Author Anonymous

Who Was Karl Marx?

Interview with Karl Marx (excerpts)


Chicago Tribune, January 5 1879

London, December 18 [1878]—In a little villa at Haverstock Hill, the northwest portion of London, lives Karl Marx, the cornerstone of modern socialism. He was exiled from his native country—Germany—in 1844, for propagating revolutionary theories. In 1848, he returned, but in a few months was again exiled. He then took up his abode in Paris, but his political theories procured his expulsion from that city in 1849, and since that year his headquarters have been in London. His convictions have caused him trouble from the beginning. Judging from the appearance of his home, they certainly have not brought him affluence. Persistently during all these years he has advocated his views with an earnestness which undoubtedly springs from a firm belief in them, and, however much we may deprecate their propagation, we cannot but respect to a certain extent the self-denial of the now venerable exile.

Our correspondent has called upon him twice or thrice, and each time the Doctor was found in his library, with a book in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He must be over seventy years of age. His physique is well knit, massive, erect. He has the head of a man of intellect, and the features of a cultivated Jew. His hair and beard are long, and iron-gray in color. His eyes are glittering black, shaded by a pair of bushy eyebrows. To a stranger he shows extreme caution. A foreigner can generally gain admission; but the ancient-looking German woman [Helene Demuth] who waits upon visitors has instructions to admit none who hail from the Fatherland, unless they bring letters of introduction. Once into his library, however, and having fixed his one eyeglass in the corner of his eye, in order to take your intellectual breadth and depth, so to speak, he loses that self-restraint, and unfolds to you a knowledge of men and things throughout the world apt to interest one. And his conversation does not run in one groove, but is as varied as are the volumes upon his library shelves. A man can generally be judged by the books he reads, and you can form your own conclusions when I tell you a casual glance revealed Shakespeare, Dickens, Thackeray, Moliere, Racine, Montaigne, Bacon, Goethe, Voltaire, Paine; English, American, French blue books; works political and philosophical in Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, etc., etc. During my conversation I was struck with his intimacy with American questions which have been uppermost during the past twenty years. His knowledge of them, and the surprising accuracy with which he criticized our national and state legislation, impressed upon my mind the fact that he must have derived his information from inside sources. But, indeed, this knowledge is not confined to America, but is spread over the face of Europe. When speaking of his hobby—socialism—he does not indulge in those melodramatic flights generally attributed to him, but dwells upon his utopian plans for “the emancipation of the human race” with a gravity and an earnestness indicating a firm conviction in the realization of his theories, if not in this century, at least in the next.

Perhaps Dr. Karl Marx is better known in America as the author of Capital, and the founder of the International Society, or at least its most prominent pillar. In the interview which follows, you will see what he says of this Society as it at present exists. However, in the meantime I will give you a few extracts from the printed general rules of The International Society published in 1871, by order of the General Council, from which you can form an impartial judgment of its aims and ends. The Preamble sets forth

that the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves; that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule; that the economical subjection of the man of labor to the monopolizer of the means of labor—that is, the sources of life—lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all social misery, mental degradation, and political dependence; that all efforts aiming at

the universal emancipation of the working classes “have hitherto failed from want of solidarity between the manifold divisions of labor in each country,” and the Preamble calls for “the immediate combination of the still-disconnected movements.” It goes on to say that the International Association acknowledges “no rights without duties, no duties without rights”—thus making every member a worker. The Association was formed at London “to afford a central medium of communication and cooperation between the workingmen’s societies in the different countries,” aiming at the same end, namely: “the protection, advancement, and complete emancipation of the working classes.” “Each member,” the document further says, “of the International Association, on removing his domicile from one country to another, will receive the fraternal support of the associated workingmen.”

…. I said, “socialists generally look upon the transformation of the means of labor into the common property of society as the grand climax of the movement.”

“Yes; we say that this will be the outcome of the movement, but it will be a question of time, of education, and the institution of higher social status.”

“This platform,” I remarked, “applies only to Germany and one or two other countries.”

“Ah!” he returned, “if you draw your conclusions from nothing but this, you know nothing of the activity of the party. Many of its points have no significance outside of Germany. Spain, Russia, England, and America have platforms suited to their peculiar difficulties. The only similarity in them is the end to be attained.”

