y any reasonable criteria—the fascination of his person, the achievement of his work, the scope of his influence—Marx counts as a great man. But there exists no great full-scale biography of him, capturing his spirit and ideas in their complexity. B
In his studious reconstruction of Marx’s social milieu and intellectual formation, Stedman Jones comes close at times, but he imparts little of the enthusiasm, anxiety, hope, and dread that Marx can only have felt as a person who, like anyone else, had to live his life as a project and try to understand it as history. Stedman Jones seems to take for granted Marx’s posthumous eminence in a way that Marx, even at his most grandiose, naturally could not do himself. The result is a story deprived of the drama of uncertain expectation that informs any life, especially one devoted to the hypothesis of a new kind of society. And yet the shape of the story—as singular, jagged, and intent as the key to some door—still comes through, a bit as if you were reading a great novel in what you suspect is a so-so translation.
What would a properly Marxist life of Marx look like? Jean-Paul Sartre, in his Marxist phase, worried about the problem of biography. In Search for a Method(1957), he presents individual human life as the zone of two overlapping but incommensurable truths: On the one hand, an individual is a creature of psychology and the product of his family, and, on the other, a creature of history and a product of society.