Introduction and Notes for
Interview with Karl Marx in 1879

Source: Pamphlet by “The American Institute for Marxist Studies (AIMS), 20 East 30th Street, New York, N.Y. 10016, 1972, as “An Interview with Karl Marx in 1879,” first published in the Chicago Tribune, January 5 1879. Edited by Thomas W. Porter (Northern Illinois University) Occasional Papers No. 10 (1972), price $1.00;
Transcribed: by Ellen Schwartz.

The American Institute for Marxist Studies (AIMS) is an educational, research and bibliographical institute. Its purposes are to encourage Marxist and radical scholarship in the United States and to help bring Marxist thought into the forum of reasonable debate to produce meaningful dialogue among Marxist and non-Marxist scholars and writers. Its policy is to avoid sectarian and dogmatic thinking. It engages in no political activity and takes no stand on political questions.

To these ends it invites the support and participation of all scholars and public-spirited individuals.


In 1879 Karl Marx was interviewed in his London home by a correspondent of that most Republican of American newspapers, the Chicago Tribune. For many years the Tribune had been hysterically blasting both Socialism and the emerging Trade Unions (they were considered to be identical and each article invariably characterized Marx as the mastermind of world conspiracy).[1] Finding the only lengthy interview which Marx ever gave in such a conservative newspaper is fascinating but an even more interesting fact is that it was virtually unknown to Marxist scholarship until 1964.

The interview first appeared on Sunday, January 5, 1879, in the morning edition of the Tribune which had a circulation in excess of 33,000.[2] Within a week the article was picked up by two daily German-English working class newspapers, the New York Volkszeitung[3] and the Chicago Vorbote.[4] Both newspapers published an incomplete and inaccurate German translation which had been rearranged and rewritten for sectarian purposes. On January 11th, in Chicago, The Socialist, a weekly organ of the Socialist Workers Party, published the last paragraph of the interview.[5]Finally, in April, a Danish daily, The Social Democrat, published a translation of the article which had appeared in the Chicago Vorbote.[6]

Why Marx gave the interview to such a conservative newspaper is unknown. There are no known references to the interview in any of Marx’ or Engels’ papers and correspondence.[7] It is possible that Marx sought the interview in order to instruct American workers on the struggle of the German Socialists[8] but that seems highly unlikely. Marx was far more direct when he wanted to make a point. He had numerous contacts in the United States and while he may not have been in direct contact with-working-class newspapers[9] he could certainly have gotten an article published if he so desired. Most likely it was simply chance opportunity. With his mind occupied by German affairs,[10] perhaps Marx took advantage of the Tribune’s large circulation to speak to the American public.

Between 1879 and 1964 the interview virtually disappeared until its nearly simultaneous, but independent, revival by Karl Obermann and Louis Lazarus. Obermann found and quoted the single paragraph from The Socialist;[11] Lazarus listed the interview in a bibliography of Marx’ and Engels’ American Manuscripts.[12] Using the information supplied by Lazarus, Bert Andréas republished the full text of the interview in a German journal in 1965.[13] Having come across the article in its original [14 ]I felt that it was too valuable not to be more widely known. Mr. Andréas article – called to my attention by Herbert Aptheker, – was of great assistance to me in preparing this publication and his translation has been republished in the Werke.[15]

There are many fascinating aspects of the interview which touches on topics such as the role of violence, Lassalle and the Gotha program, Marx’s interest in and knowledge of the United States, and an evaluation of Bismarck’s politics. Another interesting feature of the interview is supplied by the correspondent himself, who reflects the provincialism of bourgeois America in his hostility towards and unfamiliarity with Marx’s ideas. This undoubtedly accounts for any inaccuracies and for the rather casual journalistic form of the text. Although Marx’s comments are obviously not reproduced in his own words the reporter nevertheless conveys the spirit and message of Karl Marx.[16] The following is transcribed directly from the original without any changes in text or format except the addition of explanatory notes.

Notes (by editor Thomas W. Porter)

1. During a period of labor agitation over unemployment the Tribune on December 25, 1873 published a page one, 4-column history of the Communist movement in Europe and America (which Marx was credited with founding). The article stated: “The principles and demands of these men are wild and subversive to society. Land will save us for a time but the cities must prepare to meet the dangers of Internationalism.” Then again on January 5, 1874 the Tribune wrote; “It is time that every state.. .go earnestly to work to prepare for the onset of the followers of Karl Marx, for they mean business, not in Paris and Berlin merely, but in New York and Chicago.” Philip Kinsley; The Chicago Tribune: Its First Hundred Years. Vol. 2 pp. 190-91, (Chicago, 1945).

