The Left & War: A History – with Mitch Jeserich (Interview)

Journal Articles

Algiers 1882

I. Why Algiers
In 1882, Marx’s bronchitis was becoming chronic and his doctor, Mr. Donkin, suggested that a period of rest in a warm place was advisable for a complete recovery.1 The Isle of Wight had not worked. Gibraltar was ruled out because Marx would have needed a passport to enter the territory, and as a stateless person he was not in possession of one. The Bismarckian empire was covered in snow and anyway still forbidden to him, while Italy was out of the question, since, as Friedrich Engels put it, “the first proviso where convalescents are concerned is that there should be no harassment by the police.”2

With the support of Dr. Donkin and Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law, Engels convinced the patient to head for Algiers, which at the time enjoyed a good reputation among English people who could afford to escape the rigors of winter.3 As Marx’s daughter Eleanor Marx later recalled, what pushed Marx into making this unusual trip was his old obsession: to complete Capital.4 She wrote that

His general state keeps getting worse. If he had been more egoistic, he would have simply allowed things to take their course. But for him one thing stood above all else: devotion to the cause. He wanted to see his great work through to the end and therefore agreed once more to make a journey to recover his health.5

Marx left for the Mediterranean on 9 February, stopping on the way at Argenteuil, a Parisian suburb, where his eldest daughter Jenny Marx Longuet lived. When his health did not improve, he decided after scarcely one week to continue alone to Marseilles, having persuaded Eleanor that it was unnecessary for her to accompany him. To Engels he confided, “Not for anything in the world would I have the girl think she is to be sacrificed as an old man’s ‘nurse’ on the altar of family.”6

After crossing the whole of France by train, he reached the great Provençal seaport on 17 February. He immediately obtained a ticket for the first ship bound for Africa,7 and the next day, on a windy wintry afternoon, he was in the harbor queuing up with other passengers to go on board. He had a couple of suitcases crammed with heavy clothing, medicines, and a few books. At 5:00 p.m., the steamer Said left for Algiers, where Marx would stay for 72 days. This was the only time in his life that he spent outside Europe.8

II. Resisting the Disease in the Algerian Capital
After a stormy 34-hour crossing, Karl Marx reached his destination on 20 February. The next day he wrote to Engels, and a week later he recalled that his “corpus delecti” had been “frozen to the marrow.” He found an ideally situated room, with a port view, at the Hôtel-Pension Victoria, in the Upper Mustapha zone. It was a “magical panorama,” which allowed him to appreciate the “wonderful combination of Europe and Africa.”9

The only person who knew the identity of the newly arrived polyglot gentleman was Albert Fermé, a justice of the peace and follower of Charles Fourier, who had landed in Algiers in 1870 after a period of imprisonment on account of his opposition to the Second Empire. He was the only real company Marx had there, serving as his guide on various excursions and attempting to satisfy his curiosity about the new world.

As the days passed, however, Marx’s health did not improve. He was still troubled by the bronchitis, and an uncontrollable cough kept him awake at night. The unusually cold, damp, and rainy weather—it was the worst winter for ten years in Algiers—also favored another attack of pleurisy. “The only difference between my clothing in the Isle of Wight and my clothing in the city of Algiers,” he wrote to Engels, “is that in the villa I have up till now simply replaced the rhinoceros greatcoat with my light greatcoat.” He even contemplated moving 400 kilometres further south, to the village of Biskra on the edge of the Sahara, but the poor physical conditions dissuaded him from such a taxing journey. He therefore embarked on a lengthy period of complicated treatment in Algiers.

Dr. Charles Stephann, the best in the city, prescribed sodium arsenate during the day and a codeine-based opiate syrup to help him sleep at night. He also ordered Marx to reduce physical exertion to a minimum and to abstain from “real intellectual work except some reading for [his] distraction.” Nevertheless, on 6 March the cough became even more violent and brought about repeated haemorrhaging. Marx was therefore forbidden to leave the hotel and even to engage in conversation: “rest, solitude and silence” were now “duties incumbent on [him] as a citizen.”10 At least, he wrote to Engels, “Dr. Stephann, like my dear Dr. Donkin [in London], does not forget—the cognac.”11

The most painful treatment proved to be a course of ten vesicatories, a therapy popular at the time that used agents to blister the skin in order to release subcutaneous toxins. Marx managed to complete these with the help of a young pharmacist. Little by little, by repeatedly painting his chest and back with collodion and opening the resulting blisters, Mr. Maurice Casthelaz succeeded in drawing off the excess fluid from his lungs.

Not surprisingly, Marx began to regret his chosen destination: as he wrote to Paul Lafargue, “from the moment of [his] departure for Marseilles” there had been “the finest weather in both Nice and Menton,” two other possibilities he had considered.12 In the second half of March, he confided to his daughter Jenny: “in this foolish, ill-calculated expedition, I am now just arrived again at that standard of health when I possessed it on leaving” London. He also told her that he had had his doubts about travelling such a long way, but that Engels and Bryan Donkin fired each other mutually into African furor, neither one nor the other getting any special information” about the weather that year.13 In his view, “the thing was to inform oneself before starting on such a wild goose chase.”.14

On 20 March, Marx wrote to Lafargue that the treatment had been stopped for the time being since there was no longer “‘a single dry place either on [his] back or [his] chest.”. The sight of his body reminded him of “a kitchen garden in miniature planted with melons.” To his great relief, however, his sleep was “gradually returning”: “someone who has not suffered from insomnia cannot appreciate that blissful state when the terror of sleepless nights begins to give way.”15

On the other hand, Marx’s breathing was more labored as a result of the nocturnal drawing of blisters, the need to remain bandaged, and the strict ban on scratching. Having learned that the weather in France had been “wonderful” since his departure from London, and bearing in mind the initial prediction of a rapid cure, he wrote to Engels that “a man ought never [to] delude himself by too sanguine views!”16 Clearly there was “some way to go to sana mens in sano corpore.”17

Marx’s suffering was not only bodily. He felt lonely and wrote on 16 March to his daughter Jenny: “Nothing could be more magical than the city of Algiers, unless it be the countryside outside that city (…); it would be like the Arabian Nights—given good health—with all my dear ones (in particular not forgetting my grandsons).”18 And on 27 March he added that he would have liked “by magic” to have Johnny, the eldest, there too—“to wonder […] at Moors, Berbers, Turks, negroes, in one word this Babel and costumes (most of them poetic) of this oriental world, mixed with the ‘civilized’ French etc. and the dull Britons.”19

To Engels, a comrade with whom he was used to sharing everything, he wrote of “an occasional bout of profound melancholy, like the great Don Quixote.” His thoughts kept returning to the loss of his life-companion: “You know that few people are more averse to demonstrative pathos; still, it would be a lie [not] to confess that my thoughts are to a great part absorbed by reminiscence of my wife, such a part of my best part of life!”20 One distraction from the pain of mourning was the spectacle of nature around him. Early in April he wrote that there was “wonderful moonlight on the bay,” and he could “never stop feasting [his] eyes on the sea in front of [his] balcony.”21

Marx also suffered from the enforced lack of serious intellectual activity. Since the start of the trip, he had been aware that it would be “a time-wasting operation,” but he had eventually agreed to it when he realized that the “accursed disease” also “impairs one’s intellect.”22 He told Jenny that “any working” was “out of the question” in Algiers—even “the correction of Capital for a [third German] edition.”23 As to the current political situation, he limited himself to reading the telegraphic reports of a small local paper, The Little Settler [Le Petit Colon], and the only workers’ sheet received from Europe, The Equality [L’Égalité], about which he noted sarcastically that “you can’t call it a newspaper.”24

Marx’s letters of Spring 1882 show that he was “eager to be again active and to drop that invalid’s stupid métier,”25 “a pointless, arid, not to say expensive, existence.”26 To Lafargue he even said he was so busy doing nothing that he felt close to imbecility27—which suggests a fear on his part that he was no longer capable of taking up his usual existence where he had left off.

