It was natural as I drove with Karl Hirsch to make the acquaintance of Karl Marx in his modest dwelling on Haverstock Hill that my mind should go back to the visit I paid to Mazzini in the Fulham Road years before. Different and even antagonistic as the two men were in many respects, and bitter as was their struggle for control in the “International,” when Marx was in the long run completely successful, they were alike in that they both had given up their lives entirely to an ideal, had remained in poor circumstances when power and ease and comfort were at their disposal and had exercised a personal and intellectual effect on the youth of their generation quite unequalled, I think, by any two other men of their time.
That Marx’s was far the more powerful mind cannot be disputed. Writing now more than a quarter of a century after his death, it is clear to all the world not only that his analysis of the capitalist system of production stands alone, as the sole exhaustive work on the subject in existence, but that his theories in regard to the materialist basis of history are steadily supplanting in the main all other views and that his general influence is increasing every day. In fact, no economic or sociologic contributions to the science of human development can be complete at the present time without taking full account of Marx’s profound investigations. Mazzini, on the other hand, who during his life enjoyed a far greater popular reputation, has ceased to produce any vivifying effect on current thought. Having known both men well I should say that while Mazzini’s influence on those around him was personal and individually ethical, Marx’s was almost wholly intellectual and scientific. I should not venture, however, to compare two great men of such widely-different personalities and race so long after death had they not been actual rivals during life. My own view is that I approached Mazzini with admiration for his character and remained devoted to him for his elevation of thought and conduct, and that I went to Marx compelled to recognise a supreme analytic genius and eager to learn as a student.
And so I found myself with Hirsch at 41 Maitland Park Road and, ushered in by their old and trusty servant, saw Marx in the large room, on the first floor facing the gardens, which he used as his study. I wonder whether any great man fully bears out the conception you have formed of him before meeting him. I presume not. The first impression of Marx as I saw him was that of a powerful, shaggy, untamed old man, ready, not to say eager, to enter into conflict and rather suspicious himself of immediate attack. Yet his greeting to us was cordial and his first remarks to me, after I had told him what a great pleasure and honour I felt it to be to shake hands with the author of the Capital, were agreeable enough; for he told me he had read my articles on India with pleasure and had commented on them favourably in his newspaper correspondence. We were with him at that time for fully two hours and it did not take me long to appreciate that Marx’s conversation was quite on a level with his writing.
When speaking with fierce indignation of the policy of the Liberal Party, especially in regard to Ireland, the old warrior’s small deep-sunk eyes lighted up, his heavy brows wrinkled, the broad, strong nose and face were obviously moved by passion, and he poured out a stream of vigorous denunciation, which displayed alike the heat of his temperament and the marvellous command he possessed over our language. The contrast between his manner and utterance when thus deeply stirred by anger and his attitude when giving his views on the economic events of the period was very marked. He turned from the role of prophet and vehement denunciator to that of the calm philosopher without any apparent effort, and I felt from the first that on this latter ground many a long year might pass before I ceased to be a student in the presence of a master.
I had been surprised in reading the Capital and still more when perusing his smaller works, such as his pronouncement on the Commune of Paris and his XVIIIth Brumaire, how he combined the ablest and coolest examination of economic causes and social effects with the most bitter hatred of classes and even of individual men such as Napoleon III and M. Thiers, who, according to his own theories, were little more than flies upon the wheels of the great Juggernaut car of capitalist development. Marx, of course, was a Jew, and to me it seemed that he combined in his own person and nature, with his commanding forehead and great overhanging brow, his fierce glittering eyes, broad sensitive nose and mobile mouth, all surrounded by a setting of untrimmed hair and beard, the righteous fury of the great seers of his race, with the cold analytical powers of Spinoza and the Jewish doctors. It was an extraordinary combination of qualities, the like of which I have known in no other man.
As I went out with Hirsch deeply impressed by the great personality we had left, Hirsch asked me what I thought of him. “Well,” I replied, “I think he is the Aristotle of the Nineteenth Century.” And yet as I said it I knew that this did not cover the ground. For one thing it was quite impossible to think of Marx as acting the courtier to Alexander while carrying on the profound studies which have so deeply influenced later generations, and besides he never so wholly segregated himself from immediate human interests – notwithstanding much that has been said to the contrary – as to be able to consider facts and their surroundings in the cold hard light of the greatest philosopher of antiquity. There can be no doubt whatever that his hatred of the system of exploitation and wage-slavery by which he was surrounded was not only intellectual and philosophic but bitterly personal.
