Der Sozialdemokrat May 3 1883

On the Death of Karl Marx

First Published: Der Sozialdemokrat, No. 19, May 3 1883;
Translated: by Progress Press;
Transcribed: by z. Jan 1996.


Der Sozialdemokrat, May 3 1883

I have subsequently received several further announcements on the occasion of this bereavement which demonstrate how widespread people's sympathy has been, and of which I have to render an account.

On 20th March Miss Eleanor Marx received the following telegram, written in French, from the Editorial Office of The Daily News:

"Moscow, 18th March. Editorial Office Daily News, London. Please be so kind as to convey to Mr. Engels, author of The Working Classes in England and intimate friend of the late Karl Marx, our request that he lay a wreath on the coffin of the unforgettable author of Capital bearing the following inscription:

"In memory of the defender of workers' rights in theory and their implementation in practice the students of the Petrovsky Agricultural Academy in Moscow.

"Mr. Engels is requested to tell us his address and the cost of the wreath. The amount due will be forwarded to him without delay.

"Students of the Petrovsky Academy in Moscow."

The dispatch was at any event too late for the funeral, which took place on 17th March.

In addition to that, our friend P. Lavrov in Paris remitted me an order on 31st March for 124.50 frs (4.18s.9d.), sent in by students of the Technological Institute in Petersburg and by Russian student women, also for a wreath to go on the grave of Karl Marx.

Thirdly, last week the Sozialdemokrat announced that Odessa students also wished for a wreath in their name to be placed on Marx's grave.

As the money received from Petersburg is easily enough for all three wreaths, I have taken the liberty of paying for the Moscow and Odessa wreaths from that as well. The preparation of the inscriptions, a somewhat unfamiliar practice here, has caused some delay, but the wreaths will be placed on the grave at the beginning of next week, and I shall then be able to render an account, in the Sozialdemokrat of the money received.

A beautiful, large wreath has reached us from Solingen via the Communist Workers' Educational Society here, "for the grave of Karl Marx from the workers of the scissors, knife and sword industry at Solingen". When we placed it on the grave on 24th March, we found that the long ends of the red silk bows on the wreaths from the Sozialdemokrat and the Communist Workers' Educational Society had been cut off and stolen by people desecrating the grave. Complaining to the trustees was to no avail, but will no doubt mean that the grave will be protected in future.

A Slavonic association in Switzerland expresses the hope "that a special memorial will be established to Karl Marx through the setting-up of an international fund bearing his name in support of the victims of the great emancipation struggle and for the furtherance of that struggle itself", and has sent an initial contribution which I have retained for the time being. Of course, the fate of this suggestion depends primarily on whether there is a response to it, and that is why I am publishing it here.

In order to counter the false rumours which are being circulated in the press with some actual facts, I am passing on the following brief details concerning the illness and death of our great theoretical leader.

Having been almost totally cured of an old liver complaint by three periods of treatment at Karlsbad, Marx was left suffering only from a chronic stomach complaint and nervous exhaustion, which took the form of headaches and, mainly, persistent insomnia. Both complaints disappeared more or less after a visit to a seaside or health resort in the summer, and did not return, with more troublesome effects, until after the New Year. Chronic throat complaints and coughing, which also contributed to the insomnia, and chronic bronchitis were, on the whole, less troublesome. But it was to those very complaints that he was to succumb. Four or five weeks before the death of his wife' he was suddenly seized by a severe bout of pleurisy, complicated by bronchitis and incipient pneumonia. The affair was very dangerous, but it turned out well. He was then sent first of all to the Isle of Wight (early in 1882), and following that to Algiers. The journey was a cold one and he arrived in Algiers suffering from a renewed attack of pleurisy. In normal circumstances that would not have made so much difference. But in Algiers the winter and the spring were colder and rainier than ever. In April vain attempts were made to heat the dining room! The final result was that his overall condition became worse instead of better.

