The Karl-Marx monument in Chemnitz, Germany. Marx was born on May 5, 1818. | Uwe Meinhold / AP

The following interview with Karl Marx, published in the New York Sun on September 6, 1880, was written by John Swinton, printer, journalist and publisher, during his visit to Europe. It first appeared on our pages in the May 5, 1940 edition of The Sunday Worker. Swinton’s enthusiastic appreciation for Marx gives a vivid picture of Marx with his family and expresses the admiration of an American journalist who could not help but feel the genius of the leader of the working class. Some of Swinton’s ideas were somewhat inaccurate, such as, for example, his reference to the “stormy Bakunin” and “the brilliant Lassalle” as “Marx’s pupils”. Bakunin was an inveterate enemy of Marx, and Lassalle never represented Marxism, but on the contrary distorted it. Nevertheless, readers may find interesting what was written by an American journalist on Marx in 1880, just three years before his death.

One of the most remarkable men of the time, who has played an impenetrable but powerful role in revolutionary politics for the past forty years, is Karl Marx. A man with no desire for spectacle or fame, not caring about the swagger of life or the pretension of power, unhurried and restless, a man of strong spirit, broad, lofty, full of far-reaching projects , of logical methods and practical purposes, he has resisted and yet stands behind more earthquakes which have convulsed nations and destroyed thrones, and now threaten and revolt crowned heads and established frauds, than any other man in Europe , with the exception of Joseph Mazzini himself.

This interview first appeared on our pages as part of the May 5, 1940 edition of The Sunday Worker. | Peoples World Archives

The Berlin student, the critic of Hegelianism, the newspaper editor and the former correspondent of the New York Tribune, he showed his qualities and his spirit; the founder and master of mind of the once feared International and the author of Capital city, he was expelled from half of the countries of Europe, banned in almost all, and for thirty years has taken refuge in London.

He was in Ramsgate, the big seaside resort for Londoners, while I was in London, and there I found him in his thatched cottage, with his family of two generations. The woman with the holy face, the soft, graceful and suave voice who greeted me at the door was obviously the hostess and wife of Karl Marx. And this 60-year-old man, with the massive head, generous features, courteous and kind, with the bushy masses of long, festive gray hair, is he Karl Marx?

His dialogue reminded me of Socrates, so free, so broad, so creative, so incisive, so authentic, with its sardonic touches, its glimmers of humor and its sporting gaiety. He spoke of the political forces and popular movements of the various countries of Europe, the vast current of the spirit of Russia, the movements of the German spirit, the action of France, the immobility of England. He spoke hopefully of Russia, philosophically of Germany, cheerfully of France and gloomily of England, scornfully referring to the “atomist reforms” on which the liberals in the British Parliament spend their time.

Surveying the European world, country after country, showing traits and evolutions and characters above and below the surface, he showed that things were working for ends that are sure to come true. I was often surprised while he spoke. It was obvious that this man, of whom we see or hear so little, is deep within the times, and that, from the Neva to the Seine, from the Urals to the Pyrenees, his hand is at work preparing the way for the new advent. Neither is its labor wasted today, nor has it been in the past, during which so many desirable changes have been made, so many heroic struggles have been seen, and the French Republic has been erected on the heights.

As he spoke, the question I had asked, “Why aren’t you doing anything now?” Was considered an ignorant question, and one to which he could not answer directly. Asking why his great job Capital city, the seed field of so many crops, had not been put into English as it was put into Russian and French from the original German he seemed unable to say but said that a proposal to English translation had come to him from New York. He said that this book was only a fragment, a single part of a three-part work, two of the parts still unpublished, the complete trilogy being Earth, Capital city, and Credit, the last part, he said, being widely illustrated from the United States, where credit has grown so amazingly.

Mr. Marx is an observer of American action, and his remarks on some of the formative and substantive forces of American life were suggestive. Moreover, referring to his Capital city, he said that anyone who would like to read it would find the French translation far superior in many ways to the German original. M. Marx was speaking of Henri Rochefort, the Frenchman, and speaking of some of his dead disciples, the stormy Bakunin, the brilliant Lassalle and others, I could see how his genius had taken hold of men. who, in other circumstances, might have directed the course of history.

The afternoon slips into the twilight of an English summer evening as Mr. Marx speaks, and he offers a stroll through the seaside town and along the shore to the beach, on which we let’s see several thousand people, mostly children, frolic. Here, we find on the sand his family celebration: the woman who had already welcomed me, his two daughters with their children and his two sons-in-law, one of whom is a professor at King’s College London and the other, I believe, a man of letters.

An 1864 photograph of (left to right) Karl Marx and Frederick Engels standing and Marx’s daughters Jenny, Eleanor and Laura seated. | Public domain

It was a delicious celebration – ten in all – the father of the two young wives, happy with their children, and the grandmother of the children, rich in the joy and serenity of her nature as a wife. No less subtly than Victor Hugo himself, Karl Marx understands the art of being a grandfather; but, happier than Hugo, the married children of Marx live to cheer his years.

Towards nightfall, he and his sons-in-law separate from their families to spend an hour with their American guest. And we were talking about the world, and man, and time, and ideas, while our glasses clinked on the sea. The train waits for no one and night is near.

Above the thought of the gossip and the rack of age and ages, during the conversation of the day and the scenes of the evening, a question arises in my mind touching on the final law of being, for which I would seek the answer of this sage. Descending to the bottom of the language, and rising to the height of the emphasis, during an interval of silence, I questioned the revolutionary and the philosopher in these fateful words: “What is [the final law of being]? “ And it seemed to him that his mind had shifted for a moment as he gazed at the roaring sea in front of him and the restless multitude on the beach.

“What is?” had I inquired, to which, in a serious and solemn tone, he replied: “Wrestle!”

At first I thought I heard the echo of despair; but, perhaps, it was the law of life.


John swinton