Saturday, 10 November 2018

Karl Marx: ‘Howling Gigantic Curses’

Paul Johnson, in his essay “Karl Marx: ‘Howling Gigantic Curses’,” (Chapter 3; Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky, by Paul Johnson), says that Karl Marx had a taste for violence and he lusted for power. Here’s an excerpt:
The undertone of violence always present in Marxism and constantly exhibited by the actual behavior of Marxist regimes was a projection of the man himself. Marx lived his life in an atmosphere of extreme verbal violence, periodically exploding into violent rows and sometimes physical assault. Marx’s family quarrels were almost the first thing his future wife, Jenny von Westphalen, noticed about him. At Bonn University the police arrested him for possessing a pistol and he was very nearly sent down; the university archives show he engaged in student warfare, fought a duel and got a gash on his left eye. His rows within the family darkened his father’s last years and led eventually to a total breach with his mother. One of Jenny’s earliest surviving letters reads: ‘Please do not write with so much rancor and irritation,’ and it is clear that many of his incessant rows arose from the violent expressions he was prone to use in writing and still more in speech, the latter often aggravated by alcohol. Marx was not an alcoholic but he drank regularly, often heavily and sometimes engaged in serious drinking bouts. Part of his trouble was that, from his mid-twenties, Marx was always an exile living almost exclusively in expatriate, mainly German, communities in foreign cities. He rarely sought acquaintances outside them and never tried to integrate himself. Moreover, the expatriates with whom he always associated were themselves a very narrow group interested wholly in revolutionary politics. This in itself helps to explain Marx’s tunnel-vision of life, and it would be difficult to imagine a social background more likely to encourage his quarrelsome nature, for such circles are notorious for their ferocious disputes. According to Jenny, the rows were perpetual except in Brussels. In Paris his editorial meetings in the Rue des Moulins had to be held behind closed windows so that people outside could not hear the endless shouting. 
There is nothing in Josef Stalin’s political method that is not distantly prefigured in Marx’s violent and boorish behavior. Johnson says: “That Marx, once established in power, would have been capable of great violence and cruelty seems certain. But of course he was never in a position to carry out large-scale revolution, violent or otherwise, and his pent-up rage therefore passed into his books, which always have a tone of intransigence and extremism.”

Marx led the life of a bohemian intellectual. He rarely washed, groomed or changed his clothes, and he was often drunk. Johnson traces Marx’s angry behavior to his unhealthy lifestyle:
[Marx] led a peculiarly unhealthy life, took very little exercise, ate highly spiced food, often in large quantities, smoked heavily, drank a lot, especially strong ale, and as a result had constant trouble with his liver. He rarely took baths or washed much at all. This, plus his unsuitable diet, may explain the veritable plague of boils from which he suffered for a quarter of a century. They increased his natural irritability and seem to have been at their worst while he was writing Capital. ‘Whatever happens,’ he wrote grimly to Engels, ‘I hope the bourgeoisie as long as they exist will have cause to remember my carbuncles.’ The boils varied in numbers, size and intensity but at one time or another they appeared on all parts of his body, including his cheeks, the bridge of his nose, his bottom, which meant he could not write, and his penis. In 1873 they brought on a nervous collapse marked by trembling and huge bursts of rage.
The Marxists claim that their theory is scientific, but Johnson notes that Marx was neither a scientist nor a scholar. Marx did not care for the truth, his only interest was to proclaim his political viewpoint. He had the tendency to look for facts which would support his preconceived political theory. He indulged in deliberate and systematic falsification to prove his thesis that capitalism had worsened the plight of the workers.

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