Announcer: This week on BOOKNOTES, our guest is author and
journalist Francis Wheen. He joins us to discuss his recent book, "Karl Marx: A
BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Francis Wheen, author of "Karl Marx: A Life," what led to your
interest in this man?
FRANCIS WHEEN, AUTHOR, "KARL MARX: A LIFE": Well,
I'd always been reasonably interested in Karl Marx, but I suppose what
really fired it was the assumption in the early 1990s that he was now
not worth bothering with. At the end of the Cold War, after the fall
of the Berlin Wall, all that some--end-of-history stuff, we got all
that great Hegelian argument from Fukuyama, and the assumption was
that he was now dead and buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall.
I thought, on the other hand, this was the ideal moment to dig him up,
because he'd been buried long before under all those awful Stalinist
monoliths that were created in his honor, and that he hadn't had much
of a look in for a long time. And now that all that had gone, we
might be able to get back to Marx himself, rather than the kind of
caricature or all the icon or whatever that he'd become.
LAMB: Where was he from originally?
WHEEN: From Germany, from the Rhineland, a place called Trier.
And his parents were Jewish. His mother was Dutch, in fact, but her
move to Germany--and both his parents came from a very long line of
rabbis. Marx's uncle was a Jew. His--was a rabbi. His grandfather
was a rabbi and so on. But just before Marx was born, his father
converted to Christianity, mainly a marriage of convenience because,
as a Jew, he was kind of a second-class citizen and not allowed to
practice in the professions. And he wanted to be a lawyer, so the
father then became a Lutheran Christian. So by the time Marx was
born, his father was technically a Christian. So Marx himself was
sort of a Jew, but then again sort of not and sort of a Christian, but
then again not really 'cause his father wasn't actually a practicing
Christian any more than he'd been a practicing Jew.
So he was, from the outset, I--slightly one removed from society. I
mean, they were a respectable middle-class family. His father was
quite wealthy. He had vineyards--Moselle vineyards and things. And
they--and when he could practice as a lawyer, he made even more money.
They moved into a rather large house. But at the same time, although
they were respectful, middle-class citizens, because of the Jewish
background and the anti-Jewish laws at the time, he was always
slightly an outsider, which I suppose may explain why he was so
interested in ideas of alienation and estrangement because he did feel
alienated from an early age. He didn't feel part of this society that
he lived in, in Trier.
LAMB: Here's a--is it a photograph or is it a painting of the 1860
WHEEN: That one is a painting, I believe ...(unintelligible).
LAMB: Where was he in 1860?
WHEEN: 1860, he was in London. He stayed in London for most of
his life, not just his adult life, but most of his life. He moved to
London at the end of the 1840s, having been thrown out of most other
countries in Western Europe. I mean, he was buffeted around. He left
Germany, renounced his German citizenship when he moved to Paris in
1844; decided that Germany had nothing more to offer him. Then he got
thrown out of Paris, went back to--went to Belgium for a while, got
chucked out of there. He went back to Germany at the time of the 1848
revolutions, then he was thrown out of Germany.
He ran a newspaper there briefly, but was closed down by the
authorities. He was expelled again, went to Paris, got expelled, and
ended up in London, which was the last place willing to take political
refugees. And so it was full of them. I mean, Italians--Matcini
lived in London for quite a while--Germans, French, they all tended to
fetch up in England, this sort of revolutionary flotsam and jetsam,
because it was the only sanctuary left. So he--as I say, he went
there at the end of the 1840s, after the failure of the 1848
revolutions, turned up in 1849 and stayed there till he died in 1883.
So he was in England for 34 years. Never became remotely English in
He didn't really mix very much with the English, with a few
exceptions. He saw far more of his fellow German exiles and French
exiles, but I suppose he was literally an alien. He was a stateless
person from 1844 onward. So from the age of 26, he had no states, no
passports. It was the kind of embodiment of alienation, quite
LAMB: What year did you start on the book?
WHEEN: Well, about three years ago, I think, was when I first
decided I wanted to do it, and it was sparked partly in a spirit of
perversity. It was almost an accident that I did it, I suppose,
because my publisher in London was badgering me to write a book for
her, and I was trying to fend her off. And eventually I said to her,
`The only book I want to write at the moment is the life of Karl
Marx.' And I assumed that she would reel back screaming and then say,
`No, no, no, most unpopular, unfashionable subject on Earth.' And
instead she was very keen and said, `Great. Write. Do it. How soon
can you get on with it?' So I was--I was quite pleased because I did
want to do it.
On the other hand, I was surprised because I thought no one was
interested in Marx anymore. But it was a great challenge. I thought,
this is great, I can dig the old boy up and perhaps persuade people
that he's worth taking an interest in; that he is, whether you agree
with him or not, a serious and major figure and also an interesting
and human figure, I mean, full of human failings, his--you know,
everyday life full of disasters and tragedies as well as a fair amount
LAMB: Where is this picture taken?
WHEEN: That's in Highgate Cemetery in north London, where he
fetched up, where he was buried, along with his wife and housekeeper
and one of his children. And there is that sort of great, rather grim
monument that was put up. That's not the original burial place. He
was originally buried at the other end of Highgate Cemetery in a
rather obscure, unconsecrated corner. And then in the 1940s, the
British Communist Party decided they wanted to move him to a more
prominent bit of the cemetery and build this great bust, this
monument, because visiting Communists quite often wanted to go and see
it, and there was nothing to see; there wasn't even a gravestone in
And I found in the public record office in London lots of home office
files just on the subject of moving Marx's tomb, moving his coffin.
And all these senior civil servants were saying, `Well, it must be
done at the dead of night because otherwise it could provoke some sort
of disturbance.' So it was only allowed to be done on condition that
they moved the grave at, I think, 3:00 in the morning, 'cause they
thought otherwise, there might be riots and demonstrations against it.
In fact, I don't think anyone noticed.
But anyway, then it was moved to where it is now, near the entrance,
with that enormous great thing where, for years and years, any visitor
from the Soviet Union, or indeed North Korea or China, would be
obliged to go and have their picture taken. And to this day, you
still see visiting tourists making the pilgrimage, the few remaining
Marxists left in the world trudge up there.
LAMB: Well, you mentioned before we started, you--you met a man at
that grave site that I have met just by riding the train up to New
York. And what was the--what were the circumstances?
WHEEN: Well, he's a--he's--yes, he is one of the few surviving
American Marxists. He's a very great guy called Ike Nahum. And I met
him a few years ago when I started work on the book. I went to Trier,
to Marx's birthplace, the house where he was born, which is now a
museum. And almost the only other person there was this American, and
we kept bumping into each other in the various rooms. And after a
while, he turned to me and introduced himself and said, `Well, I think
we've seen all this. Why don't we go for a drink?' So we then spent
the rest of the day in a bar, having a very long conversation about
all sorts of things.
