Note to Marx's letter to Laura and Paul Lafargue

Viscount (Jack) Hastings, The Worker of the Future, 1935. Marx Memorial Library, London


An indispensable reference to subsidize revolutionary praxis in our time present e future

The letter "Marx to Laura and Paul Lafargue in Paris",[I] dated March 5, 1870 from the personal collection of Karl Marx was originally published in volume 32 of the second Russian edition of the works of Marx and Engels released in Moscow in the year 1964.[ii] In 1971, a small excerpt from this document appeared in the work Ireland and the Irish Question[iii] and later, in 1979, an extract appeared in The Letters of Karl Marx, with selection, translation, explanatory notes and introduction by Saul K. Padover.[iv] The first full publication in the English language of this correspondence was due to the undertaking of Marx & Engels Collected Works[v].

From number 1 of Maitland Park Road in London – residence of the Marx family between 1864 and 1875 – the letter of Marx to Laura and Paul Lafargue in Paris It was written in English with numerous passages in French.[vi] We became aware of the referred letter in the course of the research that we undertook on the critique of the political economy of racism based on the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Raya Dunayevskaya, Claudia Jones, Kevin Anderson, Hakim Adi, Melvin Leiman and, mainly, from the work of August H. Nimtz Jr. – the first author we identified to have made reference to this correspondence[vii].

Marx began writing expressing concerns about the family. A few days before this communication, her granddaughter, the youngest daughter of Laura and Paul Lafargue, had died in Paris – not even completing two months of life. On the other hand, the grandson Schnappy, the couple's eldest son, was seriously ill. Sympathizing with their irreparable loss and the difficulties experienced by them, Marx was deeply affectionate. Laura was his “sweet ex-secretary”, the daughter who contributed so much to the translations and publications of her father's works. Lafargue – a fellow Communist of the First International – was treated like a beloved son.

The racial issue is a central aspect of this correspondence. Marx used this letter to demonstrate his profound disagreements with the pseudoscientific ideas of Arthur de Gobineau – opposing the logic of hierarchical classification of races and ridiculing the argument that the white race would be a divine species compared to other human races –, therefore questioning , the notion of white racial supremacy. In his works, especially in The capital it is us Writings on Colonialism e Writings about the American Civil War, Marx and Engels developed the theoretical-methodological and political perspective of criticizing the racial-colonial paradigm so present in the social thought of XNUMXth century Europe.

Certainly, in opposition to Gobineau, Disraeli, Gumplowicz, Spencer, among others, the founders of dialectical historical materialism rejected the notion of “race struggle”, affirming the theory of class struggle as the driving principle of historical development, positioning the theoretical debate -political in defense of the emancipation of the exploited and oppressed, in an absolutely different way, therefore, from the terms imposed by the authors of the field of scientific racism[viii].

In one of the excerpts from that letter, Marx stated that Gobineau was one of those subjects who harbored a deep grudge against the black race. In this regard, moreover, Marx provided us with a valuable understanding of modern-contemporary racist ideology and subjectivity, referring to the need and satisfaction of these people to feel superior to others.[ix].

There is evidence that Marx debated the racial issue with Paul and François Lafargue. The phrase that also appears in The capital – “the white-skinned worker cannot emancipate himself where the black-skinned worker is branded with a red-hot iron”[X] – originated in correspondence dated November 12, 1866 with Lafargue's father. In your magnum opus this sentence appears in the chapter on the working day. The thesis highlights, among other aspects, the dialectical unity of race and class in Marx's thought and a deep reflection by this author in the sense of understanding the socio-racial division of labor, pointing to the need for unity of the working class in favor of emancipation as a way of overcoming racial cleavage.

The Irish Question and the Fenians' liberation struggle appear in the correspondence as part of the social struggles that had the decisive engagement of the Marx family and the First International. Furthermore, such elements also expressed the ethnic-racial and national contradiction existing in the British Empire at the time.

It is curious to note that, following the same line as the aforementioned letter addressed to Laura and Paul Lafargue, Marx's correspondence to Meyer and Vogt on April 9, 1870 expressed the following:

All the industrial and commercial centers of England now have a working class divided into two hostile camps, the English proletarians and the Irish proletarians. The common English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor lowering his standard of living. In relation to the Irish worker, he feels like a member of the dominant nation and, therefore, becomes an instrument of the aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus reinforcing dominion over himself. It cultivates religious, social and national prejudices against the Irish worker. Their attitude toward him is very similar to that of poor whites toward blacks in the former slave states of the United States.[xi].

