If the materialist interpretation of history be, in very truth, the best interpretation of the processes of history, it must hold good, not only with regard to the masses who are the executors of these processes, but also with regard to the individuals who embody this execution.
The application of the materialist interpretation of history to the masses, as the executors of historical processes, is the task of sociology.
Its application to individuals is the concern of psychology.
The substance of the materialist conception or interpretation of history is as follows. Society (or, within a class society, the dominant class) forms the social order out of the natural forces of production and the extant relations of production. The structure of this material foundation is reflected in the ideological superstructure. The foundation and the superstructure have a dialectical reciprocal interaction. Decisive for the character of the social order is the need for safeguarding society, or for safeguarding its dominant stratum.
If we translate into psychological terms these principles of the method of historical materialism, we get the following. Man forms his character out of his organic constitution and his social and family position. The biological and social interests that promote his safeguarding find expression (unconsciously) in aims. The main trends of his behaviour arise with reference to these aims. Opinions, conceptions, ideas, manifest themselves as forms of expression of the individual’s aim to safeguard his own existence. Decisive for each one of us in the formation of character and in the development of trends of behaviour is, in the individualistic epoch, the urge to self-expression as an individuality, an urge dictated by the circumstances of life. When, in the light of these guiding principles, we contemplate the man Marx—contemplate him solely as a man, apart from his work—our attention is riveted by three characteristics:
First, his persistent ill-health, from which we infer that there was constitutional weakness or organic defect.
Secondly, his Jewish origin, which he felt as a social stigma.
Thirdly, his position as a first-born child.
Each of these traits, a biological, a social, and a family trait, seems, at the first glance, isolated from the others. There is nothing obvious to show that they are interconnected. Still less do we see any obvious reason for supposing that, as constituents of a whole, they can be reduced to a common denominator.
Nevertheless, the method of the materialist interpretation of history constrains us to connect them and unify them.
If we set out from the view that every organism is, in a general sense, unified through its adaptation to the natural conditions of existence, we shall perceive that all its constituents develop, coalesce, and mutually further one another, as if they were animated by a unitary purpose, and controlled by that purpose. From the purely biological standpoint, we can say that this fundamental aim in the case of a living organism is self-preservation, the maintenance of its life.
The human organism is distinguished from the organism of other living creatures by this, that in man the biological aims are complicated by social aims, which do not necessarily coincide with the biological aims—for human sociology, in contradistinction to that of the animal kingdom, has a tradition, has a history. Each generation of human beings takes over the social content handed down from previous generations, and has to elaborate this in the interest of its own maintenance. Furthermore, social evolution runs a speedier course than biological, and often runs a different course.
The organism of the individual human being is in a still more difficult position. The individual is threatened, not only by the dangers of the natural environment and by the dangers of society, but also by dangers proceeding from other individuals. The aim of self-preservation is not always in conformity with the aim of species-preservation, or of society-preservation. Conflicts ensue.
The general aim of life is to pass from insecurity to security. Phrasing this concretely, we get, in the biological domain, the aim to live long and remain healthy. In the sociological domain, we get in addition the aim to win a place in society, and thus to be enabled to fulfil the tasks of occupation, marriage, and comradeship.
True, society is not a unity, for it consists of stratified classes, of an upper stratum and a lower. Its sociological structure determines a psychological valuation. The personal aim in life thus becomes an aim, an individual urge, to avoid being outrun by others in the race of life, an urge to achieve validity in one way or another. Subjectively, this urge finds expression in the sense of individuality.
The lower the self-esteem, and the stronger therefore the feeling of insecurity, the stronger is the urge to intensify the sense of individuality, and the stronger therewith is the urge to secure compensation for the perils of the dangerous situation of inferiority. Appraised from the social standpoint, a comparative inadequacy for life, whatever its kind, is always felt a’,—, inferiority. This sense of inferiority generates an impulse towards exaggeration of the sense of individuality. The process presents itself as a compensatory endeavour to re-establish the lost mental balance; and it finds its counterpart in the physical sphere, where organic defect is compensated by increased organic activity.
It is a psychological characteristic of the capitalist epoch that, by proletarianization and individualization, it has robbed the great masses of the population of their traditional securities, and has made a sense of insecurity a generalized psychological trait. Inasmuch as the sense of insecurity is felt almost exclusively in comparison with a neighbour whose position is secure or is believed to be secure, the sense of inferiority has become a universal psychical feature of contemporary man. This general sense of inferiority may, under special conditions, be excessively stimulated, and may then be so intensified as to dominate the individual’s mind, and to enlist all the mental faculties in its service. That is especially apt to happen in the case of those who suffer from a weak constitution, from organic defects, from grave social disadvantages, an unfavourable family position, and a bad preparation for life owing to a defective education. It is the typical outcome of a bad start in life, or of an inadequate equipment for life’s struggle.
Should a strong sense of inferiority be intensified by the failure of attempts at compensation, or should fresh factors of insecurity come into play, the attempts towards compensation will be excessive, and compensation will take the form of overcompensation. The individual’s aim will no longer merely be security, validity; the aim will be to prove oneself worth more than others, superior to others, superhuman, godlike.