And he turned out to be this veteran Marxist trade unionist from New
York who is an engineer on Amtrak, on the railroad, and a
fantastically well-read one as well. I mean, he'd read all 50 volumes
of "The Collected Works of Marx and Engels," as well as having read,
you know, all sorts of other things. He's a great Wosshead Diodite.
He's currently working his way through every book ever written on the
American Civil War, I think. And he--I was surprised to learn that
there was anyone left in America who would actually own up to being a
Marxist, but there are a few of them scattered about.
LAMB: And he--and actually, when--he just announced himself to me
once where he drives those trains up to New York, you know, riding one
of the trains, that he was a viewer, but also one of the last Marxists
around. What would it mean to be one of the last Marxists? What
would you believe in if you were a Marxist?
WHEEN: Well, it's very hard to say, because I think--I mean, I
tend not to use the word `Marxist' if I can help it, mainly because
it's become almost meaningless because there are 57 varieties of
Marxism, from Stalinism to Trotskyism to Maoism and Marxism, Leninism
and so on and so on. And I think it's become so broad as to be almost
meaningless if someone says--I mean, Ike says he's a Marxist, but you
then, when someone says that, have to spend several hours discovering
precisely what they mean by it.
So I tend to avoid the word, and I also think it's been slightly
debased by the attachments it's gained. I mean, Marx himself, I
think, guessed this was coming. Even in his lifetime, there was a
French political party which he didn't approve of, and they got in
touch with him and said, `Mr. Marx, you'll be delighted to hear that
we now call ourselves a Marxist party.' And he said, `Well, in that
case, I at least am not a Marxist.'
So I think even before he died, he was aware that disciples,
self-styled disciples, might be the bane of his life and certainly of
his death, because then, of course, after his death in the 20th
century, you had any number of people appointing themselves as his
spokesperson, if you like, from Stalin to Kim Il Sung to whoever. And
each of them claimed to be the true keeper of the faith, and they
can't all have been telling the truth, and I suspect that none of them
was because, actually, if you look at Marx's general approach to life
and his attitudes, it's hard to believe that he would have had much
time for any of them, I mean, and certainly in the Soviet Union, given
that Marx was just congenitally argumentative, critical of everything.
In the Soviet Union, where argument and criticism were not really
encouraged, he would have lasted about five minutes before they threw
him into the Gulag, I should think.
LAMB: I have here a little tiny book--show the audience what it looks
like--and it's quite simply stated, "The Communist Manifesto." And
actually, if you took out all of the--the different forewords for the
different editions, it wouldn't be as big as it is. As you can see,
it's tiny. What impact did "The Communist Manifesto" have on the
WHEEN: Well, I think it's had a huge impact. I mean, I think
you could reasonably say it's one of the most, if not the most,
influential political pamphlet in history. And it is just a pamphlet,
which is one of its strengths. It's very readable, very short; you
can read the thing in half an hour. And it's written in fairly
lively, accessible language. Vigorous pamphleteering is not obscure
and impenetrable, as some people accuse "Das Kapital" of being. I
mean, this is something anyone can read, so even people who've never
read anything else by Marx quite often turn out to have read that at
And it is a--a very lively piece of work. I think it holds up very
well. And it's also surprisingly contemporary and modern when you
read it now with 21st century eyes. It's full of stuff there which
reads like an exact description of what's going on in the world, about
what would now be called globalization. I mean, the same people who
tend to dismiss Marx and say he has nothing of interest to tell us
now, as often as not, are the same sort of whiz-kid, modernized
pundits who talk about the third way and say, `Yeah, globalization,
that's the thing.' Then you read "The Communist Manifesto" and it's
absolutely full of globalization, all about how the increasing pace of
communications and developments in technology will create this global
market which will tend to be dominated by the dominant economic
And you have a world where--well, I mean, a couple of years ago, I was
in China, in Beijing, which is the capital of a supposedly Communist
state, a market Leninist, I think it's called these days. And there
in Beijing, you walk down the street, you see McDonald's, Kentucky
Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Chase Manhattan and so on. And even the
hotel where I was staying--which was quite a cheap hotel; it wasn't a
very grand place, 'cause I was paying my own way--even in this cheap
hotel in Beijing, there on the desk was a computer and there on the
screen was Microsoft Windows. So even at the heart of the supposedly
Communist world, there's no getting away from Bill Gates.
And also--I mean, he also--I mean, Marx--one of Marx's many other
points was the tendency of capitalism towards monopoly, left to
itself, you know, that on the whole, in spite of all the talk about
competition and the market, that the dominant figures in that market
would tend to try to squeeze out the other competition and create a
monopoly for themselves, a natural and untenable--and lo and behold,
it's now official; the US courts have decreed that this is the case
with the best-known capitalist of them all, old Bill Gates again.
LAMB: What year was he born?
LAMB: What year did he die?
LAMB: And how many times did he marry?
WHEEN: He married only once. He married a beautiful Prussian
aristocrat called Jenny von Westphalen. Her father was a baron. She
was also descended from Scottish aristocracy, the dukes of Argyll, the
earls of Argyll, so very grand, upper-class Prussian family.
LAMB: Is this her in this picture right here?
WHEEN: There she is, yes. And she was the belle of the ball in
Trier, you know, the princess of the town, had lots of suitors. But
Marx--or Marx's father and her father became friends--they were quite
near neighbors--so Marx knew her from very early youth. I mean, he
was a baby when he first met his future wife, and she was actually a
friend of his older sister, so he knew her all his life, really. And
they fell in love, and she abandoned her fiance, who was a--you know,
an army officer, a suitable fiance, and threw in her lot with Karl
Marx, and thereby condemned herself to a life of tremendous poverty
and grind and disaster and tragedy and exile and so on. And I mean,
she was depressed for a lot of the time during their marriage, as well
she might have been.
But at the same time, she was intensely devoted to him and fiercely
loyal, I mean, really tigerishly protective. She never suggested that
she would have done anything else, had she known what lay in store.
And if anyone was ever rude about her husband or criticized him, she
would defend him even more vigorously than he would defend himself,
which is saying something.
LAMB: How many children did they have?
WHEEN: Hah! Well, it depends how you define children because
there was an extra child out of wedlock who was born to the
housekeeper, Helena Demuth, one of the more amazing aspects of the
Marx story, because they were living at the time in two rooms in Soho
in the center of London with this rather large household of--of
husband, wife, children, housekeeper, all crammed into the two rooms.