Having been sent from Algiers to Monte Carlo (Monaco), Marx arrived there, after a cold and damp voyage, suffering from a third but milder attack of pleurisy. On top of that constant bad weather, which he seemed to have brought with him specially from Africa. So here too he had to fight against a fresh bout of illness rather than have the opportunity to restore himself. Towards the beginning of summer he went to visit his daughter Madame Longuet at Argenteuil, and used his stay there to go to the sulphurous springs in the neighbouring town of Enghien to treat his chronic bronchitis. Despite the continued wet summer the treatment was a success, slow but to the satisfaction of the doctors. They now sent him to Vevey on Lake Geneva, and there he recovered most, so that he was allowed to spend the winter, not in London, it is true, but on the south coast of England. Here he wanted at last to take up his work again. When he came to London in September, he looked well and often climbed Hampstead Hill (about 300 feet above his lodging) with me, without complaint. When the November fogs threatened to descend he was sent to Ventnor, the southern tip of the Isle of Wight. Immediately he was subjected again to wet weather and fog. The inevitable consequence was a fresh cold, coughing and so on; in short, weakening through confinement to his room when he should have been restoring himself by moving about in the fresh air. Then Madame Longuet died. The next day (12th January) Marx came to London, clearly suffering from bronchitis. This was soon complicated by laryngitis, which made it almost impossible for him to swallow. Able to bear the greatest of pain with the most stoic equanimity, he preferred to drink a litre of milk (which he had loathed his whole life long) rather than eat the appropriate solids. In February an ulcer developed in his lung. The medicaments had no effect on his body, surfeited as it was with medicines administered over the previous fifteen months; at most they weakened his appetite and inhibited his digestion. He became visibly thinner, almost by the day. All the same, the illness was taking a relatively favourable course overall. His bronchitis was almost cured and it became easier for him to swallow. The doctors a were full of hope. Then, visiting him between two and three o'clock -- the best time to see him -- I suddenly found the whole house in tears: he was so ill that they thought it was probably the end. And yet that very morning he had taken wine, milk and soup with relish. Faithful old Lenchen Demuth, who had raised all his children from the cradle and has been with the household for forty years, went up to him and came straight back down: "Come with me, he's half asleep." When we went in, he was completely asleep, but forever. One cannot wish to die an easier death than Karl Marx did in his armchair.

And now, to close with, a piece of good news:

The manuscript of the second volume of Capital has been preserved completely intact. Whether it can be printed in its present form I am not yet in a position to say. There are more than 1,000 pages of folio. But "the process of circulation of capital" and "the forms of the process as a whole" are complete in a version dating from the years 1867-1870. There is the beginning of a later version and copious material in the form of critical extracts, particularly on Russian landownership, a good deal of which may yet be put to use.

His oral instruction was that his youngest daughter Eleanor and I should be his literary executors.

London, 28th April 1883
Frederick Engels


Der Sozialdemokrat, May 17 1883

A beautiful wreath bearing an inscription on red ribbons was sent to Argenteuil by the Social-Democrats of Erfurt; fortunately someone happened to be available to bring it across; when it was laid on the grave, it was noticed that the red silk ribbons of the Solingen wreath had again been stolen.

Meanwhile the three wreaths for Moscow, Petersburg and Odessa were completed. To prevent the ribbons from being stolen, we were obliged to make it impossible for them to be used again by making little incisions on the edges. They were laid on the grave yesterday. A shower of rain had so affected the ribbon on the Erfurt wreath that it could not be used for anything else, and thus escaped being stolen.

These three wreaths cost 1.1s.8d. each, a total of 3.5s.0d. I therefore have 1.13s.9d.left from the 4.18s.9d. that was sent to me, and I shall send that back to P. Lavrov in order to comply with the wishes of the donors.

The death of a great man provides a first-rate opportunity for small people to make political, literary and actual capital out of it. Here just a few examples which should be made public, not to speak of the many which have occurred in private correspondence.

In a letter dated 2nd April Philipp van Patten, Secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York, wrote to me as follows:

"In connection with the recent demonstration in honour of the memory of Karl Marx, when ... all factions united in testifying their regard for the deceased philosopher, there were very loud statements made by John Most and his friends to the effect that he, Most, was upon intimate terms with Karl Marx, that he had made his work Das Kapital popular in Germany and that Marx was in accord with the propaganda conducted by him.

"We have a high appreciation of the talents and the achievements of Marx but cannot believe that he was in sympathy with the anarchistic, disorganising methods of Most and I would like to obtain from you an expression of opinion as to Karl Marx's position upon the question of Anarchy versus Social-Democracy. Too much mischief has already been done here by the untimely and imprudent talk of Most and it is rather disagreeable for us to learn that so high an authority as Marx endorsed such tactics."

I replied to him in a letter on 18th April:

"My statement in reply to your inquiry of the 2nd April as to Karl Marx's position with regard to the Anarchists in general and Johann Most in particular shall be short and clear.

"Marx and I, ever since 1845, have held the view that one of the final results of the future proletarian revolution will be the gradual dissolution and ultimate disappearance of that political organisation called the State; an organisation the main object of which has ever been to secure, by armed force, the economical subjection of the working majority to the wealthy minority. With the disappearance of a wealthy minority the necessity for an armed repressive State-force disappears also. At the same time we have always held, that in order to arrive at this and the other, far more important ends of the social revolution of the future, the proletarian class will first have to possess itself of the organised political force of the State and with its aid stamp out the resistance of the Capitalist class and re-organise society. This is stated already in the Communist Manifesto of 1847, end of Chapter II.

"The Anarchists reverse the matter. They say, that the Proletarian revolution has to begin by abolishing the political organisation of the State. But after the victory of the Proletariat, the only organisation the victorious working class finds readymade for use, is that of the State. It may require adaptation to the new functions. But to destroy that at such a moment, would be to destroy the only organism by means of which the victorious working class can exert its newly conquered power, keep down its capitalist enemies and carry out that economical revolution of society, without which the whole victory must end in a defeat and in a massacre of the working class like that after the Paris Commune.