This progression of unfavorable events did not allow Marx to get to the bottom of Algerian reality, nor—as Engels foresaw—was it really possible for him to study the characteristics of “common ownership among the Arabs.”28 In 1879 he had already taken an interest in the land question in French-ruled Algeria, in the course of his studies in ethnology, landed property, and precapitalist societies. In that circumstance, Marx had transcribed from Maksim Kovalevsky’s Communal Landownership: Causes, Course and Consequences that the “individualization of land ownership” would bring huge benefits to the invaders, but it would also favor the “political aim” of “destroying the foundation of this society.”29

On 22 February 1882, an article in the Algiers daily The News [L’Akhbar] documented the injustices of the newly crafted system. Theoretically, any French citizen at that time could acquire a concession of more than 100 hectares of Algerian land, without even leaving his country, and he could then resell it to a native for 40,000 francs. On average, the colons sold every parcel of land they had bought for 20-30 francs at the price of 300 francs.30

Owing to his ill health, Marx was unable to return to these problems; nor was the article in The News brought to his attention. But his permanent desire for knowledge did not fade even in the most adverse circumstances. After exploring the area around his hotel, where housing reconstruction was under way on a vast scale, he noted that “although the workers engaged in this activity are healthy people and local residents they go down with fever after the first three days. Part of their wages, therefore, consists of a daily dose of quinine supplied by the employers.”31

III. Reflections on the Arab World
From the southern rim of the Mediterranean Marx made a number of interesting observations in his sixteen letters,32 some of which display a still partly colonial vision. The ones that really stand out are those dealing with social relations among Muslims. Marx was profoundly struck by the bearing of the Arabs: “even the poorest Moor,” he wrote, “surpasses the greatest European comedian in the art of wrapping himself in his hood and showing natural, graceful and dignified attitudes.”33 Noting how their social classes mixed, he wrote to his daughter Laura Lafargue in mid-April that he had observed a group of Arabs playing cards, “some of them dressed pretentiously, even richly,” others in, for once I dare call it blouses, sometime of white woollen appearance, now in rags and tatters.” For a ‘true Muslim’, he commented:

such accidents, good or bad luck, do not distinguish Mahomet’s children. Absolute equality in their social intercourse, not affected; on the contrary, only when demoralized, they become aware of it; as to the hatred against Christians and the hope of an ultimate victory over these infidels, their politicians justly consider this same feeling and practice of absolute equality (not of wealth or position but of personality) a guarantee of keeping up the one, of not giving up the latter. (Nevertheless, they will go to rack and ruin without a revolutionary movement.)34 Marx also marveled at the scant presence of the state:

In no town elsewhere, which is at the same time the seat of the central government, is there such laisser faire, laisser passer; police reduced to a bare minimum; unparalleled lack of embarrassment in public; the Moorish element is responsible for this. For Muslims there is no such thing as subordination; they are neither “subjects” nor “citizens” [administrés]; no authority, save in politics, something which Europeans have totally failed to understand.35

Marx scornfully attacked the Europeans’ violent abuses and constant provocations, and not least their “bare-faced arrogance and presumptuousness vis-à-vis the ‘lesser breeds,’ [and] grisly, Moloch-like obsession with atonement” with regard to any act of rebellion. He also emphasized that, in the comparative history of colonial occupation, “the British and Dutch outdo the French.” In Algiers itself, he reported to Engels, his friend the judge Fermé had regularly seen in the course of his career “a form of torture […] to extract confessions from Arabs, naturally done […] (like the English in India) by the “police.”

When, for example, a murder is committed by an Arab gang, usually with robbery in view, and the actual miscreants are in the course of time duly apprehended, tried and executed, this is not regarded as sufficient atonement by the injured colonist family. They demand into the bargain the “pulling in” of at least half a dozen innocent Arabs. […] When a European colonist dwells among the “lesser breeds,” either as a settler or simply on business, he generally regards himself as even more inviolable than handsome William I.36

Marx returned to the theme in another context when he told Engels of the brutality of the French authorities toward “a poor, thieving Arab, a poor, multiple assassin by profession.” Shortly before his execution, he learned that “he wasn’t going to be shot but guillotined! This, in defiance of prior arrangements!” Nor was that all:

His relatives had expected the head and body to be handed over to them so that they could sew the former to the latter and then bury the “whole.” Which it is not! Howls, imprecations and gnashing of teeth; the French authorities dug their heels in, the first time they had done so! Now, when the body arrives in paradise, Mohammed will ask, “Where have you left your head? Or, how did the head come to be parted from its body? You’re not fit to enter paradise. Go and join those dogs of Christians in hell!” And that’s why his relations were so upset.37

Along with these political and social observations, Marx’s letters also include material on Arab customs. In one, he told his daughter Laura a story that had greatly appealed to his practical side:

A ferryman is ready and waiting, with his small boat, on the tempestuous waters of a river. A philosopher, wishing to get to the other side, climbs aboard. There ensues the following dialogue:
Philosopher: Do you know anything of history, ferryman?
Ferryman: No!
Philosopher: Then you’ve wasted half your life!
And again: The Philosopher: Have you studied mathematics?
Ferryman: No!
Philosopher: Then you’ve wasted more than half your life.
Hardly were these words out of the philosopher’s mouth when the wind capsized the boat, precipitating both ferryman and philosopher into the water. Whereupon, Ferryman shouts: Can you swim?
Philosopher: No!
Ferryman: Then you’ve wasted your whole life.