But there was a brief period where his wife, Jenny, went off to
Holland to try and get some money out of an uncle, out of one of
Marx's uncles. And during this period, amazingly enough, nine months
later, the housekeeper gives birth to a boy, Freddie.
LAMB: This is--this is Jenny on the screen right now, up here on the
WHEEN: This is some--well, I don't know.
LAMB: Marx's wife.
WHEEN: Oh, yes, she is. Yes. There's Jenny, yes.
LAMB: And right below that is...
WHEEN: That is the housekeeper.
LAMB: ...is the housekeeper.
WHEEN: Yes, that's Helena, the mother of little Freddie. And
this boy, Freddie, was given away for adoption to a family in the East
End of London. And there was what can only be described as a
cover-up. I think I say in the book, `The first--one of the more
successful cover-ups organized for the good of the Communist cause.'
Marx was aware that his enemies would use this against him if it got
out. Engels stepped into the breach and pretended that he was the
father and the baby was then given away for adoption anyway, and lived
for the rest of his life--he didn't die until 1929, this illegitimate
son--unaware that his real father was the man who--by the--by then, by
1929, was, you know, notorious all over the world. So there was this
extra child, Freddie, who had--I mean, it's not Marx's finest hour and
there are many moments that you could say are not his finest hour.
But certainly the business of impregnating Helena Demuth and then
giving the child away, I don't think reflect very well.
On the other hand, it's hard to see how they could have accommodated
anymore children. They had quite enough trouble with their own
children. Three children died in infancy. And then of the others,
there were the three surviving daughters. I mean, there were six all
together, three of them died as small children and the three others,
Jenny, Laura and Eleanor--Jenny died before her father, Jenny Chen,
the junior Jenny. And the two children who outlived him, Laura and
Eleanor, both committed suicide. So it is...
LAMB: This is--this is Jenny the--with--sitting with her father.
WHEEN: That's Jenny the daughter, yes. It's rather confusing.
They're all called Jenny in that family. Even one of the
grandchildren was called Jenery--Jenny.
LAMB: Who committed suicide?
WHEEN: Laura and Eleanor, the only two children who outlived
LAMB: This is a photograph right here of Laura.
LAMB: And when did--why did she commit suicide?
WHEEN: Well, it's hard to say. They basically--she and her
husband, I mean, they were in their 60s when they did it. They'd had
three children in quick succession when they married; all three died
almost immediately. And they then had rather gloomy lives, I suppose
you could say, full of frustration. They were all s--I mean, frankly,
sponges. When Marx died, he'd been subsidized for most of his life by
Engels. And Laura just assumed that this would be inherited, the
subsidy. And so she was forever writing to Engels and her husband,
Paul, would write to Engels saying, `Could you send us 10 pounds,
please?' So he found he had to support the next generation as well
because they were too indigent to look after themselves. But I think
they reached a point where they both--well, as far as one could tell,
they both just decided that they were in their 60s, life had nothing
more to offer them. They were weary and they decided to end it all in
a suicide pact. And at their funeral in France, there was a visiting
speaker who gave an oration from the Russian Communist Party, a man
called Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, oddly enough, which is the--the only
sort of direct lineage one can trace between Marx himself and the
Soviet Communists. And s...
LAMB: Why would he have been there?
WHEEN: Well, representing the Russian Communists, because this
was the funeral of the daughter of Karl Marx. The Russian Communist
Party wanted to send a representative to the funeral to make a little
speech. And Lenin was the man who got it.
LAMB: What about Eleanor? Did she also commit suicide?
WHEEN: Eleanor was a--a much sadder tale, much, much sadder
tale. Eleanor, as you can see from the picture, very attractive,
bright, lively girl, but had a lot of troubles, partly Marx's fault,
yet again, you have to say because Marx had two French sons-in-law.
His daughters Jenny and Laura both married French Socialists. Marx,
on the whole, not very well disposed towards French Socialists. He
was always arguing with them and quarreling because he thought they
And then Eleanor fell in love with a man called Lester Gary, another
dashing French revolutionary. And Marx put his foot down and he said,
you know, `I'm not going to have three of my daughters married to
French Socialists. I can't stand them.' So he more or less forbad
this union. He wouldn't let Eleanor see her lover and she was ordered
to break it off. And she never really recovered from this and
she--she was ill for a long time. She had a kind of anorexic stage
where she wouldn't eat for long periods.
And then she took up with the most unsuitable and ghastly man called
Edward Aveling, who was tremendously ugly, but very successful with
women. He used to say, `If I have a half-hour's head start, I could
have any woman in London.' And he somehow obviously had some sort of
magnetic appeal, though certainly a lot of people who knew him found
him not only physically disgusting, but disgusting in character. He
was a vile person who treated Eleanor terribly. He got secretly
married while supposedly living with Eleanor. They lived together
unmarried. But as most of their friends were Bohemians, this was sort
of acceptable. And she then discovered that he had secretly, a year
earlier, got married to somebody else without telling her. And he'd
been maintaining these two households, a wife on the side. It was
kind of reversed of the usual thing where you have the mistress on the
side. In this case, he was living with a mistress, but also kept a
secret wife tucked away.
Eleanor was distraught. And he then agreed that he had behaved very
badly and he said, `Well, look, let's end it all. Let's have a
suicide pact.' So they got some prosic acid, and the idea was that
they were going to die together tragically. And then he failed to
keep his part of the bargain. Eleanor took the prosic acid and died
and he didn't. He just left the house and carried on as if nothing
had happened. I think he was very lucky not to be charged with
manslaughter, quite frankly, since he had clearly killed her, in any
meaningful sense of the phrase. But that was the end of poor Eleanor.
It's a terrible tragic tale, especially because she had so much to
offer. She was a very bright, talented actress, translator, writer,
had lots of friends. Bernard Shaw was a great friend of hers. She
met him in the British museum and she was a--a good speaker. She was
politically very active in the East End of London and places. But
died of a broken heart essentially.
LAMB: You said that he just lived a couple miles from Charles Darwin.
WHEEN: Well, a few miles, yes. Marx lived in London; Darwin
lived down in Kent. It's more than a couple miles, but not very far
away. And it is quite striking that I suppose--you'd have to say, the
two most--the two 19th century thinkers who were most influential in
the 20th century probably were Marx and Darwin, in their different
ways. And there they were living quite near each other. And so there
has been a temptation to try and link them in some way. And there is
one slight thing, which is that Marx sent Darwin a copy of "Das
Kapital," and Darwin sent him back a polite thank you letter saying,
`Dear Dr. Marx, thank you so much for your fascinating book.' And
Marx was quite excited and thought that Darwin really had read it and
had admired it. And if you go, you can still find it today. If you
go to Darwin's house at Down and Kent, there on the bookshelves is the
copy that Marx sent him. And you open it and only about the first 100
pages have actually been cut out of the 800 pages. It's clear that
Darwin just cut the first few pages and glanced at them--his German
wasn't that good anyway--and sent the polite letter. So I don't think
he was a great fan of Marx's.