I remember saying to him once that as I grew older I thought I became more tolerant. “Do you,” he said, “do you?” It was quite certain he didn’t. It has been, I think, Marx’s deep animosity to the existing order of things and his scathing criticism of his opponents which has prevented many of the educated well-to-do class from appreciating his masterly life-work at its full value, and has rendered third-rate sciolists and logomachers, like Böhm-Bawerk, such heroes in their eyes, merely because they have misrepresented and attempted to “refute” him. Accustomed as we are nowadays, especially in England, to fence always with big soft buttons on the point of our rapiers, Marx’s terrible onslaughts with naked steel upon his adversaries appeared so improper that it was impossible for our gentlemanly sham-fighters and mental gymnasium men to believe that this unsparing controversialist and furious assailant of capital and capitalists was really the deepest thinker of modern times. A very superficial acquaintance with the controversial writings of Thomas More or John Milton would have enabled them to understand Marx from this point of view a great deal better. He was fighting to a finish all through his life, and that finish will be protracted, I venture to predict, until his greatness is universally recognised.
But in 1880 it is scarcely too much to say that Marx was practically unknown to the English public, except as a dangerous and even desperate advocate of revolution, whose organisation of the “International” had been one of the causes of the horrible Commune of Paris, which all decent respectable people shuddered at and thought of with horror. Very few well-known Englishmen ever saw him, and of those who were well acquainted with him, I think my old friend Professor Beesly is the only one whose name would be generally recognised as that of a leader of opinion. I consider myself fortunate, therefore, that I was at this time able to get to know him as well as I did.
Marx’s health was now failing. His more than Herculean labours on his great book had sapped his marvellously strong constitution. No wonder. He would be at the British Museum when the doors opened in the morning and would leave only when they closed at night. Then, after his return home, he would again work on, giving himself only a short rest and time for food, until the early hours of the morning. Sixteen hours a day was quite an ordinary day’s work for him, and not unfrequently he put in an hour or two more. And such work as it was too! It was not surprising that he was now forbidden to do any writing or thinking after his evening meal. This was a serious privation to him but it gave me for a few months the opportunity of calling upon him, when I knew he would be disengaged, and of learning from him more directly and more personally than I could have done in any other way. Thus it came about that, at the close of 1880 and the beginning of 1881, I had the advantage of very frequent conversations with the Doctor, and gained a view of himself and his genius, his vast erudition and his masterly survey of human life which I think was accessible to very few outside his immediate family circle.
Our method of talking was peculiar. Marx had a habit when at all interested in the discussion of walking actively up and down the room, as if he were pacing the deck of a schooner for exercise. I had acquired, on my long voyages, the same tendency to pacing to and fro when my mind was much occupied. Consequently, master and student could have been seen walking up and down on opposite sides of the table for two or three hours in succession, engaged in discussing the affairs of the past and the present. I frequently spoke with him about the Chartist movement, whose leaders he had known well and by whom, as their writings show, he was greatly esteemed. He was entirely sympathetic with my idea of reviving the Chartist organisation, but doubted its possibility; and when speaking of the likelihood of bringing about a great economic and social transformation in Great Britain politically and peacefully he said: “England is the one country in which a peaceful revolution is possible; but,” he added after a pause, “history does not tell us so.” “You English,” he said on another occasion, “like the Romans in many things are most like them in your ignorance of your own history.”
Great improvements have been made in this respect since Marx uttered this dictum; but even now it is humiliating to compare a clever educated Englishman’s knowledge of the history of his country with the knowledge which nearly all Irishmen have of the history of Ireland.
On the Eastern Question Marx was anti-Russian to the highest degree. This constituted a link between us. He regarded Russia under Czardom as inevitably the great support of reaction all over Europe, as she had been in 1848, and he could not understand how was it possible for any considerable portion of the people of this island, apart from the politicians, to regard the increase of Muscovite power and influence as other than a serious danger to Western civilisation. He carried this justifiable antagonism, unconsciously intensified maybe by his hereditary begettings and belongings and the atrocious treatment of his race in Russia, to an abnormal extent, and even accepted David Urquhart’s views on the East with a lack of direct investigation that surprised me in a man of so critical a mind. But all must be weak somewhere, and the weaknesses of this great thinker lay in his judgment of current events and practical measures, as well as in his estimate of men.
