How Marx actually saw the morality of his actions, whether distorting truth or encouraging violence, it is impossible to say. In one sense he was a strongly moral being. He was filled with a burning desire to create a better world. Yet he ridiculed morality in The German Ideology; he argued it was ‘unscientific’ and could be an obstacle to the revolution. He seems to have thought that it would be dispensed with as a result of the quasi-metaphysical change in human behaviour that the advent of communism would bring about. Like many self-centred individuals, he tended to think that moral laws did not apply to himself, or rather to identify his interests with morality as such. Certainly he came to see the interests of the proletariat and the fulfilment of his own views as co-extensive. The anarchist Michael Bakunin noted that he had ‘an earnest devotion to the cause of the proletariat though it always had in it an admixture of personal vanity’. He was always self-obsessed; a huge, youthful letter survives, ostensibly written to his father, in reality written to, as well as about, himself. The feelings and views of others were never of much interest or concern to him.
He had to run, single-handed, any enterprise in which he was engaged. Of his editorship of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Engels observed: ‘The organization of the editorial staff was a simple dictatorship by Marx.’ He had no time or interest in democracy, except in the special and perverse sense he attached to the word; elections of any kind were abhorrent to him-in his journalism he dismissed British general elections as mere drunken orgies’. In the testimony about Marx’s political aims and behaviour, from a variety of sources, it is notable how often the word ‘dictator’ crops up.
Annenkov called him ‘the personification of a democratic dictator’ (1846). An unusually intelligent Prussian police agent who reported on him in London noted: ‘The dominating trait of his character is an unlimited ambition and love of power…he is the absolute ruler of his party…he does everything on his own and he gives orders on his own responsibility and will endure no contradiction.’
Techow (Willich’s sinister second), who once managed to get Marx drunk and to pour forth his soul, gives a brilliant pen-portrait of him. He was ‘a man of outstanding personality’ with ‘a rare intellectual superiority’ and ‘if his heart had matched his intellect and he had possessed as much love as hate, I would have gone through fire for him.’ But ‘he is lacking in nobility of soul. I am convinced that a most dangerous personal ambition has eaten away all the good in him…the acquisition of personal power [is] the aim of all his endeavours.’
Bakunin’s final judgment on Marx struck the same note: ‘Marx does not believe in God but he believes much in himself and makes everyone serve himself. His heart is not full of love but of bitterness and he has very little sympathy for the human race.’