning that made David Hume despair of the existence of causes altogether.
Circumstantial evidence holds a certain dangerous fascination for rough-and-ready common sense. (If Socrates could marry Xantippe, was he really as bright as he is supposed to have been?) Thus Mr. Schwarzschild: Marx once organized a club which was ostensibly democratic but really a vehicle for communist ideas; his “fertile mind” had discovered the “front organization,” which was to plague radical politics down to our own day. Next, exasperated by constant frustration, he invented character assassination as a political technique. “The whole world round there was always to be the old Marxian recipe for the defamation of one’s brothers in Marxism: ‘the party has been sold out,’ ‘they have betrayed the movement,’ ‘they show themselves as common scoundrels.’ And the driving force behind this defamation was always the same the whole world round—an insane desire for power and domination.”
Mr. Schwarzschild presents Marx as a lazy and unprincipled braggart, a malingerer with a keen but rabbinical mind, a procrastinator with a persecution complex and no “inner warmth,” an irresponsible who could not even make a living. He craved to run a country, preferably a large one, and to make his “little Jenny . . . the first lady of Paris; or of Trier; or Prussia; of God knows where.” The proletariat was merely an army to carry him to a throne. And he refused to describe the future society, not because it was a hard thing to do in an age when carefully-contrived Utopias were going to pieces, but because he could not disclose his plot to establish a system of muted slaves. His ideal was “a super-Prussian termite State, run by a sub-Prussian method.”
Now it is true that our world is in a bad way, that the influence of Marx upon it has been considerable, and that Marx’s personality was not irresistibly attractive. It is also true that a man’s private character is pertinent to his public character. Even the pure scientists are discovering today that their personal ideals and aims are vitally related to their work. And for statesmen and social philosophers this has always been true. But Mr. Schwarzschild has loaded the dice against Marx’s private character and even then has not bothered to connect it with his public striving. Marx was a great man. Many of his “vices” as we see them here are merely reflections of his biographer’s myopia.
Mr. Schwarzschild seems to think that making a living is some sort of virtue; I suppose he would say that making a very good living is divine grace itself. He seems to think that procrastination—especially when it means failure to deliver manuscripts on time to a publisher—is a crime. And he thinks he has established the larger point of Marx’s destruction of liberalism by saying simply that the fate of freedom and justice under socialism is “logically determined by [Marx’s] character as a human being.” Was Marx omnipotent, that he could foist his own evil upon a plastic world? Are we all mice?
Mr. Schwarzschild’s prosecution fails. And in nothing is its failure more apparent than in the means of covering it up. Mr. Schwarzschild attacks everything Marx liked, and—which is not necessary even for his purposes—he defends everything Marx attacked. Marx was a product of philosophical training; all philosophy is silly and sterile. Marx opposed Bismarck; Bismarck was a paragon of liberalism and cosmopolitanism. (You would have thought that the Iron Chancellor was at least as “Prussian” as Marx.) And critical examination is replaced by fantasy and pseudo-psychology:
“One day he was wandering home from the library. He was sick to death of economics. If he could only permit himself to free his thoughts from the unworthy fetters of facts and dates, and let them soar once more into the pure ether of speculation. What was he, after all: Pegasus or a cab-horse? An eagle of the spirit, soaring majestically above things in their entirety, or a frog, sitting in a swamp and snapping at flies? He was seized with an angry homesickness for the high-minded discussions about God, the World Spirit, the Absolute Idea, and the nature of the all-powerful Hegelian engine which sets in motion the history of mankind. What devil had seduced him into exchanging the high ideas of philosophy for the insipidities of economics?
“Suddenly he stood still. A crazy thought had struck him. Before his mind’s eye a thread was spinning its way in bizarre curves from philosophy to economics. The all-powerful engine! The great ‘It’! Could it be that economics was the great ‘It’? A gust of wind blew down the street. Marx grabbed his hat. An interesting thought! A colossal thought!
“The discovery was that economics is the force that rules the world. Everything which has ever happened or ever will happen among human beings, has always had, and always will have, an economic cause.”
Exhausted by four hundred pages of such talk, the defense rests.