Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Fifteen : The Last Decade


1. Marx at Home

At the close of the year 1853, after the last throes of the Communist League, Marx had withdrawn into his study, and he did the same towards the close of the year 1878 after the final throes of the International, but this time the withdrawal was for good.

The last decade of his life has been called “a slow death,” but this is greatly exaggerated. It is true that the struggles which took place after the fall of the Paris Commune dealt heavy blows to his health: in the autumn of 1873 he suffered much from his head and was seriously threatened with apoplexy, whilst the chronically depressed brain condition made him incapable of work and robbed him of all desire to write. However, after several weeks’ treatment in Manchester at the hands of Dr. Gumpert, who was a friend of Engels, and in whom Marx had complete confidence, he recovered.

Acting on the advice of Dr. Gumpert, he went to Karlsbad in 1874 and in the two following years. In 1877 he went to Bad Neuenahr for a change, but in 1878 the two attempts on the life of the German Kaiser and the fierce anti-socialist campaign which followed closed the continent to him. However, the three visits to Karlsbad had suited him “wonderfully” and he had got over his old liver trouble almost completely. There remained still the chronic stomach disorders and nervous exhaustion, which caused him severe headaches and obstinate sleeplessness. However, these troubles disappeared more or less after a visit to the seaside or to a spa in the summer and returned again only in the following new year.

A complete restoration of health would have been possible only if Marx had granted himself the peace and quiet which, after the tremendous amount of work and suffering which had filled his adult life, he would have been entitled to demand on the approach of his sixtieth birthday. But he did not dream of doing so and instead he flung himself with all his old zeal into the studies necessary for the completion of his scientific work, studies whose extent had greatly increased in the meantime. “For a man who examined everything to discover its historical origin and the conditions of its development,” Engels pointed out, “naturally every single question gave rise to a series of new questions. Ancient history, agronomics, Russian and American land-owning relationships, geology, etc., were studied in particular in order to make the section of the third book on ground-rent more complete than any previous treatment. He read all the Germanic and Romance languages with ease and then learnt old-Slav, Russian and Serbian.” And all that was only half his day’s work, for although Marx had withdrawn from active public life he nevertheless remained active in the European and American working-class movements. He was in correspondence with almost all working-class leaders in the various countries and whenever possible they came to him for advice on important matters. He became more and more the much-sought-after and always-willing adviser of the fighting proletariat.

Lafargue described the Marx of the seventies as charmingly as Liebknecht had described the Marx of the fifties. He declared that his father-in-law must have had a strong constitution in order to withstand such an unusual mode of life and such exhausting intellectual activities. “He was in fact very powerful. His height was above the average, his shoulders broad, his chest well developed and his limbs well proportioned although the spine was a little long in comparison with the length of his legs, a tendency often to be found amongst the Jews.” And not only amongst Jews. Goethe was similarly built and belonged to the class popularly termed “sitting giants” in Germany, on account of the fact that the disproportionate length of their spines makes them appear much bigger when seated than they actually are.

In Lafargue’s opinion Marx would have been an exceptionally powerful man had he gone in for gymnastics in his youth, but the only form of physical exercise he took regularly was walking. He could walk for hours, chatting all the time, or climb hills without the least sign of fatigue, but even this form of exercise was practised for the most part in his study and merely for the purpose of ordering his ideas. From the door to the window the carpet in his study showed a worn stretch like a footpath over a meadow.

Although he never went to bed until very late he was always up the next morning between eight and nine, drinking black coffee and reading the newspapers, and after that he would disappear into his study to remain there until midnight and still later, appearing only for his meals or, on fine evenings, for a walk across Hampstead Heath. During the afternoon he would perhaps lie down for an hour or two on the sofa. Work had become such a passion for him that he very often completely forgot his meals, and his stomach had to suffer for his tremendous mental activities. He was a poor eater and suffered from lack of appetite, which he would counteract by eating highly-spiced foods, ham, smoked fish, caviar and pickles. Nor was he a great drinker, although he did not abstain completely, and as a true son of the Rhineland he appreciated a good drop of wine. On the other hand, he was a passionate smoker and a demon for matches. He was accustomed to say jokingly that his Capital would not bring him in sufficient to pay for the cigars he had smoked whilst writing it. During the long years of poverty he undoubtedly had to put up with many inferior brands and, as a result, his passion for smoking certainly did his health no good, in fact, his doctor prohibited smoking on a number of occasions.

He sought mental recreation and refreshment in literature and all his life it was a great consolation to him. He possessed widespread knowledge on this field without ever boasting of it. His works, with the one exception of his polemic against Vogt, show little trace of his wide reading, apart of course from the reading immediately necessary to his subject, but in the Vogt book he used numerous quotations from all the literatures of Europe for his artistic purpose. Just as his own scientific work mirrored a whole epoch, so his own literary favourites were those whose creations also mirrored their epoch; from Aeschylus and Homer to Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Goethe. According to Lafargue, Marx read Aeschylus in the original Greek text at least once a year. He was always a faithful lover of the ancient Greeks and he would have scourged those contemptible souls from the temple who would prevent the workers from appreciating the culture of the classic world.

He had a thorough knowledge of German literature reaching far back into the middle ages. Goethe and Heine were his favourites amongst the more modern German authors. The gushing enthusiasm of the German Philistine for the more or less misunderstood “idealism” of Schiller seems to have spoiled this poet for Marx from his early youth, and this “idealism” seemed to him little more than an attempt to cloak banal misery with high-flown phrases. After his final break with Germany he did not bother himself much about modern German literature and he does not mention even writers like Hebbel and Schopenhauer, who would really have been worthy of his attention, whilst Richard Wagner’s manhandling of German mythology comes in for caustic criticism.

Amongst French literary men he thought highly of Diderot and considered his Le Neveu de Rameau to be a masterpiece from beginning to end. The French eighteenth-century enlightenment literature also came in for appreciation. Of this Engels once declared that it represented the highest achievement of French intellect both in form and in content, the latter being extremely high considering the contemporary state of scientific knowledge and the former never equalled since. The French romanticists were roundly rejected by Marx and in particular Chateaubriand, whose false depth, Byzantine exaggerations, twopence-coloured sentimentality – in short, his unparalleled hodge-podge of dishonesty – Marx always found objectionable. On the other hand, Balzac’s Comedie Humaine filled him with enthusiasm as embracing a whole epoch in the mirror of art. In fact, it was his intention to write a study of Balzac after he had completed his own great work, but like so many other plans this one too came to nothing.

After Marx had become permanently domiciled in London, English literature took first place, and the tremendous figure of Shakespeare dominated the field, in fact the whole family practised what amounted practically to a Shakespearean cult. Unfortunately Marx never at any time dealt with Shakespeare’s attitude to the great questions of his day. Referring to Byron and Shelley, however, he declared that those who loved and understood these two poets must consider it fortunate that Byron died at the age of 36, for had he lived out his full span he would undoubtedly have become a reactionary bourgeois. He regretted on the other hand that Shelley died at the age of 29, for Shelley was a thorough revolutionary and would have remained in the van of socialism all his life. Marx thought highly of the English novels of the eighteenth century and in particular of Fielding’s Tom Jones, which in its own way is also a mirror of its time, and he also recognized a number of Walter Scott’s novels as being models of their kind.

In his literary judgments he was completely free of all political and social prejudices, as his appreciation of Shakespeare and Walter Scott shows, but he never subscribed to the idea of “pure astheticism,” Of “art for art’s sake,” which is so often coupled with political indifference or even servility. In this respect also his was a virile and independent intellect measurable by no stereotyped formula. At the same time he was by no means over-fastidious in his choice of reading matter and did not scorn to read productions which would have made scholarly aesthetes cross themselves with horror. Like Darwin and Bismarck, he was a great devourer of novels and he had a particular liking for adventurous and humorous tales. In his search for them he descended from Cervantes, Balzac and Fielding to Paul de Kock and Dumas the elder, the man with the Count of Monte Cristo on his conscience.