And Marx added to Laura: “That will tickle your appetite for things Arabic.”38 After more than two months of suffering, Marx’s condition improved and he was at last able to return to France. First, however, he had a final surprise for Engels: “Apropos; because of the sun, I have done away with my prophet’s beard and my crowning glory but (in deference to my daughters) had myself photographed before offering up my hair on the altar of an Algerian barber.”39 This would be the last snapshot of him. And it is utterly unlike the granite profile to be found on the squares of “actually existing socialism,” which the régimes of the day ordered to represent him. His moustache, rather like his ideas, has not lost the color of youth—and his smiling face, for all life’s trials and disappointments, still appears kindly and unassuming.40

IV. Final Note: A Republican in the Principality
Bad weather continued to pester Marx. During his “last days in Africa,”41 his health was sorely tested by the arrival of the sirocco, and the crossing to Marseilles—where he landed on 5 May, on his sixty-fourth birthday—was particularly rough. As he wrote later to Eleanor: “A violent storm […] turned [his] cabin into a veritable wind tunnel.” And once at their destination, the steamer did not actually enter the harbor, so that the passengers had to be taken off by boat, spending “several hours in a cold, draughty customs-hall-cum-purgatory until the time came for them to depart for Nice.” These tribulations, he quipped, “more or less threw [his] machine out of gear” and “precipitated [him] into the hands of an Aesculapius” as soon as they reached Monte Carlo.42

The trusted Aesculapius was Dr. Kunemann, an excellent doctor from Alsace who specialized in lung diseases.43 It was discovered that the bronchitis had become chronic and, to Marx’s “horror,” that “the pleurisy had returned.”44 All the moving around had done further damage, and Marx used his customary literary references to joke about it with Engels: “Fate” would seem on this occasion to have displayed an alarming consistency—almost, one might say, as in the tragedies of Amandus Müllner,” where “fate” does indeed play an important role in human existence. Another course of four vesicatories was therefore necessary, and these took place between 9 and 30 May.

Since he had to get better before continuing on his way, Marx spent three weeks in the principality of Monaco. His descriptions of the atmosphere there mix shrewdness with social criticism: for example, he compared Monte Carlo to Gérolstein, the imaginary statelet in which Jacques Offenbach placed his opera The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein (1867). Marx went a few times to the reading room at the famous casino, which offered a good selection of international newspapers. But he told Engels that his “table d’hôte companions at the Hôtel de Russie” and, more generally, the public in the city were “more interested in what goes on in the Casino’s gaming rooms.” His letters from this period alternate between amused observations about people he came across—e.g., “‘a son of Albion, sulky, ill-tempered and bewildered […] because he had lost a certain number of yellow boys, whereas he had been absolutely intent on ‘copping’ the same”—and mordant comments such as: “he couldn’t understand that not even British boorishness is able ‘to bully’ fortune.”45 The most trenchant description of this alien world was offered to his daughter Eleanor, in a letter written shortly before his departure:

At the table d’hôte, in the cafés, etc., almost the only topic that is talked or whispered about is the roulette and the trente et quarante tables. Every now and again something is won, as for instance 100 francs by a young Russian lady (wife of a Russian diplomat-cum-agent) […], who, in return, loses 6,000 frs, while someone else can’t keep enough for the journey home; others gamble away the whole of large family fortunes; very few take away a share of the plunder—few of the gamblers, I mean, and those that do are almost without exception rich. There can be no question of intelligence or calculation here; no one can count with any probability on being favoured by “chance” unless he can venture a considerable sum.46

The frenzy in the air was not confined to the gaming rooms or the evening hours; it pervaded the whole city and entire day of those who visited it. For example, there was a kiosk right next door to the casino.

This is daily adorned with a placard, not printed, but handwritten and signed with the initials of the quill-pusher; for 600 francs he will provide, in black and white, the secret of the science of winning a million francs with a 1,000. […] Nor, or so it is said, is it by any means rare for people to fall victim to this confidence trick. Indeed, most of the gamblers, both male and female, believe there is a science in what are pure games of chance; the ladies and gentlemen sit outside the said Café de Paris, in front of, or on the seats in, the wonderful garden that belongs to the casino, heads bent over little [printed] tables, scribbling and doing sums, while one of them may earnestly expound to another “‘what system’ he prefers, whether one should play in series,” etc., etc. It’s like watching a bunch of lunatics.47

In short, it became clear to Marx that ‘the economic basis of Monaco-Gerolstein is the casino; if it were to close tomorrow it would be all up with Monaco-Gerolstein—the whole of it!’ Without it not even Nice, ‘the rendez-vous in the winter months of the quality and of fortune-hunters alike, could continue to subsist as a fashionable centre (…). And withal, how childish is the casino by comparison with the Bourse!’. After the last in the series of vesicatories, Dr. Kunemann discharged Marx and gave him permission to continue his journey. But he did advise him to stop off “in Cannes for a day or two” to allow the wounds to “dry out,” after which he could move on up to Paris. Once in the exclusive French resort, Marx drew a balance-sheet of his time on the Côte d’Azur:

I have spent an entire month vegetating in this lair of aristocratic idlers or adventurers. Nature superb, in other respects a dreary hole; […] no plebeian “masses” here, apart from the hotel and café waiters, etc., and domestics, who belong to the Lumpenproletariat.48

The weather continued to do its worst and to weigh heavily on him. During the three days in Cannes, there was an exceptionally “strong (if warm) wind and eddies of dust,” talk of which filled “the Riviera’s local press.” Marx responded with self-irony, joking to Engels that “Nature, too, can evince a certain philistine humour (after the manner, already humorously anticipated in the Old Testament, of the serpent feeding on dust, cf. the dusty diet of Darwin’s worms).”

In the same letter, Marx dwelled on the doctor’s final recommendations: “to eat well and amply even if it goes against the grain, and ‘accustom’ oneself to so doing; [to] drink ‘decent’ stuff and go for drives, etc. […] [to] think as little as possible, etc.” He could not fail to remark that “having followed these ‘directions,’ I am well on the way to ‘idiocy,’ and for all that have not rid myself of the bronchial catarrh. A consoling thought for me is that it was bronchitis that sent old Garibaldi to his ‘eternal rest.’” In any case, he was convinced that “at a certain age it becomes completely indifferent how one is ‘launched into eternity.’”49

On 7 June, some four months after his departure from London, Marx was finally in a position to take the train back to his daughter’s house in Argenteuil. He advised her not to bother about his arrival—“Till now, I have always found that nothing has done me more harm than people, at the station, waiting for me”—and not to tell any of the comrades, even Lafargue, that he was expected. He still needed “absolute quietness,” 50 and, as he said to Engels too, “he felt it [was] still necessary […] to have as little ‘intercourse with people’ as possible.”51 The giant was weary and felt he was close to the end of the road. The words he wrote to Jenny were much the same as those of any other mortal: “By ‘quietness’ I mean the ‘family life,’ ‘the children’s noise,’ that ‘microscopic world’ more interesting than the ‘macroscopic.’”52 Karl Marx died nine months after this letter, on 14 March 1883. A few days later, Engels wrote to Friedrich Sorge, the comrade who had become secretary of the International Working Men’s Association after it moved to the United States in 1872:

Mankind is the poorer for the loss of this intellect—the most important intellect, indeed, which it could boast today. The movement of the proletariat will continue on its course but it has lost its focal point, the point to which Frenchmen, Russians, Americans and Germans would automatically turn at moments of crisis, on every occasion receiving clear, indisputable advice such as only genius and consummate expertise can give.53

