In a very sad letter, Eleanor Marx wrote to Frederick Demuth, her bastard brother through the family maidservant, “I do not believe that you and I have been particularly bad people, and yet, dear Freddy, it really seems that all we gain is punishment.” (January 13th, 1893) Five years later, at the suggestion of her common-law husband, Karl Marx’s daughter committed suicide. Out of the 8 children Marx fathered, only four survived to adulthood; out of the surviving children, Eleanor and Laura both killed themselves (as well as Laura’s husband), and ‘Jennychen’ (Marx’s eldest daughter) died from bladder cancer, most likely stemming from either the environmental pollution of 19th century London or a smoking habit passed down from her father. Marx’s bastard son lived the longest but was never publicly claimed; that honor fell upon Marx’s best friend, Frederick Engels.
Reconciling these facts with the knowledge of his upbringing, being the son of two God-fearing Jews who constantly urged their son to consider the divine’s place in his life, who were encouraging, hopeful, and supportive, who sacrificed their heritage so that their children might have better lives, and who suffered under the same conditions as Marx did himself but even to the end of their lives remained filled with a surging joy – these facts leave me questioning how the lives of Marx and his family transformed into such tragedy. Marrying the daughter of a baron and inheriting the baron’s wealth, and being the best friend of a capitalist mill owner (Frederick Engels, who constantly helped Marx with his financial troubles – in addition to masquerading as a socialist caped crusader), the tragedy of Karl Marx may lie chiefly in his philosophy rather than his economic circumstances, which in turn, might answer some important questions about the impact that philosophy has on the concepts of socialist leadership.
If leadership is the response to human needs, then where do human needs come from? For Marx, human needs must be separated into two categories: artificial and fixed needs. Fixed needs are compelled upon people through the act of social formation, while artificial needs are unfairly created by capitalists, taking advantage of the desire for pleasure in order to subject people to products which are entirely unnecessary; the capitalists’ attempt to fleece their consumers of their livelihoods. In turn, capitalism then creates anger when the consumer lacks those particular products, and that anger is transformed into violence and a plethora of other sins, as wealth becomes a barometer for fulfillment and the lack of wealth becomes a letter of shame and deprivation. For Marx, need is fundamentally fueled by the lack of material goods, while want is fed by people hungry for what they do not have.
The original question: if leadership is the response to human needs, then how do leaders operate in a society where need is fundamentally ruled by a lack of material goods? Leaders take needs and transform those needs into values, which they use in order to carry their organizations forward to specific outcome measures and authentications, thereby legitimizing those values as agents of change. Individual needs, institutional values, and societal structures may influence those values to some degree, but in the end, the outcome measures and authentications the leader reviews and receives serve as the key indicators of success, and through this process of evaluation the leader is transformed and begins the process of needs translation into values once again. However, the key question is: if needs are chiefly fueled by a lack of material goods, what kind of values can be interpreted from those kinds of needs? Marx denied the spirit early in his life, even to the consternation of his ever-supportive parents. Marx was so anti-God that he viewed the philosopher Hegel as overly spiritual. It is no surprise then, that in socialist systems, spiritual values cannot be generated by leaders (even if they desperately desire them, like many leaders in China), as they do not view issues of the spirit as fundamental generators of fixed needs.
The paradox of Marx’s life floods into my life every single day. Working in a strongly socialist institution in China where issues of the spirit are denied as mere fantasy and teaching students who believe that the material, scientific world contains their nation’s hope, nevertheless both parties express extraordinary doubt. The government and media raised the alarm, decrying the lack of goodness in people’s hearts, that they seek only to better themselves and not their neighbors. Certain Confucian values are accepted, namely that of protecting your family, but the values of other philosophers such as Mencius and Laozi have been laughably shoved into the garbage bin of history, unfit for a country that seeks to conquer heaven. There is a fascination with the Monkey King, the deistic and mythic hero of Journey to the West (one of the four famous classical novels of China), a blond-haired wizard-monkey who conquers heaven, is imprisoned by the Buddha for doing so, and seeks redemption by becoming the slave of a man who tortures him for his transgressions of thought by shackling a crown of pain around his head; eventually the demon is cleansed and becomes a good man.
For modern Chinese socialists, however, the Monkey King is their own paradox: a creature both primal and evolved, both fighting against and bowing to the indomitable spiritual forces of the outside world, while maintaining himself and his philosophy throughout the affair and coming out as a singular individual and force of nature. While the Monkey King uses cosmic forces at his whim, his true desire is not to find peace with God, but rather to conquer his own weaknesses and become a god through a eerily similar materialistic philosophy that seems far more prevalent to the 19th century Marx.
While Marx remained a staunch atheist for his whole life, the impact that had on his family was tremendous; even his children knew something was wrong and could not stand to live with that lack of certainty in their lives. Marx loved his father to his end, and I believe he truly believed in his father’s words when he told his son that one day he would transform the world and live a happy, healthy life if only he would accept the fullness of God’s wisdom and goodness in his life. Marx did the former, but not the latter; his life is a testament to his self-reliance on the savagery that he believed ruled reality.