Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1939)
SOURCE: “In the Name of Marx: The Philosopher and the Fight,” in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 1966, October 7, 1939, p. 570.
[In the following excerpt a reviewer praises Berlin's study of Karl Marx.]
Mr. Berlin has packed a great deal into this scholarly and admirably written little volume [Karl Marx: His Life and Environment]. It is a biographical sketch, a vividly condensed study of the background of ideas and personalities against which Marx's labours grew to maturity, a summary of the theory and the diverse implications of historical materialism and a review of Marx's historic achievement. In all these respects the book is a model of objective clarity. One could wish that Mr. Berlin had a taste for shorter sentences, but on the other hand it must be said that his elaborate and almost neo-Augustan precision of style is not without charm.
Whatever else he might be, Marx declared towards the end of his life, he was not a Marxist. The saying should be borne in mind as an aid to distinguishing between Marx's ideas and the things that have been said and done in his name. Though the essence of his philosophy is the claim that, unlike other philosophies, it is a means of changing the world and not merely of explaining it, though also it was Marx who in fact created the International and in so doing directed the practical course of Socialism on the Continent of Europe, it is as a thinker, needless to say, and not as a man of action that he carries the astonishing weight of his influence. He was never a popular leader or agitator, though there may have been something of the thwarted Realpolitiker, as others have suggested, in the man who denounced yet appeared to envy Lassalle's dealings with Bismarck. The library was Marx's real field of battle; the laws governing the history of society were the weapons he fashioned for the predetermined victory of the proletariat.
LIFE OF POVERTY
Having wisely emphasized this view of his subject at the start, Mr. Berlin goes on to describe the man. Marx is not an attractive figure. Only the affectionate simplicity of his family life and the enduring trust of his friendship with Engels soften the portrait of an overbearing and aggressive theorist, harshly intolerant, at once insensitive and thinskinned, uncompromising and jealous, contemptuous of personal authority even while he strove for undisputed intellectual leadership. Marx was approachable to others only on his own terms. Yet the most forbidding features of the man, as Mr. Berlin justly points out, were traced either by the force of circumstance or by the indomitable...
(The entire section is 1104 words.)