Marx also sought intellectual recreation on quite a different field, namely mathematics. Particularly in times of mental anguish and other sufferings he would seek consolation in mathematics, which exercised a soothing effect on him. Engels and Lafargue both contend that he made independent discoveries on this field, but this is beside the point here, and mathematicians who went through his MSS. after his death are reported not to have endorsed this opinion.

With all his intellectual interests Marx was no Wagner who lived shut up in a museum and saw the world only from afar, nor a Faust in whose breast two souls had made their habitation. “Working for the world,” was one of his favourite sayings and he felt that whoever was fortunate enough to be able to devote himself to scientific research should put himself at the service of mankind. It was this intellectual attitude which kept the blood pulsing vigorously in his veins and the marrow fresh in his bones. In his family circle and amongst friends he was always a cheerful and witty companion whose deep-chested laughter came easily. Those who sought out the “Red Terrorist Doctor,” as he came to be called after the fall of the Paris Commune, found no gloomy fanatic and no dreamy arm-chair philosopher, but a man of the world thoroughly at home in all the topics of polite conversation.

The readers of his letters are struck with the easy way in which his fiery spirit glides almost unnoticeably from the tremendous tension of great bursts of anger into the deep but calm sea of philosophic speculation, and this seems to have struck his listeners also, for referring to his conversations with Marx, Hyndman declares:

“Whilst speaking with fierce indignation of the policy of the Liberal Party, especially in regard to Ireland, the old warrior’s small deep-sunk eyes lighted up, his heavy brews wrinkled, the broad, strong nose and face were obviously moved by passion, and he poured out a stream of vigorous denunciation, which displayed alike the heat of his temperament and the marvellous command he possessed over our language. The contrast between his manner and utterances when thus deeply stirred by anger and his attitude when giving his views on the economic events of the period was very marked. He turned from the role of prophet and vehement denunciator to that of the calm philosopher without any apparent effort, and I felt from the first that on this latter ground many a long year might pass before I ceased to be a student in the presence of a master.”

Marx continued to remain aloof from social intercourse although he was by this time much better known than twenty years earlier, and in fact Hyndman had made his acquaintance through a conservative member of parliament. However, in the seventies Marx’s house was the scene of much coming and going; it was another “refuge of justice” for the fugitive communards, who were always certain of receiving advice and finding assistance there. The turbulent folk certainly brought much annoyance and many troubles in their train, and when the first flood had subsided, Frau Marx, for all her hospitable spirit, could not suppress the sigh: “They gave us quite enough to do.”

But there were exceptions. In 1872 Charles Longuet, who had been a member of the Council of the Commune and editor of its official newspaper, married Marx’s daughter Jenny. He never became quite so closely connected with the family, either personally or politically, as Lafargue, but he was a capable man. “He cooks, shouts and argues as much as ever he did,” wrote Frau Marx, “but to his credit I must say that he gives his King’s College lectures regularly and to the satisfaction of his superiors.” The happy marriage was clouded by the early death of the first-born, but then a “chubby, robust and fine youngster” made its appearance and waxed strong and healthy to the joy of the whole family and not least of its grandfather.

The Lafargues were also amongst the fugitives from the Commune and they lived in the neighbourhood. In the first years of their married life they had lost two children and under the impression of this misfortune Lafargue abandoned his practice, declaring that it was impossible to carry on without a certain amount of charlatanry and that he was not prepared to do so. “What a pity he has deserted old father Aesculapius!” sighed Frau Marx. Lafargue then opened a photographic-lithographic studio, but although fortunately his nature was sanguine and skies always blue to his eyes, and although he “worked like a Nigger” and was supported tirelessly and courageously by his wife, the business made very slow progress and he found it difficult to fight against competitive undertakings with more capital than he had.

The third daughter was also being courted by a French suitor at about this time. It was Lissagaray, who afterwards wrote the history of the Commune, in whose ranks he had fought. Eleanor seems to have been favourably inclined towards him, but her father was doubtful about his reliability and in the end and after a certain amount of hesitation nothing came of the matter.

In the spring of 1875 the family again moved, this time to 41, Maitland Park Road, Haverstock Hill, in the same part of the town. Marx spent the last years of his life in this house and it was there that he died.



2. The German Social Democracy

Thanks to the fact that it had developed along national lines from the very beginning, the German working-class movement escaped the crisis suffered by all other sections of the International when they began to develop into national working-class parties. On the 10th of January, 1874, a few months before the fiasco of the Geneva congress, it celebrated its first great electoral victory at the Reichstag elections when it polled 350,000 votes and obtained nine seats, six of them falling to the share of the Eisenach faction and three to the Lassalleans.

Searching light is cast on the causes which led to the decline of the First International by the fact that Marx and Engels, the leading brains of the General Council, were able only with difficulties to find a modus vivendi with that flourishing workers’ party which should have been most familiar to them on account of their own origin and which was nearer to their own theoretical opinions than any other party. The international vantage point which permitted them a general view of the whole, at the same time prevented them from penetrating into the details characteristic of the individual countries. Even their most enthusiastic admirers in England and France have admitted that Marx and Engels never succeeded in mastering all the details of English and French life like natives, and once having parted company with Germany they never succeeded in re-establishing their former thorough and familiar touch with German conditions. This was true even of the German party questions proper, in which their judgment was clouded by their undiminished mistrust of Lassalle and everything Lassallean.

This was seen clearly when the newly-elected Reichstag met for the first time. Two of the six members of the Eisenach faction, Liebknecht and Bebel, were still in prison and unable to take their seats, whilst the attitude of the remaining four, Geib, Most, Motteler and Vahlteich, caused great disappointment in the ranks of their own supporters. Bebel declares in his memoirs that bitter complaints were made to him from many sides that the four parliamentary representatives of the Eisenach faction were letting themselves be outdone by the three Lassalleans, Hasenclever, Hasselmann and Reimer. Engels, on the other hand, was of quite a different opinion and wrote to Sorge: “The Lassalleans have been so discredited by their parliamentary representatives that the government is being compelled to take measures against them in order to create the impression that their movement is serious. For the rest, since the elections the Lassalleans have found themselves compelled to follow at the tail of our people. What a piece of good fortune that Hasenclever and Hasselmann were elected to the Reichstag! They are discrediting themselves visibly. They must either go with our people or commit follies on their own, and both things will ruin them.” It would be difficult to imagine a more thorough misunderstanding of the situation.

The parliamentary representatives of the two factions got on very well together and did not waste much time bothering about whether this man or that had come off better than the other on the floor of the house. Both factions had conducted the election campaign in such a fashion that it was impossible to accuse the Eisenach faction of semi-socialism or the Lassalleans of flirting with the government; both factions polled approximately the same number of votes; both factions faced the same enemies in the house and put forward the same demands; and as a result of their electoral successes both factions were subjected to an equally violent campaign of persecution on the part of the government. Their only real differences were in organizational matters, but these differences were soon settled thanks to the careerist zeal of the Public Prosecutor Tessendorff, who succeeded in obtaining judgments from the complaisant courts which destroyed both the loose form of organization adopted by the Eisenach faction and the more centralized form adopted by the Lassalleans.

Thus the unification of the two factions was automatically approaching when in October, 1874, Tölcke brought the peace proposals of the Lassalleans to Liebknecht, who had in the meantime been released from prison. Liebknecht immediately jumped at them, perhaps somewhat arbitrarily, but with a zeal which was none the less praiseworthy because it was regarded very unfavourably in London. Marx and Engels still regarded the Lassalleans as a dying sect which would have to surrender unconditionally sooner or later, and the idea of negotiating with them on a footing of equality seemed a frivolous offence against the interests of the German working class. And when in February, 1875, the draft program jointly drawn up by the two factions was published Marx and Engels flew into a rage.