Thenceforward the individual’s mental life will range from the intensified sense of inferiority as starting-point, towards the intensified ideal of individuality as aim. Consciously in part, unconsciously for the most part, but always in a unified fashion, the manifestations of the personality range between these two poles. From the time when he becomes aware of his own ego, down to the day of his death, all the individual’s doings, all his wishes, all his thoughts and feelings, all his judgmentshowever contradictory and enigmatic they may seem—move along this line from below upwards. Everything is coerced into the service of the ideal of individuality: the body, sex life, the intelligence, logic, memory, experience. Purposively and in unitary fashion, thought and feeling and action express this struggle away from the sense of inferiority and towards an intensified sense of individuality. We discern numerous manifestations of behaviour whose significance can only be understood with reference to this aim. The sum of these methods of behaviour is what we speak of as character. In his character traits, the man is building paths which, as he believes, will lead him most swiftly and safely to the heights towards which he aspires.
With unconscious purposiveness, he “makes” experiences, stores up tendentious memories, formulates judgments. In each new period of life he finds confirmation of his previous opinions concerning himself, of his previous outlooks on the world and on life. He is perpetually repeating the same round of luck and ill-luck; is having again and again like experiences with women, colleagues, and friends; is always reiterating the same impressions and judgments. What seems to be a change is, as a rule, only a change of form, the new man being merely the old one under new conditions. Those, therefore, who are not deceived by the ostensible contradictions of the surface, can discern in every individuality a unified and circumscribed image, in which all the movements of the mind are dictated by a central aim, are controlled by a unified tendency; and in which each function plays its appropriate part. Biological and social aims become building material incorporated into the individual psychological aims. The whole man stands before us as a circumscribed unity.
Unified and unambiguous, too, is the use which the man makes of the means he finds to his hand in his bodily constitution, his social position, his situation within the family. Placed by birth in special circumstances which are not of his own choosing and which it is not within his power to alter, he must accommodate himself to the extant. He does accommodate himself, in accordance with his life plan. He turns a constitutional weakness, an organic defect, to his own uses; he learns how to take advantage of his social position; he is able to avail himself of his family situation. Every shortcoming, every disadvantage, becomes, under his (unconscious) manipulation, a means for promoting his advance towards his aim. This aim is always the achievement of superiority. If he is unable to reach the desired height by the application of the means at his disposal, he uses them as extenuating circumstances, to exonerate himself and to free himself from responsibility.
If, in the light of these considerations, we turn to examine the personality of Marx, we see the before-mentioned biological, social, and family traits in a new and instructive light. But the traits in question are only the elements, the first crude constituents, of a psychological analysis—with which we have to content ourselves, since we lack more detailed materials as regards the life of Marx. Obviously, they do not suffice for an exhaustive analysis. Many of the gaps in our observation will have to be filled in artificially; a schematic construction will have to supplement the defects of observation. Nevertheless, we can get a great deal farther than was possible by earlier psychological methods. Even if we do not achieve definitive knowledge, in this respect psychological analysis is no more inadequate than the other sciences, for science has to leave many ultimate problems open.
While quite young, Marx began to suffer from liver trouble, which was considered a family disease, and which Marx believed himself to have inherited. Throughout life, he suffered from a secret fear of cancer of the liver, which was supposed to be the doom of members of his family. Probably his liver trouble was closely connected with a general weakness of the digestive apparatus, a disorder of the whole gastro-intestinal tract; for, in addition to the ordinary symptoms of liver trouble, he suffered also from various morbid conditions, such as loss of appetite, constipation, gastric and intestinal catarrh, hmorrhoids, furunculosis, etc., which are to be regarded as manifestations and accompaniments of grave disturbances of metabolism. Essentially, he suffered from metabolic disorders.
This biological condition is of great importance. Obviously, so grave a disturbance of so vital a function could not fail to take effect on Marx’s psyche in the form of a strong sense of insecurity and inadequacy. Beyond question, this was the chief cause of his sense of inferiority.
To this was superadded a social factor, his Jewish descent. In the early part of the present book I showed how great were the social, legal, and political disadvantages from which the Jews suffered in Germany before the time of the March revolution, and how the Jews of Rhineland in especial were despised and persecuted. Marx felt that as a Jew he had been given a bad start in life, one which would seriously handicap his prospects of advancement. No doubt the conversion of the family to Protestantism had done something to make up for this, but his racial origin could not be washed away by the waters of baptism. No one could ever forget that Marx had been born a Jew, for not only was his facial type markedly Hebraic, but his whole aspect shouted a Semitic origin. Baptized or unbaptized, Marx remained a Jew, recognizable as such at the first glance, and burdened therefore with all the odium attaching to his race. One may presume that from early childhood he had been on the defensive, earnestly endeavouring, by means of intelligence and industry, to compensate for the disadvantages of birth. Even if his Jewish origin proved no drawback to Marx, or only entailed obstacles which it was easy for him to overcome, he may none the less have felt his descent to entail upon him a social stigma, which must have aroused in him a sense of inferiority. For actual inferiority is not needed to arouse the sense of it; mere suspicions, assumptions, imaginations, and exaggerations suffice to induce this mental state. Very striking is the unusual acerbity with which, when he is discussing the Jewish problem, Marx attacks “the empirical essence of Judaism.” He writes: “What is the mundane basis of Judaism? Practical needs; self-interest. What is the mundane cult 0f the Jews? Huckstering. What is the Jews’ mundane god? Money.” Marx denounces the Jews as prototypes of the commercial spirit and of a monetary economy; he makes Judaism the symbol of bloodsucking capitalism. The reader cannot escape the feeling that he is ostentatiously showing his opposition to Judaism, is demonstratively severing himself from his own race, and by emphasizing his anti-capitalist tendencies is declaring himself before all the world not to be a Jew. But one who takes so much trouble to declare that he is not a Jew must have reason for being afraid of being regarded as a Jew. I think there can be no doubt that this social factor of Marx’s Jewish origin intensified his sense of inferiority, and must have increased his urge towards compensatory achievements.
