Marx's Path to Communism

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This article
is excerpted from volume 2, chapter 10 of An
Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought
(1995).
An MP3 audio file of this chapter, narrated by Jeff Riggenbach,
is available
for download
.

Karl Marx,
as the world knows, was born in Trier, a venerable city in Rhineland
Prussia, in 1818, son of a distinguished jurist, and grandson of
a rabbi. Indeed, both of Marx’s parents were descended from rabbis.
Marx’s father Heinrich was a liberal rationalist who felt no great
qualms about his forced conversion to official Lutheranism in 1816.
What is little known is that, in his early years, the baptized Karl
was a dedicated Christian. In his graduation essays from the Trier
gymnasium in 1835, the very young Marx prefigured his later
development. His essay on an assigned topic, "On the Union
of the Faithful with Christ" was orthodox evangelical Christian,
but it also contained hints of the fundamental "alienation"
theme that he would later find in Hegel. Marx’s discussion of the
"necessity for union" with Christ stressed that this union
would put an end to the tragedy of God’s alleged rejection of man.
In a companion essay, "Reflections of a Young Man on the Choice
of a Profession," Marx expressed a worry about his own "demon
of ambition," of the great temptation he felt to "inveigh
against the Deity and curse mankind."

Going first
to the University of Bonn and then off to the prestigious new University
of Berlin to study law, Marx soon converted to militant atheism,
shifted his major to philosophy, and joined a Doktorklub
of young (or Left) Hegelians, of which he soon became a leader and
general secretary.

The shift to
atheism quickly gave Marx’s demon of ambition full rein. Particularly
revelatory of Marx’s adult as well as youthful character are volumes
of poems, most of them lost until a few were recovered in recent
years.[1] Historians,
when they discuss these poems, tend to dismiss them as inchoate
romantic yearnings, but they are too congruent with the adult Marx’s
social and revolutionary doctrines to be casually dismissed. Surely,
here seems to be a case where a unified (early plus late) Marx is
vividly revealed. Thus in his poem "Feelings," dedicated
to his childhood sweetheart and later wife Jenny von Westphalen,
Marx expressed both his megalomania and his enormous thirst for
destruction:

Heaven I
would comprehend
I would draw the world to me;
Living, hating, I intend
That my star shine brilliantly …

and

… Worlds
I would destroy forever,
Since I can create no world;
Since my call they notice never …

Here is a classical
expression of Satan’s supposed reason for hating, and rebelling
against, God.

In another
poem, Marx writes of his triumph after he shall have destroyed God’s
created world:

Then I will
be able to walk triumphantly,
Like a god, through the ruins of their kingdom.
Every word of mine is fire and action.
My breast is equal to that of the Creator.

And in his
poem "Invocation of One in Despair" Marx writes,

I shall build
my throne high overhead
Cold, tremendous shall its summit be.
For its bulwark – superstitious dread
For its marshal – blackest agony.[2]

The Satan theme
is most explicitly set forth in Marx’s "The Fiddler,"
dedicated to his father:

See this
sword?
the prince of darkness
Sold it to me.

And

With Satan
I have struck my deal,
He chalks the signs, beats time for me
I play the death march fast and free.

Particularly
instructive is Marx’s lengthy, unfinished poetic drama of this youthful
period, Oulanem, A Tragedy. In the course of this drama his
hero, Oulanem, delivers a remarkable soliloquy, pouring out sustained
invective, a hatred of the world and of mankind, a hatred of creation
and a threat and vision of total world destruction.

Thus Oulanem
pours out his vials of wrath:

… I shall
howl gigantic curses on mankind:
Ha! Eternity! She is an eternal grief …
Ourselves being clockwork, blindly mechanical,
Made to be the foul-calendars of Time and Space,
Having no purpose save to happen, to be ruined,
So that there shall be something to ruin …
If there is a something which devours,
I’ll leap within it, though I bring the world to ruins-
The world which bulks between me and the Abyss
I will smash to pieces with my enduring curses.
I’ll throw my arms around its harsh reality:
Embracing me, the world will dumbly pass away,
And then sink down to utter nothingness,
Perished, with no existence – that would be really living!

And

… the leaden
world holds us fast,
And we are chained, shattered, empty, frightened,
Eternally chained to this marble block of Being …
and we –
We are the apes of a cold God.[3]

All this reveals
a spirit that often seems to animate militant atheism. In contrast
to the nonmilitant variety, which expresses a simple disbelief in
God’s existence, militant atheism seems to believe implicitly in
God’s existence, but to hate him and to wage war for his destruction.
Such a spirit was all too clearly revealed in the retort of the
militant atheist Bakunin to the famous pro-theist remark of the
deist Voltaire: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary
to create Him.” To which the demented Bakunin retorted, "If
God did exist, it would be necessary to destroy Him.” It was this
hatred of God as a creator greater than himself that apparently
inspired Karl Marx.

Also prefiguring
the man was a trait that Marx developed early in his youth and never
relinquished: a shameless sponging on friends and relatives. Already
in early 1837, Heinrich Marx, castigating his son Karl’s wanton
spending of the money of others, wrote to him that "on one
point … you have wisely found fit to observe an aristocratic silence;
I am referring to the paltry matter of money." Indeed, Marx
took money from any source available: his father, mother, and throughout
his adult life, his long-suffering friend and abject disciple, Friedrich
Engels, all of whom fueled Marx’s capacity for spending money like
water.[4]

An insatiable
spender of other people’s money, Marx continually complained about
a shortage of financial means. While sponging on Engels, Marx perpetually
complained to his friend that his largess was never enough. Thus,
in 1868, Marx insisted that he could not make do on an annual income
of less than £400-£500, a phenomenal sum considering
that the upper tenth of Englishmen in that period were earning
an average income of only £72 a year. Indeed, so profligate
was Marx that he quickly ran through an inheritance from a German
follower of £824 in 1864, as well as a gift of £350
from Engels in the same year.

