Letter to Paul and Laura Lafargue, February 15, 1869

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 15 February 1869


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 43, p. 216;
First published: in Marx and Engels, Works, Second Russian Edition, Moscow, 1964.

To Paul and Laura Lafargue in Paris

London, 15 February 1869[edit source]

Dear Paul and beloved Cacadou,

You know Falstaff’s opinion of old men. They are all of them cynics, so you will not be astonished at my passing over that stubborn fact — my prolonged silence. I jump at once into medias res [the crux of the matter], turning the back to the sins of the past.

In the first instance, I must frankly tell you that I feel much anxiety as to Laura’s health. Her prolonged sequestration I know not how to account for. Her invisibility to my friends, such as Dupont, stimulates my misgivings. So soon as certain arrangements permit, I shall come over for the single purpose of having a look at my child. After the publication of The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, I might not be quite safe at Paris. Do not, in your letters, drop any hint as to my secret plan.

I feel much obliged to little Fouchtra who tries his best at keeping his Grandfather up in the literature of the day. Vermorel’s book has much amused me. I generally concur in his appreciation of the persons that played in 1848 a part natural selection had not meant them for. Some men he treats too seriously, f.i. Odilon Barrot, la nullité grave [absolute nonentity]. What he lacks, is the knowledge of the finer nuances de classe represented, more or less unconsciously, as in the case of Ledru-Rollin, by those provisional, but not providential men. Il y a quelque chose qui cloche — his continuous attempt at revindicating, and in a very clever way too, that strange mixture of the chevalier d'industrie, the utopian, and the critic. I have named E. Girardin. As to his criticism, not of men, but of measures, l'gnorance et l'arrogance Proudhoniennes peep out at every instant.

As to the ouvrier artiste, he is not my man. The only thing I like is the portrait of Blanqui which I have sent to Beesly, to cure him of the strange prejudices he has imbibed in the book of that vieille cocotte, Daniel Stern. When we had him at dinner, he naively asked me whether Blanqui was not one of those irrespectable men, like Bradlaugh. I could not but chuckle in my sleeves at this truly John Bullian appreciation of revolutionary characters. I asked him, whether his hero, Catiline, had been a ‘respectable’ man?

The thing that amuses me most in Le Peuple is the circumstance — a good sample of historical irony — that these learned Proudhonians are forced to come out as gens de lettre, a part which they despise so much, and which, nevertheless, is their only true role, the only thing they are fit for.

As to Paul’s lively narration of his adventure with Mlle Rover, it has tickled Engels and my humble self. I was not at all astonished at his failure. He will remember that, having read her preface to Darwin, I told him at once she was a bourgeois. Darwin was led by the struggle for life in English society — the competition of all with all, bellum omnium contra omnes — to discover competition to [...] as the ruling law of ‘bestial’ and vegetative life. The Darwinism, conversely, considers this a conclusive reason for human society never to emancipate itself from its bestiality.

As to La Misère de la Philosophie, I do really not see what I can further do in this affair. The mass has been spoilt from the beginning. The books ought to have been thankfully received at once, but it is now too late to mend. I have written to Meissner to look after Vogler, but we will hardly gain anything by finding out that vagabond. The worst is that Vieweg not only keeps, but sequestrates the book. If he advertises it anew, at 2 fcs per piece, he might sell it — perhaps. Lafargue ought to speak with him in that sense.

I fear I cannot do much for the new paper contemplated. At all events, I shall try my best. Cowell Stepney will never advance £12,000. He is a well-meaning fool who fritters away his means in a most grotesque way. The Social Economist, a most stupid publication by old Holyoake, who is his own Cromwell — lives upon Stepney’s pocket. There is no sham philanthropical pie he has not his hand, or rather his pocket, in. So, if you want him to come out on a larger scale, he has neither the will nor the power to do so.

Our International makes great strides in Germany. Our new plan, proposed by myself, to allow only individual membership, and sell at 1d the cards, on whose back our principles are printed in German, French and English — works well. Jung becomes every day more and more a little master. The unction, affectation, and self-importance with which he drops his golden words and spins his long narrative yarn, grow really insupportable. So Dupont told him, adding that he (Jung) was even given, while speaking, to the habitude of putting his hands in his pockets and making jingle his purse. But he is really not so bad as that.

The old acquaintance of mine — the Russian Bakunin — had started a little nice conspiracy against the International. Having fallen out with and seceded from, the Ligne de la Paix et de la Liberté, on their last Berne Congress, he entered the Romande Section of our Association at Geneva. He very soon inveigled brave old Becker, always anxious for action, for something stirring, but of no very critical cast of mind, an enthusiast like Garibaldi, easily led away. Well, Bakunin hatched the plan of L'Alliance Internationale de la Démocratte Socialiste, which was to form at the same time a branch of our International, and a new independent International Association ‘with the special mission to elaborate the higher philosophical etc. principles’ of the proletarian movement, and, in point of fact, would, by a clever trick, have placed our society under the guidance and supreme initiative of the Russian Bakunin. The way in which they set to business, was quite characteristic. They sent their new programme, with old Becker’s name at the head of the signatures — and they sent emissaries too — behind our back, to Paris, Brussels, etc. Only in the last moment, they communicated the documents to the London General Council. By a formal judgment we annulled and stifled the Muscovite nursling. All our branches approved the decision. Of course, old Becker bears me now a grudge (and so does Schily on his account), but with all my personal friendship for Becker I could not allow this first attempt at disorganising our society to succeed.

Has Dupont told you that gallant Vésinier has been expulsed from the illustrious French Branch as a calumniator vile and base? En revanche, he has become the acknowledged hero of La Cigale, which has openly turned against ‘l'équivoque Conseil Général à Londres et ses acolytes à Bruxelles’. [the ambiguity of the London General Council and its accomplices in Brussels]

And now, my dear children, farewell, kiss little Fouchtra in my name, and remember

Old Nick