Life and Work of Karl Marx – XXXIII
Home And Family
AT the end of the 1860s and the beginning of the 70s, there were changes in the life of the Marx family. The girls had grown up, and since everything in the household turned around the battle for the emancipation of the proletariat, they, too, took part personally in the workers’ movement.
It pleased Marx that his eldest daughter, Jenny, now followed Laura’s example by marrying an active comrade-in-arms. Laura had married Paul Lafarague, who had thrown himself into the Paris Commune struggle and had contributed significantly to the Hague Congress of the First International by his political activity among the Spanish workers.
Jenny was from early youth bound up with the working class struggle. From the mid-60s on she increasingly took over from her mother the secretarial work for her father and conducted some of his correspondence. She shared the hopes, the disappointments and the sufferings of the Irish freedom fighters. After the defeat of the Paris Commune, she worked with all her strength to raise money to lighten the need of the Communards driven out of the their homeland. It was then that she met the French journalist, Charles Longuet, who had fought in the ranks of the Communards as a member of the International Workingmen’s Association.
Jenny and Charles had to endure the bitter deprivations of emigrant life for many years. All his attempts to earn a living at Oxford through private tutoring failed. Soon they returned to London –penniless. Yet in December 1872, Jenny wrote gaily to Ludwig Kugelmann: “I feel much happier in London than in pious, snobbish Oxford. In London there is Modena Villa, and in the front room of the first floor in Modena Villa I can at all times find my dear Mohr (Marx). I can’t even tell you how lonesome I feel when I am separated from him, and he says that he also missed me very much and that he buried himself entirely in his work-room while I was away.” Only in 1880 did an amnesty permit the Longuet family to return to France.
Laura’s husband Paul Lafargue revered Marx as a second father, and Marx, in turn was proud of his son-in-law. When Laura and Paul lost their three children, at a tender age, one after the other, at the beginning of the 70s, Marx suffered as deeply as the bereaved parents. After the Hague Congress of the International the Lafargues moved to London. Paul gave up the practice of medicine and with great difficulty struggled along as a journalist and photographer. They, too, could not return to Paris till amnesty of 1880. Then Paul Lafargue became one of the founders and most significant leaders of the Marxist Party in France.
Marx constantly sought to make life easier for his children and to help with their problems. Now his greatest concern was for his grandchildren, the children of his daughter Jenny. Her eldest son, Jean, or Jonny, was his favourite, and the boy knew how to exploit this feeling. Since he lived mostly in his grandparents’ home, Marx was his playing companion. He took special delight in turning Marx into a horse-drawn omnibus. Wilhelm Liebknecht, who then visiting London, described how Johnny-would climb up on Marx’s shoulders as a coachman, and turn Marx and Engels into omnibus horses. “Then it began whoa, hey! With international German-French-English calls from the sidelines: Go on / plus vite / Hurra/ and Marx had to trot till the sweat ran down his face. And if Engels or I sometimes attempted to slow down the pace, the whip of the merciless driver whistled down upon us with cries of : you naughty horse! –Enavant ! and so on, till Marx could go on no longer. Then there were negotiations with Johnny and a truce was arranged.”
After Jenny’s marriage, only Eleanor remained with her parents. Though only 17, she took on the secretarial work for her father. She carried on the correspondence expertly when her father had no time to answer letters. The slim, lively girl with the strikingly thick, black hair accompanied her father on his holidays and cures and became his confidante despite her youth. She shared a boundless love with her sisters for her father, and considered it to be her greatest happiness to be of assistance to him. She was later to play a significant role in the newly awakened workers’ movement in England and elsewhere.
Marx’s work in the General Council of the International, and especially during the years between the German-French war and the Hague Congress (1870-72), had imposed almost inhuman strains on him. His weakened constitution had withstood the stress by a determined act of will-power. In the spring of 1873, however, a few months after the Hague Congress, he suffered serious physical disturbances.
He began to suffer from painful headaches and sleeplessness At times it was feared that he might have a stroke. After only a few hours of intellectual work he was forced to rest by attacks of dizziness. At times he was completely unable to work. He had to consult his doctor frequently. At the insistence of the doctors, Marx had to reduce his scientific work to a minimum. He found it very difficult to conform but no matter how urgently he wished to finish his book, Capital, the state of his health was so bad that he had no alternative but to obey the doctor’s advice.