Finally, it is probable that his family position reinforced the same trend. Marx was a firstborn child, an only son, and the hope of the family. Since intellectual achievements were part of the family tradition, great hopes were entertained of his talents in this direction, especially seeing that he was a precocious and remarkably clever boy. Certainly at school his success justified high expectations. He was regarded as a wonder-child. At seventeen he was ripe for a university career.
But high gifts entail high obligations. Above all is this the case when they are associated with responsibility for the revival of a lost prestige. Still more exacting are the demands made of one who has shown precocious talent. When there has been an unusually rapid advance up to the age of seventeen, everyone expects this advance to be sustained at the same speed. These febrile anticipations are entertained by the person most concerned, and act upon him with the painful stimulation of a whip. Besides, Karl Marx’s father earnestly hoped that his son would enter one of the learned professions, and the father’s authority seems to have had a great influence upon the son’s education.
All the greater was the disappointment when, after the brilliant start, young Marx seemed at a standstill. During the first year of his life at the university, there appeared to be a relaxation in his forces, and a lull in his ambition. Serious disputes ensued between him and his father, so that at one time there was a risk that his university career would be broken off. That disaster was avoided, but Marx’s apparent failure at a time when his family was looking to him for success had shaken his self-confidence. A condition of anxiety, doubt, and confusion supervened. He began to be afraid that he would never fulfil these great expectations. He shirked his lectures, avoided examinations, procrastinated the choice of a profession—these being typical manifestations of profound discouragement. His ambition intensified his sense of responsibility so much that he was almost incapable of regular work.
To summarize, we may say that the three characteristic features of Marx’s individuality—poor health, Jewish origin, and the fact that he was firstborn—interact, and combine to produce an intensified sense of inferiority.
The resulting compensation begins with the formulation of an aim. The lower the self-esteem, the higher the aim. The position of a child, with the difficulties and needs attendant on that position, is retained as foundation. Throughout life, Marx remains the young student, who is afraid of disappointing others through the inadequacy of his achievement, and therefore sets himself aim beyond aim, piles task upon task. He cannot escape the voices calling after him: “You must show what you can do! Must climb! Must have a brilliant career! Must do something extraordinary! Must be the first!” This will—toconquest and this urge-to-superiority dominate all the phases of his existence as worker and fighter. Indefatigably he trains his understanding, schools his memory, sharpens his wits. He is diligent to excess. Like Saint-Simon, who made his valet exhort him every morning, so Marx exhorts himself, day after day, in the tones of an ambition that masquerades as a sense of duty: “Get up! You have great things to perform! You have a world to win!” Thus is the aim formulated. He must do something extraordinary, unique; he must be the only one of his kind; he must assume the highest responsibilities. The urge to be godlike forms his plans in life, and guides all his activities.
But whatever aims a man may set himself, in his endeavours to attain them he is restricted to the use of the means with which he is endowed. He must work with the tools at his disposal. What were these, in Marx’s case? A sickly frame, Jewish descent, and the position of firstborn. If he wishes to attain greatness, it must be by the use of these instruments. He must press them into the service of his compensatory endeavours.
Persons with digestive disorders, with troubles of the stomach. the bowels and the liver, are well-known to be prone to disorder of the affective life. They are depressed, capricious, spiteful, discontented creatures; they lack a proper contact with the environing world; they are full of suspicions; they are unable to enter into sympathetic relations with others; they are isolated, embittered, always on edge, ever ready to scratch. It seems as if the bodily difficulties, inhibitions, and convulsions, had been transferred into the mental sphere. In very truth, the organic material substratum secures expression in the psychical superstructure. In the latter, as in the former, there are the same disturbances, the same irregularities, the same anomalies of function. The orderly succession of income and output has been disarranged. Either the output of thought substance is checked, this leading to a sort of spiritual constipation; or else there is a lack of spiritual income, and then the mind is starved. On the other hand there may be an immoderate absorption of spiritual sustenance, leading to a kind of mental distension; or there may be an extravagant expenditure, followed by mental exhaustion. Always there is a lack of due measure; always there is what may be called a disorder of mental metabolism. The example of the child recurs here, the child that eats too little or too much, that is over—dainty or gluttonous. In later life these become persons who never acquire a sound relation towards the important vital function of nutrition; they become misers or spendthrifts, are stingy or extravagant, are pedants, crcesuses, etc.