LAMB: What year was "The Communist Manifesto"...
LAMB: ...issued? And...
WHEEN: Beginning of 1848, February, 1848.
LAMB: And in 1848, he lived where?
WHEEN: He was--well, at that stage, he was in Belgium when he
wrote "The Communist Manifesto"--in Brussels. But he was on the
mo--he was about to be on the move again, because 1848 was, of course,
one of the big years of revolution. That's when most of Europe had
revolutions of one kind or another, with the exception of Britain. I
mean, France, Italy, Germany, there were revolutions all over the
place. They didn't last. They were--they were followed immediately
by counterrevolutions. But for a brief period, there were these
uprisings. It was one of those historic years. And so, Marx wanted
to be in the thick of it. So he moved on. He spent a large part of
1848 in Germany because that was where he wanted to be, in Cologne,
running a newspaper, fomenting revolution. He also spent quite a bit
of time in France. He was invited back to France by the provisional
government, the revolutionary provisional government. But then, of
course, after the counterrevolution, he was kicked out again. So he
spent 1848 and '49 shuttling between Brussels and Paris and Cologne,
being expelled from each, one after the other, and eventually was
kicked out of France for the last time and had to go to London.
LAMB: Now you say he wrote this in--in 1848...
WHEEN: Just before the revolution started. Pure coincidence. I
don't think they started because of that.
LAMB: The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 in Russia, what--what did this
have to do with that? Anything?
WHEEN: Hah. Well, I suppose you could reasonably say it had
something to do with it in the sense that the key figures in the
Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin and the rest of them, obviously had read
it. I mean, they'd grown up on it. So, yes, I mean, the--the Russian
Communist Party was founded and led by people who certainly had read
"The Communist Manifesto" and had read "Kapital" and had read quite a
few of the other books. The argument is whether they had read it
correctly or, indeed, whether they had missed something or whether
they had willfully misread parts of it.
LAMB: Let me ask you about "Das Kapital." What year did he write
WHEEN: Well, he was writing it for most of his life. He--I
mean, it finally--the first volume came out in German in 1867. But
LAMB: So another 20 years after "The Communist Manifesto."
WHEEN: But he was working on it off and on for most of those 20
years. I mean, that--even at--even before the Communist Manifesto, in
the mid-1840s, when he first met Engels. Engels came to Paris and
stopped off where Marx was living at the time, met Marx, and they had
a drink in a cafe and it turned into several drinks. And then they
went back to Marx's apartment and stayed there for 10 days, talking...
LAMB: Let--let me stop because we--I should ask you about this man,
Friedrich Engels. Where--where again did he meet him?
WHEEN: They met in Paris, and as I say, they had this
conversation that ended up lasting for 10 days, what was meant to be a
drink in a cafe, and at the end of that--it's very frustrating. They
n--they--you ne--there was never much of a detailed account of this,
after all, rather important meeting. And the only thing Engels ever
wrote about it was, `When I met Marx in Paris, we talked for 10 days.
At the end of that, it became clear that we were pretty much in
complete agreement on most things and we would work together from then
on.' That's all he said. I mean, no account of what went on in these
10 days, just that at the end of it, they decided they got along so
well and they were in such agreement that they would be collaborators,
which they were.
LAMB: Where was Mr. Engels from?
WHEEN: He was from a place called Wuppertal. He was from a...
LAMB: In what country?
WHEEN: In Germany. Oh, yeah, they were both German. He was the
son of a fairly wealthy textile man. His father, Engels Sr., owned
cotton factories in Lancashire and--well, he started in Germany, but
he then expanded into Lancashire, which was, at the time, the center
of the cotton trade. So he ran a textile firm in Germany, but also
had this outpost in Manchester with his partners, a German family
called Erman. And Engels Jr., Friedrich Engels, Marx's friend, when
Marx ended up in England in exile, he summoned Engels to join him,
which he did. Then it became clear that Marx couldn't survive. He
had no money. Engels then volunteered to go to Manchester and join
the family firm because his father had been very keen of--for him to
work in this. So the father was very pleased. `Oh, my boy, following
in my example. Great. You go to Manchester and run the factory
there,' which Engels did for 20 years.
But his only reason for doing that was to make enough money to
subsidize Marx. I mean, not that he didn't enjoy it. He had quite a
good time in Manchester. He behaved like a local captain of industry.
He kept several horses and went out fox hunting and had a large wine
cellar and so on. But nevertheless, it was all for a rather different
cause, which certainly his business associates wouldn't have known
that he was busily corresponding every day with Marx, sending him
money but also sending him ideas, arguing about ideas, even
ghostwriting for him. I mean, quite often, if Marx was too ill or too
distracted to write some bit of journalism he had to do, particularly
when he was writing his columns in the New York Tribune, the Dade
Tribune, Engels would just act as ghostwriter. If the Tribune got in
touch and said to Marx, right--`We want a piece on military strategy
or something or other,' Marx wasn't very good on that whereas Engels
was mad on military matters. So he would write it and Marx would send
it in under his name.
LAMB: Any way...
WHEEN: So much so--so much so that the--that the editors in New
York thought, `This man, Marx, he's a s--genius.' There are generals
who have sent us fan letters saying, `Your correspondent in England is
brilliant on the matters of military strategy,' little guessing that
it was old Engels all along.
LAMB: Any way of--of knowing how much money in Karl Marx's life he
got from Friedrich England--Engels?
WHEEN: You can't get a definite, exact total because some
letters have gone missing and also there may well have been occasions
where Engels was handing over money in person and no record was kept.
But certainly for some periods, you can go through their
correspondence, and in the letter, Engels will say, `I enclosed five
pounds. I enclosed one pounds--one pound.' And it was usually
well--well over 100 pounds a year, which was quite a decent sum in
those days. And then when Engels--in--in the late 1860s, about 1869,
'70, Engels sold his stake in the family business and retired down to
London at long last, after 20 years in Manchester, to be nearer Marx.
And he set Marx up with a kind of pension of 350 pounds a year which
was a very decent salary in those days. I mean, that was, you know,
what a comfortably off, middle class family would live on--very
comfortably off. And Marx was--then got this annuity, thanks to
Engels, of 350 pounds a year for the rest of his life. Very nice,
LAMB: Why did he do it?
WHEEN: Why did Engels do it?
WHEEN: Well, because he believed in Marx and he--well, he would
sometimes say and write, that when you meet genius, you have to
acknowledge it. And he clearly believed Marx was some kind of genius.