In this document, Marx understood the phenomenon of racism embedded in the working class as an obstacle to its self-emancipation. The aforementioned passage makes evident the split operated within the proletariat based on social, national and ethnic-racial criteria. Thus, the process of accumulation and reproduction of capital establishes the logic of generalized competition as a way of maintaining the economic, political and ideological power of the bourgeois class, which is historically constituted in the light of the principle of whiteness.

A fundamental aspect present in this letter refers to Marx's comments on the possibilities of a social revolution in Russia, which demonstrates his defense around non-evolutionist and multilinear strategies and open paths for the development of the revolution, in a dialectical, non-attached dimension to advanced industrializing countries. Marx's vision was not restricted to Western societies – this is evidenced by his writings on Russian communal property and notebooks on South Asia, North Africa, Latin America and other agrarian societies in the XNUMXth century.[xii]. However, for Marx, the triumph of the socialist revolution presupposes the full development of the material productive forces. As an internationalist strategy, the transformation of the bourgeois order could be triggered in “backward countries” only as a “starting point” of a world-historical process[xiii].

Obviously, none of our questions initially listed has the power to replace the reading of Marx's text. So, let's get straight to it. With this, we only have to emphasize (a formal and a political aspect): that the present work is accompanied by a set of translation notes made with the objective of helping in the best possible understanding of this historical document. This letter, which appears for the first time in a Brazilian edition and in Portuguese, will be an indispensable reference to subsidize revolutionary praxis in our time. present e future – necessarily anti-capitalist, anti-racist and anti-patriarchal, just like true Marxism[xiv].

*Mario Soares Neto He is a lawyer, professor and researcher. Master in Law from the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).



[I] See MARX, Karl. From Marx to Laura and Paul Lafargue in Paris [London, March 5, 1870]. Translation, notes and presentation by Mario Soares Neto. Magazine of the Brazilian Society of Political Economy (RSEP), nº 61, (September – December 2021), pp. 238-250. Available in:

[ii] In this first edition, the full text of Marx's correspondence translated from English into Russian was reproduced. See K. Marks and Ф. Энгельса. Собрание сочинений К. Marks and Ф. Энгельса. Издание второе. Tom 32. Москва: ИЗДАТЕЛЬСТВО ПОЛИТИЧЕСКОЙ ЛИТЕРАТУРЫ – ИНСТИТУТ МАРКСИЗМА -ЛЕНИНИЗМА ПРИ ЦК КПСС, 1964, cc. 545-550 [MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Friedrich. Collected works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Second edition. Volume 32. Moscow: Political Literature Publishing House – Institute of Marxism-Leninism attached to the Central Committee of the CPSU, 1964, pp. 545-550]. The works of Marx and Engels in Russian language are available at: e

[iii] See MARX; Karl; ENGELS; Friedrich. Ireland and the Irish Question. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1971. In that publication, there are only two paragraphs of this letter, in which Marx made reference to the support of his daughters Tussy and Jenny to the Fenians cause, as well as to his own action within the International in defense of the Irish. Marx demonstrated the strategic importance of the revolutionary struggle in Ireland as a way of confronting the British Empire (excerpts are located on page 404).

[iv] See MARX, Karl. The Letters of Karl Marx. Selected and translated with explanatory notes and an introduction by Saul K. Padover. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, 1979. We were unable to retrieve the text of this publication. Thus, we do not know which part of the letter was published in this North American edition. One possibility is that the same excerpt from the previous edition was reproduced.

[v] MECW was published in English between 1975 and 2005 by Lawrence & Wishart (London) and International Publishers (New York). The aforementioned correspondence between Marx, Laura and Paul Lafargue appears in number 43 of MECW, published for the first time in 1988. Subsequently, all 50 volumes of the collection won a new edition in 2010. See MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Friedrich. Marx & Engels Collected Works. Volume 43. Letters 1868-70. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2010.

[vi] “The Marx family wrote their letters in many languages. Correspondence between them could be in English, French or German – and often in all three languages ​​together – with peculiar touches of Italian, Latin and Greek”. See GABRIEL, Mary. Love and capital: the family saga of Karl Marx and the story of a revolution. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2013, p. 14.

