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Book Review: Marx's Letters to Kugelmann

Letters to Kugelmann . . . by Karl Marx. 148 pp., 3s. 6d. Cloth; 2s. Paper. Martin Lawrence Ltd., 33, Gt. James Street, London, W.C.1.

A valuable contribution to Marxian literature is the issue in the English language of the letters written by Marx to Dr. Kugelmann during the years 1862-1874. Many of the letters have appeared in various English periodicals, but this is the first issue of the letters in the complete form. With just a slight initial resentment, due to certain defects mentioned below, the book gives a final sense of gratitude and satisfaction. In the past these letters have suffered from interference by Karl Kautsky, who, when he published them in the Neue Zeit, deliberately omitted passages to suit his political purpose, and suppressed one letter altogether. This letter, written by Marx on February 23rd, 1865, exposed the political trickery of Ferdinand Lassalle. Though the Directors of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow realise the importance of this letter, no reference is made by them to the discovery of evidence that finally proved the rascality of Lassalle, and justified Engels in his detestation of that schemer.

Reference should have been made in the Foreword to the finding of material showing that Lassalle had been in secret communication with Bismarck. If one may digress, may it be pointed out that Engels always held the view that Lassalle was a humbug. On June 11th, 1863, he wrote Marx that Lassalle was in the service of Bismarck. ("Der Kerl arbeitet jetzt rein im Dienst von Bismarck." Page 144, Vol. 3, Marx-Engels Correspondence.) But to come nearer to the date of this suppressed letter, Engels, on January 27th, 1865, told Marx (letter 890, Page 219, Vol. 3, as above) that Lassalle was gradually being exposed as a common rogue. This matter of exposure had been in Marx's mind for quite a while, and the letter to Kugelmann was the result. Kautsky suppressed it, and Lenin, when he wrote the preface to the Russian translation of these letters, was unaware of its existence. Absence of comment is curious, because in the issue of selected letters of Marx and Engels, issued in Germany under the imprimatur of the Marx-Engels Institute, details are given of the discovery of the communications. (These letters are in course of translation into English, and will be published shortly by Martin Lawrence, Ltd.)

It is perhaps unfortunate that the type was set up and printed in Moscow, The translation, apparently, originated there, for the letters are now in the archives of the Marx-Engels Institute. Better service would have been rendered to the English-reading public had the entire arrangement for publication been left to competent English experts. The advantage accruing to the possession of the complete series is minimised by an insufficient regard for Marx's original text. The effort to impress the reader by the needless intrusion of italics and inverted commas, is an illusion. Marx knew what he wanted to say, how to say it, and how to express himself with simplicity. He now and again wandered off into Italian, French and English phrases. Those which were in English are not indicated, while the other "foreign" phrases are given in the original in the text and translated in footnotes. Some of the English sentences—or phrases—are neither indicated nor printed accurately. But unless such indication is given, the literary value and sting may be lost, and Marx's meaning and sense of expression nullified.

Also, the use of italics in the letters as printed is mystifying. There seems to be no regular method adopted. For example, on page 31, in the letter which Kautsky suppressed, the translator has this: -

    So they want to take the circumstances as they are, and not irritate the government, just like our "republican" "real politicians" who are not willing to "put up with" a Hohenzollern emperor.

But in the German original Marx had only word in quotation marks (the German equivalent of "republican,") and only one word spaced out for emphasis (the German equivalent of emperor). Why then these further modifications?

In another passage on the same page the translator gives as his version: -

    We are making a stir here now on the General Suffrage Question, which, of course, has a significance here quite different from what it has in Prussia.

In the original Marx used no emphasis on these words, and there can be no justification for departing from what he wrote.

With regard to the failure to indicate passages which Marx originally gave in English, Marx knew his method of expression, and when he substituted a phrase in another language, it was because to him, it acquired the precise weight of expression. Therefore, it should be necessary—at least to us who read English, to know which passages Marx wrote in English, in order to gather the impressions of the moment. 

In the last paragraph on page 31 the following words were originally written by Marx in English: "Member of the Association,"—"individual member ship,"—"societies,"—"an English card of membership" (the translator gives Marx's words correctly—"the English society is public," but puts "public" in italics.

This may appear to be captious criticism, but it is a plea for accuracy, and in some cases, the modified version gives an appreciably different meaning.

Notwithstanding this we can heartily recommend the book. It contains 148 pages, printed in clean, clear type, on a very fine paper, in red cloth, with lettering in gold. All foreign phrases are translated, and there is an excellent and informative biographical index which is itself a mine of information. Students of Dietzgen will find an interesting letter he wrote to Marx, and there is a preface by Lenin in which he attacks Plechanoff for his attitude during the Moscow uprising of 1905.

Moses Baritz