Although Engels himself, a very intelligent man, in many ways better
than Marx; certainly more proficient at writing and more efficient as
well. He actually could meet his deadlines and--and get his pieces
finished on time, even though he was running a business as well,
full-time, whereas Marx was a great procrastinator. This is why
"Kapital" took so many years to write, because he would get on with it
and then by the time he got near what he thought was the end, he would
decide that the beginning was no good, and he would just start all
over again. So he would discard the first half of the manuscript. By
the time he'd read on that from scratch, the second half would be no
And so--I mean, he would never have finished it all if Engels hadn't
kept bullying him, saying, `Look, you've just got to break off and
send it to the printers and be done with it.' So Engels was--I mean,
he complimented Marx very well, I think, in terms of organization, but
also as a great intellectual partner of his. And Engels, although
very bright and quite interesting, nevertheless, realized that he was
always going to be second fiddle because he though--he detected in
march--in Marx, a genuinely original mind which must be encouraged and
nurtured, and he obviously decided it was his life's duty to subsidize
this man. But also, act as a kind of intellectual companion for him
because Marx was rather lonely intellectually for long periods because
he fell out with so many of his comrades, that Engels was almost the
only person who consistently could argue through ideas with him.
LAMB: Let me read--this is not fun to read, and--and it won't be fun
to hear, but I want to read this just because it--it--it--it's
obviously--you--you read things like this throughout the whole book.
I want you to explain it. Two hundred--page 287, you're talking about
the manuscript of "Capital": `The demands of his family'--we're
talking about Karl Marx--`The demands of his family and creditors and,
of course, those blossoming boils on his bum, which were more prolific
than ever. He hacked away at them with a cut-throat razor, watching
with vicious satisfaction as the bad blood spurted over the carpet.'
What is this? Why...
WHEEN: Not a pretty sight.
WHEEN: Not a pretty sight.
LAMB: I mean, how much of that did you find in his life?
WHEEN: A lot.
LAMB: And what--what--explain what that is.
WHEEN: He was a pretty ill man, one way or another. He was prey
to all sorts of things, and a lot of it was just to do with his way of
life. He had an incredibly bad diet and an unhealthy lifestyle. I
mean, he drank heavily. He chain-smoked really foul, cheap cigars.
He would sit up half the night working and then lie down in the
morning and doze for a couple of hours on a sofa and then return to
work. He--I mean, partly, he didn't have any money, so he couldn't
afford to live that well, but even when he did have money, I mean, he
tended to not bother much about his diet.
And, of course, you know, in general terms of hygiene, he scarcely
ever washed, as I suppose a lot of people didn't in those days. I
mean, in--when they were living in their rooms in Soho, their upstairs
rooms, if they wanted to get any water to wash with, you would have to
go all the way down to the basement with a bucket, fill it up and go
back upstairs. So on the whole, not exactly much in the way of
bathing and showering went on. And that, combined with perhaps some
sort of predisposition to illness anyway, but mainly, I think, the
conditions of his life meant that he had boils, he got chest pains, he
had pleurisy at one time or another. He--he would get all sorts of
things, endless colds and coughs, really bad, bronchial troubles.
And especially these wretched boils were the bane of his life. Just
as he got rid of one lot, they would reappear somewhere else on his
body. I mean, when he was finishing "Capital," the last few pages of
the manuscript, he had to write it standing up 'cause it was too
painful to sit down. And he stood there writing these last few pages
and then wrote a letter to Engels. He somehow held the bourgeoisie
personally responsible for his boils, and he says, `Those bourgeoisie
will remember my carbuncles for the rest of their life. What swine
they are! But my book will guarantee that they remem--they never
forget my boils.'
I don't know quite why he thought it was their fault as--except that
they kept him in this condition of poverty; therefore, he couldn't
afford to eat properly. I don't know why he blamed them for his
general unhealthiness, though, since a lot of it was more to do with
his smoking and drinking habits, I think.
LAMB: You quote a Prussian police spy as saying the following: "He
leads the existence of a real bohemian intellectual. Washing,
grooming and changing his linen are things he does rarely, and he
likes to get drunk. Though he is often idle for days on end, he will
work day and night with tireless endurance when he has a great deal of
work to do. He has no fixed times for going to sleep or waking up.
He often stays up all night and then lies down fully clothed"--on the
sufa--"on the sofa at midday and sleeps till evening, untroubled by
the comings and goings of the whole world." Do you think you would
have liked to be around him?
WHEEN: I wouldn't have liked to live with him, I must say. I
would very much liked to have had a drink with him--or two, in his
case. I think he--Well, how could one not? I mean, especially if
I've ch--having written his biography, of course I would love to meet
him, and I would certainly like to go out on--perhaps go out on a pub
crawl with him, which he did tend to go in for, sometimes drinking a
pint of beer in every pub in one stretch of road. And since there
were 18 pubs, by the time he got to the end, he tended to be a bit
boisterous and start throwing stones at the lampposts and things.
Maybe that would have been the point at which I made my excuses and
left. And I certainly wouldn't have wanted to live with him. His
domestic arrangements were just a nightmare.
And I suspect I would have fallen out with him because most people
did. Even people who had been quite close collaborators, sooner or
later, tended to fall afoul of him because of some perceived
shortcomings in them or because he felt that they had taken a wrong
turning. And he was pretty brutal in argument and in his assessments
of his fellow Socialists. I mean, it's a long tradition in the
left-wing movement that people on the left are far more vicious
towards their supposed comrades than they are towards the supposed
common enemy, then, as now. The whole history of the left is a
history of splits and splinter movements and internecine warfare of
every possible kind, and Marx certainly went in for a lot of that
because there were so many different varieties of Socialists, and all
in one way or another failed to come up to what he regarded as his
LAMB: Chapter one here in "The Communist Manifesto," the version that
I have from 1964: bourgeois and--or bourgeoisie and--and
proletarians. What is a bourgeois?
WHEEN: Well, I suppose the synonym usually is middle class, but
more specifically when he writes about the bourgeoisie, and especially
in "The Communist Manifesto" there, he is writing about it as a
revolutionary force. "The Communist Manifesto"--one thing that
sometimes surprises people is how complimentary he is about the
bourgeoisie. He pays tremendous tribute to them. It's got a lyrical
hymn in parts to the achievements of the bourgeoisie and the
industrial revolution, the industrial class, if you like--the
industrializing class because the bourgeoisie had, basically, toppled
the old feudal aristocratic order; therefore, he regarded them--and he
says in "The Communist Manifesto" that they played a tremendously
progressive role in the 19th century in bringing about a bourgeois
democracy, as well as bourgeois capitalism and this is a vast
improvement on the old landed feudal system.