Numerous holidays at English seaside resorts failed to bring the desired betterment. Some improvement showed itself only when he took a cure at Karlabad (now Karlovy Vary) in late summer 1874, accompanied by Eleanor. When he and Eleanor left Karlabad on September 21, he felt very much better.
They visited Dresden and Leipzig and went on to Berlin. Here they visited the friend of Marx’s youth, his brother –in-law, Edgar von Westphalen, who had remained true to the ideals of his youth and now lived very modestly as a civil servant.Marx and Eleanor, as very “dangerous” guests, lived at a hotel, probably under an assumed name. Thus the police learnt of their coming only on their departure. “To Mohrs delight,” Eleanor related with relish, “we learnt later that the police came to our hotel on the third day, exactly one hour after we had left.”
From Berlin they traveled to Hamburg, where Marx looked up his publisher, Otto Karl Meissner, and met with Ignez Auer and August Geib, both of whom were leaders of the Eisenach party. Early in October, the travelers were once more in London.
After his cure in Karlsbad Marx felt a gradual improvement in his health. Engels made it possible for him to take the cure again at Karlsbad in 1876 and 1879, and with his wife and daughter, in 1877, at Bad Neuenahr and in the Black forest. Marx also utilised these trips for short visits with friends. “Here Karl Marx,” the Frankfurter Zeitung reported on August 17,1875 “arrived here at the end of last week from London. His friends were pleasantly surprised by his vigorous appearance and lively spirits. He is on his way to Karlsbad, where he intends to remain four weeks.”
From Karlsbad Marx made frequent trips to Prague. It gave him special pleasure, during a short-trip to Kreuznach in September 1876 to
show his daughter the various places where he and her mother had spent the first months of their happy marriage.
The healing effects of the Karlsbad waters on Marx were very evident. But he was unable to continue the cure. From 1873 on, the road to Karlsbad was barred to him by Bismarck’s emergency laws against the Socialist workers’ movement.
In the spring of 1875, the Marx family moved to another home again, this time to 41 Maitland Park Road, Haverstock Hill. Here they occupied one of the then typical narrow homes, built high and in rows. In the basement, there were small house keeping rooms and the kitchen, in which meals were generally taken. The ground floor had a hallway and one or two small living rooms. On the first floor up Marx had his working room. The bedrooms were on the floor above.
The Marx hospitality was already well known, when short rations still reigned in the home. Now that the family could live with less cares, they took greater pleasure in being able to help others. Workers and workers’ leaders met at the Marx home. Old members of the Communist League and veteran fellow-fighters of the International came frequently. In the Marx home they also found that true human happiness could not be separated from struggle for the happiness of all mankind.
Jenny knew, like her husband, how to make their guests’ visits an unforgettable experience. Friedrick Lessner, who had fought loyally at Marx’s side since the revolutionary days in Cologne and often visited the family, reported: “Marx’s house was open to every trustworthy comrade. The pleasant hours I and many others spent in his family circle are unforgettable. The wonderful Frau Marx shone here, a great, unusually beautiful woman, distinguished in appearance, but so very kind and lovable intelligent, so free from all pride and formality, that in her presence one felt as comfortably at home as if with one’s mother or sister…. She was filled with enthusiasm for the cause of the working class. Every success in the struggle against the bourgeoisie, even the smallest, caused her satisfaction and joy.”
An important person in the Marx household was Helene Demuth (Lenchen), “When you write about Mohr, don’t forget Lenchen.” Eleanor wrote to Wilhelm Liebknecht when he began to draft his reminiscences about her father. Helene Delmuth, in Eleanor’s words, was “in certain respects the axis around which the house turned.” Everyone close to Marx knew the gratitude this selfless woman had won from the family. Even Marx had to submit to her strict rule in the house. He did it naturally, since Lenchen was as unsurpassed in her loyalty and devotion to the family as in her loving care.
In the circle of his family and friends, and in informal conversation in general, Marx was a witty and cheerful companion. Some visitors, who had believed they would find a gloomy fanatic or a queer spinner of fantasies, found themselves suddenly confronted by a man who could not only discuss politics or theoretical problems of scientific Communism, but also had something wise and vital to say about a work of world literature, a recent development in London’s theatre life or an interesting discovery in the natural sciences.