On the 5th of May, after Engels had sent a detailed letter of protest to Bebel, Marx sent his so-called programmatic letter to the leader of the Eisenach faction. In this letter he scourged Lassalle harder than ever. He contended that Lassalle had learnt The Communist Manifesto by heart, but had falsified it clumsily in order to cloak his own alliance with the absolutist and feudalist enemy against the bourgeoisie, declaring all other classes to be one reactionary mass as against the working class. In truth, however, the slogan of the “reactionary mass” was not Lassalle’s at all, but had been coined by Schweitzer after Lassalle’s death and had met with the express approval of Engels. What Lassalle had really taken from The Communist Manifesto was what he called the iron law of wages, and for this he was rebuked by Marx as a supporter of the Malthusian theory of population although Lassalle had condemned it as energetically as Marx and Engels had done.

Apart from this extremely disagreeable side of the programmatic letter, it represented a highly instructive dissertation on the fundamental principles of scientific socialism and it left not one stone upon the other as far as the coalition program was concerned. However, as is known, the only result of this powerful letter was to cause the addressees to make a few minor and comparatively unimportant improvements in their draft. A few decades later Liebknecht declared that most of them, if not all, had been in agreement with Marx and that perhaps a majority might have been obtained at the unity congress for the latter’s views, but a minority would have remained dissatisfied and it had been necessary to avoid that because the aim of the congress was not to formulate scientific socialist principles, but to unite the two factions.

A less edifying, but more practical explanation for the way in which the programmatic letter was silently ignored can be found in the fact that it went above the intellectual level of the members of the Eisenach faction even more than it did above that of the Lassalleans. A few months previously Marx had complained that from time to time semi-scholarly Philistine fantasies were permitted to appear in the organ of the Eisenach faction. The stuff came from schoolmasters, doctors and students, and Liebknecht must be taken to task for it. At the same time he feared that the realist ideas which had been laboriously instilled into the party and which had actually begun to take firm root, would now be overwhelmed by Lassallean sectarianism with its ideological legalist rubbish, borrowed from the democrats and the French socialists.

Marx was quite wrong in this respect. In theoretical questions both factions were more or less on the same level, and if there was any difference it favoured the Lassalleans. The draft of the unity program met with no objection at all on the part of the Eisenach faction, whereas a workers’ congress held in West Germany and composed almost exclusively of Lassalleans subjected it to a criticism which was in many respects similar to that exercised by Marx a few weeks later. However, it is not necessary to attach any particular importance to this because the truth was that both factions were still a long way from scientific socialism as founded by Marx and Engels. They had hardly a glimmering of the historical materialist method and the secret of the capitalist mode of production was still a secret for them. The clumsy fashion in which C.A. Schramm (the most prominent theoretician of the Eisenach faction at the time) grappled with Marx’s theory of value offered the most striking evidence of this.

In practice the unification of the two factions turned our favourably and therefore neither Marx nor Engels had anything to say against it, although they still thought perhaps that the Eisenach faction had let itself be imposed upon by the Lassalleans. However, in his programmatic letter Marx had said himself: every practical step taken in the movement is worth a dozen programs. As a matter of fact, the theoretical confusion increased rather than diminished in the new united party and Marx and Engels ascribed this to the unnatural amalgamation, and their dissatisfaction became more outspoken than ever.

The fact that the source of their annoyance was to be found chiefly amongst the members of the former Eisenach faction rather than amongst the former Lassalleans should have given them pause, and Engels declared occasionally that the latter would soon be the clearest thinkers in the movement because their paper – which continued to exist for a year after the unification-published the least nonsense. The curse of paid agitators, of the half-educated, weighed heavily on this party, he declared. He was irritated in particular by Most, who “condensed the whole of Capital without understanding any of it” and vigorously supported Dühring’s brand of socialism. Writing to Marx on the 24th of May, 1876, Engels declared: “It is clear that in the minds of these people Dühring has made himself invulnerable as a result of his execrably vulgar attacks on you, for if we now ridicule his theoretical nonsense then that is nothing but our personal revenge on him.” Liebknecht also did not get off scot-free: “Wilhelm is anxious to make up for the failure of our theories to have an answer ready for every Philistine objection. He is anxious to have a picture of the future society ready-made in his mind because the Philistines might question him about it, and at the same time to be as independent as possible in theoretical matters, an endeavour in which he has been more successful than he realizes owing to his complete lack of any theory.” However, all that had nothing whatever to do with Lassalle or the Lassallean traditions.

It was the rapid growth of its practical successes which made the new party indifferent to theory, and even that is saying too much. They were not indifferent to theory as such, but rather to what, in their vigorous advance, they regarded as theoretical hair-splitting. Unappreciated inventors and misunderstood reformers, anti-vaccinationists, nature healers and similar cranks flocked to the standard of the new party because they hoped to find in the active ranks of the working class the recognition which had been denied them in the bourgeois world. Whoever showed good-will and offered some remedy for the sick body politic was sure of a welcome, particularly those who came from academic circles and whose presence promised to seal the alliance between the proletariat and science. A university professor who befriended or seemed to befriend socialism in one or the other of its manifold interpretations, had no need to fear any very strict criticism of his intellectual stock-in-trade.

Dühring in particular was secure against such criticism because he had many qualities, both personal and otherwise, which necessarily attracted the most active intellectual elements in the Berlin working-class movement. Without a doubt he possessed great gifts and great capacity, and his whole character and career won much sympathy for him amongst the workers. He was without financial resources and had gone blind in early years, but nevertheless he had fought his way through life as a university lecturer, had never made any concessions to the ruling classes and had always stoutly maintained his radicalism in the lecture hall, not hesitating to praise Marat, Babeuf and the heroes of the Commune. The disagreeable side of his character, the arrogance with which he claimed to master completely half a dozen fields of scientific investigation whilst in fact, owing to his physical disability, he was thoroughly at home on none of them, and the increasing megalomania with which he bludgeoned his predecessors out of existence, Fichte and Hegel on the philosophic field, and Marx and Lassalle on the economic field – all this remained in the background or was excused as the result of his intellectual isolation and the arduous struggles he had been compelled to fight.

Marx had paid no attention to the “execrably vulgar” attacks of Dühring and in fact their content was not of sufficient weight to cause him to take up the challenge. The growing enthusiasm of the Berlin socialists for Dühring made no impression on Marx for a long time, although with his claim to infallibility and his system of “final truths” Dühring displayed all the characteristics of the born sectarian. Even when Liebknecht, who was quite on the alert this time, sent in letters from workers and pointed out the danger of the party propaganda becoming superficial, Marx and Engels still refused to reply to Dühring on the ground that it was “too subaltern a task,” but when in May, 1876, Most wrote an insolent letter to Engels, that seems to have been the last straw.

Engels then began to examine Dühring’s “systematic truths,” and he set down his criticism in a number of articles which began to appear in the beginning of 1877 in the Vorwärts, which was now the central organ of the united party. These articles developed into one of the most important and successful documents of scientific socialism, taking a place side by side with Marx’s Capital, but the reception of the work by the party showed that danger was really at hand. By a hair the annual congress of the party which took place in May, 1877, in Gotha would have held an inquisition for heresy on Engels similar to the one then being held by the orthodox university clique against Dühring. Most brought in a resolution against the publication of any further articles by Engels against Dühring in the central organ of the party, on the ground that they were “completely without interest or even objectionable to the great majority of the readers of the Vorwärts.” Vahlteich, who was in all other respects a bitter enemy of Most, made common cause with him on this issue and declared that the tone adopted by Engels was in the worst of taste and likely to make the intellectual fare provided by the Vorwärts indigestible. Fortunately the worst was avoided by the adoption of a compromise proposal suggesting that for practical and agitational reasons the polemic should be continued in a scientific supplement and not in the main paper.