2. At this time the Tribune published a daily morning edition of 25,000 copies plus occasional special extra editions, and a Sunday edition which varied from 33,000 to over 50,000. The Sunday edition had 16 pages while the weekly paper had twelve. Although feature articles were commonly republished in subsequent editions, the interview appeared only once. The Tribune estimates that each copy sold was read by four people.

3. January 10, 1879, Vol. II, #10, page 2, columns 4-6.

4. January 11, 1879, Vol. II, #8, page 8, columns 2-6.

5. January 11, 1879, Vol. I, #18.

6. The Social Democrat appeared daily. It carried the translation under the title “A Conversation between Karl Marx and an American Correspondent” on the 9th and 10th of April, 1879, Vol. V, #84, page 1, columns 1-4, and #85, page 1, column 4, and page 2, column 4.

7. Between November 28, 1878 and April 10, 1879 only six letters are known to exist between Marx and Engels, none of which mentions the interview.

8. Karl Obermann tried to support this idea by suggesting that the interview was connected with the “Anarchist deviation; that became noticeable in Chicago at that time” (see page 67 of the article mentioned in footnote 11). The first stirring of the anarchist movement was found among the American Social Democrats during the summer of 1879 in Chicago; they later made themselves felt at the National Congress of the Socialist Workers Party in Allegheny, in December 1879.

9. During the years 1876-1878 a number of German-English working class newspapers were established in the United States. Among those still active in 1879 on a daily basis were the Philadelphia Tageblatt, the New York Volkszeitunq, and the Chicago Vorbote. There were also two important English language weeklies, the Labor Standard in New York, and The Socialist in Chicago.

10. In the last paragraph of the interview Marx discusses the expulsion of a number of “prominent men” from Germany and its implications. The expulsion was made public on November 30, 1878. The Postal service from London to Chicago at that time took nearly three weeks. Thus the interview must have taken place during the first week of December, 1878 otherwise the article could not have been ready for a January 5th deadline.

11. Karl Obermann, “Die Beziehungen von Marx und Engels zur Amerikanischen Arbeiter bewegung in der Zeit Zwischen der I. und II. Internationale, pp.62-71 of the Zeitschrift fur Geschichtswissen-Geschichtswissen Berlin, 1964 #1. Obermann quoted the paragraph from The Socialist on page 66 of his article. After its publication this paragraph was included in the Second Russian edition of The Complete Works of !DOCTYPE, (Socineniya, Vol. 34, p. 404).

12. Louis Lazarus, Second supplement to “Marx and Engels: American manuscripts and imprints, 1846 to 1898,” which is entry #E 33c in the Library Bulletin of the Tamiment Institute Library of New York, #40, May, 1964.

13. Bert Andréas, “Marx fiber die SPD, Bismarck und das Sozialistengesetz:, in Archiv Fur Sozialgeschichte, Band S(1965), Hannover, pp.363-76.

14. As co-editor of an “alternate” newspaper the interview was called to my attention by Professor Albert Reiss in 1969. Having obtained a photo copy of the original newspaper, selections from the interview were subsequently published in News From Nowhere, DeKalb, Illinois, Vol. 1,#6, March 1969, p. 15.

15. “Interview mit dem Grundleger des modernen Sozialismus Besondere Korrespondenz der ‘Tribune’” Karl Marx. Friedrich Engels. Werke, Band 34, Berlin, 1966, text: pp. 508-516, notes: pp. 619-20, (Andréas’ introduction and notes are not included).

16. Andréas goes to considerable length in both his introduction and footnotes to prove the authenticity of this interview. Although there is no mention of an interview in their correspondence Marx and Engels were writing articles and letters which cover essentially the same material. Their comments match completely. This also applies to articles and letters written after the interview proving that the correspondent could not have faked the interview on the basis of Marx’s earlier work.

17. The Chicago Tribune: Sunday, January 5, 1879, Vol. VI, #6, Page 7.

18. Marx was 61 years old having been born in Trier on May 5, 1818.

19. Marx had a wide circle of friends in the United States and he corresponded regularly with many of them. F.A. Sorge, former Secretary General of the International, and G.J. Harney, the former Chartist leader, were particularly helpful concerning American affairs. because they sent government documents and legal texts to Marx. He also received official documents from Carroll D. Wright, Chief of the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics. Marx required such material because of his work on volume two of Capital. See Letters: Marx to Sorge, October 19, 1877 and September 19, 1879; also, Marx to Engels, August 25, 1879.

20. John Chandler Bancroft Davis was the American Ambassador in Berlin from 1874 to 1877. A discussion of German Socialism was part of his official report of February 10, 1877 to Secretary of State Hamilton Fish. The report can be found in :United States State Department, Papers relating to Foreign Relations of the United States, Washington, 1877, #111, pp. 175-180.

