Hair! Or, Marxism and Pilosity

In our important discussion below, Roger pointed out something that I should have known – because the book is on my shelf – but didn’t, which is that one of the many useful appendices in Hal Draper’s splendid series on Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution is a discussion of hair. It’s over the fold.

*** If the radical Hegelian D. F. Strauss preferred the old police state to a proliferation of bears, some trivialogists may suspect that Engels preserved his beard in order to encourage the overthrow of the state. When his beard had achieved the sage gray color we know from photographs, Engels liked to regale his London friends (so we are told by the English socialist E. B. Bax) with the hairy tale

of how he, wearing a beard, at that time regarded as a great eccentricity, being worn by few Englishmen, when he went out for a stroll on Sunday morning would meet occasionally a fellow bearded man, who would greet him with something like religious fervour.

On the other hand, in 1852 Marx and Engels had written in their most forgettable joint work that a certain German liberal retired for a while “in order to grow a beard, without which no prophet can succeed.” This was a hoary as well as a hirsute quip.

The truth is that Engels’ pogonophilia had begun well before the revolution, in a ear that saw the first stirrings of German bourgoies liberalism, 1840. Not yet twenty years old, working as a commercial apprentice with a Bremen firm, young Friedrich wrote home to his sister about the latest revolt of youth:

Last Sunday we had a mustache-evening… I sent out a circular to all young people able to raise a mustache, saying it was high time to challenge all the philistines and the best way to do it was to wear mustaches. Whoever had courage enough to defy the philistines and wear a mustache was to sign up. Right away I got together a dozen mustachers; and October 25, when our mustaches became a month old, was set for a collective mustache-jubilee.

In the course of this mustache-orgy, young Engels stood to propose the following toast:

Mustaches were worn in each age and time
By all brave men in every clime;
Our paladins, whose swords and slashes
Once saved their land, bore dark mustaches.
So, in these warlike times, decide
To sport mustaches, all, with pride.
The philistines may scorn and scoff
And even shave mustaches off,
But we’re no philistines, we can stick it,
So let yours grow as thick as a thicket.
Long live good Christians all unbowed
Who with mustaches are endowed
And down with all the philistine hounds
Who rule mustaches out of bounds.

At ten o’clock, some of the insurrectionists had to leave because they did not have a house key and would be locked out; but Engels and others of the hard core stayed at the Rathskeller where the uprising was taking place. Engels defiantly ate eight oysters even though he didn’t like them.

How the counterrevolution took place is not known, but three and a half months later Engels eliminated the face-fleece. Then there was a sharp revulsion and the pendulum swung back to rebellion. He wrote his sister:

Today I shaved off my mustache and buried its youthful corpse amidst grievous lamentations…. Now I’m going to let it grow back again, for I certainly can’t let myself be seen anywhere. At the singing-school I was the only one with a mustache and I always made fun of the philistines who never got over their astonishment that I could have the effrontery to go into respectable society unshaven. However, the ladies found it very pleasing, and my old man too.

Two and a half weeks later he reported that the mustache “is now once again in full bloom, flourishing,” and that he would not shave it off “even to please a king.” Alas, even by May it had not regained its pristine splendor; and we also learn of a factor he had not previously mentioned: “I would look interesting perhaps,” he wrote his sister, “if, instead of my presently young mustache, I still had my old Bremen mustache and my growth of long hair.”

So ends the shaggy story of Engels’ first rebellion.

The following year, young Marx, writing his first article for the Rheinische Zeitung against the censorship of the press, let his hair down in an attempt to touch the hearts of his readers. “You consider it despotic to cut a free man’s hair against his will,” he wrote, “but the censorship daily carves the flesh of thinking people…” We do not know why this anguished comparison was on his mind, or how much hair was on his head, at this time. About six years before, while he was a student at Bonn, a group portrait of the Trier Students Association on the campus had shown that he was probably the hairiest of the lot. We may never know whether any despot wanted to cut his hair against his will. But then, nobody even knows whether Adam was created with a full-grown beard. ***

— That’s Special Note D of Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution: Volume Two: The Politics of Social Classes by Hal Draper, Monthly Review Press, 1978, pp.596-8.

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