Letter to Paul and Laura Lafargue, March 5, 1870

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 5 March 1870

First published in: Marx and Engels, Works, Second Russian Edition, Vol. 32, Moscow, 1964

A short excerpt from this letter was published in English for the first time in: The Letters of Karl Marx. Selected and translated with explanatory notes and an introduction by Saul K. Padover, Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1979.

Extract published in Marx and Engels on Ireland, Progress Publishers, 1971;

Published in English in full for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 43

To Paul and Laura Lafargue in Paris

London, March 5, 1870[edit source]

Dear Laura and Paul,

You feel certainly great and just indignation at my prolonged silence, but you ought to excuse it as the natural consequence, first, of illness, then of extra work to make up for the time lost. The sad news Paul communicated to us, did not take me by surprise. The evening before the arrival of his letter I had stated to the family my serious misgivings as to the little child. I have suffered myself too much from such losses to not profoundly sympathise with you. Still, from the same personal experience I know that all wise commonplaces and consolatory thrash uttered on such occasion irritate real grief instead of soothing it.

I hope you will send us good news of little Schnappy,[1] my greatest favourite. The poor dear little fellow must have suffered severely from the cold so adverse to ‘la nature mélanienne’.[2] Apropos. Un certain M. de Gobineau, has published, il y a à peu près dix ans,[3] a work in 4 volumes Sur l’Inégalité des races humaines, written for the purpose to prove in the first instance that ‘la race blanche[4] is a sort of God amongst the other human races and, of course, the noble families within the ‘race blanche’ are again la crème de la crème[5]. I rather suspect that M. de Gobineau, dans ce temps làpremier secrétaire de la légation de France en Suisse’,[6] to have sprung himself not from an ancient Frank warrior but from a modern French huissier.[7] However that may be, and despite his spite against the ‘race noire[8]—(to such people it is always a source of satisfaction to have somebody they think themselves entitled to mépriser[9])—he declares ‘le nègre’ ou ‘le sang noir[10] to be la source matérielle de l’art,[11] and all artistic production of the white nations to depend on their mixture avec ‘le sang noir’.

I have been much delighted by the last letter I received from my sweet ex-secretary[12], and much amused by Paul’s description of Moilin’s soirée.[13]

Ce ‘grand inconnu’[14] seems at last to have found the secret of catching that ‘gloire[15] which till now always slipped so treacherously out of his fingers when he had just laid hold of its tail. He has found out that to be successful with the world everything depends upon the circumstance of circumscribing the world within one’s own four walls, where one may nominate himself president and have such an audience as will swear in verba magistri[16].

Here, at home, as you are fully aware, the Fenians’ sway is paramount. Tussy is one of their head centres. Jenny writes on their behalf in the “Marseillaise” under the pseudonym of J. Williams. I have not only treated the same theme in the Brussels “Internationale,”[17] and caused resolutions of the Central Council to be passed against their gaolers. In a circular, addressed by the Council to our corresponding committees[18], I have explained the merits of the Irish Question.

You understand at once that I am not only acted upon by feelings of humanity. There is something besides. To accelerate the social development in Europe, you must push on the catastrophe of official England. To do so, you must attack her in Ireland. That’s her weakest point. Ireland lost, the British “Empire” is gone, and the class war in England, till now somnolent and chronic, will assume acute forms. But England is the metropolis of landlordism and capitalism all over the world.

What is Blanqui about? Is he at Paris?

You have of course heard nothing of my translator, M. K.[19] I am in the same predicament.[20]

The book of Flerovski on ‘the situation of the labouring classes in Russia’, is an extraordinary book. I am really glad to be now able to read it somewhat fluently with the aid of a dictionary. This is the first time that the whole economical state of Russia has been revealed. It is conscientious work. During 15 years, the author travelled from the West to the confines of Siberia, from the White Sea to the Caspian, with the only purpose of studying facts and exposing conventional lies. He harbours of course some delusions about la perfectibilité perfectible de la Nation Russe, et le principe providentiel de la propriété communale dans sa forme Russe.[21] But let that pass. After the study of his work, one feels deeply convinced that a most terrible social revolution—in such inferior forms of course as suit the present Muscovite state of development— is irrepressible in Russia and near at hand. This is good news. Russia and England are the two great pillars of the present European system. All the rest is of secondary importance, even la belle France et la savante Allemagne.[22]

Engels will leave Manchester and, at the beginning of August next, settle definitely down in London.[23] It will be a great boon to me.

And now farewell my dear children. Don’t forget to kiss brave little Schnappy on behalf of his

Old Nick

  1. Charles Etienne Lafargue
  2. dark-skinned creature
    An allusion to the origin of Paul Lafargue, who was born in Santiago de Cuba. His mother's father was a mulatto, and her mother was an American Indian.
  3. some ten years ago
  4. white race
  5. the upper crust
  6. at that time 'the first secretary of the French legation in Switzerland'
  7. usher
  8. black race
  9. to despise
  10. the Negro' or 'black blood'
  11. the material source of art
  12. Laura Lafargue
  13. The soirée at the place of the French petty-bourgeois socialist Moilin at which the plans for social reform were discussed, was described by Lafargue in his letter to Marx of January 1870
  14. This 'great stranger'
  15. glory
  16. by his tutor's words (Horace, Epistles, I. 1)
  17. K. Marx, The English Government and the Fenian Prisoners.
  18. K. Marx, The General Council to the Federal Council of Romance Switzerland, Point 5
  19. Keller (see Letter to Paul and Laura Lafargue, October 18, 1869)
  20. A reference to the French translation of Volume One of Capital made by Charles Keller, member of the Paris Section of the First International. Keller began the work in October 1869, and on 16 October sent Marx the translation of Chapter II of the first volume for corrections. Keller took part in the Paris Commune and emigrated to Switzerland after its defeat. The work remained unfinished. The translation of Volume One of Capital into French was made by Joseph Roy and published in Paris in 1872-75 in instalments, which were later brought together in a book.
  21. the perfectible perfectibility of the Russian Nation and providential principle of communal property in its Russian form
  22. Splendid France and learned Germany
  23. See Engels' letter to Marx, February 22, 1869