1. Sections of this article are based on Marcello Musto, The Last Years of Karl Marx: An Intellectual Biography (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020).
2. Friedrich Engels to Eduard Bernstein, 25 January 1882, MECW 46:186-87. In his view, “Italy [could] hold out fewer guarantees than anywhere else—save, of course, Bismarck’s empire.”
3. See Gilbert Badia, “Marx en Algérie,” in Karl Marx, Lettres d’Alger et de la Côte d’Azur (Paris: Le Temps des Cerises, 1997), 17.
4. See Marcello Musto, Another Marx: Early Manuscripts to the International (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), and Marx’s Capital after 150 Years: Critique and Alternative to Capitalism, ed. Marcello Musto (London-New York: Routledge, 2019). Marx started to write his critique to political economy in 1857, see Marcello Musto, “Marx’s Life at the Time of the Grundrisse: Biographical Notes on 1857-8,” in Karl Marx’s Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy 150 Years Later, ed. Marcello Musto (London–New York: Routledge, 2008). 147-161.
5. Eleanor Marx, in Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Gespräche mit Marx und Engels (Frankfurt: Insel-Verlag, 1973), 577-78.
6. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 12 January 1882, MECW 46:176. On Eleanor Marx and her special relationship with her father, see Yvonne Kapp, Eleanor Marx (London: Verso, 2018); Chushichi Tsuzuki, The Life of Eleanor Marx, 1855-1898: A Socialist Tragedy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967); Eva Weissweiler, Tussy Marx: Das Drama der Vatertochter (Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2002); and Rachel Holmes, Eleanor Marx: A Life (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).
7. See Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 17 February 1882: “No question of passports and such like. Nothing is entered on the passengers’ tickets save Christian and surnames” MECW 46:200.
8. The trip to the Algerian capital has not received much attention from Marx’s biographers. Even Jacques Attali, himself born in Algiers, devoted only half a page to it in his Karl Marx, ou l’Esprit du monde (Paris: Fayard, 2005), 410; despite some inexactitudes about Marx’s stay, he notes that he was ignorant of the Oran uprising between Summer 1881 and Spring 1883. Marlene Vesper’s Marx in Algier (Bonn: Pahl-Rugenstein Nachfolger, 1995) traces with great precision all the events that Marx witnessed at first hand during his visit to Algiers. Also of interest is René Gallissot, ed., Marxisme et Algérie (Paris: Union générale d’éditions, 1976). The novel by Hans Jürgen Krysmanski, Die letzte Reise des Karl Marx (Frankfurt: Westend, 2014), was originally intended as the screenplay for a film on Marx’s stay in Algiers, but was never produced because of a lack of funding.
9. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 1 March 1882, MECW 46:213-14.
10. Karl Marx to Jenny Longuet, 16 March 1882, MECW 46:219.
11. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 1 March 1882, MECW 46:215.
12. Karl Marx to Paul Lafargue, 20 March 1882, MECW 46:221. He added: “But there was this insistent ideamfor which I was not responsible—of the African sun and the wonder-working air out here!,” ibid.
13. Karl Marx to Jenny Longuet, 16 March 1882, MECW 46:218.
14. Karl Marx to Jenny Longuet, 27 March 1882, MECW 46:224. He added: “Between us: Though in the Isle of Wight the weather was unfavourable, but still my health improved so greatly that people wondered. […] at London, on the contrary, Engels’ excitement […] in fact has upset me: I felt, I could no longer stand it; hence my impatience to get from London away on any condition whatever!” People may kill someone out of real most sincere love; with all that nothing more dangerous in such cases for a reconvalescent!” ibid.
15. Karl Marx to Paul Lafargue, 20 March 1882, MECW 46:221-22.
16. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 1 March 1882, MECW 46:215.
17. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 28-31 March 1882, MECW 46:226.
18. Karl Marx to Jenny Longuet, 16 March 1882, MECW 46:219.
19. Karl Marx to Jenny Longuet, 27 March 1882, MECW 46:225.
20. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 1 March 1882, MECW 46:213, 215.
21. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 4 April 1882, MECW 46:229.
22. Karl Marx to Pyotr Lavrov, 23 January 1882, MECW 46:184.
23. Karl Marx to Jenny Longuet, 27 March 1882, MECW 46:225. In October 1881, the publisher Otto Meissner had asked Marx to make any necessary corrections or additions to Volume One of his magnum opus in preparation for a new edition. On the making of Capital see Marcello Musto, “The Writing of Capital: Genesis and Structure of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy,” Critique, Vol., No. 46 (season? 2018), n. 1: 11-26.
24. Karl Marx to Paul Lafargue, 20 March 1882, MECW 46:221; MEW 35:293.
25. Karl Marx to Jenny Longuet, 6-7 April 1882, MECW 46:230; MEW 35:298.
26. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 20 May 1882, MECW 46:210; MEW 35:65.
27. See Paul Lafargue to Friedrich Engels, 19 June 1882, in Frederick Engels, Paul Lafargue, and Laura Lafargue, Correspondence, Vol. 1, 1868-1886 (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1959), 87.
28. Cf. Friedrich Engels to Eduard Bernstein, 22-25 February 1882, MECW 46:210-11. Lafargue was later certainly exaggerating when he said that “Marx has come back with his head full of Africa and the Arabs; he took advantage of his stay in Algiers to devour its library, it seems to me that he has read a great number of works on the condition of the Arabs,” Paul Lafargue to Friedrich Engels, 16 June 1882, in Engels, Lafargue, and Lafargue, Correspondence, 83. As Badia has pointed out, it is much more likely that Marx was unable to “learn much about the social and political situation in the French colony,” although his “letters from Algiers testify to his many-sided curiosity,” in Gilbert Badia, “Marx en Algérie”, in Karl Marx, Lettres d’Alger, 13.
29. Karl Marx, “Excerpts from M.M. Kovalevskij [Kovalevsky], Obschinnoe zemlevladenie. Prichiny, khod i posledstviya ego razlozheniya [Communal landownership: The causes, course and consequences of its decline]” In Lawrence Krader, The Asiatic Mode of Production: Sources, Development and Critique in the Writings of Karl Marx (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1975), 412.
30. See Marlene Vesper, Marx in Algier, 33-34, which reproduces passages from the article “The Concessions” in the local daily.
31. Karl Marx to Paul Lafargue, 20 March 1882, MECW 46:220. Marx added that “the same practice can be observed in various places in South America,” ibid.
32. This total refers only to his surviving correspondence. In reality, Marx wrote more letters, including some to his daughter Eleanor, but these have been lost over time: “He wrote me long letters from Algiers. Many of these I no longer possess, since at his request I sent them on to Jenny and she gave only a few back to me,” Eleanor Marx, in Gespräche mit Marx und Engels, 578.
33. Karl Marx to Jenny Longuet, 6-7 April 1882, MECW 46:231-32.
34. Karl Marx to Laura Lafargue, 13-14 April 1882, MECW 46:242.
35. Ibid., 238.
36. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 8 April 1882, MECW 46:234.
37. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 18 April 1882, MECW, 46:246-47.
38. Karl Marx to Laura Lafargue, 13-14 April 1882, MECW 46:243.
39. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 28 April 1882, MECW 46:249.
40. Marx himself said that, although he had not had “one day of complete repose” in the eight weeks before the photograph, he was “still putting a good face on things,” ibid. Engels was very happy with what his friend had told him. “He had his photograph taken in Algiers,” he wrote to August Bebel, “and is looking quite his old self again,” Friedrich Engels to August Bebel, 16 May 1882, MECW 46:259. Cf. Vesper, Marx in Algier, 130-35.
41. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 8 May 1882, MECW 46:253.
42. Karl Marx to Eleanor Marx, 28 May 1882, MECW 46:267.
43. Cf. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 5 June 1882, MECW 46:272.
44. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 20 May 1882, MECW 46:262. Marx did not write to his daughters of this development, since “it would alarm them unnecessarily,” ibid., 264.
45. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 8 May 1882, MECW 46:254.
46. Karl Marx to Eleanor Marx, 28 May 1882, MECW 46:268.
47. Ibid., 269. The English engineer Joseph Jaggers did discover a way of breaking the bank—not by any scientific system, however, but simply by studying a mechanical dysfunction. In 1873, he realized that one roulette wheel was more unbalanced than the others, so that it came up with nine numbers more often than others. He managed to win one and a half million francs, before the casino became aware of the defect and repaired it without difficulty.
48. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 5 June 1882, MECW 46:272.
49. Ibid., 274.
50. Karl Marx to Jenny Longuet, 4 June 1882, MECW 46:271.
51. Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, 5 June 1882, MECW 46:274. The literary reference here is to a work by Adolph von Knigge, entitled precisely On Intercourse with People (1788).
52. Karl Marx to Jenny Longuet, 4 June 1882, MECW 46:272.
53. Friedrich Engels to Friedrich Sorge, 15 March 1883, MECW 46:462-63. On the contemporary relevance of Marx, see The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Interpretations, ed. Marcello Musto (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Attali, Jacques. Karl Marx, ou l’Esprit du monde. Paris: Fayard, 2005.
Badia, Gilbert. “Marx en Algérie”. In Karl Marx, Lettres d’Alger et de la Côte d’Azur, 7-39. Paris: Le Temps des Cerises, 1997.
Engels, Frederick, Paul Lafargue, and Laura Lafargue. Correspondence, Vol. 1, 1868-1886. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1959.
Gallissot, René, ed. Marxisme et Algérie. Paris: Union générale d’éditions, 1976.
Gespräche mit Marx und Engels, ed. Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Frankfurt: Insel-Verlag, 1973.
Holmes, Rachel. Eleanor Marx: A Life. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
Kapp, Yvonne. Eleanor Marx. London: Verso, 2018.
Krysmanski, Hans Jürgen. Die letzte Reise des Karl Marx. Frankfurt: Westend, 2014.
Marx, Karl. “Excerpts from M.M. Kovalevskij [Kovalevsky], Obschinnoe zemlevladenie. Prichiny, khod i posledstviya ego razlozheniya [Communal landownership: The causes, course and consequences of its decline]”. In Lawrence Krader, The Asiatic Mode of Production: Sources, Development and Critique in the Writings of Karl MarxAssen: Van Gorcum, 1975. 343–412.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Letters 1880-83, MECW Vol. 46. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1992.
Musto, Marcello. “Marx’s Life at the Time of the Grundrisse: Biographical Notes on 1857-8.” In Karl Marx’s Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy 150 Years Later. Ed. Marcello Musto. London–New York: Routledge, 2008. 147-161.
———. “The Writing of Capital: Genesis and Structure of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy.” Critique, Vol. 46, No. 1 (2018), 11-26.
———. Another Marx: Early Manuscripts to the International. London: Bloomsbury, 2018.
———, ed. Marx’s Capital after 150 Years: Critique and Alternative to Capitalism. London-New York: Routledge, 2019.
———, ed. The Marx Revival: Key Concepts and New Interpretations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
———. The Last Years of Karl Marx: An Intellectual Biography. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020.
Tsuzuki, Chushichi. The Life of Eleanor Marx, 1855-1898: A Socialist Tragedy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.
Vesper, Marlene. Marx in Algier. Bonn: Pahl-Rugenstein Nachfolger, 1995.
Weissweiler, Eva. Tussy Marx: Das Drama der Vatertochter. Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2002.


