The Last Years of Karl Marx
An Intellectual Biography
Marcello Musto


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

For more than a decade now, prestigious newspapers and journals with a wide readership have been describing Karl Marx as a far-sighted theorist whose topicality receives constant confirmation. Many authors with progressive views maintain that his ideas continue to be indispensable for anyone who believes it is necessary to build an alternative to capitalism. Almost everywhere, he is now the theme of university courses and international conferences. His writings, reprinted or brought out in new editions, have reappeared on bookshop shelves, and the study of his work, after twenty years or more of neglect, has gathered increasing momentum. The year 2018 has brought further intensity to this 'Marx revival', thanks to many initiatives around the world linked to the 150th anniversary of the publication of Capital and the bicentenary of Marx's birth.

1 New Research Horizons
chapter abstract

A few months after the John Swinton interview, on a January night in 1881, a man with an almost white beard was seated in his room in North London reading through a pile of books and carefully noting down the most important passages. With great perseverance, he was continuing to carry out his life's purpose: to provide the workers' movement with the theoretical basis to destroy the capitalist mode of production. His physique showed the signs of decades of hard daily work spent reading and writing. On his back and other parts of his body remained scars of the horrific boils that had appeared during the years when he was working on Capital. His spirit bore other wounds from a life of hardships and difficulties, mitigated from time to time by satisfaction at the blow he was inflicting on ruling-class bigwigs and political rivals in his same camp.

2 Controversy over the Development of Capitalism in Russia
chapter abstract

In his political writings, Karl Marx had always identified Russia as one of the main obstacles to working-class emancipation on the European stage. In the New-York Tribune articles and the Secret Diplomatic History of the Eighteenth Century (1856-57), as well as in his voluminous correspondence, he had emphasized that its social backwardness, sluggish economic development, despotic political regime and conservative foreign policy helped to make the vast tsarist empire the advance post of counterrevolution. Marx continued to hold this judgment over time. But in his final years, he began to look rather differently at Russia, having recognized some possible conditions for a major social transformation in certain changes that were under way there. Indeed, Russia seemed more likely to produce a revolution than Britain, where the workers' movement had grown weaker and undergone the negative conditioning of trade union reformism.

3 The Travails of "Old Nick"
chapter abstract

In 1881, Karl Marx was not yet the towering theoretical reference for the international workers' movement that he would become in the twentieth century. Over the course of the 1840s, the number of political leaders and intellectuals influenced by his work had been quite limited; what the international police and political adversaries called 'the Marx party' was, in fact, composed of only a handful of militants. Things did not change for the better in the next decade, when, following the defeat of the 1848 revolutions, only a small number of refugees, mostly in Great Britain, could be considered 'Marxian'. The development of the International Working Men's Association and the Europe-wide resonance of the Paris Commune altered the picture, giving Marx a certain notoriety and ensuring a reasonable dissemination of his works.

4 The Moor's Last Journey
chapter abstract

After a stormy 34-hour crossing, Karl Marx reached his destination on 20 February. The next day he wrote to Friedrich Engels, and a week later he recalled that his 'corpus delecti' had been 'frozen to the marrow'. He found an ideally situated room, with a port view, at the Hôtel-Pension Victoria, in the Upper Mustapha zone. It was a 'magical panorama', which allowed him to appreciate the 'wonderful combination of Europe and Africa'. The only person who knew the identity of the newly arrived polyglot gentleman was Albert Fermé (1840-1904), a justice of the peace and follower of Charles Fourier, who had landed in Algiers in 1870 after a period of imprisonment on account of his opposition to the Second Empire. He was the only real company Marx had there, serving as his guide on various excursions and attempting to satisfy his curiosity about the new world.