Sixty Years in the Social-Democratic Movement, Frederick Lessner 1890
For the benefit of English comrades, I beg to reprint a translation of an article I wrote at the request of our Viennese comrades, giving my recollections of Karl Marx, which I published in the beginning of February, 1903.
On the 20th anniversary of Karl Marx’s death, in compliance with the express wish of our Vienna comrades, I give again my reminiscences of what I know of our teacher and instructor.
Of course, it will be understood that I cannot give a complete insight to Marx’s life and labour in the Socialist movement in the short space left to me. To anyone understanding German, I would recommend to read Mehring’s writings on the literary legacy of Marx, in which he states to the fullest extent the strong character, the indomitable will which Marx possessed from his youth in the furtherance of his ideals. My recollections here shall only record personal experiences.
I made the acquaintance of Marx, as also of Engels, on the occasion of their coming to London, in the winter of 1847, to attend the Congress of the “Bund der Gerechten” (League of the Just), which Congress proved epoch-making, as it originated the “Communist Manifesto.”
After the revolution of 1848 had broken out, and Marx had gone to Cologne to start that remarkable paper, the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung,” my intercourse with Marx became more regular. I also became acquainted there with the other editors of this paper, Engels, Wilhelm Wolff (the red Wolff), the poet Freiligrath, G. Wirth, E. Droncke, and Karl Schapper, all of them conspicuous figures of that revolutionary time.
Then followed the suppression of the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung.” Marx was expelled, and went to London. But the defenders of “Absolutism” were not satisfied with this. Then came the famous “Trial of the Communists,” during which Marx did everything to be of service to the accused. His efforts, however, were in vain; they were condemned.
When, in the spring of 1856, I had at last done my term of incarceration in the fortress of Silberberg, I came for the second time to London. Marx had taken, about this time, a large house outside London, but this great distance did not prevent me from accepting his frequent kind invitations to visit him. Soon after he had moved to this locality, Marx became, for the first time, seriously ill. However, under careful medical advice, he recovered. As soon as Marx recovered, his wife fell seriously ill, it being considered necessary to remove his three daughters to the house of Liebknecht, who lived not far away.
Hardly were these domestic troubles over, when, in about 1859, Professor Karl Vogt published his infamous and calumnious aspersions against Marx, which took the latter quite a twelvemonth of valuable time to dispel. During the Commune documents were found that Professor Karl Vogt had in this affair only acted as a paid police-agent to Napoleon.
Then followed later—in September, 1864—the foundation of the International Workingmen’s Association, which soon made its influence felt, and became a terror to all reactionaries. It was quite appropriate at the time to say that the International was a small “body” but a “great soul.” Of course, Karl Marx was its soul, for nearly all the documents and publications published emanated from him.
Difficulties never diminished. Fate seemed to overtake him more heavily and oftener. During the fifties, he had the misfortune to lose three children in succession—a girl of eleven years, a boy of two years, and one of nine years—who had given promise of excellent development. These losses our great friend could never forget.
Then followed, in the seventies, the losses of his grand-children, the children of his two elder daughters, Jenny Longuet and Laura Lafargue. Soon after followed the long and painful illness of his wife, who died on December 2nd, 1881, to be followed by the death of his eldest daughter, Mrs. Longuet, at Paris.
It was clear to all of Marx’s friends that this succession of bereavements would only hasten his own death, and that our party would soon lose him.
It was well known to us that many circumstances had contributed to undermine the constitution of Marx, robust though it had been in the past. He had to fight against many enemies. He was often without any income, and the struggle for existence was keenly felt, for it was only at the time of the Crimean War that Marx had a regular income by his correspondence for the “New York Tribune.” But his greatest fault was working too hard. When once he began a task, he stuck to it through day and night till it was done. About popularity Marx never troubled; on the contrary, he hated the so-called “popular” phrases then in vogue. On the other hand, no power in existence would have been able to turn him from his path. And when, at the conclusion of his preface to the first volume of the “Capital” he quotes Dante’s lines, “Segui il tuo corso, e lascia dir le gente,” it was not intended simply as a quotation, but in the spirit of its full meaning—“Pursue your course, let other people talk!”
The higher standard by which I estimate Marx as a friend of the Labour movement was his energetic action and deep interest in all Labour struggles. When the working class anywhere suffered a defeat, it was Marx who stepped forward to defend them against their adversaries. This can be seen in the publications of the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung,” of 1848, after the suppression of the Paris proletariat, and better still after the fall of the Commune of Paris, in 1871, when all reactionary elements, and even a large part of the working class, turned against the fallen. Marx was the first to take the side of the defeated. The famous address of the General Council of the International, “The Civil War in France,” shows with what energy and sympathy he stood up for the working class.
His friendship for the working classes of all countries is further shown by his extensive correspondence with them and their leaders. His sympathy for the Russian Socialist movement, as well as for the Poles, is well known. He had great expectations of the Austrian movement, as he considered the Austrian workmen able and determined. If he could only see now what strides the Austrian workers have made, I feel sure he would be gratified.
This rare man, with his original ideals, seemed to be destined, with his friend Frederick Engels, to reconstitute the modern Labour movement on an international basis. Karl Marx’s teachings have permeated the movement.
Some comrades proposed to erect a monument to him. But no monument could be of firmer foundation than his teachings, his actions, and his struggles, which are engraved now into the hearts and heads of millions of workers for ever.