166: KARL MARX’S PERSONALITY – A balance sheet

“Welcome to Zingcreed, a totally unique Christian/Atheist polemic on religious and political topics by Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc. I hope you get something out of it!”

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As I’ve argued elsewhere on the Zingcreed blog, Christianity and Marxism are related at several points.
I guess, to Christians, Marx is like the wicked uncle whom the family don’t talk about; they rather wish he was in some one else’s family! They prefer to ignore the embarrassingly communistic behaviour of the early church in Acts chapters 2 and 4, and the tradition of communistic living that has existed in fringes of the church ever since. They prefer to ignore those scholars who say that a great thinker and analyst  like Marx could only have arisen in a Judaeo-Christian intellectual environment.

This Post is not about politics. It’s about the personality of this great man. His humanity, or lack of it; his domestic life; the extent to which he was a man of his time (i.e. the hypocritical Victorian era). I think this was an exercise worth doing, as it helps us understand some of the background to his complex philosophical and economic views. It has always puzzled me that although he always lived on handouts he employed a private secretary and his wife had a maid. (The one time he applied for a job, as a clerk on the railways, he was turned down on the grounds that his hand writing was illegible!) He and Engels alike both admitted that they knew nothing about the working class and yet they set out a programme for  proletarian revolution.
A man full of contradictions, and all the more fascinating for that!

I’ve listed his ‘good’ and ‘bad’ attributes. The responsibility for deciding which list to put something in is mine alone.

Marx’s ‘good’ points, i.e. his ‘human’ side: 

  • He and his wife Jenny often laughed till the tears rolled down their cheeks
  • He fought a number of duels as a young man
  • The boils on his backside were so painful that he had to write the Communist Manifesto standing up – he couldn’t sit down
  • On a pub crawl in Tottenham Court Road with some mates, he stoned the street lights and was chased by 4 cops
  • When separated from his wife he wrote numerous ardent love letters and 3 books of poems
  • He was devoted to his kids and spent hours ‘romping’ with them
  • He was widely read: Shakespeare, Goethe, Dante, Fielding, Scott, Balzac, Cervantes, Aeschylus
  • He once discussed in Spanish the history of the European theatre
  • He took his daughters to Roman Catholic churches to listen to the beautiful music there
  • Marx and his family were evicted from their first home by bailiffs
  • He sat on many relief committees for refugees
  • He gave away what he had or pawned it for the poor
  • In 1868 he was summonsed for non payment of Rates (Council Tax)
  • He took his family to Hampstead Heath every Sunday for donkey rides, picking wild flowers and a pub lunch
  • He loved poetry, especially Burns, Shelley, and Byron
  • He had 8 siblings, 4 of whom died young of TB. His father was a lawyer/magistrate
  • He was descended from a long line of rabbinical scholars, men who were combative, sharp and radical
  • He was an intellectual genius with a tendency to abstraction, deduction and construction
  • At school he was fluent in Greek, Latin and French
  • He liked rambling in the countryside around Trier with his school fellows
  • He nicknamed one of his sons ‘Fawksy’ after Guy Fawks.

Marx’s negative characteristics:

  • Like most Victorians he never smiled when having his photograph taken
  • He was frequently callous towards his friends and supporters
  • He had a mercenary attitude towards his relatives
  • He had conventional bourgeois aspirations
  • He spent 5 years in a Jesuit Grammar school
  • He was feared for his sarcasm
  • When he was a small boy he tyrannised his smaller sisters and made them eat mud pies
  • He didn’t go back to Trier for his father’s funeral because “it was too far, and he had more important things to do in Berlin”
  • He told Engels he wished his elderly widowed mother would die so he could inherit her wealth
  • Marx’s private utterances on sex, family, child rearing, and women were traditionally Victorian
  • He had a hypocritical approach to infidelity and illegitimate offspring, criticising it while at the same time getting his wife’s maid, Helen Demeuth, pregnant
  • He was accused of anti-semitism, but then he hated all forms of ethnic and national particularism.

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Marx’s 3 criticisms of religion
Alienation according to Karl Marx
Marx’s christian roots
Jesus or Marx? A fun quiz for all the family
The opium of the people
The Christian roots of communism
Rosa Luxemburg’s insights into Christianity and Socialism
491: Visions of change #16 Karl Marx

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