The exquisitely funny mistakes made by himself and Engels during the most successful period of the “International,” and their singularly autocratic view as to the rightful management of what was supposed to be a democratic body, have never been fully recorded. Members of the “International,” such as Hermann Jung, Adolphe Smith, Cremer, Vesinier, and others, have had too much respect for the magnificent work done by these men in the domain of theory to enlarge upon their defects or shortcomings in the region of practice. Those, however, who were behind the scenes and knew all that was going on might reasonably wonder how so strangely-composed a set of people should ever have had the influence and exercised the terrorising effect on society that at one period the “International” unquestionably did. The ideas were sound enough and the very possibility of their being accepted by the people occasioned the alarm. Marx, as has been wittily said, introduced the great industry into the field of international social revolution. But nearly fifty years later that system is scarcely yet an actual fact.
As to his judgment of men, it is enough to say that he was too tolerant in his estimates on one side and too bitter on the other; whilst even in the affairs of Germany he and Engels opposed Liebknecht’s policy of conciliation and consolidation with the Lassalle Party, when this was absolutely essential to the success of our movement in that country. It only shows what marvellous and unforgettable services he rendered to the cause of humanity and Socialism that all these minor errors have faded from memory, and only his splendid work in political economy, history and internationalism is remembered.
I asked him once how the conception of social surplus value and the social basis of exchange in social labour value occurred to him. He told me that the whole idea came upon him, as he was studying in Paris, like a flash, and that he believed the illuminating notion of the social economic forces of the time, working themselves out quite unconsciously and uncontrolled into monopoly and Socialism, beneath the anarchist competitions and antagonisms of the capitalist system, first arose in a co-ordinated shape from his perusal of the works of the early English Economists, Socialists, and Chartists. The conception once clearly formed in his mind and the materialist view of the development of history thoroughly grasped and verified, all the rest became merely a matter of the exposition of the theory and the piecing together of facts in accordance with, or in apparent opposition to, that theory. It is a great mistake to imagine that Marx had any desire to belittle his obligations to his predecessors, or to deprive them of any credit that was their due. He himself called my attention to books and pamphlets, other than those cited by himself in his works, which proved that the revolt against capitalist profit-making in its modern shape had not always been by any means wholly unconscious or ignorant of the real causes at work. Any new investigation of freshly-put thought on his own subject he welcomed with delight; nor was he much concerned about the wholesale plagiarisms from himself of which he might have reasonably complained.
In these matters, as in some others, Engels was far more exacting and arrogant than Marx was himself. Marx’s readiness to change his views when sufficient evidence was adduced against his own opinion was also much greater than is commonly supposed. Thus, when Lewis H. Morgan proved to Marx’s satisfaction in his Ancient Society that the gens and not the family was the social unit of the old tribal system and ancient society generally, Marx at once abandoned his previous opinions based upon Niebuhr and others, and accepted Morgan’s views. In other questions of less importance he was equally open, as indeed a man of his exceptional intellectual power could scarcely fail to be.
My close acquaintance with Marx at this period naturally brought my wife and myself into contact also with Mrs. Marx and their daughter Eleanor. Marx and Eleanor dined with us more than once in Devonshire Street, but Mrs. Marx was already too ill to leave the house. Mrs. Marx was a refined and. highly intelligent woman of great charm of manner and conversation. Come of an aristocratic family, her father being a statesman of the highest distinction in Hanover, she had committed an unforgivable offence against her caste by marrying the man of genius who was now her husband. From Mrs. Marx my wife heard much about Marx which brought him into far closer touch in our minds with the common life of common mortals.
