Sixty Years in the Social-Democratic Movement
The ten years from 1873 to 1883 passed rather quietly for me. I felt that I was growing old. Besides, the condition of my numerous family obliged me to do what I could in order that no member of it might be a burden to anybody. These endeavours were not quite in vain. We had, indeed, to work very hard, all of us, in order to supply our modest wants, but, on the whole, I was not dissatisfied with my situation.
During this time I much frequented the Marx family. Marx’s house stood open to every reliable comrade. The agreeable hours I have spent in his family circle, as many others, are unforgettable to me. There shone before all the excellent Mrs. Marx, a tall, very beautiful woman, and of noble bearing, but for all that so extremely good-natured, amiable, spiritual, and so free from any pride and stiffness, that she seemed like one’s own mother or sister. Her whole nature reminded me of the words of the Scotch popular poet, Robert Burns, “Woman, lovely woman, heaven destined you to temper man.” She was, as above mentioned, full of enthusiasm for the cause of the Labour movement, and every one, even the smallest, success in the fight against the middle classes, gave her the greatest satisfaction and joy. Marx always attached an extreme importance to meeting and talking with working men. He sought the society of those who openly uttered their opinion to him, and spared him flattery. He was always anxious to hear the opinion of working men on the movement, and was at any time ready to discuss with them the most important political and economical questions of the hour. He quickly found out whether they really understood these questions, and the more they appreciated these questions, the greater was his delight. At the time of the International he would miss no meeting of the General Council, and after the meeting Marx and most of the members of the Council regularly used to go to a decent public-house to talk freely over a glass of beer. On the way home Marx would often speak of the normal working day in general, and the eight hours working day in particular. He often said: “We aim at the eight hours working day, but we often work more than double the time within 24 hours ourselves.” Indeed, Marx, I am afraid, worked far too much. How much energy and time the International alone cost him, no outsider has an idea. Besides that, Marx had to drudge for his livelihood, and to collect materials for his historical and economical studies in the British Museum for hours daily. When going home from the British Museum to his house, situated in the North of London (Maitland Park Road, Haverstock Hill), he would often come to me, as I was living not very far from the Museum, to have a talk with me about some point concerning the International. Arrived at home, he took his dinner, after which he would rest for a short time, to start work that, only too often, extended till late in the night, as the short time of his evening rest was more often broken into by calls of comrades.
Marx was, as are all truly great men, free from conceit, and appreciated every genuine striving, every opinion based on independent thinking. As already mentioned, he was always eager to hear the opinion of the simplest working man on the Labour movement. Thus he would often come to me in the afternoon, fetch me for a walk, and talk about all sorts of matters. I let him speak, of course, as much as possible, as it was a real pleasure to listen to the development of his ideas and to his chat. I felt always much attracted by such a talk, and always unwillingly left him. Generally he was an excellent companion, who extremely attracted, one might say charmed, everybody that came in touch with him. His humour was irrepressible, his laugh a very hearty one. When our comrades succeeded in winning a victory in any country, he gave full expression to his joy in the most unrestrained manner, and in loud merriment, when he would carry away with him all near him.
The three daughters of Marx, too, from a very early age, took the deepest interest in the modern Labour movement, which was always the chief theme in Marx’s family. The intercourse between Marx and his daughters was the most intimate and freest that can be imagined. The girls treated their father more like a brother or friend, as Marx rejected the external attributes of paternal authority. In serious matters he was the adviser of his children, and at other times, whenever his time permitted it, their playmate. Marx had, on the whole, an extraordinary predilection for children. He often remarked that in the Christ of the Bible he liked best his great love of children. When Marx had nothing to do in the city, and took his walk to Hampstead Heath, one might often have seen the author of the “Capital” bustling about with a crowd of street children.
