A False Prophet
Hebrew University political scientist Shlomo Avineri has written a sympathetic biography of Karl Marx under the auspices of the Yale University Press’ Jewish Lives series. Although Marx came from a family of Rabbi’s, he was not Jewish. His father converted to enjoy the benefits of post-Napoleonic Prussia.
Instead of portraying Marx like his all too many dogmatic disciples, Avineri’s Marx is not of the one size fits all school. Hence in witnessing the advances in democracy in England and later on the continent his Marx become more open to realizing his working class dreams through the ballot box rather than revolution. Hence he learned from the failures of the 1848 revolutions and contrary to Engels’ later writings, he was critical of the Paris Commune. Further he was very ambivalent about the prospects for revolution in Russia, Indeed aside from 1848-49 Marx never directly participated in revolutionary activity; his role was to be theorist studying the inner workings of the capitalist system.
He rarely discussed Jews and Judaism. Early on in 1844 he associated Judaism with the worship of money in a typical anti-Semitic trope. Nevertheless in 1854 in his dispatches on the Crimean War to the New York Tribune he noted that Jerusalem was majority Jewish. This was 40 years before the establishment of Zionism as a political force.
For someone so focused on the working class Marx never lived among, worked with or studied directly real factory workers. He got his insights from the works of Engels and book learning. In a very real sense he was someone who loved humanity, but didn’t really like individual people; not too different from many liberals today.
What Avineri doesn’t touch on is that fact that in order to equalize society, the state doesn’t wither away, but rather it requires brute dictatorial force to keep people equal. Nevertheless for those readers interested in a short biography of Marx Avineri has offered up a very readable book.
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