Meeting with professor Marcello Musto – hosted by Vietnam Marxist (Interview)

Past talks

War and the Left: Considerations on a Chequered History

While political science has probed the ideological, political, economic and even psychological motivations behind the drive to war, socialist theory has made a unique contribution by highlighting the relationship between the development of capitalism and war. There’s a long and rich tradition of the Left’s opposition to militarism that dates back to the International Working Men’s Association. It is an excellent resource for understanding the origins of war under capitalism and helping leftists maintain our clear opposition to it. In this article, the author examines the position of all the main currents (socialist, socialdemocratic, communist, anarchist and feminist) intellectuals (Engels, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Jaurès, Luxemburg, Lenin, Mao and Khrushchev) of the Left on the war and its different declinations (‘war of defence’, ‘just war’, ‘revolutionary war’).


War and the Left (Interview)


The Marx Revival (Book Launch)


The Marx Revival: Musto & Foster in Conversation (Talk)


The Marx Revival: Marcello Musto on Communism (Talk)


A culture of war from the Soviets to Russia

The escalating violence of the Nazi-Fascist front in the 1930s brought the outbreak of the Second World War and created an even more nefarious scenario than the one that destroyed Europe between 1914 and 1918. After Hitler’s troops attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Joseph Stalin called for a Great Patriotic War that ended on May 9 with the defeat of Germany, Italy and Japan. This date became such a central element in Russian national unity that it survived the fall of the Berlin Wall and has lasted until our own days. Under the guise of the fight against Nazism, a dangerous ideology of nationalism and militarism is hidden – today more than ever.

With the post-war division of the world into two blocs, the leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) decided that the main task of the international Communist movement was to safeguard the existence of the Soviet Union. In the same period, the Truman Doctrine marked the advent of a new type of war: the Cold War. In its support of anti-communist forces in Greece, in the Marshall Plan (1948) and the creation of Nato (1949), the United States of America contributed to avoiding the advance of progressive forces in Western Europe. The Soviet Union responded with the Warsaw Pact (1955). This configuration led to a huge arms race, which, despite the fresh memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, also involved a proliferation of nuclear bomb tests.

With a political turn decided by Nikita Khrushchev in 1961, the Soviet Union began a period of “peaceful coexistence”. This change, with its emphasis on non-interference and respect for national sovereignty, as well as economic cooperation with capitalist countries, was supposed to avert the danger of a third world war (which the Cuban missiles crisis showed to be a possibility in 1962) and to support the argument that war was not inevitable. However, this attempt at constructive cooperation was full of contradictions.

In 1956, the Soviet Union had already violently crushed a revolt in Hungary. The Communist parties of Western Europe had not condemned but justified the military intervention in the name of protecting the socialist bloc and Palmiro Togliatti, the secretary of the Italian Communist Party, declared: “We stand with our own side even when it makes a mistake”. Most of those who shared this position regretted it bitterly in later years when they understood the devastating effects of the Soviet operation.