Marx suffered typically from this sort of disorder of spiritual metabolism. Always capricious, depressed, spiteful, he behaved like one affected with indigestion, tortured by flatulence, or racked by biliary colic. He was a hypochondriac, and, like all hypochondriacs, made too much of his bodily troubles. Just as he had a poor relation to his food, ate little, irregularly, and with little appetite, stimulating his desire with mixed pickles, spices, vinegar, caviare, and the like; so he had a bad relation to his work and to his fellow men. Bad eaters are bad workers and bad comrades. They either do not eat at all or they overfill their stomachs; they either idle or overwork; they either shun their fellow men or make friends with Tom) Dick, and Harry. They are always in extremes. Neither their stomach, nor their brain, nor their spirit, can endure such sudden antitheses. Just as in youth Marx did not engage upon the regular study of something which might have proved a means of livelihood, so later he was incapable of regular intellectual work which would have nourished the whole man. He had no profession, no office, no regular occupation, no dependable means of livelihood. Everything was improvised, capricious, the sport of chance. Instead of attending lectures in his student days, and thus preparing himself for a professional career, he filled his mental stomach with philosophical and literary mixed pickles. He lacked discipline, a sense of order, a feeling for a proper relation between income and expenditure. Now, for months at a time, he would not write a line; then he would hurl himself at his work like a titan. By day and by night he devoured whole libraries, heaped up mountains of extracts, filled thick manuscript books, left behind him piles of half finished writings. Yet in all this work he had as little pleasure as he had at his meals; he groaned, cursed, deplored his fate, described himself as a slave of the intelligence, martyrized his family. Often, when his household was urgently in need of the fees he might have earned, he left it to Engels to write the necessary newspaper articles, while himself luxuriating in the ancient classics, poring over the most precious treasures of the libraries, devouring costly literature like caviare, or giving himself up with delight to the entirely unremunerative study of the higher mathematics. He could never get enough of these intellectual dainties, just as he could never eat enough caviare and mixed pickles to satisfy him. But regular work bored him, conventional occupation put him out of humour. Without a penny in his pocket, and with his shirt pawned, he surveyed the world with a lordly air. He detested social intercourse upon equal terms. He only cared to clink glasses with persons who praised and admired him. He took refuge in cynicism from any profounder manifestation of feeling. He was one who knew zothiig of the joys of convivial intercourse; was a solitary, an eremite. Proneness to solitude and to severance from the community is apt to be intensified in persons suffering from disorders of metabolism, for they are inclined to regard their troubles (since these concern the digestive and excretory organs) as unclean and disgusting. They are apt to react with a mania for cleanliness, a fanaticism for tidiness, pedantry. Their personal ideal is: to be the cleanest, the most immaculate, the noblest and most sublime person in the world. From such therefore is recruited the army of moralists, of the apostles of good behaviour, of the heroes of virtue, of the revealers of a new ethic or of an ideal mode of life. The aspiration towards an especial purity of character, towards absolute immaculacy, towards perfect purity of motives, towards sublimity of philosophy, has in most cases such an origin. Paradoxical as it may seem, moral and aesthetic rigorism springs out of the bowel.
Marx was one of those persons who are overpowered by a perpetual urge towards the highest, the purest, the most ideal. It was not merely his ambition to be the most famous among those who have studied socialist literature, and the most learned of all the critics of economic science; he also wanted to be the most efficient revolutionist, and pre-eminent among the advocates of revolution. He wanted to expound the purest theory, to establish the most complete system of communism. As a preliminary to the demonstration of this superiority, he must prove that the socialist theories of all his predecessors were worthless, false, contemptible, or ludicrous. He had to show that the socialism of the utopists was a crazy-quilt of outworn and questionable ideas. That Proudhon was a suspect intruder into the realm of socialist thought. That Lassalle, Bakunin, and Schweitzer were tainted with bourgeois ideology, and had probably sold themselves to the enemy. He, Marx alone, was in possession of the true doctrine. His was the crystal-clear knowledge; his was the philosopher’s stone; his the immaculate conception of socialism; his the divine truth. With contemptuous wrath, with bitter mockery and profound hostility, he rejected all other opinions, fought against all other convictions, than his own, persecuted all ideas that had not originated in his own brain. For him, there was no wisdom except his own, no socialism other than the socialism he proclaimed, no true gospel outside the limits of his own doctrine. His work was the essence of intellectual purity and scientific integrity. His system was Allah, and he was its prophet.
In marked contrast with the lofty pedestal on which Marx thus placed himself in the world of theory, was the position he occupied as soon as it ceased to be a question of great ideas and abstract problems, and became a question of petty realities and the concrete tasks of life. In that world of concrete reality, Marx failed no less utterly than he triumphed in the realm of abstract intelligence. His failure was as pitiful in the one as his success was magnificent in the other. Essentially, however, there is no opposition between these two phenomena.
Persons affected with metabolic disorders, those who cannot regulate their digestive functions properly, almost always show themselves to be persons who are likewise unable to Gontrol the functioning of their economic life. In that field, too, they are unable to achieve a due balance between income and expenditure. They do not know how to put two and two together, even when, like Marx, they are adepts in the higher mathematics. They cannot keep petty accounts. They are thoroughly bad housekeepers. They are penny wise and pound foolish. They earn badly and spend badly. Their economic sense is either non-existent, or else it is hypertrophied. They suffer from a disorder of economic metabolism.
In the present volume, countless instances have been given to show how hopelessly ineffectual Marx was in the domain of domestic economy. Throughout life, he was hard up. He was ridiculously ineffectual in his endeavours to cope with the economic needs of his household and his family; and his incapacity in monetary matters involved him in an endless series of struggles and catastrophes. He was always in debt; was incessantly being dunned by creditors, persecuted by usurers, drained by bloodsuckers. Half his household goods were always at the pawnshop. His budget defied all attempts to set it in order. His bankruptcy was chronic. The thousands upon thousands which Engels handed over to him, melted away in his fingers like snow.