“And that is the supremacy of labor?”

“That is the emancipation of labor.”

“Do European socialists look upon the movement in America as a serious one?”

“Yes: it is the natural outcome of the country’s development. It has been said that the movement has been imported by foreigners. When labor movements became disagreeable in England, fifty years ago, the same thing was said; and that was long before socialism was spoken of. In American, since 1857, only has the labor movement become conspicuous. Then trade unions began to flourish; then trades assemblies were formed, in which the workers in different industries united; and after that came national labor unions. If you consider this chronological progress, you will see that socialism has sprung up in that country without the aid of foreigners, and was merely caused by the concentration of capital and the changed relations between the workmen and employers.”

“Now,” asked our correspondent, “what has socialism done so far?”

“Two things,” he returned. “Socialists have shown the general universal struggle between capital and labor—the Cosmopolitan Chapter in one word—and consequently tried to bring about an understanding between the workmen in the different countries, which became more necessary as the capitalists became more cosmopolitan in hiring labor, pitting foreign against native labor not only in America, but in England, France, and Germany. International relations sprang up at once between workingmen in the three different countries, showing that socialism was not merely a local, but an international problem, to be solved by the international action of workmen. The working classes move spontaneously, without knowing what the ends of the movement will be. The socialists invent no movement, but merely tell the workmen what its character and its ends will be.”

“Which means the overthrowing of the present social system,” I interrupted.

“This system of land and capital in the hands of employers, on the one hand,” he continued, “and the mere working power in the hands of the laborers to sell a commodity, we claim is merely a historical phase, which will pass away and give place to a higher social condition.

“We see everywhere a division of society. The antagonism of the two classes goes hand in hand with the development of the industrial resources of modern countries. From a socialistic standpoint the means already exist to revolutionize the present historical phase. Upon trade unions, in many countries, have been built political organizations. In America the need of an independent workingmen’s party has been made manifest. They can no longer trust politicians. Rings and cliques have seized upon the legislatures, and politics has been made a trade. But America is not alone in this, only its people are more decisive than Europeans. Things come to the surface quicker. There is less cant and hypocrisy that there is on this side of the ocean.”

I asked him to give me a reason for the rapid growth of the socialistic party in Germany, when he replied:

“The present socialistic party came last. Theirs was not the utopian scheme which made headway in France and England. The German mind is given to theorizing, more than that of other peoples. From previous experience the Germans evolved something practical. This modern capitalistic system, you must recollect, is quite new in Germany in comparison to other states. Questions were raised which had become almost antiquated in France and England, and political influences to which these states had yielded sprang into life when the working classes of Germany had become imbued with socialistic theories. Therefore, from the beginning almost of modern industrial development, they have formed an independent political party.

They had their own representatives in the German parliament. There was no party to oppose the policy of the government, and this devolved upon them. To trace the course of the party would take a long time; but I may say this: that, if the middle classes of Germany were not the greatest cowards, distinct from the middle classes of America and England, all the political work against the government should have been done by them.”

“It is said that you are the head and front of socialism, Doctor, and from your villa here pull the wires of all the associations, revolutions, etc., now going on. What do you say about it?”

The old gentleman smiled: “I know it.”

“It is very absurd yet it has a comic side. For two months previous to the attempt of Hoedel, Bismarck complained in his North German Gazette that I was in league with Father Beck, the leader of the Jesuit movement, and that we were keeping the socialist movement in such a condition that he could do nothing with it.”

“But your International Society in London directs the movement?”

The International Society has outlived its usefulness and exists no longer. It did exist and direct the movement; but the growth of socialism of late years has been so great that its existence has become unnecessary. Newspapers have been started in the various countries. These are interchanged. That is about the only connection the parties in the different countries have with one another. The International Society, in the first instance, was created to bring the workmen together, and show the advisability of effecting organization among their various nationalities. The interests of each party in the different countries have no similarity. This specter of the Internationalist leaders sitting at London is a mere invention. It is true that we dictated to foreign societies when the Internationalist organization was first accomplished. We were forced to exclude some sections in New York, among them one in which Madam Woodhull was conspicuous, that was in 1871. There are several American politicians—I will not name them—who wish to trade in the movement. They are well known to American socialists.”