Similar events took place at the height of peaceful coexistence, in 1968, in Czechoslovakia. The Politburo of the CPSU sent in half a million soldiers and thousands of tanks to suppress the demands for democratization of the “Prague Spring”. This time critics on the Left were more forthcoming and even represented the majority. Nevertheless, although disapproval of the Soviet action was expressed not only by New Left movements but by a majority of Communist parties,

including the Chinese, the Russians did not pull back but carried through a process that they called “normalization”. The Soviet Union continued to earmark a sizable part of its economic resources for military spending, and this helped to reinforce an authoritarian culture in society. In this way, it lost forever the goodwill of the peace movement, which had become even larger through the extraordinary mobilizations against the war in Vietnam.

One of the most important wars in the next decade began with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1979, the Red Army again became a major instrument of Russian foreign policy, which continued to claim the right to intervene in “their security zone”. The ill-starred decision turned into an exhausting adventure that stretched over more than ten years, causing a huge number of deaths and creating millions of refugees. On this occasion, the international Communist movement was much less reticent than it had been in relation to previous Soviet invasions. Yet this new war revealed even more clearly to international public opinion the split between “actually existing socialism” and a political alternative based on peace and opposition to militarism.

Taken as a whole, these military interventions worked against a general arms reduction and served to discredit socialism. The Soviet Union was increasingly seen as an imperial power acting in ways, not unlike those of the United States, which, since the onset of the Cold War, had more or less secretly backed coups d’état and helped to overthrow democratically elected governments in more than twenty countries around the world.

Lastly, the “socialist wars” in 1977-1979 between Cambodia and Vietnam and China and Vietnam, against the backdrop of the Sino- Soviet conflict, dissipated whatever

leverage “Marxist-Leninist” ideology (already remote from the original foundations laid by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) had in attributing war exclusively to the economic imbalances of capitalism.

Marx did not develop in any of his writings a coherent theory of war, nor did he put forward guidelines for the correct attitude to be taken towards it. However, when he chose between opposing camps, his only constant was his opposition to Tsarist Russia, which he saw as the outpost of counter-revolution and one of the main barriers to working-class emancipation.

In Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century – a book published by Marx in 1857 but never translated into the Soviet Union –, speaking of Ivan III, the aggressive Muscovite monarch of the fifteenth century who unified Russia and laid the ground for its autocracy, he stated: “one merely needs to replace one series of names and dates with others and it becomes clear that the policies of Ivan III, and those of Russia today, are not merely similar but identical”. Unfortunately, these observations seem as if written for today, in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Wars disseminate an ideology of violence, often combined with the nationalist sentiments that have torn the workers’ movement apart. Rarely favouring practices of democracy, they instead increase the power of authoritarian institutions. Wars swell the military, bureaucratic and police apparatus. They lead to the effacement of society before state bureaucracy. In Reflections on War, the philosopher Simone Weil argued that: “no matter what name it may take – fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat – the principal enemy remains the administrative, police, and military apparatus; not the enemy across the border, who is our enemy only to the extent that they are our brothers and sisters’ enemy, but the one who claims to be our defender while making us its slaves”. This is a dramatic lesson that the Left should never forget.


Sean Sayers, Emancipations. A journal of critical social analysis

In the final years of his life, Marx suffered repeated attacks of bronchitis and other illnesses. On doctor’s orders, he spent weeks on end convalescing by the sea, forbidden to exert himself. In the past, most biographers have passed over this period of Marx’s life very briefly, treating it as barren and unproductive. They can be forgiven for doing so, they had little to go on. Marx published very little in these
years, and only a few of his letters were known.
This situation has changed dramatically in recent years. A steady stream of archive material is becoming available with the regular appearance of new volumes of Die Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA). This is a massive project to publish an “historical-critical” edition of all Marx and Engels’ writings in their original languages, including not only their published works, but also all their letters, drafts and notes (with all their variations, crossings out, corrections, etc.) – indeed, everything they
wrote, just as they wrote it.
This has been a very long time coming, some of this material dates back to the 1830s. The first attempt at such a publication was made soon after the Russian Revolution, by David Riazanov, the great Marx scholar and founder of the MarxEngels Institute in Moscow. He was removed from the project in 1931 (and he was
executed after a brief show trial in 1938). Publication of the volumes of this first MEGA – MEGA1 – was suspended after only 12 of the projected 42 volumes had appeared. The war against the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union then intervened and the project was abandoned. It was revived in a new and expanded form by Soviet and German scholars in the 1970s. The first volume of the second MEGA –
MEGA2 – appeared in 1975. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, responsibility for the project was transferred to a group of international scholars based in Amsterdam.
114 volumes are now planned (scaled back from the original 164), 52 volumes have appeared so far.
This new material is transforming our knowledge and understanding of some important aspects of Marx and Engels’ lives and work. It has shed a flood of new light on the last two years of Marx’s life, the subject of this book. Musto has used it to produce an exceptionally well researched picture of what was previously a little known period of Marx’s work. The book was originally published in Italian in 2016.
Since then, it has been translated into seven other languages. Now, at last, it is available in a very readable English translation by Patrick Camiller.
As Musto observes, most previous intellectual biographies of Marx have focused disproportionately on his early years. Musto cover only the final two years of Marx’s life, 1881-1883. Musto goes in detail through Marx’s correspondence and his notebooks to construct a detailed picture of what Marx was reading, writing, thinking
about and doing during this period. It is a fascinating and remarkably impressive story.
In 1881, Marx was not yet the “towering figure” (77) on the left that he was later to become. His work was familiar only to small band of followers and was only just beginning to reach a wider audience. Only a few of the works by which he is now known had been published and widely circulated, most notably the Communist Manifesto and the first volume of Capital.
Finishing Capital The main task facing Marx was to complete Capital. As Musto observes, there is no definitive edition even of Volume 1 of this work. It first appeared in German in 1867 with a second revised edition in 1873. Marx oversaw and contributed many further revisions and changes to the French translation, which appeared in instalments from 1872-1875. He planned to revise the book thoroughly for a third
German edition incorporating these changes, but he was not able to complete this.
In the 1870s he was working on Volume 2, and he produced a couple of fairly full drafts, as well as more fragmentary drafts of Volume 3. In 1879, however, because of repeated illness, his doctor ordered him to shorten his working day, and he did little further work on these manuscripts. They were edited and completed for publication by Engels after Marx’s death, Volume 2 appearing in 1885, Volume 3 in
Musto sees no evidence for the widely canvassed view that Marx was unable to complete Capital because of contradictions and problems that he encountered for his views. Marx was a notoriously meticulous author, never happy to publish until he had taken account the latest ideas and developments and incorporated them into his work.
Marx was in the habit of making notes on and copying out passages from the books that he was reading. With the publication of his notes in MEGA2 , we are now getting a very detailed record of this. He studied a remarkable range of topics. In this period, he read works on political economy, Russian society, collective property systems, anthropology, recent developments in the natural sciences (particularly
chemistry and physics) and even mathematics. Some of this reading was connected with his work on Capital, some was research to further his understanding of the genesis of capitalism, and some simply to satisfy his insatiable intellectual curiosity and desire for knowledge.
He had long decided not to attempt to reply to or correct the many
misinterpretations of his views that were in circulation, but in 1880 he read and wrote extensive critical comments on Adolph Wagner’s Manual of Political Economy (1879). [1]
He also kept up to date with many areas of the natural sciences, partly to find out about developments in organic chemistry relevant to agriculture that he was writing about in Capital, Volume 2, and partly from sheer interest. This extended even to mathematics. His study of mathematics had started in connection with economics but later acquired a life of its own. He said he thought about mathematics
for “relaxation” (35). He was particularly intrigued by problems with the calculus and wrote numerous and lengthy notes on this topic. [2]
In the late 1870s, he read a number of works on anthropology. He studied with great attention Lewis Morgan’s Ancient Society (1877), a pioneering work on American Indian tribal societies. He was particularly interested in the way Morgan showed that social relations change with the development of the productive forces.
He was also concerned to refute the then influential view, put forward by Henry Maine, in his Lectures on the Early History of Institutions, 1875, and others, that the nuclear family was the original building block of society, and to demonstrate that it was a product of later development. Engels later made extensive use of these notes, as he acknowledges, to write his account of the evolution of the family in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884). [3]