They had suffered much for their opinions and had undergone many vicissitudes of fortune. On one occasion Marx himself being in great need went out to pawn some household silver. He was not particularly well dressed and his knowledge of English was not so good as it became later. The silver, unfortunately, as it turned out, bore the crest of the Duke of Argyll’s family, the Campbells, with which house Mrs. Marx was directly connected. Marx arrived at the Bank of the Three Balls and produced his spoons and forks. Saturday night, foreign Jew, dress untidy, hair and beard roughly combed, handsome silver, noble crest – evidently a very suspicious transaction indeed. So thought the pawnbroker to whom Marx applied. He therefore detained Marx, on some pretext, while he sent for the police. The policeman took the same view as the pawnbroker and also took poor Marx to the police station. There again appearances were strongly against him. “Saturday night, foreign Jew, handsome silver, noble crest, etc.”: the case was already decided before the investigation began. In vain Marx explained, in vain expostulated. His explanations were futile, his expostulations useless. To whom could he refer as to his respectability? Whence had he this handsome silver he was so anxious to get rid of? Why did he wait until dark to pledge the plate? There was nobody he could call in at the time. His truthful statement as to the origin of the spoons and forks was received with laughing incredulity. The number of the house where they lodged was not considered sufficient.
So Marx received the unpleasant hospitality of a police cell, while his anxious family mourned his disappearance, and awaited in trepidation the husband and father who did not come and the cash that they so badly needed. So Saturday night passed. So Sunday. Not until Monday was the founder of Scientific Socialism able to show conclusively, by the evidence of quite “respectable” friends resident in London, that he was not a thief and a burglar, and that the Campbell-crested silver was honestly his property. This story, which Mrs. Marx told us, half-laughingly, half-sorrowfully, has been told more than once before; but I tell it again here, as showing the sort of dangers to which the unwary foreigner is exposed in London from suspicious pawnbrokers, and even from our muchbelauded police; and also as a hint to other refugees whose necessities compel them to resort to their “uncle,” to enter upon the conference in daylight and not on a Saturday night when people are out of town.
But Marx’s poverty led him into more trouble than the temporary inconvenience of being locked up for thirty-six hours. Possibly I should not refer to this but for the serious effect it had upon my own relations with Marx himself. Engels, differing in this respect from Marx, had the money-getting faculty fairly well developed; and, having secured for himself a reasonable fortune by cotton-spinning in Lancashire at a comparatively early age, retired, had money at command, and devoted himself to studies in which he showed he was second, and second only, to Marx. I do not myself believe that Engels, whom I never spoke to, nor even saw, was a bad man, though certainly I have no reason personally to take other than a most unfavourable view of his character; but he was exacting, suspicious, jealous, and not disinclined to give full weight to the exchange value of his ready cash in his relations with those whom he helped.
Marx was, to put it in the common form, “under considerable pecuniary obligations” to Engels. This, Mrs. Marx could not bear to think of. Not that she did not recognise Engels’ services to her husband, but that she resented and deplored his influence over his great friend. She spoke of him to my wife more than once as Marx’s “evil genius,” and wished that she could relieve her husband from any dependence upon this able and loyal but scarcely sympathetic coadjutor. I was myself possessed at that time of good means, and though I am quite sure that neither Marx nor Mrs. Marx had the slightest idea that I either could or would take the place of Engels if need arose, I am equally certain that Engels thought I might do so, and, annoyed at the friendship and even intimacy which was growing up between Marx and myself in the winter and spring of 1880-1881, made up his mind to break down what he thought might be a rival influence to his own. The effect of all this came later.
Meanwhile, as I say, my friendship and regard for Marx grew rapidly. He told me much about Heine, with whom he had a long correspondence which has never even yet been published; about Lassalle, his appearance, his vigour, his curious spluttering utterance when excited; of his own struggle against Bakunin and the sad downfall of the International – all of which was of course of the greatest interest to me. I took up my friends, Boyd Kinnear and Butler Johnstone and introduced them to him; and one evening I recall when discussing Freligrath, Heine, Hervegh and other great German men of letters of the modern era, he insisted upon my reading out to himself and Butler Johnstone, Thompson’s (B.V.’s) translation of some of Heine’s smaller pieces, which he said were the best that had ever been done in any language.
I became, indeed, so much in the habit of calling upon him and talking with him that visitors were not unfrequently shown in as if I had not been there. It was in this way that I met the desperate Russian anarchist Hartmann, who had only that very day sought refuge in this country. The servant brought in his name, and Marx directed he should be shown up at once. I confess I disliked the appearance of the man very much indeed, and told Marx so. His reply to this, after Hartmann had gone, was pretty much what has passed into a proverb on the turf, “They run in all shapes.” So they do; but I should certainly pick my trusted “remover” of another shape than Hartmann’s. And yet I did the man an injustice. He did his work thoroughly, and feeling unsafe from the Muscovite mouchards sent to kidnap him even in London, this Jew conspirator betook himself to the Argentine Republic, where it is said he was followed by the Czar’s myrmidons and hounded on to destitution and death.