This state of affairs was not the outcome of any moral lapses, nor yet of a tragical destiny. It was simply the consequence of a grave disturbance of function, of a disorder of metabolism, which affected the man’s whole system, working itself out in the economic field as well as in the bodily and mental fields. Financial crises visited Marx’s household with the same inevitable frequency as that with which boils troubled his body; and disputes with friends and foes were as common among his experiences as were financial distresses. When we look closely into the matter, we see that all alike were symptoms of one and the same trouble, manifesting itself in three separate departments of life—equally painful, equally burdensome, equally tormenting in them all. But even a whimsical and malicious disorder of metabolism has a positive side as well as a negative one, this confirming the old experience that a man’s greatest weakness is at the same time his greatest strength.
Inferiority seeks compensation. The sense of inferiority, stimulated ever and again by recurrent ill-success, failure, and defeat, gives no rest until the minus has been compensated by a plus. If the minus be an inherited defect, the plus becomes a matter of personal achievement. Thus only was it that Demosthenes the stammerer could become the greatest orator of antiquity, that the deaf Beethoven proved the most famous of all musicians, that the hideous Michelangelo was able to hand down to posterity the most marvellous of all depictions of human beauty.
In like manner the sufferer from gastric trouble, the sufferer from metabolic disorder, feels a perpetual urge to compensate the negative of his physical condition by some positive achievement. Making a virtue of necessity, he wins victory out of defeat. It depends only on his courage how far he can secure compensation. In the endeavour to compensate for gastro-intestinal inferiority, one will become a famous caterer or chef; another will become a specialist in diseases of the digestive system; a third will discover some nutritive salt, will invent some special method of dietetics; a fourth will be a vegetarian propagandist, will advocate the use of unfired food, and so on. Always the compensatory aim arises out of the perspective of the actual inferiority. Already in childhood we can note how the ideas and wishes as to a future occupation are determined by unconscious feelings of inferiority. Always the hidden aim is to make good for an inherited defect by a surplus of achievement. Whether the achievement takes the form of something which counts in the concrete world, or only takes the form of a neurotic expedient, is a question of individual courage.
Marx sought for spiritual compensation in the realm of ideas. His compensatory endeavour made him the founder of an economic theory, the creator of a new economic system. His aim was the widest possible. He became the saviour of humanity at large, and built for eternity.
The man who had a poor appetite and a difficult digestion propounded a plan for the reorganization of the economic structure of society whose result was to be that every one was to have plenty to eat and an adequate supply of all the conveniences of life. The man who had always been short of money, perpetually in debt, announced and fought for the establishment of a world order in which everyone was to have a sufficient share in the world’s goods. The man who was a master of unsociability, and was incapable of true friendship, issued as a watchword that all men were to be brothers. The man who did not know how to spend a shilling wisely, elaborated in his own mind the most profound of all the theories of money; and created imaginatively the splendid thought edifice of a revolutionized economic system, established upon new and communal foundations.
As compensation for his sense of inferiority, he made it his life work to be the scientific founder of an economic and social order in which all were to be able to do what he could not do, and all were to have what he lacked.
In point of character, Marx differs in no essential respects from the men of his day and our own. They are all neurotic; they all suffer from a sense of inferiority, strive towards superiority, show themselves vain, ambitious; eager for success, greedy of power.
But Marx, though he does not differ from others in essentials, differs in the matter of degree. He differs alike in respect of the unusual intensity of his sense of inferiority, and in respect of the unusually high quality of his means of compensation. Thus he presents us with a classical example of the way in which the utmost subjective need releases in a man the most tremendous energies, develops them on a titanic scale, equips them with splendid creative faculties, sets them to work in the womb of the social process, where they ripen to historic deeds, and whence they are born into the light of day. The individual human being evokes the energies and achieves the work. He becomes the fulfiller of a function under stress of subjective necessity, as an outcome of the coercion of his personal needs and demands.
When the work thus performed is one of supreme worth to society, one which society recognizes as of supreme importance to its own safeguarding, society qualifies it as a work of genius.
If a man does not succeed in compensating his sense of inferiority by actual achievements, he contents himself, in the end, with the semblance of achievement.
Since, however, his increased impulse to self-assertion makes him feel the admission of incapacity or ill-success to be a defeat and a disgrace, he seeks for some expedient whereby he can evade responsibility for failure. His favourite method, in such
circumstances, will be to have recourse to an illness which will relieve him of his burden. It is not only that illness will make others kindly and considerate towards him. Furthermore, in the general view, illness is the work of an objective and mysterious power to which man succumbs through the decrees of fate. In especial, such a view is an outcome of the doctrine (no longer scientifically tenable, but still widely held), according to which illnesses and anomalies are handed down automatically from generation to generation, so that the persons who suffer from them are the subjects of an inevitable doom. This outlook is an aid to one who wishes to regard his illness as an excuse for failure in life.
One who adopts such an expedient will have little difficulty in discovering somewhere in his organism a weakness, however insignificant, a defect, however trifling, which he can press into the service. By a process of training, deliberately thouolh perhaps unconsciously pursued, he is able in course of time to develop this convenient lack or defect into the illness which will serve his turn. With increasing adroitness, he finds it possible to arrange that the morbid manifestations shall always occur when they suit his purpose. The purpose is, of course, to explain failure as the outcome of the overwhelming power of the illness. With long practice and special skill, such a person is able to make of his illness a charter which will excuse him from all further effort. Now he has gained his end. He will no longer be expected to prove his mettle, and will therefore be safeguarded against any further defeat. His illness has become a harbour of refuge.