"Does it require my express assertion, that Marx opposed these anarchist absurdities from the very first day that they were started in their present form by Bakunin? The whole internal history of the International Working Men's Association is there to prove it. The Anarchists tried to obtain the lead of the International by the foulest means, ever since 1867 and the chief obstacle in their way was Marx. The result of the five years' struggle was the expulsion, at the Hague Congress, September 1872, of the Anarchists from the International, and the man who did most to procure that expulsion, was Marx. Our old friend F. A. Sorge of Hoboken, who was present as a delegate, can give you further particulars if you desire.

"Now as to Johann Most. If any man asserts that Most, since he turned anarchist, has had any relations with, or support from Marx, he is either a dupe or a deliberate liar. After the first No. of the London Freiheit had been published, Most did not call upon Marx and myself more than once, at most twice. Nor did we call on him or even meet him accidentally anywhere or at any time since his newfangled anarchism had burst forth in that paper. Indeed, we at last ceased to take it in as there was absolutely nothing in it'. We had for his anarchism and anarchist tactics the same contempt as for that of the people' from whom he had learnt it.

"While still in Germany, Most published a 'popular' extract of Das Kapital. Marx was requested to revise it for a second edition. I assisted Marx in that work. We found it impossible to eradicate more than the very worst mistakes, unless we re-wrote the whole thing from beginning to end, and Marx consented his corrections being inserted on the express condition only that his name was never in any way connected with even this revised form of Johann Most's production.

"You are perfectly at liberty to publish this letter in the Voice of the People, if you like to do so.

From America to Italy.

About two years ago a young Italian, one Signor Achille Loria from Mantua, sent Marx a copy of a book he had written on ground-rent together with a letter written in German in which he proclaimed himself to be a disciple and admirer of Marx. He also corresponded with him for some time after that. In the summer of 1882 he came to London and visited me twice. The second time I had occasion seriously to tell him my opinion about the fact that, in a pamphlet' which had appeared in the meantime, he had accused Marx of having deliberately misquoted.

Now this puny fellow, who got his wisdom from the German academic socialists, has written an article on Marx in Nuova Antologia and has the effrontery to send me, "his most worthy friend" (!!), a separate offprint. What constituted this effrontery will be clear from the following translation of my reply (I wrote to him in his language, for his German is even shakier than my Italian):

"I received your piece on Karl Marx. You are at liberty to subject his teachings to your most searching criticism and even to misunderstand them if you wish; you are at liberty to draft a biography of Marx which is a work of pure fantasy. However, what you are not at liberty to do, and it is a privilege I shall never grant to anybody, is to slander the character of my late friend.

"Already, in an earlier work, you have presumed to accuse Marx of having deliberately misquoted. When Marx read that, he compared his quotations and yours with the original texts and told me that his quotations were correct, and if anyone was deliberately misquoting, then it was you. And when I see how you now quote Marx, how you shamelessly have him speak of 'profit' where he speaks of 'surplus value" -- especially in view of the fact that he was constantly at pains to avoid the error of assuming that the two things were the same (which incidentally Mr. Moore and I explained to you orally when you were in London) -- then I know whom to believe and who is deliberately misquoting.

"But that is a mere trifle by comparison with your 'firm and deeply held conviction ... that they' (the teachings of Marx) 'are all dominated by a conscious sophism'; that Marx did not allow himself to be held up by incorrect conclusions, knowing full well that they were incorrect; that 'he was often a sophist who, at the cost of the truth, wished to arrive at the negation of the existing society', and that, as Lamartine says, 'he played with lies and truth as children play with knucklebones'.

"In Italy, a land of ancient civilisation, that may be regarded as a compliment. Among the academic socialists too such a thing may be regarded as great praise, since, of course, those fine professors would never have been able to accomplish their numerous systems except 'at the cost of the truth'. We revolutionary communists regard the matter differently. We consider such assertions to be defamatory accusations, and since we know them to be fabrications, we hurl them back at their author who has defamed no one but himself with such inventions.

"It seems to me that you had a duty to inform the public as to the nature of that famous 'conscious sophism', which you say dominates all the teachings of Marx. But I have looked for it in vain. Nagott!" (Lombardic swearword for: nothing at all.)

"It takes a puny soul to imagine that a man like Marx 'always threatened his opponents with a second volume' which 'he never for one moment thought of writing'; that that second volume was nothing more than 'a crafty expedient of Marx's to avoid scientific arguments.' That second volume is on hand and will shortly be published. Then at last you may perhaps learn to grasp the distinction between surplus value and profit.

"A German translation of this letter will appear in the next edition of the Zurich Sozialdemokrat.

"In closing, the sentiments I am gratified to express are no more than those you deserve."

That should suffice for today.

London, 12th May 1883
Frederick Engels