At the same time the congress decided to issue a fortnightly scientific organ from October on. This proposal was adopted at the suggestion of Karl Höchberg, who also promised financial support for the venture. Höchberg was one of those bourgeois adepts at socialism who were so numerous in Germany at the time. He was the son of a lottery promoter in Frankfort, still young and very well off and at the same time extremely self-sacrificing and unselfish. Everyone who knew him gave him the highest possible personal character. However, the judgment on his literary and political abilities as they were expressed in his publications was less favourable. Höchberg was then seen to be a colourless and tiresome person who knew nothing about the history and theory of socialism and nothing whatever about the scientific opinions developed by Marx and Engels. He did not consider the proletarian class struggle as the lever for the emancipation of the workers, but sought to win the ruling classes, and in particular their educated members, for the cause of the workers along the lines of peaceful and legal development.

However, Marx and Engels knew very little about him when they refused to co-operate in Die Zukunft, as the new publication was called. An invitation to contribute had been extended to them only through a general circular together with numerous others. Engels said that whilst the decisions of the congress might be very useful in the practical daily agitation, their value as far as scientific achievement was concerned was nil, and certainly not sufficient to ensure that the publication would really be scientific, a consummation which could not be achieved by decree. A scientific socialist publication without a definite policy and a definite tendency was an impossibility, and in view of the great diversity and ambiguity of the tendencies at present flourishing in Germany, there could be no guarantee that the particular policy adopted would prove suitable.

The first number of Die Zukunft showed how right they had been to adopt a reserved attitude towards it. The introductory article written by Höchberg proved to be a new collection of all the tendencies which they had fought as enervating and debilitating in the socialism of the forties. Thus they were spared any embarrassing disputes. When a member of the German party asked them whether they felt resentful on account of the debate at the Gotha congress, Marx replied: “To quote Heine, I harbour no resentment, nor does Engels. Neither of us cares a snap of the fingers for popularity. As a proof there is my constant opposition to all forms of personal cults. During the period of the International I never permitted the numerous manoeuvres of recognition with which I was molested from various countries to be made public and I never answered them except perhaps with a rebuke.” And he added: “But such happenings as those which took place at the last party congress – they are being thoroughly exploited by the enemies of the party abroad – have in any case taught us to be careful in our relations with members of the party in Germany.” Still, this proved to be not as bad as it sounded and Engels continued to publish his articles against Dühring in the scientific supplement of the Vorwärts.

However, Marx was seriously perturbed by the “rotten spirit” which began to show itself not so much amongst the masses as amongst the leaders, and writing to Sorge on the 19th of October he declared: “The compromise with the Lassalleans has led to compromises with the other pseudo-socialists, in Berlin (Most for example) with Dühring and his ‘admirers,’ and further with a whole host of immature students and inflated academicians, who want to give socialism a higher, idealist tendency,’ or in other words, to replace the materialist basis of socialism (which needs a serious and objective study if one is to operate on it successfully) with a modern mythology whose gods are Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Herr Höchberg who publishes Die Zukunft is a representative of this tendency. He has ‘bought himself in’ to the party. I am prepared to assume that his intentions are of the ‘noblest,’ but I don’t give a fig for ‘intentions.’ Nothing more pitiful than his program in Die Zukunft has ever been presented to the world with more ‘modest presumption’.”

In truth, Marx and Engels would have had to disavow their whole past in order to reconcile themselves with this “tendency.”



3. Anarchism and the War in the Near East

The Gotha congress in 1877 also decided that the party should be represented at a world socialist congress which had been called to take place in Ghent in September of the same year. Liebknecht was elected as the party representative.

This congress had been initiated by the Belgians, who in the meantime had found a hair in the anarchist soup and wanted to bring about a reunion of the two groups which had parted company at The Hague congress. The Bakuninist group had held its congress in 1873 in Geneva, in 1874 in Brussels and in 1876 in Berne, but with steadily diminishing numbers. It broke up in face of the practical necessities of the proletarian struggle for emancipation as it had developed out of them.

The real antagonisms were revealed at the very beginning of the quarrel, the Geneva dispute between the fabrique and the gros métiers. On the one hand a well-paid section of the workers with political rights opening up the parliamentary struggle for them, but also tempting them into various doubtful alliances with bourgeois parties, and on the other hand a badly-paid section of the workers without political rights and dependent solely on their own strength. This practical antagonism was at the basis of the whole quarrel and not, as legend would have it, a theoretical struggle between reason and unreason.

The matter was far less simple, and it is still far from simple to-day, as the repeated resuscitation of anarchism demonstrates after it has been killed again and again. To understand anarchism need not mean to support it. In the same way it is not necessary to disavow parliamentary political action in order to recognize that with all its quite acceptable reforms it can lead the working-class movement to a point where it loses all its revolutionary energies. It was not at all by chance that amongst Bakunin’s supporters were men who had rendered great services to the proletarian struggle for emancipation. Liebknecht was certainly never his friend, but at the time of the Basle congress he demanded political abstention with equal zeal. On the other hand, men like Jules Guesde in France, Carlo Cafiero in Italy, Caesar de Paepe in Belgium and Paul Axelrod in Russia were zealous supporters of Bakunin at the time of The Hague congress and long afterwards. When later on they became just as zealous Marxists, this was not because they had thrown their previous convictions overboard, but, as a number of them declared expressly, because they had continued their development on the basis of that which Bakunin had in common with Marx.

Both men wanted a proletarian mass movement and their dispute concerned the line which this mass movement should take. In the meantime, however, the congresses of the Bakuninist International had demonstrated that the anarchist way was impassable.

It would lead too far here to show the rapid decline of anarchism on the basis of the various congresses. Its destruction proceeded merrily and thoroughly enough. The General Council and the annual subscription were abolished, the congresses were prohibited to adopt any decisions in matters of principle, and with great difficulty an attempt was repulsed to close the ranks of the International to brain workers. However, the constructive side of the matter was in a deplorable state and the drafting of a new program and new tactics made little progress. The Geneva congress disputed in particular about the general strike as the only and infallible means of social revolution, but no agreement was reached, whilst the next congress in Brussels was no more able to agree on the question of public services, which represented the chief question at the congress and upon which de Paepe spoke in a manner which brought him the justifiable reproach that he had left the basis of anarchism altogether. It is clear how necessary was de Paepe’s deviation when something tangible had to be said about such a question. After violent debates, the question was postponed to the next congress for settlement, but the next congress also failed to solve it. The Italians declared that “the era of congresses” was over and done with anyway and they demanded “propaganda of deed.” Utilizing the famine in Italy they achieved the respectable performance of sixty putsches within two years, but the success for their cause was nil.

The fact that anarchism adopted a purely negative attitude to all those practical questions which touched intimately the immediate interests of the modern proletariat, even more than the hopeless confusion of its theoretical views, caused it to degenerate into a thoroughly hidebound sect. When a mass movement in favour of the legal limitation of the working day to ten hours developed amongst the workers in Switzerland, the anarchists refused to have anything to do with it, and they adopted the same negative attitude towards a petition which the Flemish socialists organized to secure the legal prohibition of child labour in the factories. Naturally, they also rejected any struggle for the general franchise or, where it already existed, for its utilization by the workers. Compared with this barren and hopeless policy the successes of the German socialist working-class movement shone all the more brilliantly, and everywhere the masses began to reject anarchist propaganda.

The calling of a world socialist congress for the following year in Ghent which was decided by the anarchist congress in Berne in 1876 was due to the recognition that anarchism had completely failed to win the masses. The congress took place from the 8th to the 15th of September in Ghent. 42 delegates were present and the anarchists controlled only a nucleus of 11 delegates under the leadership of Guillaume and Kropotkin. Many of their former supporters, including most of the Belgian delegates and the Englishman Hales, went over to the socialist wing, which was led by Liebknecht, Greulich and Frankel. A sharp collision took place between Liebknecht and Guillaume when the latter accused the German socialists of putting their program in their pocket at the elections, but on the whole the proceedings of the congress were peaceable enough. The anarchists had lost their usual love for high-sounding phrases, and their speeches were pitched in a minor and conciliatory key which made it possible for their opponents to adopt a more accommodating attitude. However, nothing came of the proposed “solidarity pact,” for the opposing opinions were too dissimilar.