About this time Henry George’s Progress and Poverty began to produce a great effect upon the public mind, partly in consequence of the land question in Ireland, and even in Great Britain, being more to the front than it has been before or since in our day; partly because of the active manner in which it was pushed first in the Radical by William Webster and afterwards in the Liberal press; and partly on account of the bright journalistic merit of the book itself. Marx looked it through and spoke of it with a sort of friendly contempt: “The Capitalists’ last ditch,” he said. This view I scarcely shared. I saw the really extraordinary gaps in the work and its egregious blunderings in economics, but I also recognised, to an extent that Marx either could not or would not admit, the seductive attractiveness for the sympathetic, half-educated mob of its brilliant high-class journalese. I understood, as I thought, that it would induce people to think about economic problems who never could have been brought to read economic books pure and simple; and although I saw quite as clearly then as I do now that taxation of land values can be no solution whatever of the social question, I felt that agitation against any form of private property was better than the stereotyped apathy which prevailed all round us.
There was another opinion which I held and put to Marx, which also I repeated when I wrote a notice on George in the Saturday Review shortly after his lamented death. There is such a thing as teaching by error. It was, or so it seemed to be to me, quite impossible for any intelligent person to read through Progress and Poverty without detecting its gross economic mistakes. The glittering superficiality of George’s attacks upon private ownership of land must surely, I thought, lead the least observant to reflect upon the drawbacks to the private ownership of capital. When George stated that all which was not wages was rent, it seemed incredible that any one should fail to inquire who then takes profit and interest? What had become of them? Therefore, I argued, George will teach more by inculcating error than other men can impart by complete exposition of the truth. Marx would not hear of this as a sound contention. The promulgation of error could never be of any good to the people, that was his view. “To leave error unrefuted is to encourage intellectual immorality. For ten who go farther, a hundred may very easily stop with George, and the danger of this is too great to run.” So far Marx. Nevertheless, I still hold that George’s temporary success with his agitatory fallacies greatly facilitated the promulgation of Marx’s own theories in Great Britain, owing to the fact that the public mind had been stirred up to consider the social question, and political economy generally, by George’s easily read book. But that George’s fluent inconsequence should be uncongenial to Marx’s scientific mind is not surprising. George was a boy with a bright farthing dip fooling around within the radius of a man using an electric search-light.
The longer I knew Marx the more my admiration and regard for him increased, and the more I could appreciate the human side of his character. This modification of my view of him is, I think, unintentionally apparent in what I have written about him above. At first the aggressive, intolerant, and intellectually dominant side of him preponderated; only later did the sympathy and good-nature which underlay his rugged exterior become apparent. Children liked him, and he played with them as friends. As I comprehended Marx’s views more and more thoroughly, and appreciated not only their accuracy and depth, but their vast width and scope, I determined I would do my utmost to spread a knowledge of his works and theories in the English-speaking world; while endeavouring at the same time to ally his bolder conceptions to a more immediate policy of my own. It never occurred to me, I confess, that the result of my first effort in this direction would be that I should have a serious breach with Marx himself, and that he would, misunderstanding my action entirely, enter upon a series of attacks upon myself of the most vindictive character, followed up by Engels with even more of vitriolic fervour for years. But our friendship remained, so far as I know, undisturbed up to the middle of 1881. What upset it I shall briefly state in its place. I unfortunately destroyed most of Marx’s letters to me at the time of our difference, but one I have discovered which appears below.
December 8, 1880
MY DEAR SIR – Mm. Marx, like most sickly people whose illness has assumed a chronic character, becomes sometimes suddenly unable to leave her bedroom and then fit again for social intercourse. Believing she could within a few days pay a visit to Mrs. Hyndman, she did not write to her at once, but as we are this week inundated with visitors from the Continent, she begs me to write you that she will give herself the pleasure to call upon Mrs. Hyndman next week.