“You and your followers, Dr. Marx, have been credited with all sorts of incendiary speeches against religion. Of course you would like to see the whole system destroyed, root and branch.”

“We know,” he replied after a moment’s hesitation, “that violent measures against religion are nonsense; but this is an opinion: as socialism grows, religion will disappear.

“Its disappearance must be done by social development, in which education must play a part.”

“The Reverend Joseph Cook, of Boston—you know him—”

“We have heard of him, a very badly informed man upon the subject of socialism.”

“In a lecture lately upon the subject, he said, ‘Karl Marx is credited now with saying that, in the United States, and in Great Britain, and perhaps in France, a reform of labor will occur without bloody revolution, but that blood must be shed in Germany, and in Russia, and in Italy, and in Austria.’ ”

“No socialist,” remarked the Doctor, smiling, “need predict that there will be a bloody revolution in Russia, Germany, Austria, and possibly Italy if the Italians keep on in the policy they are now pursuing. The deeds of the French Revolution may be enacted again in those countries. That is apparent to any political student. But those revolutions will be made by the majority. No revolution can be made by a party, but by a nation.”

“The reverend gentleman alluded to,” I remarked, “gave an extract from a letter which he said you addressed to the Communists of Paris in 1871. Here it is:

We are as yet but 3,000,000 at most. In twenty years we shall be 50,000,000—100,000,000 perhaps. Then the world will belong to us, for it will be not only Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, which will rise against odious capital, but Berlin, Munich, Dresden, London, Liverpool, Manchester, Brussels, St. Petersburg, New York—in short, the whole world. And before this new insurrection, such as history has not yet known, the past will disappear like a hideous nightmare; for the popular conflagration, kindled at a hundred points at once, will destroy even its memory!

Now, Doctor, I suppose you admit the authorship of that extract?”

“I never wrote a word of it. I never write such melodramatic nonsense.

“I am very careful what I do write. That was put in Le Figaro, over my signature, about that time. There were hundreds of the same kind of letters flying about them. I wrote to the London Times and declared they were forgeries; but if I denied everything that has been said and written of me, I would require a score of secretaries.”

“But you have written in sympathy with the Paris Communists?”

“Certainly I have, in consideration of what was written of them in leading articles; but the correspondence from Paris in English papers is quite sufficient to refute the blunders propagated in editorials. The Commune killed only about sixty people; Marshal MacMahon and his slaughtering army killed over 60,000. There has never been a movement so slandered as that of the Commune.”

“Well, then, to carry out the principles of socialism do its believers advocate assassination and bloodshed?”

“No great movement,” Karl answered, “has ever been inaugurated without bloodshed.

“The independence of America was won by bloodshed, Napoleon captured France through a bloody process, and he was overthrown by the same means. Italy, England, Germany, and every other country gives proof of this, and as for assassination,” he went on to say, “it is not a new thing, I need scarcely say. Orsini tried to kill Napoleon; kings have killed more than anybody else; the Jesuits have killed; the Puritans killed at the time of Cromwell. These deeds were all done or attempted before socialism was born. Every attempt, however, now made upon a royal or state individual is attributed to socialism. The socialists would regret very much the death of the German Emperor at the present time. He is very useful where he is; and Bismarck has done more for the cause than any other statesman, by driving things to extremes.”


Karl Marx

John Swinton

The Sun, No. 6, September 6, 1880
The interview with the The Sun’s editor took place in August 1880.