Marx had hardly expected any other result and his attention was now directed towards another storm centre from which he expected revolutionary happenings – the Russo-Turkish War. The first of two letters of advice which he sent to Liebknecht, the letter of the 4th of February, 1878, began: “We are decidedly in favour of the Turks for two reasons: first of all because we have studied the Turkish peasant, i.e., the masses of the Turkish people, and found him to be undoubtedly one of the most capable and morally upright representatives of the European peasantry, and secondly because a Russian defeat would greatly accelerate the social transformation, whose elements are present abundant in Russia, and thereby accelerate also the transformation in the whole of Europe.” Three months earlier Marx had written to Sorge: “This crisis is a new turning point in European history. Russia – and I have studied Russian conditions from the original sources, both unofficial and official (the latter are available only to very few people and I obtained them through the good offices of friends in Petersburg) – has long been on the threshold of a revolution and all the necessary elements are ready. The good Turks have hastened the explosion by years thanks to the drubbing they have given not only the Russian army and the Russian finances, but also to the Russian dynasty (the Tsar, the heir apparent and six other Romanovs) in person. The foolish antics of the Russian students are only a symptom and valueless in themselves, but they are a symptom. All sections of Russian society are economically, morally and intellectually in a state of disintegration.” These observations of Marx proved to be absolutely correct, but, as so often happened, in his revolutionary impatience and owing to the clarity with which he observed the way things were going, he underestimated the time factor.

The initial defeats of the Russians gave way to successes as a result, as Marx assumed, of secret support from Bismarck, of the treachery of England and Austria, and not least through the fault of the Turks themselves who failed to overthrow the old Serail regime in Constantinople by a revolution although that regime had been one of the best friends of the Tsar. A people which failed to act in a determinedly revolutionary fashion at a moment of extreme crisis was lost, declared Marx.

Thus the Russo-Turkish War ended not with a European revolution but with a diplomatic congress in the same place where and at the same time when the German socialist movement seemed to have been shattered with one terrible blow.



4. The Dawn of a New Day

Despite these reverses, however, the dawn of a new day began to show above the world horizon. The anti-socialist law with which Bismarck had hoped to shatter the German socialist movement actually opened up its heroic age and swept away all the confusion and dissensions which existed between it and the two veterans of socialism in London, although one more struggle took place first.

The German party gallantly stood the test of the anti-socialist crusade and the anti-socialist elections which took place in the summer of 1878 after the attempts on the life of the German Kaiser, but in its preparations for the threatening blow it had not realized with what an accumulation of bitter hatred it would have to reckon. The bill had hardly become law when the representatives of the government forgot all the promises of “impartial administration” with which they had soothed the misgivings of the Reichstag, and all the institutions of the party were suppressed, depriving hundreds of people of their livelihood. A few weeks later the so-called minor state of martial law was proclaimed over Berlin and the surrounding districts, although this was in obvious violation of the text of the bill, and about sixty socialists were banished, losing not only their occupations but also their homes.

This alone caused understandable and hardly avoidable confusion in the socialist ranks. After the fall of the Paris Commune the General Council of the International had complained that owing to the necessity of providing assistance for the fugitives it had been prevented for months from carrying on its normal activities. Now the leadership of the German party was faced with a still more difficult task, for it was hampered at every step by police persecutions, whilst a terrible economic crisis paralyzed the country. It cannot be denied that the storm separated the wheat from the chaff: the bourgeois elements which had been drawn to the party in previous years frequently showed themselves to be unreliable; some of the leaders also failed to stand the test, whilst others, including many capable and valuable men, lost courage under the heavy blows dealt by the reaction and feared to provoke the enemy to still more violent attacks by offering any energetic resistance.

All this naturally gave Marx and Engels very little satisfaction, but they certainly underestimated the difficulties of the situation. Even the attitude of the social democratic Reichstag’s faction, which weathered the storm and re-appeared in the Reichstag nine strong, gave them just cause for complaint. One of the members of the faction, Max Kayser, thought it necessary to speak and vote in favour of higher import duties on iron during the debate on the new tariff bill. This made a very bad impression, for everyone knew that the aim of the new bill was to obtain a few hundred more millions annually for the Reich’s treasury, to protect the ground-rent of the landowners against American competition, and to assist large-scale industry to repair the damage it had inflicted on itself in the frenzy of the bubble years, and everyone knew that in the last resort the aim of the anti-socialist law was to break the resistance of the working class to the threatening attacks on its standards of living.

When Bebel tried to defend Kayser’s attitude by pointing out that he had made a particular study of the question, Engels answered abruptly: “If his studies were worth a snap of the fingers he would know that there are two iron foundries in Germany, the Dortmunder Union and the Königs and Laura Foundry, each of which is in a position to satisfy the whole of Germany’s iron requirements, and that apart from these two there are a number of smaller works. And that therefore import duties on iron are idiotic and the only solution is the conquest of foreign markets, that is to say, the alternative is free trade or bankruptcy. He ought to know that the iron foundry capitalists themselves can want import duties on iron only if they have formed themselves into a ring, into a conspiracy, to impose monopoly prices on the home market and to get rid of their surplus products at dumping prices on the foreign market, something which they are already doing to a considerable extent. Kayser spoke in the interests of this ring, of this monopolist conspiracy, and when he voted for higher import duties on iron he voted in their interests too.” When Karl Hirsch unceremoniously attacked Kayser’s tactics in Die Laterne, the social-democratic Reichstag faction unfortunately adopted an attitude of injured dignity because Kayser had spoken with the permission of the faction. This attitude was the last straw for Marx and Engels and the former declared: “Parliamentary cretinism has already eaten so thoroughly into their bones that they imagine themselves above criticism and condemn it indignantly as though it were lese-majeste.”

Karl Hirsch was a young journalist who had won his spurs as Liebknecht’s representative on the Volkstaat during the years whilst Liebknecht was in prison. Afterwards he had lived in Paris, but he had been deported under the German anti-Socialist law. He then did what the German party leadership should have done from the beginning: in the middle of December, 1878, he began to issue Die Laterne from Breda in Belgium, a weekly in the style and format of Rochefort’s La Laterne so that it could be folded up and sent into Germany in ordinary letter envelopes and act as a rallying point for the socialist movement. The idea was good and Hirsch himself was thoroughly clear on questions of principle, but his style of writing, short, brilliant, pointed and epigrammatic, was little suited to the needs of working-class readers. In this respect Die Freiheit, a weekly which Most began to issue a few weeks later from London with the assistance of the Communist Workers Educational League, was more suitable, but unfortunately after a very fair beginning it lost itself in amateur revolutionism.

With the appearance of these two, so to speak, “wild” and independent papers, the question of an official party organ abroad became an urgent one for the German party leadership. Both Bebel and Liebknecht energetically supported the idea and finally they succeeded in overcoming the obstinate resistance of influential party circles which wished to maintain a policy of cautious reserve. It was no longer possible to come to any agreement with Most, but Hirsch abandoned Die Laterne and declared himself prepared to take over the editorship of the new party organ. Marx and Engels, who had complete confidence in him, were also prepared to contribute. The new publication was to appear weekly in Zurich and three members of the party living there were instructed to make the necessary preparations for its appearance: the insurance agent Schramm, who had been expelled from Berlin, Karl Höchberg and Eduard Bernstein, whom Höchberg had won as his literary adviser.

They proved to be in no hurry to carry out their instructions and the reason for the delay became obvious when in July, 1879, they issued Das Jahrbuch fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik (Annual for Social Science and Social Politics) on their own account. This Jahrbuch was to appear semi-annually and the spirit in which it was edited was revealed in an article entitled A Review of the Socialist Movement which was signed with three stars. Its real authors were Höchberg and Schramm, whilst Bernstein contributed only a few lines to it.