In short, Marx
was able to run through the munificent sum of almost £1200
in two years, and two years later accept another gift of £210
from Engels to pay off his newly accumulated debts. Finally, in
1868, Engels sold his share of the family cotton mill and settled
upon Marx an annual "pension" of £350 from then
on. Yet Marx’s continual complaints about money did not abate.[5]

As in the case
of many other spongers and cadgers throughout history, Karl Marx
affected a hatred and contempt for the very material resource he
was so anxious to cadge and use so recklessly. The difference is
that Marx created an entire philosophy around his own corrupt attitudes
toward money. Man, he thundered, was in the grip of the "fetishism"
of money. The problem was the existence of this evil thing, not
the voluntarily adopted attitudes of some people toward it. Money
Marx reviled as "the pander between … human life and the
means of sustenance," the "universal whore." The
Utopia of communism was a society where this scourge, money, would
be abolished.

Karl Marx,
the self-proclaimed enemy of the exploitation of man by man, not
only exploited his devoted friend Friedrich Engels financially,
but also psychologically. Thus, only three months after Marx’s wife,
Jenny von Westphalen, gave birth to his daughter Franziska in March
1851, their live-in maid, Helene ("Lenchen") Demuth, whom
Marx had "inherited" from Jenny’s aristocratic family,
also gave birth to Marx’s illegitimate son, Henry Frederick. Desperately
anxious to keep up haute bourgeois conventions and to hold
his marriage together, Karl never acknowledged his son, and, instead,
persuaded Engels, a notorious womanizer, to proclaim the baby as
his own. Both Marx and Engels treated the hapless Freddy extremely
badly, Engels’s presumed resentment at being so used providing him
a rather better excuse. Marx boarded Freddy out continually, and
never allowed him to visit his mother. As Fritz Raddatz, a biographer
of Marx, declared, "if Henry Frederick Demuth was Karl Marx’s
son, the new mankind’s Preacher lived an almost lifelong lie, and
scorned, humiliated, and disowned his only surviving son."[6]
Engels, of course, picked up the tab for Freddy’s education. Freddy
was trained, however, to take his place in the working class, far
from the lifestyle of his natural father, the quasi-aristocratic
leader of the world’s downtrodden revolutionary proletariat.[7],[8]

Marx’s personal
taste for the aristocracy was lifelong. As a young man, he attached
himself to his neighbor, Jenny’s father Baron Ludwig von Westphalen,
and dedicated his doctoral thesis to the baron. Indeed, the snobbish
proletarian communist always insisted that Jenny imprint "nee
von Westphalen" on her calling card.

Notes

[1]
The poems were largely written in 1836 and 1837, in his first months
in Berlin. Two of the poems constituted Marx’s first published writings,
in the Berlin Atheneum in 1841. The others have been mainly
lost.

[2]
Richard Wurmbrand, Marx
and Satan
(Westchester, 111: Crossway Books, 1986), pp.
12–13.

[3]
For the complete translated text of Oulanem, see Robert
Payne, The
Unknown Karl Marx
(New York: New York University Press,
1971), pp. 81–3. Also excellent on the poems and on Marx
as fundamentally a messianist is Bruce Mazlish, The
Meaning of Karl Marx
(New York: Oxford University Press,
1984).

Pastor Wurmbrand
points out that Oulanem is an anagram of Emmanuel, the
Biblical name for Jesus, and that such inversions of holy names
are standard practice in Satanic cults. There is no real evidence,
however, that Marx was a member of such a cult. Wurmbrand, op.
cit., note 45, pp. 13–14 and passim.

[4]
Friedrich Engels (1820–95) was the son of a leading industrialist
and cotton manufacturer, who was also a staunch pietist from the
Barmen area of the Rhineland in Germany. Barmen was one of the
major centers of pietism in Germany, and Engels received a strict
pietist upbringing. An atheist and then a Hegelian by 1839, Engels
wound up at the University of Berlin and the Young Hegelians by
1841, and moved in the same circles as Marx, the two becoming
fast friends in 1844.

[5]
See the enlightening estimates in Gary North, Marx’s
Religion of Revolution: The Doctrine of Creative Destruction

(Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1968), pp. 26–8. Also see ibid.
(2nd ed., Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989),
pp. 232–56.

[6]
Fritz J. Raddatz, Karl
Marx: A Political Biography
(Boston: Little Brown &
Co., 1978), p. 134.

[7]
Marx’s zeal in covering up his indiscretion was at least matched
by historians of the Marxist establishment, who managed to suppress
the truth about Freddy Demuth until recent years. Although the
truth was known to leading Marxists such as Bernstein and Bebel,
the news of Marx’s illegitimate fatherhood was only disclosed
in 1962 in Werner Blumenberg’s Marx. See in particular
W.O. Henderson, The
Life of Friedrich Engels
(London: Frank Cass, 1976), II,
pp. 833–4. Some loyal Marxists still refuse to accept the
ugly facts. Thus, see the labor of love by the late leader of
the "Draperite" wing of the Trotskyist movement, Hal
Draper, Marx-Engels Cyclopedia (3 vols, New York: Schocken
Books, 1985).

[8]
As for Engels, he refused to marry his mistress Mary because she
was of "low" descent. After Mary’s death her sister
Lizzie became Engels’s mistress. Engels magnanimously married
Lizzie on her deathbed "in order to provide her a ‘last pleasure.’"

Murray
N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School,
founder of modern libertarianism, and chief academic officer
of the Mises Institute. He
was also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his literary
executor. See
his books.

Copyright
2012 by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided
full credit is given.

The
Best of Murray Rothbard

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