[vii] See topic titled “Marx on Race” in: NIMTZ JR., August H. Marx, Tocqueville, and Race in America. New York: Lexington Books, 2003, pp. 158-161.

[viii] See, in particular, the chapter “Social Darwinism, Racism and Fascism” in: LUKÁCS, György. The assault on reason: The trajectory of irrationalism from Schelling to Hitler. Mexico; Buenos Aires: Fund for Economic Culture, 1959.

[ix] The myth of the “racist Marx”, so propagated nowadays, has no materiality. Marx was from a family of persecuted Jews in XNUMXth century Europe. In family circles he was known as “Moor”, due to his dark skin. Marx suffered from racism – because he was Jewish, because he was dark-skinned, because he was an immigrant and refugee, and because he was poor. On the philosophical level, by advocating the theory of class struggle to the detriment of theories of racial hierarchization, Marx postulated anti-racism. On the political level, the struggles undertaken within the scope of the International Workers' Association in defense of the abolition of slavery in the United States and for the liberation of the Irish Fenians are just two examples that demonstrate this aspect. The revolutionary praxis of Marx and Engels as communist leaders in favor of total human emancipation constitutes a decisive element in this discussion. This myth was questioned by the writer and journalist who analyzed practically all of Marx's family correspondence - according to which, "it is very evident that Marx and Jenny were not racist, because they did not oppose their daughter's marriage to a mixed-race man, and because Marx loudly expressed his position against slavery. GABRIEL, Mary. Love and capital: the family saga of Karl Marx and the story of a revolution. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2013, p. 14. Furthermore, we cannot disregard the following understanding: “the concept of worker elaborated by Marx was not limited to European white men, on the contrary, it included […] super-exploited blacks and, therefore, doubly revolutionary workers”. ANDERSON, Kevin B. “Class, gender, race & colonialism: Marx's 'intersectionality'” [Translation by Mario Soares Neto], Law and Praxis Magazine, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 1499-1526, Rio de Janeiro, 2021. Available at:

[X] See MARX, Karl. “Marx to François Lafargue in Bordeaux [London, 12 November 1866]” in: MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Friedrich. Marx & Engels Collected Works. Volume 42. Letters 1864-68. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2010, p. 334. See also MARX, Karl. Capital: critique of political economy. Volume I. Book One (The Production Process of Capital). Volume I. São Paulo: Nova Cultural, 1988, p. 228.

[xi] MARX, Carl. “Marx to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt in New York [London, 9 April 1870]” in: MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Friedrich. Marx & Engels Collected Works. Volume 43. Letters 1868-70. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2010, pp. 474-475.

[xii] See MARX, Karl. The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx. Transcribed and edited, with an introduction by L. Krader. Amsterdam: Van Gorcum & Comp. BV, 1974. See also MUSTO, Marcello. The old Marx. A Biography of His Last Years (1881-1883). São Paulo: Boitempo, 2018. Furthermore, an important Brazilian biographer of Marx, when appreciating the Ethnological notebooks, emphasized that “Marxian analysis denounces and rejects the ideological prejudices that vitiated much of the anthropology of the time” in: NETTO, Jose Paulo. Karl Marx: a biography. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2020, p. 680.

[xiii] See MARX, Karl. Preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. São Paulo: Expressão Popular, 2007. See also MARX, Karl. Preface to the 1882 Russian edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2005.

[xiv] Worthy of note is the following historical fact: after the socialist congress held in Marseilles in October 1869, with the aim of establishing the Parti Ouvrier Français, the labor leader Jules Guesde (1845-1922), through Lafargue, addressed Marx and Engels asking them for help in drawing up a political-electoral program for the organization. Around May 10, 1880, a meeting was held at Marx's house in London, at which time the Program of the French Workers' Party was drawn up, which would be founded in Le Havre in November of that year. The document was first published in Le Precurseur, No. 25, of June 19, 1880, and printed in accordance with L'Egalite, No. 24, of June 30, 1880. Marx dictated the entire preamble to Guesde, proclaiming, right at the opening, the recognition that “the emancipation of the working class consists in the emancipation of all human beings, without discrimination of sex and race". See MARX, Karl. “Preamble to the Program of the French Workers' Party” in: MARX, Karl; ENGELS, Friedrich. Marx & Engels Collected Works. Volume 24. Marx and Engels 1874-83. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2010, p. 340.

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