But, of course, in the Marxian view, although he pays them this great
tribute and says--I mean, he s--genuinely says, and means it, that
their technological innovations are marvels and miracles and worthy of
great admiration, but this is merely the transitional stage before the
next class down. I mean, the argument he has is that, throughout
history, the--the supreme class is then threatened by the class
immediately below it. And as that class gains more economic power, so
it takes over political power, as has been shown, you know, bit by bit
over the years with kings and aristocrats and clergy and feudal nobles
and ultimately by the bourgeoisie.
And so he then extrapolates from that to say, `Well, the next thing
that will happen is that the rising proletariat, as it becomes more
economically important, will naturally carry out the same sort of
function towards the bourgeoisie as the bourgeoisie did towards the
aristocracy in the previous ruling class.' That was where, I think,
you could reasonably say he failed to spot--well, there are two
points--mostly the enduring resilience of the bourgeoisie and just how
well-established it could become by colonizing other classes in a way
that perhaps hadn't happened before; that you would have--I mean,
Engels somewhere does write that in Britain, which drove them mad,
Britain, because it was the rock on which all these revolutionary
waves broke in vain 'cause Britain was so utterly unrevolutionary.
He says, `In Britain, they have not only a--a bourgeois--bourgeoisie,
but they have a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat now.
The whole country is just becoming bourgeois,' which is true. I mean,
we now even have a bourgeois monarchy in England, where you have
Prince Charles and--well, Prince William and Harry going around in
baseball caps and spending their holidays at EuroDisney and going to
eat at McDonald's. So we do, I'm afraid--ha--we have borne out what
Engels suggested might well happen. We did...
LAMB: Define the proletariat.
WHEEN: Well, the proletariat, certainly in Marxist terms, was
the industrial proletariat. It was the new class created by the
industrial revolution. And Marx's point about the proletariat was
that before the industrial revolution, you know, you had all sorts of
disparate people over the country, who were working in one way or
another on the land or whatever, but were isolated.
And the industrial revolution, by creating--by bringing people into
the cities and creating these large factories and so forth, had
brought together these people, and so, according to his account of it,
the bourgeoisie, who created this industrial revolution, had actually
dug its own grave because it had facilitated the means whereby the
proletariat could actually organize collectively because there were
all these people now working together in large factories and
industries. And it was notable that they would then combine and start
asserting their power. So that was his line on the proletariat.
LAMB: Just to complete the--the circle, did your friend, Ike, who
drives the Amtrak trains, the engineer, did he consider himself to be
a member of the proletariat?
WHEEN: I should think he does, yes. He certainly would call
himself a worker, yes, as he is.
LAMB: In "The Communist Manifesto," the--there are 10 points, as you
know, that he suggested all countries--most countries would--would
live under if they lived under "The Communist Manifesto," and I just
wanted to name some of them and--and ask you to expand on it. `One,
abolition of property and land and application of all rents of land to
public purposes. Two, a heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
Three, abolition of all right of inheritance. Four, confiscation of
the property of all emigrants and rebels. Five, centralization of
credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with
state capital and an--and an exclusive monopoly.' So far, as we read
there, any country in the world have this today?
WHEEN: Not that I know of, no.
WHEEN: Not even in China, I don't think, no.
LAMB: `Six, centralization of the means of communication and
transport in the hands of the state.'
WHEEN: Well, that actually, to a certain degree, has come to
pass in lots of places, so--where you have a state transport system.
LAMB: `Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by
the state; the bringing into cultivation of wastelands and the
improvement of s--the soil generally in accordance with a common
plan'--that's seven. `Eight, equal liability of all to labor.
Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.'
WHEEN: Industrial armies, perhaps not.
LAMB: I mean, in the--as you look back, I mean, here--if he were here
WHEEN: This--well, this--yes. I mean, I think...
LAMB: ...what would he think? How did this--how did this fare in
WHEEN: Well, I think one thing that you do have to say is that
that is, as it says in the title, a manifesto. It is a--a pamphlet, a
manifesto written very quickly at a specific point in history at the
beginning of 1848, when he thought upheavals were coming. He dashed
it off in a few days and wrote it as a manifesto. And, I mean, I
think you don't expect manifestos necessarily to hold up
in--indefinitely. I mean, I--I think it's amazing it's still in print
after 150 years. Most manifestos are forgotten about a year after
they're published, certainly--and certainly not obeyed by the people
who were elected on those manifestos.
So I think you have to look at this as--I mean, he didn't write it as
a kind of--a message for all time, and he changed his ideas and
developed his ideas a lot after that. He--this was something he
dashed off at that time, and this was his immediate 10-point plan. He
adapted that in many, many ways over subsequent years. So there were
endless arguments about the precise nature of central banks, for
example, and what should be done with agricultural rents and the
nationalization of the land. And, also, there was far more in his
later work also about democratization and about the democratic nature
of this thing.
And, actually, if you look, for example, at some of his later
documents which set out lists of demands--I mean, rather like the
English Chartists, which was the socialist movement in England that
Marx got quite involved with--a lot of the demands there and in--the
plans or manifestos that Marx subsequently issued are now common
practice among social democratic governments and even not very social
democratic governments, like universal franchise for--well, in th--in
fact, in his case, for men over the age of 21, whereas some--I don't
think they ri--even thought about women getting the vote--and paying
parliamentarians, elected politicians, a salary so that working-class
people wouldn't be excluded from it 'cause they didn't have the money.
Of course, he hadn't quite anticipated how much it would cost to run
an American presidential campaign, though the president may get a
salary. But it doesn't mean that any old person with no money can
stand and be elected. But, nevertheless, you know, it was in his view
a progressive thing to aim for: to have paid politicians so that
you--you wouldn't need a private income to do it.
And there were all sor--you know, very moderate demands, suggesting
that there should be some sort of state education service, state
welfare benefits for people who have fallen through the net and are
unable to live otherwise or unable to work. And an awful lot of these
th--things are, you know--would now hardly seem very revolutionary.
They've been adopted in the 20th century by an awful lot of
governments that certainly wouldn't call themselves Marxist in any
shape or form, including in Britain and France and Germany and
LAMB: In the back of your book, the little bio under your picture, it
says, `Francis Wheen is a British journalist and broadcaster who was
named columnist of the year in 1997 for his Wheen's World page, which
appears weekly in The Guardian newspaper in London.' Does it still
WHEEN: Oh, yes, yes, except this week. I'm not there to do it.
LAMB: And what do you write about most of the time?
WHEEN: Pretty well everything. It's mostly politics, but by no
means all politics. Anything that occurs to me, really. It's sort of
half muckraking and crusading and half amusing, I hope. It's--I mean,
it's not just pure punditry. I mean, I do actually try to give some
information as well. I mean, I regard journalism as being the--the
informing of the reader. So it's not just one of those holding
forth-type columns, saying, `Well, isn't it disgraceful,' such and
such. I do also try to find things out and report them, but I try to
do it in a vaguely entertaining way.