Developments in Russia
One of the main topics that occupied Marx’s attention during this period were economic, social and political developments in Russia. Earlier in his life, Marx had regarded Russia as the main centre of reaction in Europe, but after the abolition of serfdom in 1861 it became clear that things were changing. In 1869, he taught himself to read Russian, and he began to read about developments in Russia in
detail. By the final years of his life, he had studied Russian conditions very thoroughly and was in correspondence with a number of progressive Russian social thinkers.
The theory of historical development that Marx had put forward from the time he and Engels composed the writings that make up The German Ideology (1845-6), implied that a socialist society could come about only on the basis of a highly socialised system of production, of the sort that was being created by capitalism in Britain and other Western European countries. Although capitalism increased
exploitation and misery, it also created the conditions for overcoming capitalism by transforming production from an individual to a social process. This was a fundamental aspect of Marx’s theory of history, and he held to it throughout his work.
Whether and how these ideas applied to Russia was hotly debated in this period. Some maintained that the rural communes (obshchina) that still existed among the peasantry in Russia provided a basis of common ownership that would enable it to pass directly to socialism. Others argued that Russia would first have to go through a capitalist stage. Marx was often invoked in support of this latter position.
An influential writer who did so was N. K. Mikhailovsky. In November 1877, Marx had drafted a lengthy letter in reply to an article by him in a Russian periodical.
In the end Marx did not send this letter, and it came to light only after his death. In it, Marx denied that he had put forward a universal theory of history, and insisted that he never claimed that a capitalist phase of historical development was inevitable. He accused Mikhailovsky of transforming,

my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into a historico-philosophical theory of general development, imposed by fate on all peoples, whatever the historical circumstances in which they are placed, in order to eventually attain this economic formation which, with a tremendous leap of the productive forces of social labour, assures the most integral development of every individual producer. [4]

The issue was raised again in 1881 when he received a letter from Vera Zasulich, a socialist activist, asking him to set out his views on whether the rural commune in Russia could provide the basis for socialism. He drew on the letter to Mikhailovich that he had drafted in composing his response. This occupied him for the best part of a month and went through four full drafts, before the final version was sent off at
beginning of March.
Marx again insisted that his view that a stage of capitalist private property was inevitable applied only to Western Europe. Other paths were possible elsewhere. To understand real historical transformations, Marx insisted, it is essential to study individual phenomena separately. There is no “all-purpose formula of a general historico-philosophical theory”. [5]
Some have seized on Marx’s comments to argue that Marx entirely altered his views about the transition to socialism as a result of his studies of Russia in his final years. Musto sees no evidence of that. “The drafts of Marx’s letter to Zasulich show no glimpse of the dramatic break with his former positions that some scholars have
detected.” (69)
Although Marx denies that he ever suggested that all societies must inevitably pass through a capitalist stage, he did believe that socialism could be based only on highly socialised forces of production. He didn’t rule out the possibility that Russia could make a transition to socialism without going through a capitalist stage, but he did not positively endorse this view. And he disassociated himself from those, like Bakunin and Herzen, who did. Part of his hesitancy in responding to Zasulich was due to the care he took in expressing his views with precision. In particular, he argued, since Russia was,

Contemporary with a higher culture; it is linked to a world market dominatedby capitalist production. By appropriating the positive results of this mode of production, it is thus in a position to develop and transform the still archaic form of its rural commune, instead of destroying it. [6]

Just as Russia did not have “to pass through a long incubation period in the engineering industry … in order to utilize machines, steam engines, railways, etc.” – so it might be possible to introduce immediately “the entire mechanism of exchange … which it took the West centuries to devise” (67-8). Nevertheless, the rural commune was an archaic form, very different from socialism as he conceived of it,
and Marx remained sceptical that it could provide a basis for socialist development on its own. He returned to these questions in the Preface to the Second Russian edition of the Communist Manifesto written jointly with Engels in 1882. Again, he maintained that socialist transformation of the obshchina was possible, but that would depend on favourable historical conditions. He remained doubtful that it could simply be adapted as a basis for socialism. Russia would be able to avoid a capitalist stage before it could create a socialist society only,

If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that two complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for communist development. [7]

Marx and Engels
The joint authorship of this Preface by Marx and Engels is a clear indication of their agreement on these questions. Musto, however, insists on emphasising their differences. He continually contrasts the “flexibility” of Marx’s thinking, with Engels’ “overly schematic” views (27). Engels is dismissed as a precursor of “Second International” thinking that “produced a kind of fatalistic passivity, which … weakened the social and political action of the proletariat”. (32) Marx, by contrast, “rejected the siren calls of a one-way historicism and preserved his own complex, flexible, and variegated conception.” (32)
All this has a comfortingly warm and fuzzy feel about it, but Marx’s importance as a thinker is not like this. It lies in his ability to comprehend particular conditions within the structure of a quite specific and definite over-arching theory.
Marx’s “life purpose”, we are told, was “to provide the worker’s movement with the theoretical basis to destroy capitalism” (11).
The idea that Marx was champing to be at the barricades misrepresents
Marx’s character as it is revealed here. What comes out so strikingly from the picture that Musto draws is that Marx was driven, not so much by a restless activism, as by an insatiable intellectual curiosity and a desire for understanding and truth, often simply for its own sake. This is repeatedly demonstrated by the story that Musto tells,
but when he comes to summarise Marx’s attitudes in general terms, particularly in contrast to Engels, he tends to forget this and resort to platitudes. His asides about Engels constitute an unfortunate descent into caricature and stereotyping. His denigration of Engels is unwarranted and seems designed mainly to praise Marx by
comparison. It does nothing to enhance Musto’s picture of Marx and is the weakest aspect of the book. As my mother used to tell me, you can’t build yourself up by belittling your brother, and the same principle applies here.