21. The Programme of the Socialist Workers’ Part of Germany was drafted early in 1875 and criticised by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme on May 5th. The Programme was adopted by a Unity Congress of the Eisenacher and Lassalean Parties at Gotha on May 25, 1875. It consisted of a preamble in three sections plus a set of Socialist demands in two parts. Part A included six demands for the “foundation of the State”; Part B listed eight articles to be realized “within existing society.” It is these 14 demands which Marx has summarized.[*]

22. This sentence included the words “with the right of initiating proposals and veto.”

23. In its final edition the words “Freedom of Conscience” in article six were replaced by the “Declaration that religion is a private matter.’ In his Critique Marx said that “the workers’ Party ought to have expressed its consciousness of the fact that bourgeois ‘freedom of conscience’ is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds of religious freedom of conscience, and that for its part it endeavors rather to liberate the conscience from the spectre of religion, But there is a desire not to transgress the ‘bourgeois’ level.”

24. Another demand was included in the original programme but is missing above. It asks for “full self-government for all workers’ aid and friendly societies.” Andréas’ article, in trying to be closer to the original programme, changes the wording of the interview and lists 13 demands rather than 11.

25. Ambassador Davis’ report does error by including a twelfth clause which reads, “State aid and credit for industrial societies under democratic direction.” Davis then went on to cite the reason for his inclusion of this as a clause rather than as part of the preamble. “In a speech made in the Reichstag on February, 1875, Count Eulenburg, the minister of the Interior, stated the latter point much stronger. He said that the Socialists demand the transfer of the means of labor to the ownership of the state, and the application and distribution of the results of labor to be regulated by societies for the common good.”

26. The discovery of gold in California and an increase in railroad construction combined in 1850-51 to produce a sharp inflation of living costs. This provided the extra impulse for a fresh organizing campaign among workers and a movement to raise wages. Periods of depression, in 1854-55 and particularly the severe unemployment of 1857, dealt hard blows to the Trade Unions and many collapsed. Those that survived however were increasingly successful in keeping wages up. Despite the Civil War, national trade associations and city-wide federations continued to function and Unionization spread under the economic boom of the war years. ,

27. The correspondence between Marx and Lassalle ends in 1862. In those letters known to exist the tactics ascribed to Lassalle above are not evident. According to Andréas: “Lassalles’ worker-agitation began with his lecture of April 12, 1862. Then on the following Monday his “Arbeiterprogramme” was first printed, it however still did not advocate state help for co-operative associations. Lassalle first made this point publicly in his Offnes Antwortschreiben dated March 1, 1863.”

28. In his Critique of the Gotha Proaramme, Marx called this quack cure-all of co-operation “the remedy of the Prophet.”

29. The Hague Congress of September, 1872 was the last full meeting of the First International. The Congress focused on a struggle over the power of the General Council. Marxists fought to hold the organization together while Bakunists wished to decentralize. This struggle showed the symptom of disintegration which would dissolve the International national as a coherent body by 1876. An anarchist element however struggled on until 1881.

30. Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) was a ‘bourgeois American feminist, business woman, and radical faddist. Marx described her as “a banker’s woman, free-lover, and general humbug.” Backed by Cornelius Vanderbilt she ran a brokerage firm, and a newspaper – Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly. In 1871 she attempted to seize leadership of the North American Federation of the International through her control of section 12 in New York. Section 12 was finally expelled from the International by the General Council as part of the struggle over Anarchism at the Hague Congress in May, 1872. Marx’s remark was made in May, 1872 and is in Documents of the 1st International (Moscow, 1964), V, 323.

31. Joseph Cook (1838-1901) was a professional lecturer and evangelist. He held the Boston Monday Lectureship, begun in 1874, for nearly twenty years while also touring the United States and the world. Cook spoke on every conceivable topic concerning Religion and Science. His goal was to demonstrate that Christianity, including the Bible, is in complete harmony with modern scholarship. Cook’s lectures quickly became so popular with a broad middle class audience, who considered him an expert on labor and socialism, that they were republished in newspapers across the country. See: Boston Monday Lectures, 11 volumes. Houghton, Osgood, & Co., Boston, 1877-1888.

32. The rest of the text is in a slightly altered form in The Socialist, Chicago, January 11, 1879, Vol. I, #18, printed under the title Karl Marx Well-Informed. Obermann republished this English text with a German translation, as a quotation on page 66 of his article mentioned in footnote 11.

33. In his autobiography August Bebel, founder of the .German., Social-Democratic Workers’ Party, wrote: “67 of our well known fellow party members... within 48 hours,” (Aus Meinem Leber, Stuttgart, 1914, Vol, 3, page 24). Either Marx or the correspondent had confused the two numbers.

34. According to the Research Division of the Tribune there is no clue as to the identity of the correspondent “H.”