I welcome the prospect of the journal you speak of. If you say that you do not share the views of my party for England I can only reply that that party considers an English revolution not necessary, but – according to historic precedents – possible. If the unavoidable evolution turn into a revolution, it would not only be the fault of the ruling classes, but also of the working class. Every pacific concession of, the former has been wrung from them by “pressure from without.” Their action kept pace with that pressure and if the latter has more and more weakened, it is only because the English working class know not how to wield their power and use their liberties, both of which they possess legally.
In Germany the working class were fully aware from the beginning of their movement that you cannot get rid of a military despotism but by a Revolution. At the same time they understood that such a Revolution, even if at first successful, would finally turn against them without previous organisation, acquirement of knowledge, propaganda, and [word illegible]. Hence they moved within strictly legal bounds. The illegality was all on the side of the government, which declared them en dehors la loi. Their crimes were not deeds, but opinions unpleasant to their rulers. Fortunately, the same government – the working class having been pushed to the background with the help of the bourgeoisie – becomes now more and more unbearable to the latter, whom it hits on their most tender point – the pocket. This state of things cannot last long.
Please to present my compliments to Mrs. Hyndman.
– Yours very truly,
It is, I suppose, the lot of all active and vigorous agitators to have serious differences with their closest friends and co-workers. I have, unfortunately, had more than one sad experience of this kind, and unfortunately just at the time when I most appreciated him and most admired him, such a breach occurred between Marx and myself. Suffice it to say here, that when I published my little England for All Marx felt, or was persuaded he felt, that I had wronged him by appropriating certain of his ideas without due acknowledgment, and with a view to my own personal advancement. As assuredly I had nothing whatever to gain personally by setting on foot the Democratic Federation, and as also I printed the following in the Preface to my book, I cannot see that Marx had any ground for complaint.
In this changeful period when the minds of men are much troubled about the future, and many seem doubtful whither we are bound, I have attempted to suggest for the Democratic party in this country a clear and definite policy. The views expressed in this little work do not, I am aware, accord with the commonly received politics and economy of the day. Holding, as I do, strong opinions as to the capacity of the great English-speaking democracies to take the lead in the social reorganisation of the future, I think it right to state them, and to show at the same time how seriously the working people suffer under our present landlord and capitalist system.
From the luxurious classes, as a whole, I expect little support, They have plenty of writers ready to champion their muse. To the people alone I appeal, and their approval will be my reward.
It was for the Democratic Federation that I originally wrote this book, and I present to its members the first copies to-day.
For the ideas and much of the matter contained in Chapters II. and III. I am indebted to the work of a great thinker and original writer, which will, I trust, shortly made accessible to the majority of my countrymen.
However, this incident caused a breach between us, and we did not become friends again until shortly before his lamented death. In the interval, Marx, with his usual tendency to bitter personalities, had himself written some things about me, which I don’t think he recalled afterwards with any satisfaction. But Mrs. Marx’s lingering illness, his own deteriorating health and certain annoyances and disappointments which are almost certain to come to such a man as Marx, had together ruffled the evenness of his temper and disposed him to see the worst side of things.
Besides, Marx was not a good judge of men, nor ready to give way even on indifferent points in order to secure agreement and arrange cohesion. That he should have given his full confidence to Maltman Barry, who most assuredly was not a Socialist, and to Edward Aveling, who, though he became a Socialist and the virtual husband of his daughter Eleanor, was untrustworthy in every relation of life, is sufficient evidence that Marx was apt to judge men rather in accordance with what he hoped to find than with facts as they existed. Moreover, not being himself naturally addicted to suspicion, he had become exceedingly distrustful of many who had no trace of the spy in them at all: a trait which he and Engels shared most amusingly. On one important occasion they felt quite certain that as honest not to say stupid an Englishman as ever lived, having broken away from the “International” of which he had been secretary, had at the same time kept the Minute Book of the Proceedings for nefarious use against that organisation. There was a terrible disturbance, Marx and Engels being specially incensed. A determined friend was told off to go and threaten the culprit. He met the ex-secretary on his way bringing back the Minute Book under his arm. He had never had the slightest intention of keeping it.