The article was an incredibly tactless and ill-considered sermon on the sins of the party, its ill-mannered tone, its tendency to abuse its opponents, its flirting with the masses to the neglect of the educated classes, and in fact everything about a proletarian party which usually annoys a petty-bourgeois Philistine. The epitome of its practical wisdom was that the party should make use of the leisure forced on it by the anti-socialist law in order to repent and atone. Marx and Engels were highly indignant and in a private letter with which they circularized the leaders of the party they demanded categorically that if the latter found it necessary to tolerate the presence of people with such ideas in the party they should at least not be permitted to speak on behalf of the party. In reality Höchberg had not been given such authority by the party, but had taken it on himself, just as he did when he demanded that the trio in Zurich should have the right to control Hirsch’s editorial activities and that Hirsch should abandon the style in which he edited Die Laterne. After this Hirsch and the two veterans in London refused to have anything further to do with the new organ.

Only remnants of the voluminous correspondence which was despatched on the point are still extant. These remnants indicate that Liebknecht and Bebel were far from agreeing with the attitude of the trio in Zurich, but it is difficult to see why they did not intervene energetically. Höchberg himself went to London where he met Engels, but not Marx. His intellectual confusion made the worst possible impression on Engels though neither he nor Marx ever doubted the fellow’s good intentions. The mutual bitterness caused by the affair made it difficult to arrive at any agreement, and on the 19th of September, 1879, Marx wrote to Serge that if the new party weekly was edited in Hochberg’s spirit they would be compelled to protest publicly against such “adulteration” of the party and its principles. “The gentlemen have been warned and they know us well enough to realize that the question must now be settled definitely one way or the other. If they insist on compromising themselves, so much the worse for them, but they will under no circumstances be permitted to compromise us.”

Fortunately matters were not pushed to extremes. Vollmar took over the editorship of the Zurich Sozialdemokrat and conducted it “miserably enough,” in the opinion of Marx and Engels, but still not so badly that it became necessary to make any public protest. There were “constant disputes by letter with the people in Leipzig and the atmosphere was often heated,” but the trio in Zurich turned out to be harmless. Schramm kept completely in the background, Höchberg was often travelling, and under the influence of subsequent events Bernstein freed himself from the depression caused by the first onslaughts of the reaction, as also did many other members of the party who at first had been rather inclined to let things go as they pleased. And finally, the fact that Marx and Engels subsequently showed greater appreciation of the enormous difficulties with which the party leaders had to contend also probably contributed to calming down the general anger and irritation. Writing to Sorge on November 5th, 1880, Marx declared: “Those who enjoy the comparative peace and quiet of foreign countries have no right to make things harder, to the delight of the bourgeoisie, for those who are working under the most difficult circumstances and making great sacrifices in Germany.” And a few weeks later peace was formally concluded between the contending parties.

On the 31st of December, 1880, Vollmar gave notice to end his editorial activity, and when the German party leaders then decided to appoint Karl Hirsch as his successor it was their intention to conciliate Marx and Engels. As Hirsch was living in London, Bebel decided to go to London to negotiate with him personally and at the same time (as had been planned for a long time) to discuss the situation thoroughly with Marx and Engels. He took Bernstein with him in order to dissipate the prejudice which still existed against the latter in London, for in the meantime Bernstein had thoroughly justified himself. The journey to Canossa, as the visit to London was called in party circles, achieved its various aims, except that Karl Hirsch modified his original acceptance of the editorship by declaring that he wished to do the work in London. This was considered undesirable and in the end Bernstein was appointed provisional editor. Finally his position became permanent, and he carried out his task with honour and to the satisfaction of everyone, including Marx and Engels. When the first elections took place under the anti-socialist law a year later Engels was jubilant and declared that no proletariat had ever fought more gallantly.

The movement in France also developed under a favourable star. After the wholesale massacres in May, 1871, Thiers announced to the trembling bourgeoisie in Versailles that socialism in France was now dead forever, ignoring the fact that he had soothed it with the same assurance once before, after the June slaughter of 1848, and already proved a false prophet. Perhaps he thought that the still greater torrents of blood which had been shed in 1871 would prove more effective, for the losses of the Parisian proletariat as a result of the street fighting, the wholesale executions, the deportations, the galley sentences and the emigration were calculated at 100,000. After 1848 socialism had needed almost two decades in order to recover from the numbing blow it had received, but after 1871 it needed only half a decade to make its voice heard again. In 1876, when the courtmartials were still performing their bloody work and defenders of the Commune were still falling under the volleys of the execution squads, the first workers’ congress took place in Paris.

True, for the moment it was no more than an indication, for the congress was under the patronage of the bourgeois republicans, who sought support from the workers against the monarchist landowners, and its decisions referred exclusively to harmless co-operative affairs such as were supported by Schulze-Delitzsch in Germany. But it was quite clear that matters would not stop at this. Large-scale machine industry, which had begun to develop gradually after the trade agreement with England in 1803, had developed much more rapidly after 1871. It was faced with big tasks: to make good the damage done over a wide area during the Franco-Prussian War, to accumulate the capital necessary for the rebuilding of militarism on a still greater scale, and finally to make good the deficiency caused by the loss of Alsace, the most highly industrialized French province, in 1870. Large-scale industry was quite capable of satisfying the demands placed upon it. All over the country factories sprang up and a strong industrial proletariat was created, whereas in the halcyon days of the old International an industrial proletariat had existed only in a few towns in northeastern France.

These conditions made possible the rapid success of Jules Guesde, who hung himself with fiery eloquence into the working-class movement which had begun again with the Paris congress of 1876. A recent convert from anarchism, Guesde did not distinguish himself by any very great theoretical clarity, as can be seen from the Egalité which he founded in 1877. Although the first volume of Marx’s Capital had already been translated into French and published, he knew nothing about Marx, and his attention was first drawn to the latter’s theories by Karl Hirsch. Yet he had thoroughly grasped the idea of the joint ownership of the land and of the means of production, and thanks to his brilliant eloquence and his great polemical ability he succeeded in rousing the French working class on behalf of these demands as the last word in the proletarian class struggle, although they had always met with fierce opposition from the French delegates at all the congresses of the old International.

At the second workers’ congress which took place in Lyons in February, 1878, and which was intended by its organizers to be no more than a repetition of the Paris congress, Guesde succeeded in rallying a minority of twenty delegates around his banner. Matters now became serious for the government and the bourgeoisie, and persecutions of the working-class movement again began, whilst by means of heavy fines and sentences of imprisonment imposed on its editors, the Egalité was forced out of existence. However, Guesde and his supporters were not discouraged and they worked on unflaggingly until at the third workers’ congress, which took place in Marseilles in October, 1879, they won over the majority of the delegates and immediately founded a Socialist Workers Federation, which prepared to organize the political struggle. The Egalité came to life again and won a valuable contributor in Lafargue, who wrote almost all its theoretical articles, and a little later Melon, also a former Bakuninist, began to issue the Revue Socialiste, which Marx and Engels supported with occasional contributions.

In the spring of 1880, Guesde went to London in order to draw up an election program for the young socialist party with the assistance of Marx, Engels and Lafargue. An agreement was reached on the so-called minimal program, which, after a short introduction explaining the final communist aim of the movement, consisted in its economic section exclusively of demands which originated directly from the existing working-class movement. Agreement was certainly not obtained on every single point, and when Guesde insisted that the program should contain a demand for the legal fixing of a minimum wage, Marx declared roundly that if the French proletariat was still childish enough to need such baits it was hardly worth while drawing up a program at all.

