The Red Prussian by Leopold Schwarzschild, 1986 ed., is an even more savage assault on Marx’s personality. It depicts Marx’s ideas and arguments as intellectually worthless and as used by Marx as a mere means of dominating working-class movements in the interests of gaining personal power.
Neither Johnson nor Schwarzschild has much insight into the nature of Marx’s thought. More balanced accounts of both Marx’s thought and his personality are given by Francis Wheen, Karl Marx, 2010, and Gregory Claeys, Marx and Marxism, 2018.
Whatever may have been the case in his earlier years, once Marx had defined - from the mid- to late 1840s onwards - his own brand of socialism as the exclusive path to communism, there is ample evidence provided by Wheen and Claeys that he was invincibly convinced of the correctness of his own views and intolerant of opposition.
How far, if at all, Marx’s dogmatic intolerance – the dictatorial side of his personality - translated across to the characteristics of the Soviet, and specifically the Stalinist, regime in Russia is hard to determine. The causal links via personality seem tenuous in the extreme. By what medium could Marx's personality have penetrated the nature of the Soviet state?
Two different and more plausible connections can be drawn.
One: Marx advocated with intellectual intolerance an economic and political theory of capitalist society, of its nature and future: and a corresponding picture of socialism and communism. That theory, or rather a version of it formulated by Lenin, was taken up by equally intolerant revolutionaries, particularly Lenin and Stalin. It was the personalities of its leadership, operating in the conditions of post-Tsarist Russia, that mainly produced the defining features of Soviet communism between the two world wars and into the 1950s until Stalin’s death in 1953.
Two: Lenin and Stalin used Marx’s ideas about what he called after 1850 ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ (Gilbert: 130) to justify the dictatorship of the Communist Party. While Marx could countenance the possibility of a peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism, and thought this possibility might be realisable in England (Gilbert: 237-8), his general trend of thought was that an element of violence was to be expected as a part of the process. In November 1848 he wrote in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung [New Rhenish Gazette]: ‘there is only one means by which the murderous death agonies of the old society and the bloody birth throes of the new society can be shortened, simplified and concentrated – and that is by revolutionary terror’ (Buchanan, 1982: 24-25). In context ‘terror’ plainly includes violence. Even with the English concession, Marx could still write in ‘Capital I (1867) that ‘Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one’ . Briefly said, Marx’s ideas were used to legitimate under Lenin and Stalin an extended regime of violence and party domination (given 'people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control', as Lenin wrote in The State and Revolution, III, 1918) which was far distant from the short, forceful rupture which Marx had in mind when he referred to ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’ and ‘revolutionary terror’. The activities of the midwife are of strictly limited, not indefinitely extended, duration.
Buchanan, A.E., Marx and Justice, Published by Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc, Totowa, NJ (1982).
ISBN 10: 0847670392ISBN 13: 9780847670390
Claeys, G., Marx and Marxism, London: Penguin, 2018.
Gilbert, A., *Marx’s Politics: Communists and Citizens, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1981.
ISBN 10: 0855204419ISBN 13: 9780855204419
Lenin, V.I., The State and Revolution, 1918: http://www.marxist.net/lenin/staterev/index.html
Marx, K., Capital, I, 1867: https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/marx-capital-a-critique-of-political-economy-volume-i-the-process-of-capitalist-production
Schwarzschild, L., The Red Prussian, London: Pickwick Books, 1986.
Wheen, F., Karl Marx, London: Fourth Estate, 1999.