It must also be admitted that, in practical politics, Marx made very serious mistakes, even in regard to his own country, and showed some lack of confidence in the conquering might of his own theories when brought into conflict, or at least combination, with other opinions. Thus he undoubtedly viewed with distrust and even directly opposed the consolidation of the Schweitzer or Lassalle Party with the Marx Party which was absolutely indispensable, and which did more to advance the progress of Socialism in Germany than anything which has taken place before or since. This was the more remarkable, inasmuch that both parties were Socialist, holding no traffic with Liberals in any way; though it was said that Schweitzer himself had negotiated with Bismarck when the German armies were cantoned round Paris. There was talk also of a concerted revolutionary rising in Berlin, and that Schweitzer had even succeeded in extracting from the Chancellor pledges of reform for the working class. But the Schweitzer Party or Lassalleaners were undoubtedly more or less Nationalists, and the Marx Party were Internationalists. That was the main difference.
Liebknecht, who was the main agent in bringing about the unity of the two sections, told me he had more trouble with Marx and Engels and the little knot of extremists who, not unnaturally perhaps, were inclined to deify these great thinkers than he had with all the rest of the German Socialists put together. They could not understand that men like Bebel and Liebknecht and their intimate associates, who were right in the middle of the fray, must be able to judge better of the necessities of the time than themselves, who were so much confined to their libraries, and could not feel how things were going. But the policy of the men on the spot won, and neither section has ever had any reason to regret the calling together of the splendid Congress of Erfurt which gave birth to the greatest and the best-disciplined Socialist Party in the world.
If I speak of these mistakes of a great mind in practical life, it is because I have noted here and there a disposition to set up Marx as an infallible authority as to what ought or ought not to be done under the conditions of our own day. Obviously, if he could not judge correctly as to what was going on in Germany, and was certainly none too sound in his views about politics in England, when living, it is a great blunder to cite him as an authority in relation to events occurring when he is dead. None would have been more ready to condemn such foolishness than Marx himself.
But these are all of them small matters when compared with the magnificent achievements which are now admired even by his opponents. If we wish fully to comprehend what he did we have only to look at the Socialist movement before his theories were accepted, and then to take account of it to-day. Giving the very fullest credit to all the precursors of Marx, and in nowise disregarding the fine preparatory work of St. Simon, Owen, Fourier, the Catholic agitators and Protestant friends of the people, the English Chartists and the French revolutionaries, as well as the labour economists of this and other countries, it is not too much to say that Marx found Socialism a chaos of inco-ordinated ideas, bootless sentiment and Utopian experiment, and placed it finally upon a scientific basis. His analysis of capitalism and his synthetic adumbration of Socialism hold the field. They form the groundwork of the Socialist Party advocacy in every country. It is astonishing how exactly in the main his predictions have been fulfilled. If here and there, as in the department of agriculture, his forecasts have been apparently falsified, a closer examination shows that they have been fully realised on another plane. It is certain also that the upholders of theories in opposition to Marx’s in the field of economics and history have hitherto had very little success, except in so far as they have adopted his methods without acknowledgment.
He was undoubtedly a genius, and I consider it one of the great privileges of my life that I was permitted to know him well.
I cannot leave this subject without touching upon that materialist conception of history which is perhaps Marx’s greatest title to fame; though the whole of his system, economic and historic, stands together as one complete view of human society, and it is no accident that of late years all the really original work that has been done in historical investigation has been on his theories. But those who assume, as some of his most eminent followers such as Kantsky and Lafargue appear to do, that Marx saw nothing in history but the immediate and direct action and reaction of material conditions reflected accurately and continuously in class wars, political struggles and social developments are in my opinion quite wrong.
None could have been less of a dogmatist on social development than he. That material conditions do in the main, and in the long run dominate and guide social evolution nobody, I judge, would dispute at this time of day. But to state that the investigations of the Greeks into the properties of conic sections, or of the Hindus into algebra, were due to immediate and direct material influences is to my mind as absurd a proposition as to contend that all mathematical expansions or imaginary quantities which, admittedly, have no practical material application to the recognised facts around us, do nevertheless arise out of these unrecognised material conditions, and are unconsciously impressed upon our brains. Yet the most recent writer of the extreme material school, Paul Lafargue, himself a son-in-law of Marx, does go to this length; and Karl Kautsky in his controversy with Bax in the Neue Zeit went nearly as far in his historic argument. The point is serious. Marx, I am confident, never excluded from his survey the counter-action of the psychologic upon the main material factor of action either in society or in the individual.
Last updated on 30.7.2006