One of the most remarkable men of the day, who has played an inscrutable but puissant part in the revolutionary politics of the past forty years, is Karl Marx. A man without desire for show or fame, caring nothing for the fanfaronade of life or the pretence of power, without haste and without rest, a man of strong, broad, elevated mind, full of far-reaching projects, logical methods, and practical aims, he has stood and yet stands behind more of the earthquakes which have convulsed nations and destroyed thrones, and do now menace and appal crowned heads and established frauds, than any other man in Europe, not excepting Joseph Mazzini himself. The student of Berlin, the critic of Hegelianism, the editor of papers, and the old-time correspondent of the New York Tribune, he showed his qualities and his spirit; the founder and master spirit of the once dreaded International and the author of “Capital,” he has been expelled from half the countries of Europe, proscribed in nearly all of them, and for thirty years past has found refuge in London. He was at Ramsgate the great seashore resort of the Londoners, while I was in London, and there I found him in his cottage, with his family of two generations. The saintly-faced, sweet-voiced, graceful woman of suavity who welcomed me at the door was evidently the mistress of the house and the wife of Karl Marx. And is this massive-headed, generous-featured, courtly, kindly man of 60, with the bushy masses of long ravelling gray hair, Karl Marx? His dialogue reminded me of that of Socrates—so free, so sweeping, so creative, so incisive, so genuine—with its sardonic touches, its gleams of humor, and its sportive merriment. He spoke of the political forces and popular movements of the various countries of Europe—the vast current of the spirit of Russia, the motions of the German mind, the action of France, the immobility of England. He spoke hopefully of Russia, philosophically of Germany, cheerfully of France, and sombrely of England—referring contemptuously to the “atomistic reforms” over which the Liberals of the British Parliament spend their time. Surveying the European world, country after country, indicating the features and the developments and the personages on the surface and under the surface, he showed that things were working toward ends which will assuredly be realized. I was often surprised as he spoke. It was evident that this man, of whom so little is seen or heard, is deep in the times, and that, from the Neva to the Seine, from the Urals to the Pyrenees, his hand is at work preparing the way for the new advent. Nor is his work wasted now any more than it has been in the past, during which so many desirable changes have been brought about, so many heroic struggles have been seen, and the French republic has been set up on the heights. As he spoke, the question I had put, “Why are you doing nothing now?” was seen to be a question of the unlearned, and one to which he could not make direct answer. Inquiring why his great work “Capital,” the seed field of so many crops, had not been put into English as it has been put into Russian and French from the original German, he seemed unable to tell, but said that a proposition for an English translation had come to him from New York. He said that that book was but a fragment, a single part of a work in three parts, two of the parts being yet unpublished, the full trilogy being “Land,” “Capital,” “Credit,” the last part, he said, being largely illustrated from the United States, where credit has had such an amazing development. Mr. Marx is an observer of American action, and his remarks upon some of the formative and substantive forces of American life were full of suggestiveness. By the way, in referring to his “Capital,” he said that any one who might desire to read it would find the French translation much superior in many ways to the German original. Mr. Marx referred to Henri Rochefort the Frenchman, and in his talk of some of his dead disciples, the stormy Bakunin, the brilliant Lassalle, and others, I could see how his genius had taken hold of men who, under other circumstances, might have directed the course of history.

The afternoon is waning toward the twilight of an English summer evening as Mr. Marx discourses, and he proposes a walk through the seaside town and along the shore to the beach, upon which we see many thousand people, largely children, disporting themselves. Here we find on the sands his family party—the wife, who had already welcomed me, his two daughters with their children, and his two sons-in-law, one of whom is a Professor in King’s College, London, and the other, I believe, a man of letters. It was a delightful party—about ten in all—the father of the two young wives, who were happy with their children, and the grandmother of the children, rich in the joysomeness and serenity of her wifely nature. Not less finely than Victor Hugo himself does Karl Marx understand the art of being a grandfather; but, more fortunate than Hugo, the married children of Marx live to cheer his years. Toward nightfall he and his sons-in-law part from their families to pass an hour with their American guest. And the talk was of the world, and of man, and of time, and of ideas, as our glasses tinkled over the sea. The railway train waits for no man, and night is at hand. Over the thought of the babblement and rack of the age and the ages, over the talk of the day and the scenes of the evening, arose in my mind one question touching upon the final law of being, for which I would seek answer from this sage. Going down to the depth of language, and rising to the height of emphasis, during an interspace of silence, I interrogated the revolutionist and philosopher in these fateful words, “What is?” And it seemed as though his mind were inverted for a moment while he looked upon the roaring sea in front and the restless multitude upon the beach. “What is?” I had inquired, to which, in deep and solemn tone, he replied: “Struggle!

At first it seemed as though I had heard the echo of despair; but, peradventure, it was the law of life.