For this advantage, the patient is willing to pay the price in the form of pains, renouncements, material expenditure, troublesome methods of treatment. To be freed from daily demands upon his efficiency, and from the consequent daily prospect of dishonourable defeat, is worth more to him than what he has to pay in the form of the inconveniences of his malady. Besides, now that he is an invalid, he has gained advantages that were unknown to him when he was in good health; he has uecome me centre of a circle of devoted attendants, and is richer for interesting experiences. He is a person of worth, now that he is among the sufferers who are sympathized with, protected, and cared for. Above all, he has risen in his own esteem, for the perennial excuse, “If I were not ill . . .” enables him to fancy himself “otherwise” capable of boundless achievements, destined for unrivalled successes. In these circumstances, he will have enough self-conceit to regard his most trifling achievements as heroic deeds.
Physicians and psychologists give the name of “neurotics” to persons of this kind, persons who by such expedients escape the tasks of life, and are able to content themselves with the semblance of achievement. Behaviour which aims at an escape from the duties, the tasks, the functions of life, without renouncing the claims made on life, and unaccompanied by any recognition that such behaviour is anti-social and antievolutionary, is known as “neurosis.” There are today very few persons wholly free from neurotic traits. Neurosis is a universal contemporary characteristic.
Unquestionably Marx was a neurotic. For every one familiar with neurotic symptoms, the neurotic traits in his clinical history are unmistakable. His supposed affliction with a congenital disorder of the liver obviously served him as a sort of lightning-conductor, as a pretext for escaping from difficult situations. Experience has abundantly shown that autosuggestion is competent to induce severe cardiac spasms, bilious attacks, asthmatic or epileptic paroxysms, hiemorrhages, simulated burns, paralyses, etc. It is easy enough, therefore, especially when we may suppose a pre-existent genuine organic weakness or disorder of function, to develop a first-class liver trouble or metabolic disorder whenever it is wanted. I am not talking of deception, of deliberate fraud. Modern psychiatry has shown that psychological factors are at work in many illnesses; and the day may well come when a number of mysterious and incurable maladies now regarded as hereditary will be revealed as unconscious artifacts, the masks for discouragement.
In the case of Marx’s illness, the characteristics are so obviously those of a cleverly operated unconscious mechanism, that there can be no doubt of its neurotic character. He believed that he was perpetually dogged by disaster, was continually afflicted with inefficient collaborators, was prevented from performing his duties as breadwinner, was disappointed again and again by untrustworthy friends, and was perpetually being entangled in conflicts and quarrels. In his own view, of course, his ailments were the basic cause of his troubles.
Yet however much Marx had recourse to neurotic tricks and expedients, when in search of extenuating circumstances, he never, mentally speaking, surrendered wholly and permanently to neurosis—and this is the decisive matter.
Even though Marx failed to solve the problem of earning a livelihood, he was never a man to shrink from hard work. On the contrary, his industry and his powers of work arouse our amazement.
Although he made a poor showing as breadwinner, he was otherwise a happy and successful husband, a tender father, was able on into old age to delight his charming and clever wife, and to retain her affection.
Though he was at feud with all the world, he never forfeited the friendship of Engels, who was worth hundreds of other friends, and was not a man to give his friendship to the first corner.
A sense of inferiority like that of Marx, intensified by various factors, may certainly induce neurotic behaviour, may lead in the end to neurotic flight from the world, but it does not compel one who suffers from it to sacrifice himself wholly to neurosis. Whether and how far a man gives way to the tendency to run away from life, yields to the inner urge to escape into a masked passivity—depends upon the amount of community feeling with which he is endowed, the amount of community feeling he is able to transform into a courageous facing of realities, into positive activities.
Marx had recourse to the neurotic protective mechanisms whenever he stood alone, whenever he was delivered over to his own weaknesses without the support of a community: as breadwinner, as the writer of articles for periodicals, as controversialist, as the defender of personal ideas and theses. From dread lest he should be put to the test, he was unable to show any community feeling in these private matters. But as soon as he was engaged in, a wider field, he was as if transformed. Then community feeling surged up in him from the depths. Just as Antaeus developed a giant’s strength as soon as he touched the earth, so Marx, as soon as he felt the ground of the community under his feet, was endowed with the power of courageously ignoring all the uncertainties, doubts, pusillanimities, and cowardices, which would otherwise have hindered his advance. Here what seemed more was really less, for the imaginary great community demanded from him less courage than did the actual small community. Nevertheless, on the ground of that greater community, his powers ripened, his courage grew, his work throve to become a historic deed. His monumental greatness was the outcome of the overwhelming powers of a spiritual community-sense.
When Marx entered the political arena, the German bourgeoisie was striving to secure social recognition, and to get possession of the powers of the State. It needed superabundant energies to cope with the situation into which its development had brought it. In order to mobilize all available forces and to throw these into the fighting front, it represented its struggle for power as a struggle for power on the part of the people in general, and represented its ideal as a universally valid human ideal. The consequence was that every one capable of enthusiasm for the ideals of progress and liberty, became an enthusiast for the ideals of bourgeois progress and bourgeois liberty. The amalgamation of all individual wills into one great communal will gained the victory.
But within the womb of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat had been engendered. As long as it was still attached by the navel string of its petty-bourgeois and peasant origin, it identified its interests with those of the bourgeoisie. For that reason, it accepted the war aims of bourgeois emancipation and bourgeois revolution, fought for the bourgeoisie on the barricades, and took the bourgeois proclamations of humanist ideals at their face value. But directly the victory had been won, a gulf opened between the rights and living conditions of the bourgeoisie and the rights and living conditions of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie, having safely reached port, dropped its humanitarian aims, and turned to attack the proletariat.