However, things were not as bad as that, and on the whole Marx regarded the program as a tremendous step towards freeing the French workers from confused phraseology and placing them on a basis of reality, and both from the opposition and the approval with which the program met he assumed that the first real working-class movement was developing in France. In his opinion there had been nothing but sects in France up to that time, sects whose slogans were naturally manufactured by sectarians, whilst the great masses of the proletariat had remained aloof and followed in the wake of the radical or pseudo-radical bourgeoisie, had fought heroically for this bourgeoisie, only to be massacred and deported the next day by the very people they had helped to power. Marx was therefore completely in agreement with the return of his two sons-in-law to France as soon as the amnesty which had been wrung from the government for the communards, permitted them to do so. Lafargue returned to work together with Guesde whilst Longuet took an influential position on La Justice, the organ of Clemenceau, who was at the head of the extreme left.

The situation in Russia was different, but even more fortunate from Marx’s point of view. His Capital was more widely read and received greater recognition in Russia than anywhere else, particularly in the younger world of science and literature where Marx won many supporters and not a few personal friends. However, the two main tendencies of the Russian mass movement, as far as one can speak of such a thing at that time, the Party of the People’s Will and the Party of Black Distribution, still found his ideas completely foreign. Both parties were wholly Bakuninist in so far as they both aimed above all at winning the peasants. The chief question at issue for them was formulated by Marx and Engels as follows: can the Russian peasant community, an already very degenerate form of primitive common ownership of the land, develop directly into a higher communist form of land-ownership, or must it first of all go through the same process of dissolution seen in the historical development of the Western European countries?

The “only possible answer to this question to-day” was given by Marx and Engels in a preface to a new translation of The Communist Manifesto by Vera Sassulitch in the words: “If the Russian revolution gives the signal for a workers’ revolution in the West, so that both revolutions supplement each other, then the existing form of communal property in Russia can serve as the starting point of a communist development.” This point of view explains the passionate support Marx gave to the Party of the People’s Will, whose terrorist policy had practically made the Tsar a prisoner of the revolution in Gatchina, whilst rather severely condemning the Party of Black Distribution because it rejected all forms of political and revolutionary action, and limited itself to propaganda, although men like Axelrod and Plechanov, who did so much to imbue the Russian working-class movement with the spirit of Marxism, were members of this latter party.

And finally, the day began to dawn in England also. In June, 1881, a little book entitled England for All appeared. It was written by Hyndman and represented the program of the Democratic Federation, an association which had just been formed out of various English and Scottish radical societies, half-bourgeois, half-proletarian. The chapters on labour and capital consisted of literal extracts from Marx’s Capital or of summaries of its ideas, but Hyndman mentioned neither the work itself nor its author and contented himself with remarking at the conclusion of his preface that he was indebted to the work of a great thinker and original writer for the ideas and much of the matter. This peculiar way of treating Marx’s work was made still more irritating by the excuses with which Hyndman tried to justify himself to Marx: Marx’s name was “so much detested,” the English didn’t like to be taught by foreigners, and similar pretexts. Marx then broke off relations with Hyndman, whom he in any case held to be “a weak vessel.”

In the same year, however, Marx was greatly pleased by an article written about him by Belfort Bax and published in the December issue of one of the English monthlies. It is true that he found most of the biographical information false and the description of his economic principles incorrect in many respects and confused, but he valued it as the first English publication of its kind which was imbued with a real enthusiasm for the new ideas and which daringly set itself up against British Philistinism. The appearance of the article, which had been advertised in large type on the walls and hoardings of the West-end, created a great sensation.

In the letter to Serge in which Marx wrote about this the man of iron, who was so indifferent to praise or blame, would seem to have experienced a mild attack of self-complacency. Nothing would have been more excusable, but in fact the letter was written at a moment of deep emotion as can be seen from its concluding sentences: “The most important thing for me was that I received my copy on the 30th of November so that the last days of my dear wife were made a little more cheerful. You know what a passionate interest she took in all such things.” Frau Marx died on the 2nd of December, 1881.



5. Twilight

Whilst the clouds gradually lifted from the social and political horizon everywhere – and that was always the chief thing for Marx – the dusk sank deeper and deeper on him and his house. When the continent was closed against him and he could no longer visit its health-giving spas, his physical ailments grew worse again and rendered him more or less unfit for work. Since 1878 he had done nothing further to complete his main work and about the same time the gnawing anxiety for his wife’s health began.

She had enjoyed the carefree days of her later life with the happy serenity of her harmonious and equable character. In a consolatory letter to the Sorges, who had lost two children in the years of adolescence, she wrote: “I know only too well how terrible it is and how long it lasts before one can again find one’s equanimity after such a loss, but everyday life with its little pleasures and its great troubles, with all its petty worries and its minor torments, comes to our assistance and gradually the great suffering is numbed by the troubles and worries of the moment so that almost unnoticeably the violent anguish diminishes; not that such wounds ever heal completely, and certainly not in a mother’s heart, but gradually one recovers one’s receptivity and even one’s sensitiveness for new sufferings and new pleasures, and one lives on and on with a broken, but still hopeful heart until finally it is stilled forever and eternal peace is there.” Who more deserved an easy death by the gentle loosening of earthly ties at the hands of nature than this gallant and patient woman? But it was not to be her lot, and she once again had to bear great sufferings before the end came.

In the autumn of 1878, Marx informed Sorge that his wife was “very unwell,” and a year later he wrote: “My wife is still dangerously ill and I am not properly on my feet myself.” Apparently after a long period of doubt, it was determined that Frau Marx was suffering from incurable cancer which must gradually and inevitably, and with much pain and suffering, bring about her death. What Marx himself suffered during this terrible illness can be fathomed only from the role his wife had played in his life. She herself bore her sufferings with greater stoicism than her husband and her family. With heroic courage she suppressed all signs of pain in order always to show a serene face. In the summer of 1881, when the disease was already far progressed, she summoned up sufficient courage to make the journey to Paris to visit her married daughters. As the case was hopeless, the doctors agreed to let her brave the dangers of the journey. In a letter to Madame Longuet on the 22nd of June, 1881, Marx announced their visit: “Answer immediately, for Mama will not leave until she knows what you would like her to bring you from London. You know she loves doing such things.” The undertaking was carried out as satisfactorily for Frau Marx as was possible under the circumstances, but on their return Marx himself went down with a violent attack of pleurisy complicated with bronchitis and incipient pneumonia. It was a dangerous illness, but he got over it thanks chiefly to the self-sacrificing care and attention he received at the hands of his daughter Eleanor and from Lenchen Demuth. They were sad days and Eleanor wrote: “Mother lay in the big front room and the Moor lay in the little room next to it. The two who had grown so used to each other, whose lives had completely intertwined, could no longer be in the same room together ... The Moor got over his illness once again. I shall never forget the morning when he felt himself strong enough to get up and go into mother’s room. It was as though they were young again together – she a loving girl and he an ardent youth starting out together through life, and not an old man shattered by ill-health and a dying old lady taking leave of each other forever.”

When Frau Marx died on the 2nd of December, 1881, Marx was still so weak that the doctor forbade him to accompany his beloved wife on her last journey. “I submitted to his orders,” Marx wrote to his daughter Madame Longuet, “because a few days before she died your dear mother expressed the wish that there should be no ceremony at her funeral: ‘We attach no importance to outward show.’ It was a great consolation to me that her strength ebbed so rapidly. As the doctor prophesied, the disease took on the form of a general decline, as though it were caused by old age. Even in the final hours – no struggle with death, a slow sinking into sleep, and her eyes were bigger, more beautiful and brighter than ever.”

Engels spoke at the grave of Jenny Marx. He spoke of her with the deepest respect and admiration as the loyal comrade of her husband and closed his speech with the words: “There is no need for me to speak of her personal virtues. Her friends know them and will never forget them or her. If there was ever a woman whose greatest happiness was to make others happy, it was this woman.”



