Travels with Marx: Destinations, Reflections and Encounters

Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)

Explore Grant, 2020-22

Summary of project

The aim of this research is to provide an innovative reconstruction of Karl Marx’s intellectual biography with a special focus on his travels. The work will be conducted in the light of the new textual acquisitions (in particular letters and research notebooks recently appeared or still unpublished) of the new historical-critical edition of the complete works of Marx and Engels: the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe

This research will produce a book that will narrate the yet unexplored travels of Marx and will offer readers an unknown portrait of one of the main thinkers of modernity, as well as of the people and places that influenced his idea. This work will generate themes of interest to historical, political, and sociological debates. Additionally, it will contribute to reinforce an original reading of Marx’s ideas, in contrast to most of the dogmatic and ideological reconstructions of the 20th century. 

Principal investigator

Marcello Musto (York University, Canada)

Goals and Objectives

Few human beings in history have shaken the world like Marx and only a handful of thinkers have been as influential as him in the past 150 years. While there exist many biographies on Marx’s life, no book has ever been written about his travels. After being expelled by the governments of Germany, France and Belgium, in 1849 Marx moved to London, where he lived the rest of his life as a stateless political refugee. Following a long period of extreme poverty, by the mid-1860s, he began to travel again, although often clandestinely. His trips had various purposes: political meetings, family matters, research travels, the delivery to the publisher of the manuscripts of Capital, and health reasons due to the multiple and debilitating pathologies that afflicted him. My book will narrate the main journeys undertaken by Marx and reveals the stories, peregrinations, encounters, conversations and reflections that characterized them.

The genre of the research is intellectual biography. Every historical figure encountered by Marx during his travels – among them there were the German poet Heinrich Heine, the father of Anarchism, Mikhail Bakunin, and the king of Prussia, Wilhelm I – will be rigorously researched. Moreover, socio-economic conditions, main political events and cultural aspects of the time, including account of the major newspaper news that were commented by Marx in his letters and notebooks, will be carefully reconstructed.

Another characteristic of the research is its geographical spread. The book takes place in five European countries (Germany, France, Austria, England, Netherlands) and has a final chapter dedicated to Marx’s only journey outside “Western” societies: his travel to Northern Africa before dying, in 1882. Each of these locations – for example the city of Paris in the 1840s, Europe at the time of 1848 Revolutions, the Soho district of London during the 1854 cholera outbreak, the spa town of Karlovy Vary in Western Bohemia, the seaside villages in the South of England, and the Kasbah of Algiers – will be accurately described.

The recent publication in the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe of Marx’s previously unknown research notebooks and of his complete correspondence (not only the 2,500 missives that Marx wrote but also of the 6,000 unpublished letters that he received by others) will allow me to recollect valuable information about Marx’s intellectual biography that has been rarely taken into account. These materials suggest an interpretation of Marx in many respects different from the one presented by Soviet “Marxism-Leninism” in the 20th century. The stony-faced statue of the square of Moscow, who pointed the way to the future with dogmatic certainty, has given way to the image of a deeply self-critical thinker who learned a lot from his contemporaries (including the many he met in person during the travels and peregrinations of his life) and felt the need to devote even more energy to further study.

Based on the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe, my book will portray in a different way one of most significant philosophers of all times and will surprise both those who believe they already know everything about Marx and a new generation of readers who has not yet heard of his ideas. In the past decades, there have been many specific studies focused on single travels made by Marx. However, at present, no comparable publication to the one the applicant wants to realize is available, either in the Anglophone world or in any other languages.

Published Research Outputs


Marcello Musto, “Algiers 1882: The Last Journey of Marx”, Nineteenth Century Prose, vol. 50 (2022), n. 1: 19-36.