Marx, Karl (1818 – 1883)

Of  Das Kapital, Marx writes: ‘The revolutionary spirit of the book is revealed only gradually’

An extraordinary three-page autograph letter signed by Karl Marx, 7th March 1872, in French, to his publisher, on the subject of the French edition of Das Kapital.

Marx opens by noting that on receipt of his correspondent’s ‘too flattering letter’ he immediately write to his translator, asking him ‘to send the manuscript to Paris’. He goes on to make reference to a projected biography: ‘As for the biography, you will oblige me by not insisting on its immediate publication. My friend F. Engels, who will provide details to Lafargue [Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Lafargue], is at the moment too overworked to deal with it. In my opinion, we should not waste time, and nothing prevents us from publishing the biography later.’

Returning to Das Kapital, Marx writes, ‘I completely agree with you that no communication should be made to newspapers regarding the French translation. With the Russian edition we took the same precautions, and unfortunately France is now under a “Russian” regime. He than asks that it be clarified ‘in the first issue that the translation is made from the manuscript of the second German edition, which will not begin publication for a few weeks’. Marx then goes on to emphasize the originality of his work: ‘I hope the book does not bring you further persecution. The method is quite different from that applied by the French socialists and others.’

‘I do not take general ideas like “equality” etc. as my point of departure, but I begin, on the contrary, with the objective analysis of economic relations as they are, and that is why the revolutionary spirit of the book is revealed only gradually. What I fear, on the contrary, is that the aridity of the first analyses will put off the French reader. Nevertheless, there are in the first chapters some anti-religious jokes which could hurt the devotees of the rural republic.’ In a post-script, Marx reminds his correspondent that their agreement entitles him to a payment of 2000 francs in fifteen days’ time.

In fine condition. Between 1872 and 1874, Marx was hard at work revising Das Kapital for the French edition, in order to create maximum appeal to a French audience. It seems that the French government succeeded for a period in preventing the publication of the work, and when it was finally completed rumours swirled about the book being forbidden; Marx’s publisher sold copies of it hesitatingly.