Marx’s habitual anger, his dictatorial habits and his bitterness reflected no doubt his justified consciousness of great powers and his intense frustration at his inability to exercise them more effectively. As a young man he led a bohemian, often idle and dissolute life; in early middle age he still found it difficult to work sensibly and systematically, often sitting up all night talking, then lying half-asleep on the sofa for most of the day. In late middle age he kept more regular hours but he never became self-disciplined about work. Yet he resented the smallest criticism. It was one of the characteristics he shared with Rousseau that he tended to quarrel with friends and benefactors, especially if they gave him good advice. When his devoted colleague Dr Ludwig Kugelmann suggested in 1874 that he would find no difficulty in finishing Capital if only he would organize his life a little better, Marx broke with him for good and subjected him to relentless abuse.
His angry egoism had physical as well as psychological roots. He led a peculiarly unhealthy life, took very little exercise, ate highly spiced food, often in large quantities, smoked heavily, drank a lot, especially strong ale, and as a result had constant trouble with his liver. He rarely took baths or washed much at all. This, plus his unsuitable diet, may explain the veritable plague of boils from which he suffered for a quarter of a century. They increased his natural irritability and seem to have been at their worst while he was writing Capital. ‘Whatever happens,’ he wrote grimly to Engels, ‘I hope the bourgeoisie as long as they exist will have cause to remember my carbuncles.’ The boils varied in numbers, size and intensity but at one time or another they appeared on all parts of his body, including his cheeks, the bridge of his nose, his bottom, which meant he could not write, and his penis. In 1873 they brought on a nervous collapse marked by trembling and huge bursts of rage.
Still more central to his anger and frustration, and lying perhaps at the very roots of his hatred for the capitalist system, was his grotesque incompetence in handling money. As a young man it drove him into the hands of moneylenders at high rates of interest, and a passionate hatred of usury was the real emotional dynamic of his whole moral philosophy. It explains why he devoted so much time and space to the subject, why his entire theory of class is rooted in anti-Semitism, and why he included in Capital a long and violent passage denouncing usury which he culled from one of Luther’s anti-Semitic diatribes. Marx’s money troubles began at university and lasted his entire life.
They arose from an essentially childish attitude. Marx borrowed money heedlessly, spent it, then was invariably astounded and angry when the heavily discounted bills, plus interest, became due. He saw the charging of interest, essential as it is to any system based on capital, as a crime against humanity, and at the root of the exploitation of man by man which his entire system was designed to eliminate. That was in general terms. But in the particular context of his own case he responded to his difficulties by himself exploiting anyone within reach, and in the first place his own family.