The conditions under which this took place were the most unfavourable for the proletariat that can be imagined. It had just been sacrificing blood and life and strength for the purposes of the bourgeoisie. It was still bleeding from a thousand wounds; it was weakened and exhausted; it was staggering along confusedly in a situation which it did not yet fully understand. This was the moment at which its sometime friends treacherously attacked it. Panic-stricken and despairing, the proletarians flung themselves on the ground, submitting to their evil fate. For a decade, they showed no understanding of history, displayed no sign of a political consciousness. But the decade passed. Overcoming their despair, shaking off their lassitude, the masses rose to their feet, looked this way and that, revived the demand for liberty and humanitarian aims which had been abandoned by the bourgeoisie, and hoisted the flag for renewed struggles. But the bourgeoisie of the sixties was not the bourgeoisie of the forties. The ten years after 1848 had been turned to good account for the economic and social strengthening of the bourgeois position. The bourgeoisie had become great, rich, and powerful; was in possession of excellent means for defending its position; and was determined to crush unmercifully any attempt at advance made by the proletariat. The pressure exercised by the bourgeoisie on the proletariat was overwhelming. The proletariat, powerless economically and socially, with no culture of its own, depressed by the failure of the revolution and the experience of the counter-revolution, delivered over to the onslaughts of an ad versary possessed of enormously superior force, was profoundly discouraged.
Here, upon the plane of class life, was a neurotic situation analogous to that described above on the plane of individual life. In the course of historical evolution, the proletariat found itself faced with a great task, its very existence depending upon the proper performance of that task. It suffered from anxiety, it did not feel equal to the demands of the time. It attempted to evade these demands, to take refuge in political indifferentism, in the semblance of achievement, in neurotic behaviour. At the historic moment, its failure seemed imminent.
Nothing but an act which would bring encouragement would save the imperilled cause of the proletariat. A treatment that would overcome the sense of inferiority, a method of education that would re-establish self-confidence and revive self-esteem, was essential. The proletariat needed an elixir that would restore hope, needed a miraculous energy that could only be inspired by a great conviction, needed a quasi-fanatical obsession. Then came Marx, and supplied this magic potion. His community sense had led him, with instinctive logic, to espouse the cause of the proletariat. He saw that the conditions of proletarian impotence were the outcome of the structure of bourgeois society, and he drew the inference that the causes of this impotence could only be removed by changing the structure of society. With this end in view, he annulled the individualist concept of personality, replacing it by the collective concept of class—a concept which he originated. He deprived individual struggles for individual power of meaning and justification, putting in their place the notion of the community and the struggle on behalf of the collective power of the proletarian class. He made the class struggle a law of historical evolution, and depicted socialism as the necessary and logical outcome of that struggle.
By expounding in a scientific system his views on the foundations and connexions, the laws and the consequences, of social evolution, and by incorporating that system into his writings,
he secured compensation for the torments of his subjective sense of inferiority. By placing his writings and his doctrine at the disposal of the proletariat, he provided this class with the means for compensating its social sense of inferiority through the practical application of the knowledge thus gained—once more, then, by achievement.
At a particular point in historical evolution at which a class, owing to psychical inhibitions and to the stagnation of its energies, is prevented from fulfilling the mission allotted to it by history and urgently needing fulfilment, it becomes a life-or-death question for society to overcome the obstacles that are hindering the course of evolution. For this an energy, a strength, is needed far exceeding the customary. There is requisite a superhuman achievement, a heroic deed. Only one who is subjectively aware of so profound an inferiority that nothing but a titanic achievement, a heroic deed, will restore his spiritual equipoise—only such a one is competent for such a task. But such a one is competent when the comprehensiveness and the quality of the means at his disposal are rightly accordant to the strength of his urge.
Thus a vitally important service is done to society or to one of its social classes. Thereby, society, or the class, is saved from destruction. For this reason, the person who performs such a task receives the highest honour, inasmuch as he becomes known as a genius.
Genius is something more than quality, form, achievement, work. Above all, genius is a social category. It expresses a definite relation between society and an individual. That relation exists when an individual supreme achievement is effected in a phase of social development wherein this particular achievement is supremely important in the interests of social safeguarding. In the genius, the line of the compensatory achievement of an individual intersects with the line of the compensatory need of society or of a class.
Appraised from the outlook of the proletariat, Marx was a genius. What was his achievement, as regards the vital needs of the proletarian class? By his teaching, when the proletariat was in a phase of extreme discouragement, he inspired it with the uttermost courage. “Historical evolution is on your side,” he shouted to the proletariat. “Capitalism, brought into being by the laws of historical evolution, will be destroyed by the inexorable working of these same laws. The bourgeoisie, the business manager of the capitalist system, appeared on the stage of history with that system, and must make its exit when that system walks off the stage. You, proletarians, keep capitalism going by your labour, and maintain the whole of bourgeois society by the fruits of your industry. But socialism will be a necessary organic outcome of capitalism, the essence of the latter being implied in the essence of the former. With the end of capitalism, comes the beginning of socialism as a logical consequence. You proletarians, as a class, being the incorporators of the forces and tendencies which will do away with capitalism, must necessarily make an end of the bourgeoisie. You merely need, as a class, to fulfil the evolution which your mission calls on you to fulfil. All you need is to will! History makes this as easy as possible for you. You need not hatch out any new ideas, make any plans, discover a future State. You need not ’dogmatically anticipate the world.’ You need merely put your hands to the task which is awaiting you. The means by which you will do it are to be found in the unceasing, purposive, consistent fighting of the class struggle, whose crown will be the victory of the social revolution.”