The death of his eldest daughter in 1883, who possessed all the qualities of her mother—and these were only good ones—was an extremely grave and disastrous blow for Marx. Scarcely twelve months before, on December 2nd, 1881, he had lost his brave partner for life. These were blows from which Marx never recovered. Marx already at that time suffered from a bad cough. When one heard him coughing one thought that his broad, powerful frame would burst to pieces. This cough exhausted him the more, as his constitution had been undermined years ago in consequence of permanent overwork. Already, about the middle of the seventies, the doctor had prohibited him to smoke. Marx had been a passionate smoker, and he thought it a great sacrifice to give up smoking. When I first called on him after this prohibition, he was not a little proud and pleased to be able to tell me that he had not smoked since so-and-so, and that he would not do it until the doctor gave him permission again. And every time when I came to him, after his prohibition, he always would repeat to me for how many days and weeks he had given up smoking, and that he had not smoked, even once, during this whole period. It seemed to appear to him quite incredible that he should have achieved this. The greater was his joy when, after some days, the doctor permitted him again a cigar a day.
On March 15th, 1883, I received the following letter:—
London, March 15th, 1883.
Our old friend Marx has quietly and peacefully fallen asleep for ever at three o’clock yesterday. Immediate cause of death was probably interior bleeding.
The funeral will take place on Saturday, at twelve o’clock, and Tussy* requests you not to miss it.
In great haste, Yours,
* Eleanor Marx Aveling.
The bad news struck me most deeply. Those who had been in more intimate intercourse with Marx knew what the Labour movement had lost by his departure. Not only was he a man of embracing knowledge and of a great intellect, but of a consistent, iron character. What riches of knowledge have gone to the grave with him the writings he left are the best testimony of, though they may contain only the tenth part of what he meant to write. He was a heroic character, and his whole life was one series of struggles and sacrifice.
I give now a letter that Marx wrote to Eccarius and myself at Brussels. We were then at the third Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association. It read as follows:—
London, August 10th, 1868.
Dear Eccarius and Lessner,
First, my thanks to Lessner for his long and interesting letter.
You are not to allow this Congress to last longer than this week. As yet—as far as England is concerned—no report has taken place.*
If the Belgians and French again bring forward masses of new rubbish, make them understand that that will not do, as
(1) The Germans are represented in small number, as their Congress takes place simultaneously in Germany.
(2) That England is scarcely represented because of the General Election.
(3) That the German-Swiss are not at all represented, as they have only just joined, and the branches existing before have exhausted their means in the Geneva strike.
(4) That the discussion is now one-sidedly carried on in French.
(5) That it is, therefore, necessary to avoid taking resolutions on general theoretical questions, as this will only provoke protests from the Belgian and French sides.
The war matter interests the public most, of course. Big declarations and inflated phrases do not do any harm here. The resolution to be taken about it seems to be simply that the working classes are not sufficiently organised to throw any decisive weight into the scale; but that the Congress protests in the name of the working class, and denounces the authors of the war; that a war between France and Germany is a civil war and ruinous for Europe. The remark that this war can profit only the Russian Government will scarcely prevail with the French and Belgian gentlemen.
Greetings to friend Becker.
P.S.—If the crédit mutuel is mentioned, Eccarius has simply to declare that the working men in England, Germany, and the United States have nothing to do with the Proudhonistic dogmas, and treat the question of credit as a secondary one.
The resolutions of the Congress are to be forwarded to the English press by telegraph. Therefore, nothing foolish!
* In English.
I possess, besides, a number of letters that Marx addressed to me, but they are mostly about private matters, and are, therefore, without interest to the public at large.
• • • • •
It was the greatest satisfaction to us that the oldest and best friend of Marx was still staying with us, bodily strong and mentally fresh. Through him alone the party obtained acquaintance with the third volume of the “Capital.”
Whilst Marx was still furnishing new knowledge and new views after his death, his doctrines more and more spread among the fighting proletarians. Everywhere the Labour movement is under the influence of his doctrines. Marx has not only thrown among the masses the powerful message, “Proletarians of all countries, unite!” he has also, by his doctrines, created the basis on which the union of the proletariat can be, and is being, carried out. The International, of which Marx was the soul, has risen again, mightier and more powerful than the old one, and the standard round which the Labour battalions of the International Labour movement crowd is the standard that Marx raised in 1848, and carried for a generation in front of the fighting proletariat. Under this standard it is that the Labour army of all countries is now marching on from victory to victory.
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