LAMB: And then you write, `He lives amid the rural idiocy of...'
WHEEN: Well, that's what Marx thought of the countryside, yes.
LAMB: `...of East Anglia with his lover, several children and a large
menagerie of animals.' Now I--I know you--those things don't get in
there without approval of the author, I assume.
WHEEN: I assume not, no.
LAMB: That line. Now why would you write it, and what's that mean:
`He lives amid the rural idiocy of--with his lover, several children
and a large menagerie of animals'?
WHEEN: Well, the `rural idiocy' bit was just a joke because Marx
was pretty rude about the countryside; regarded it as a place where
primitives lived. He was very much a metropolitan man; had the
metropolitan prejudice against the countryside, which I believe
persists to this day, possibly even in Washington--some parts of
Washington, DC, let alone New York. And--and I suppo--because I do
live in the countryside in East Anglia, whenever I go to London, some
of my friends, who are devoted Londoners, will poke fun at me and say,
you know, `What would Marx make of you living out in the sticks there
with your pig and your chickens and your ducks? You know, you call
yourself a sophisticate. Look at you, you're a yokel.' So I just put
that in because Marx would have regarded it as rural idiocy.
And the business about the lover and the children is just true. I
mean, I'm--it's one of those problems of terminology. Since we're not
married, I can't really call her my wife, but partner makes it sound
as if she might be the business partner of some kind. So...
LAMB: How long have you been with her?
WHEEN: Very good question. Since the beginning of 1993, so
seven, eight years.
LAMB: And how many children do you have?
WHEEN: Well--well, we have five children living with us
altogether. She has three older children, which she brought up
single-handedly by a previous marriage. I mean, her previous husband
left her when the youngest was one year old, so she brought them up
alone. And they're now very big; they're now 21 and 19 and 17. And
then we have two more children, who are five and three, Bertie and
Archie. And so we have quite a houseful, three teen-agers and two
LAMB: And you dedicate the book to--for Julia. Is that...
WHEEN: That is, yeah.
LAMB: And there it is on the...
WHEEN: Julia Jones.
LAMB: Now how did you go about writing this bi--biography or--or--or
researching it, and how many of these--when--when was the last time
there was a full biography of Karl Marx?
WHEEN: Well, in the very early '70s, I think about 1971, was the
last one, which was David McLellan, and there was one in about 1969 by
Michael Grovert Payne. Those are the only other two--ones that I'm
aware of in, say, the last 40 years or 50 years, really. I mean,
there--there've been remarkably few and, as I say, none really since
1971, since the McLellan book. And it seemed to me that, from the
vantage point of--of now, it was perhaps easier to--to see what was
worth retrieving from Marx and to strip away an awful lot of the 20th
century layers with which he'd become--he or his reputation had become
And also, I very much wanted to write a life of Marx aimed at, if you
like, the intelligent general reader 'cause most books on Marx tend to
be written by academics or zealots or both for an audience of
academics or zealots or both. So they assume a great deal of
know--prior knowledge. They write it mostly in jargon. And also,
they're not that interested in the man and the life. They want to
skip through that as quickly as possible so they can have 500 pages on
arguments about the labor theory of value or something really sexy
like that. And I want--I had a feeling that there were lots of people
who might surprise themselves by actually becoming quite interested if
they were given an accessible and readable life of Marx, which didn't
assume any previous knowledge.
Just as--I mean, people read biographies of other Victorian sages of
various kinds, whether it's Dickens or Carlyle or whoever, without
necessarily being great experts on the work. And I thought, `Well,
maybe they could give Marx a try.' I--I...
LAMB: How many places did you travel to see where Marx had either
lived or worked?
WHEEN: Well, luckily, not that many. My task was made a lot
easier by the fact that most of Marx's papers are in Amsterdam, which
is an accident of history. When Marx died, they passed to Engels.
When he died, Marx's daughter Eleanor and this dreadful Aveling, her
lover, took over, and they started sorting them out. But then, when
they died, the papers were given to the German Social Democratic
Party, which in those days was a much more left-wing party than
it's--than it is now. But then in the 1930s, when the Nazis came to
power, the German Social Democrats panicked and thought, `We've got to
get these out of the country, or the Nazis will only burn them all.'
So they packed them off to Amsterdam to an institute there called the
Institute for Social History, where they remain to this day. The
Germans never asked for them back.
So--and they had--they're rather sweet. They had this idea that, of
course, the Dutch would be safe because the Nazis would never invade
Holland. Needless to say, the Nazis did invade Holland, but
apparently didn't notice or didn't care that some more Marxist
manuscripts and letters were hidden away there. So there they are to
this day, so it makes life very easy if you're researching Marx. An
awful lot of it can be done in Amsterdam. Go to the Institute for
Social History, and you fill in your slip and there come up all these
wonderful files. You know, you can actually get his old laundry
lists, practically, or scraps of paper on which he wrote little
messages to himself. He kept everything. I mean, given the chaos of
his domestic arrangements, it's quite surprising and impressive that
so much survived. But I think it's partly because he was incapable of
throwing anything away.
LAMB: You have a--you have 12 chapters, and I just want to read--and
we don't have much time, so I need a very quick reaction to it. But
the--the titles of these chapters. For instance, The Little Wild
Boar. What was that? That's chapter two.
WHEEN: Well, that was what Jenny, Marx's future wife, called him
when they were first engaged. She wrote him these love letters when
he was away in Bonn and Cologne and places, and she tended to refer to
him as `my little wild boar.'
LAMB: Chapter three, The Grass-Eating King.
WHEEN: Well, that's to do with a story that Heinrich Heine told
as a kind of warning to Marx. Heine, the great German poet, was a
friend of Marx, but was rather wary of Marx's politics and told this
sort of parable of a king who ended up reducing himself to the level
of cattle and eating grass.
LAMB: Chapter four, The Mouse in the Attic.
WHEEN: That was a book that Marx wrote called "The German
Ideology." And when he had finished it, he couldn't find a publisher.
And so, as he said, he put it away in--in the attic and consigned it
to the gnawing criticism of the mice. And if you look at the
manuscript today, it does actually have little nibbles around the
edges, as if it really was nibbled, eaten by the mice.
LAMB: Chapter five, The Frightful Hobgoblin.
WHEEN: Well, that's "The Communist Manifesto." I mean, the first
line of "The Communist Manifesto," which is quite famous, is, `A
specter is stalking Europe, a specter of communism.' But the very
first thing this translation, in 1850, which appeared in a newspaper
called The Red Republican done by a nice Chartist woman, started, `A
frightful hobgoblin is stalking Europe.' But it never caught on,
unfortunately, `the frightful hobgoblin.'