”Evolution is on your side!” With this word of power, the proletariat was awakened from its lethargy, was delivered from its sense of inferiority.
”You need only will!” With this magic potion, it was raised to its feet and set a-going. Its paralysing anxiety had been overcome, its uncertainties had been shaken off, its lack of faith had been conquered by self-confidence.
Socialism, till then an aim of religious ardour, a wonderland of fanciful hopes, an artifact of the imagination, had now been scientifically demonstrated as the ripe fruit of evolution, which would fall into the laps of those who shook the tree. Marx’s teaching came in black and white to give the proletariat the certainty that socialism would be realized.
This gospel, not the outcome of blind faith, but based upon a keen use of the intelligence, and upon the most rational logic, could not fail to provide the proletariat with an unprecedented dynamic impetus. It animated the workers to throw off their chains, filled them with a hope enabling them to unlock all the doors between them and the future.
If we consider Marx and his work from such a standpoint, we perceive that the historical greatness of the phenomenon which now passes by the name of Marxism depends neither on the man nor on his work. It depends, rather, on the fact that Marx, at the critical moment of history, bestowed his teaching on the proletariat as the vehicle of an upward movement which had become historically indispensable.
Thus envisaged and thus appraised, it does not matter whether we regard Marxism as an eternal truth, or as a temporarily valid guiding fiction: whether the system is consequential and coherent in all its details; or whether it contains gaps, contradictions, and untenable theses: whether the theory of the imminent collapse of capitalism complies with the demands of scientific method, or has merely the restricted value of a fascinating apotheosis. What Marxism had to effect (the shaking of the proletariat out of its historical namelessness, the compacting of it into a political power, the making of it into a conscious factor of historical evolution, the placing of it on the stage of history as the author of and the actor in its own drama), all these things Marxism has achieved. If, over and above this, as the facts show, Marxism was and is logically sound, then Marxism has done even more than history could have demanded of it.
Only those who are content to look at the surface of things can believe (though the view is widely entertained today) that the logicalness and validity of Marxism have been undermined by the most recent happenings of history. Marxism, being primarily called upon to stir up the proletarian masses, to make them collect their forces, and to lead them on to the battlefield, must necessarily display itself at the outset in a guise which would encourage optimism; in a guise which, by representing historical evolution as the guarantee of the liberation of mankind, would make the workers believe in their own mission. To gain headway, it must relentlessly clear out of the path all rationalistic and utopian systems of socialism, and must inexorably proceed on its own course. Today, when its first work is finished, Marxism begins to assume a new aspect. In our own time, not merely can Marxism occasionally recur to the systems of the utopists and the rationalists; it is directly forced in this direction by the practical demands of the day, by the growing claims for positive achievements in the class struggle. Vulgar Marxism, the Marxism of the crowd, the Marxism of those who regard the mechanism of things as the essential factor of evolution, must yield place to a transformed Marxism, to a profounder Marxism, to the Marxism of those who look upon the activities of human beings as the main factors of evolution.
Therewith our appraisement of Marx’s personality has likewise been profoundly modified. Whereas persons of the last generation, in view of the opposing nature of their interests, reflected in their ideology, looked upon Marx either as a criminal disturber of the peace and a devil, or else as a saint and as an infallible pope-those of our own generation can admit him to have been a man equipped both with human weaknesses and with human strengths, both with human vices and with human virtues. We are, indeed, compelled to regard him thus, unless we would refuse to apply the materialist interpretation of history to individuals as well as to general processes. Modem psychology, as used in the present work to throw light upon the character and the behaviour of a human being, is nothing other than the application of the method of historical materialism to the study of the human mind.
Marx had to be an obstinate, pig-headed, intolerant thinker and investigator; had to regard other people’s opinions with suspicion; had to be hostile towards every alien trend; had to be cantankerous, dictatorial, fanatically obsessed with the rightness of his own convictions, fiercely opposed to any deviations from, any falsifications of, his ideas. He had to concentrate his genius, his understanding, his creative energy, for decade after decade, upon this one point, upon this one scientific task; had to neglect his calling, his family, his livelihood, his friends. He had to be whipped on by overweening ambition, blinded by intolerable selfishness, goaded day and night by a torturing sense of inferiority—that he might be equipped for his formidable achievements. The main thing was the work which had to be done; the qualities of the doer mattered little. Or, rather, the doer of the work which had to be done, had to be spurred to his task by an impetus such as could only be furnished by the neurosis from which Marx suffered! Today we have different problems to solve, and they must be solved by highly qualified persons who have freed themselves from neurosis; must be solved by champions of the class struggle who approach the undertaking with a keen sense of responsibility, an awakened consciousness, and a strongly developed community feeling.
To each age its own problems! Had Marx, as a neurotic, been content with the semblance of achievement, his work would have crepitated in the void, and he himself would have been a figure tragical in its futility. As things were, however, he performed a supreme task in the history of his own time and of subsequent times. That is why the class which he thus helped to become conscious of its own life and of the future which history holds in store for it, honours him as its greatest genius.