Marx-Engels Correspondence 1872

Karl Marx to Paul Lafargue in Madrid, 21 March 1872

Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

My dear Toole [1]

I am sending you herewith an excerpt from our circular against the dissidents concerning the functions of the General Council. [2]

All the General Council can do to apply the General Rules and Congress resolutions to concrete cases is to make decisions like a court of arbitration. But their realisation depends in each country entirely on the International itself. From the moment, therefore, that the Council ceased to function as an instrument representing the general interests of the International it would become an utterly powerless cipher. On the other hand the General Council itself is one of the effective forces of the Association and it is indispensable for maintaining the unity of the Association and preventing its seizure by hostile elements. The moral influence which the present Council (notwithstanding all its shortcomings) has been able to gain in face of the common enemy has hurt the pride of those who only saw in the International an instrument for their personal ambition.

Above all one must remember that our Association is the militant organisation of the proletariat and by no means a society for the advancement of doctrinaire amateurs. To destroy our organisation at this moment would be tantamount to surrender. Neither the bourgeoisie nor the governments could ask for anything better. Read the report of the backwoodsman Sacaze on Dufaure’s draft. What does he admire and fear most in the Association? ‘Its organisation.’ [3]

We have made excellent progress since the London Conference.

New federations have been established in Denmark, New Zealand and Portugal. Our organisation has greatly expanded in the United States, in France (where Malon & Co [4] – as they themselves admit – do not have a single section), in Germany, in Hungary, and in Britain (since the formation of the British Federal Council). Irish sections were formed quite recently. In Italy the only important sections, those in Milan and Turin, belong to us; the others are led by lawyers, journalists and other doctrinaire bourgeois. (Incidentally, Bakunin has a personal grudge against me because he has lost all influence in Russia, where the revolutionary youth are on my side.)

The resolutions of the London Conference have already been accepted in France, America, Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Holland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland (except in the Jura), [5] also by the genuinely working-class sections in Italy, and finally by the Russians and the Poles. Those who do not recognise this fact won’t alter anything thereby, but they will be forced to cut themselves off from the vast majority of the International.

I am so overwhelmed with work that I have not even found time to write to my sweet Cockatoo and to dear Schnappy [6] (about whom I would like to have more news). The International does indeed take up too much of my time, and if I had not been convinced that during this period of struggle my presence in the Council was still necessary, I would have retired long ago.

The British government has prevented our celebration of 18 March; I am therefore enclosing resolutions which have been adopted at a meeting of British workers and French refugees... [7]


1. A nickname of Paul Lafargue’s used in the family circle – Progress Publishers.

2. The excerpts are from the circular Les prétendues scissions dans l'Internationale (Sham Splits in the International) which was written by Marx and Engels from the middle of January to the beginning of March 1872. It was not yet published when the letter was sent – Progress Publishers.

3. The reference is to the report made by Sacaze on 5 February 1872, in the name of the commission that examined Dufaure’s draft law. According to this law, which was passed by the reactionary National Assembly of France on 14 March 1872, membership of the International was punishable by imprisonment. Jules-Armand Dufaure (1798-1881) – French statesman, a hangman of Paris Commune, in 1870s Minister of Justice, Chairman of Council of Ministers; François Sacaze (1808-1884) – French legal official, monarchist, from 1871 member of National Assembly – Progress Publishers.

4. Marx is referring to a group of former Communards, which included Malon, Lefrançais, Austine and others, who had emigrated to Switzerland and there joined up with the Bakuninists. Benôit Malon (1841-1893) – French socialist, member of First International and of Paris Commune, after its defeat took refuge in Italy and then in Switzerland where he drew close to anarchists, an ideologist and leader of Possibilists – Progress Publishers.

5. This refers to the Jura Federation, which comprised several small sections in the Swiss Jura, and was in fact a Bakuninist centre – Progress Publishers.

6. Cockatoo – nickname of Karl Marx’s daughter Laura; Schnappy – nickname of her son Charles Étienne (1868-1872) – Progress Publishers.

7. On 20 February 1872, the General Council decided to hold a mass meeting in London on 18 March to mark the first anniversary of the Paris Commune. Marx was appointed as one of the speakers. But the public meeting could not take place because at the last moment the owner refused to let the Council use the hall for this purpose. Members of the International and former Communards assembled in the cramped room of the Society of Communards, nevertheless, to celebrate the anniversary of the first proletarian revolution. Three resolutions (which had been prepared by Marx) were proposed by the Communards Theisz and Camélinat and a member of the General Council Milner and passed by the meeting – Progress Publishers.