6. The Last Year

Marx survived his wife little more than a year, but this period was really nothing but “a slow death,” and Engels’ instinct was right when he declared on the day Frau Marx died, “The Moor has also died.”

As the two friends were again separated for the greater part of this short period their correspondence took on a last lease of life and in it the final year passes in melancholy grandeur, deeply moving on account of the painful details in which the relentless fate of all human kind dissolved this powerful spirit too.

All that still held him to life was a burning desire to devote his remaining strength to the great cause to which he had given his whole life. Writing to Sorge on the 15th of December, 1881, he declared: “I have emerged from the last illness doubly crippled: morally through the death of my wife and physically as a result of the fact that it has left me with a congestion of the pleura and an increased sensitiveness of the bronchial tubes. I shall lose a certain amount of time altogether in attempts to restore my health.” This time lasted until the day of his death, for all efforts to restore his health failed.

The doctors first of all sent him to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight and then to Algiers. He arrived in Algiers on the 20th of February, 1882, but with a new attack of pleurisy brought on by the cold journey. New cause for misgivings was the fact that the winter and spring in Algiers was unusually cold, wet and disagreeable. He had no better luck in Monte Carlo, when he arrived on the 2nd of May with a new attack of pleurisy on account of the raw cold journey, and found persistently bad weather.

Only when he went to stay with the Longuets in Argenteuil at the beginning of June did his health improve a little. No doubt the agreeable comfort of family life did much to help him, and in addition he took the waters of the sulphur springs in the nearby spa of Enghien for his chronic bronchitis. Afterwards he stayed with his daughter Laura for six weeks in Vevey on Lake Geneva and this also helped considerably to improve his health so that when he returned to London in September he seemed quite strong again and often walked up to Hampstead Heath, which was about 300 feet higher than his home, without showing any signs of exhaustion.

He then intended to resume his work for, although the doctors had forbidden him to stay in London during the winter, they had permitted him to stay on the South coast. When the November fogs threatened he went to Ventnor again, but he found mist and wet weather such as he had found in Algiers and Monte Carlo the winter before. He caught cold again, and instead of enjoying health-giving walks in the fresh air he was compelled to keep to his room and grow weaker. Any scientific work was impossible although his interest in all scientific progress (even that which had no direct connection with his own field of work, such as the electrical experiments of Deprez at the Munich Electrical Exhibition) was still active. In general his letters reveal a discontented and depressed mood. When the inevitable growing pains began to manifest themselves in the young workers’ party of France, he was dissatisfied with the way in which his sons-in-law represented his ideas: “Longuet as the last Proudhonist and Lafargue as the last Bakuninist. The devil take them.” It was in this period that he used the phrase which has since so intrigued the Philistine world: that as far as he was concerned he was certainly not a Marxist.

On the 11th of January, 1883, he suffered the last decisive blow with the death of his daughter Jenny, and the very next day he returned to London with a bad attack of bronchitis which was soon complicated by an inflammation of the larynx and made it almost impossible for him to swallow. “He who had borne the greatest pains with stoic resignation now preferred to drink milk (which he hated all his life) rather than to cry to take any more solid nourishment.” In February a tumour developed in one lung. The medicines he swallowed had no further effect on a body which had been overdosed with medicines for fifteen months. At the most they impaired his appetite and weakened his digestion. Almost noticeably he fell away from day to day, but the doctors had not given up hope because the bronchitis had almost completely disappeared and it became easier for him to swallow. However, the end came unexpectedly. In the afternoon of the 14th of March, 1883, whilst sitting in his easy chair Karl Marx fell gently and without pain into his last sleep.

Despite great sorrow at this irreparable loss, Engels found that it contained a grain of consolation. “Medical science might perhaps have made it possible for him to drag on another few years, the life of a helpless invalid dying not suddenly but by inches to the greater glory of the medical profession. Our Marx could never have stood that. To live on with so much unfinished work before him and to suffer the tantalizing desire to finish it and to know that he would never be able to do so – that would have been a thousand times more bitter than the gentle death which took him. With Epicurus, he was wont to say that death was no misfortune for him who died, but for those who survived. And to see this great genius lingering on as a physical wreck to the greater glory of medicine and the mockery of the Philistines whom he so often flayed in the prime of his life – no, a thousand times better as it is, a thousand times better that we carry him to the grave where his wife lies.”

On the 17th of March, on a Saturday, Karl Marx was buried in the grave of his wife. His family tactfully dispensed with “all ceremony” such as would have closed his life with a painfully discordant note. No more than a few faithful friends were at the graveside. Engels with Lessner and Lochner, his old comrades from the days of the Communist League, Lafargue and Longuet from France and Liebknecht from Germany. Science was represented by two of its most prominent pioneers, the chemist Schorlemmer and the biologist Ray Lankester.

The farewell words which Engels addressed to his dead friend in English sum up so truthfully and straightforwardly and in such simple words what Karl Marx was to mankind and what he will always remain that it is fitting that they should close this book:

“On the afternoon of the 14th of March at a quarter to three, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. Left alone for less than two minutes, when we entered we found him sleeping peacefully in his chair – but forever.

“It is impossible to measure the loss which the fighting European and American proletariat and historical science has lost with the death of this man. Soon enough we shall feel the breach which has been opened by the death of this tremendous spirit.

“As Darwin discovered the law of evolution in organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of evolution in human history: the simple fact, previously hidden under ideological growths, that human beings must first of all eat, drink, shelter and clothe themselves before they can turn their attention to politics, science, art and religion; that therefore the production of the immediate material means of life and thereby the given stage of economic development of a people or of a period forms the basis on which the State institutions, the legal principles, the art and even the religious ideas of the people in question have developed and out of which they must be explained, instead of exactly the contrary, as was previously attempted.

“But not only this, Marx discovered the special law of development of the present-day capitalist mode of production and of the bourgeois system of society which it has produced. With the discovery of surplus-value, light was suddenly shed on the darkness in which all other economists, both bourgeois and socialist, had lost themselves.

“Two such discoveries would have been enough for any life. Fortunate indeed is he to whom it is given to make even one. On every single field which Marx investigated, and there were many and on none of them were his investigations superficial, he made independent discoveries, even on the field of mathematics.

“That was the man of science, but that was by no means the whole man. For Marx, science was a creative, historic and revolutionary force. Great as was his pleasure at a new discovery on this or that field of theoretical science, a discovery perhaps whose practical consequences were not yet visible, it was still greater at a new discovery which immediately affected industrial development, historical development as a whole in a revolutionary fashion. For instance he closely followed the development of the discoveries on the field of electrical science and towards the end the work of Marc Deprez.

“For Marx was above all a revolutionary, and his great aim in life was to co-operate in this or that fashion in the overthrow of capitalist society and the State institutions which it has created, to co-operate in the emancipation of the modern proletariat, to whom he was the first to give a consciousness of its class position and its class needs, a knowledge of the conditions necessary for its emancipation. In this struggle he was in his element, and he fought with a passion, tenacity and success granted to few. The first Rheinische Zeitung in 1842, the Vorwärts in Paris in 1844, the Brüsseler Deutsche Zeitung in 1847, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung from 1848 to 1849, the New York Tribune from 1852 to 1861 – and then a wealth of polemical writings, the organizational work in Paris, Brussels and London, and finally the great International Workingmen’s Association to crown it all. In truth, that alone would have been a life’s work to be proud of if its author had done nothing else.

“And therefore Marx was the best-hated and most-slandered man of his age. Governments, both absolutist and republican, expelled him from their territories, whilst the bourgeois, both conservative and extreme-democratic, vied with each other in a campaign of vilification against him. He brushed it all to one side like cobwebs, ignored them and answered only when compelled to do so. And he died respected, loved and mourned by millions of revolutionary workers from the Siberian mines over Europe and America to the coasts of California, and I make bold to say that although he had many opponents he had hardly a personal enemy.

“His name will live through the centuries and so also will his work.”


Last updated on 27.2.2004