LAMB: Number six, The Megalosaurus (pronounced megaLOSaurus)? Is
that the way you pronounce it?
WHEEN: The Megalosaurus (pronounced megaLOsaurus), yes.
WHEEN: Well, that's a line from Dickens'...
LAMB: Oh, yeah.
WHEEN: ...novel "Bleak House," the very opening scene there. He
has this wonderful picture of London in the fog and the mud and the
wet and everything, and he says, you know, `So much fog and there's so
much appearing that it would not be a wonder if a megalosaurus were
seen walking along Hobin Hill because it seemed almost primeval, the
swamplike nature of London.' And this is the London to which Marx
moved in 1849, the London of Dickens and the London of pea soup of
fogs and mud and chaos and in which you might find a megalosaurus.
LAMB: Number seven, The Hungry Wolves.
WHEEN: Well, those are his creditors. As I say, he was always
short of money, and the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker
would say, `We're not going to supply you with any more until you pay
our bills.' And bailiffs were banging at his door. Sometimes the
bailiffs would come around and say, `You're three months behind with
your rent. We've got to see your husband, Mrs. Marx.' And she'd say,
`Oh, no, I'm afraid he's gone away on business for a few days,' and,
in fact, he would be upstairs hiding under his desk until the bailiffs
had gone. And he referred to the--his creditors as the hungry wolves.
LAMB: Chapter seven is--or chapter eight was The Hero on Horseback.
WHEEN: Well, that's Marx's appro--Marx's attitude to people like
Lassalle, Ferdinand Lassalle, the German socialist who regarded
himself as the hero who would lead the German masses into revolution.
And Marx is very against this: the great man view of history, the
idea that you needed a Napoleonic figure to lead the--the workers to
their salvation. He said, `No, the workers must lead themselves to
their salvation. If you put your trust in heroes on horseback or
princes, even socialist princes, then you're--you're lost.
LAMB: The ninth chapter is The Bulldogs and the Hyena.
WHEEN: That is a very obscure reference. The bulldogs are John
Bull, the British bulldog. And the hyena is an Austrian monster
called General Hinow, a torturer who came to London on holiday and was
attacked by the English workers and chased through London
...(unintelligible). And this caused great amazement because it
wasn't thought that the English workers had any sense of international
solidarity or internationalism.
LAMB: Number 10 is The Shaggy Dog.
WHEEN: That's "Das Kapital." That's my reading of "Das Kapital,"
which is, I suggest, not a straight economic treatise, but a shaggy
dog story, almost more like a novel in the tradition of
...(unintelligible) or a satire, like "Gulliver's Travels," and that
if you read it a--as that, a lot of the oddities in it become much
clearer 'cause you realize they're entirely deliberate.
LAMB: Number 11, The Rogue Elephant.
WHEEN: That is Bakunin, the enormous Russian anarchist with whom
Marx had this great showdown, and he was often referred to as an
elephant just because of his great size, `the Russian elephant.'
LAMB: When did he live, and what impact did he have on Karl Marx?
WHEEN: Well, he--his main impact on Karl Marx was to annoy him
intensely and provoke this great fight, which basically brought about
the end of the International Workingmen's Association. Bakunin and
Marx, although they had been friendly early on, then had this duel to
the death, and Marx won, but at the price of killing off the
International, which he had helped to create.
LAMB: Chapter 12, the last chapter, The Shaven Porcupine.
WHEEN: Well, that's Marx himself a year before he died. In his
last couple of years, he was pretty ill all the time and went around
to spa towns and resorts in search of ozone and cures and things. And
one of these trips a year before he died was to Algiers, and from
there--that photo you have there is the very last picture taken of
LAMB: In 1882.
WHEEN: ...look--looking rather sort of genial and Father
Christmasy. The very day after he took that photo in Algiers, he went
to a barbershop, had his beard and hair shaved off, sent a letter home
saying, `I have sacrificed my mane on the altar of--or my fleece on
the altar of an Algerian barber.' And it was almost a sort of
Sampsonlike symbolic gesture of renouncing his powers and admitting
that he had really abandoned any hope of doing any more work. So he
came home clean-shaven and bald, but he made sure that no one ever saw
him like that or remembered him like that, rather, because he had had
this last picture taken, which is the one you showed there. So we
never saw Marx clean-shaven and bald. Quite...
LAMB: Here's one in 1875, a picture of him.
WHEEN: There's another one, very shaggy-looking f--figure. I
mean, he--he would lose a lot of his sort of iconic resonance, I
think, I mean, at that grave stone at Highgate Cemetery, if he didn't
have the beard and the hair, he would have a very different effect on
people. I think he knew the impact it had. He certainly used it. He
played up to being a sort of Old Testament prophet or Greek godlike
figure. He--he actually thought he looked like Jupiter because a
friend had a bust of Jupiter and said, `Oh, it looks just like you,
that beard.' And he was very proud of this. He would stand next to it
and say, `Oh, do you think we look alike?'
LAMB: What was your biggest surprise in this book?
WHEEN: Goodness gracious. Well, it was full of surprises in a
way. Just the little incidental, human details of Marx. Certainly to
those who'd been brought up--up on him as this grim, forbidding
figure, a constant surprise--though, I mean, to me, they became less
of a surprise because I knew more about him, I suppose, but just, you
know, all the business of his going off and getting drunk and playing
chess--sitting up all night playing chess because he was so determined
to beat his opponent, Liebknecht, and kept trying to work out new
systems which would allow him to win at chess.
And his--just his--his sense of fun actually and the family man
going--walking up to Hampstead Heath in North London on Sundays for a
picnic lunch every week and taking the children, sitting there, having
picnic lunch and then playing games on the Heath and walking back
reciting Shakespeare to the children and singing Negro spirituals or
old German folk songs or goodness knows what. I mean, I think it's a
side of Marx that perhaps hasn't been much noticed.
LAMB: You even have a post-script, the Proust Questionnaire.
The--Marcel Proust pops up again. What's this about?
WHEEN: Well, that was a parlor game they--that was very popular
at the time called Confessions, which is a bit like the British
Questionnaire, where you have to answer various questions. You know,
what is your favorite virtue? What's your favorite author? What's
your favorite color? That sort of thing. And this is one that
his--his children forced him to fill in. And his motto in there, I
think, was: (German spoken), `everything must be doubted.'
LAMB: We're out of time. This is the cover of the book. It's called
"Karl Marx: A Life" by Francis Wheen. And we thank you very much for
WHEEN: It's been a pleasure.
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