Life and death
In the final chapter, Musto turns his attention increasingly to the domestic circumstances of Marx’s life. By 1881, Marx and his household – his wife Jenny, his youngest daughter Eleanor and their long-term servant Helene Demuth, together with three dogs – had moved from a spacious house at 1 Maitland Park Road in the
Chalk Farm area of North London into a more modest terraced house further along the same road, 41 Maitland Park Road (both have now been demolished). The house was full of books. When he was younger and poorer, Marx had relied on the British Museum Library, which was within walking distance of his homes. In his later years, he began to acquire books of his own in many languages, often donated by
admirers. Engels had by then retired from his job in Manchester and moved to an altogether grander house at 122 Regent’s Park Road, facing Primrose Hill, a 15 minute walk away. They saw each other regularly and corresponded frequently when either of them was out of London. His, wife, Jenny, was suffering from cancer of the liver. Her condition worsened in the summer of 1881, and she died in December, leaving Marx bereft.
They had been together for almost 40 years. Marx’s condition worsened. His doctor advised longer and more frequent visits to the coast to benefit from the sea air. He stayed for several weeks in Ventnor in the Isle of Wight. Then a trip further south for warmth and sun was recommended and in February 1882 he embarked on a journey to Algeria, stopping off on the way to visit his elder daughter, Jenny Longuet, and her family in Argenteuil, just outside Paris. This trip was not a success. When he got to Algeria, the weather was unseasonably cold and wet, and he suffered from a lack of
intellectual stimulation. After ten weeks he cut short his stay, and moved to Monaco on the French Riviera, and then back to England, again via Argenteuil.
He was staying again in Ventnor when he received news that his eldest
daughter, Jenny, had died of cancer. Marx was distraught. He returned to London. In the final months of his life, he was looked after by Eleanor, his youngest daughter, and their servant, Helene Demuth. He died peacefully sitting in the chair by his desk on March 24, 1883.
Musto combines a fascinating and detailed intellectual biography with an informative account of Marx’s life in his final years. His book is exceptionally well researched. In a running commentary, much of it in footnotes, he provides a detailed account of the scholarly literature in all the main European languages on the topics he is discussing. He writes in a clear and pleasing style. His book makes a major contribution to our understanding Marx’s life and work. It is highly recommended.


[1] Previously published as (Marx 1975).
[2] Previously published as (Marx 1983).
[3] Extended extracts from Marx’s original notes were published in (Marx 1974).
[4] MECW 24, 200. Marx and Engels works are cited from (Marx and Engels 1975),
abbreviated as MECW.
[5] MECW 24, 201.
[6] MECW 24, 362.
[7] MECW 24, 426.

Marx, Karl. 1974. The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx: (Studies of Morgan, Phear, Maine, Lubbock). Edited by Lawrence Krader. Assen: Van Gorcum.
Marx, Karl. 1975. “Notes on Adolph Wagner (1879-80).” In Texts on Method, 179– 219. Oxford: Blackwell.
Marx, Karl. 1983. Mathematical Manuscripts of Karl Marx. London : New York: New Park Publications.
Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. 1975. Collected Works [MECW]. 50 vols. London: Lawrence & Wishart.


The Last Years of Karl Marx (Book Launch)


Nupur Pattanaik, Critical Sociology

Marcello Musto is a Professor in Sociology at York University at Canada and in the book Rethinking Alternatives with Marx has revealed the resilience, power of Marxist ideas in the contemporary contexts of culture, gender equality, migrant rights and protection of the environment, the brilliant book illustrates the culture and society with Marxist viewpoints. The author has put together vari¬ous prestigious scholars, activists who guide us through the frontiers of the struggle for our times, from gender and race to migration and the climate crisis which suggests that Marx’s analyses are arguably resonating even more strongly today than they did in his own time. Marcus Musto has made the book by the efficient innovative perspectives on Marx’s points of view about ecology, migration, gender, the capitalist mode of production, the labour movement, globalization, social relations and the contours of a possible socialist alternative by delving deeper into a new critical discussion of some of the classical themes of Marx’s thought.
The book consists of four parts and each part is segmented into different chapters; the first part is about capitalism, gender and social relations which have been including four chapters that reflect about factory and family as spaces of capital, followed by Marx on Gender, Race and Social Reproduction With the third chapter which is about capital as a social relation form analysis and class struggle and the last chapter in this segment is about commodity and post-modern spectacle.
But in Marx, and in Hegel for that matter, the term functioned differently, less prominently culturally, but more as regards the family, economy and the relationship of both to nature. Rethinking Marx’s treatment of ‘gender’ relations confronts us with a paradox.
On one side, Marx’s approach to ‘gender’, as discussed in his major works, is at best wanting. Whether by gender we refer to male-female relations and the rules by which they are constructed or to the history and origins of the sexual division of labour and patriarchal domination in capital¬ism, in vain we turn to Marx for an analysis of these issues. New forms of governance that depend on collective networks and solidarity rather than profit-oriented market forces and hierarchical command structures.
The second part of this book which is about the environmental crisis and the struggle for nature divulges into three chapters which highlight Primitive Accumulation as the cause of economic and ecological disaster with Marx and the Environmental Catastrophe, with the seventh chapter ‘Finding a Way Out of the Anthropocene: The Theory of “Radical Needs” and the Ecological Transition’ by enlightening the readers in sum, takes capitalism at its word, and demand that our vital and qualitative needs be at last fulfilled.
The third part focuses on the most prominent issue of Migration, Labour and Globalization with three chapters like ‘Accumulation and Its Discontents: Migration and Nativism in Marx’s Capital and Late Manuscripts’ followed by ‘Marx on Migration and the Industrial Reserve Army: Not to Be Misused!’ and the last chapter ‘Globalization, Migrant Labour, and Capitalism: Past and Present’; the chapters deal with the most pertinent issues of migration, Migrant labour has been a feature of global capitalism since the latter’s, beginning. Capitalism needed labour from colonies, semi-colonies, and other parts of the world. Thus, while Atlantic slavery was supplying labour across the ocean, there was an increase in the mobility of labour in post manumission age, when capital became global and global trade became a defining feature of global capitalism.
Communism as a Free Association is the last part of the book which consists of three chapters where the first chapter is the Experience of the Paris Commune and Marx’s Reflections on Communism by the author following Communism as Probability and Contingency and the last chapter of the book which is about Uniting Communism and Liberalism: An Unsolvable Task or a Most Urgent Necessity? This details that humanity finds itself confronted with the task of con-sciously, deliberately and very rapidly revolutionizing its metabolic process and social relationship with nature, between this heaven and earth, its task is to face the plurality of mixed communist and liberal forms of regulating the complex relations of a multiplicity of actors and to shape these forms by solidarity.
The book by Marcello Musto who is an accomplished scholar has devoted his academic career to reviving the understanding of Marx’s ideas and their applications to the contemporary world, driven and passionate about the significance of Marx’s contributions in politics, sociology, the critique of political economy and philosophy, Musto has delivered seven books within the last 3 years. Each of them focuses on a different aspect of Marx’s work and highlights his relevance for finding alternative solutions to the most pressing current issues of capitalism and how it influences culture and society. Furthermore, the book is useful for researchers, academicians in understanding more about the role of capitalist culture in different dimensions of society.

Dr. Nupur Pattanaik
Central University of Odisha, India


As the West Goes to War, Crafting Peace Today (Talk)