Workers’ Communist Party of France: “Marx in France”

Translated by Red Phoenix staff.

The quote that we reproduce below, often cited in studies on Marx and his relationship with France, gives us a good introduction to this article for the magazine Unity and Struggle consecrated to Marx on the occasion of the bicentenary of his birth on May 5, 1818

“But for that, one had to possess the knowledge that Marx had of the history of France. France is the country in which historical class struggles have always taken their decisive end more than anywhere else and where, therefore, the successive political forms within which these class struggles have moved and in where they have found their expression as the results of the same, acquire also the most marked contours. Center of feudalism in the Middle Ages and model country of absolute monarchy established since the Renaissance, France pulverized feudalism in the great revolution and established the pure domination of the bourgeoisie in a classic form like no other country in Europe. The struggle of the revolutionary proletariat against the ruling bourgeoisie also takes on a violent form here, unknown elsewhere. This is why Marx not only studied with special predilection the past history of France, but also followed in all its details the contemporary history, gathering the materials to be used later, which is why he was never surprised by events. “

(Extract from the prologue by F. Engels to the third German edition of “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” Selected works of Marx and Engels, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1966)

Marx’s Stays in France

Marx was born in 1818 in what is today Germany, which at that time was still the Prussian Empire. His family, especially his father, were Francophiles, admirers of the ideas of the French Revolution and the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Marx learned French in school, he not only spoke our language, he also read and wrote it perfectly.  As proof, in 1845/46 he wrote directly in French his pamphlet “The Poverty of Philosophy.”  His command of the language allowed him to access publications in French; it is known is that of the nearly 500 works contained in his library in France, half were in the French language and a quarter of those books were on French subjects. It is also known that Marx, dissatisfied with the French translation of the first volume of Capital (1872), did not limit himself to correcting it, but rewrote the document to make it easier for French readers to read it.

The knowledge of our language also allowed him to participate in the political life of the capital, to meet with the different existing workers groups and, specifically, to contact the leaders of the League of the Just1, and different secret workers’ associations. He frequented the circles of socialist workers and their meetings, of which Anthony Burlaud said, he “has made an admiring frame in the manuscripts of 1844”. (See our sources).

Marx’s longest stay in France lasted from the autumn of 1843 to January 1845. He returned several times for short periods, but he was always closely linked to our country, to the extent that his daughters, specifically Laura and Jenny, married French socialist militants2.

When Marx arrived in Paris, expelled, like many other dissidents, by the Prussian political police, he was 25 years old. That is, a young man who fell into “the great magic pot in which the history of the world is boiling.” That year was for Marx, an experience of exceptional intensity. In France ,socialism was in formation, a socialism still full of idealism and religiosity. Different currents were mixed: the utopians, the anarchists, the neo-Jacobin current … Currents with their bosses: Fourrier, Blanqui, Bakunin, Proudhon. As Engels would say, it was in Paris that socialism and communism could best be studied. It was also in France that the nascent working class was particularly politically mobilized; after the revolution of 1789, that class continued the struggle to impose its class interests, distinct from those of the bourgeoisie; in 1830, after the insurrection of May of 39;3 during the days of February and June of 1848, and then in March of 1871, the seizure of power and the establishment of the Paris Commune.

Marx in France and then in Brussels and London, followed events closely; linked and in close relationship with the chief actors of the movement. During his stay in Paris he completed his training as a materialist philosopher with that of historian and economist; during those years and the following ones he will build his theory of dialectical and historical materialism. His first stay in Paris was, as A. Cornu4 writes, “a decisive turn in the development of his thought and action”

We also know that it was during his first stay in Paris, precisely in September 1844, that he met Engels. They spent ten days together5 that will mark the beginning of a friendship and an intellectual collaboration which only the death of Marx would end.

Upon his arrival in France, Marx engaged in the study of the French Revolution through the writings of distinguished historians (specifically Guizot and Thierry — quoted by Marx); historians who told the history of the Third Estate since the Middle Ages and demonstrated that the history of France was a continuous class struggle.6  Marx intended to write a history of the Convention7 for which he accumulated a huge amount of documentation and numerous notes; but that work did not come to light; However, he will use a good part of these preparatory works in his work The Holy Family.8

In Paris, Marx met Proudhon, who at that time exercised a notable influence on the labor movement. Marx explains that he spent hours and nights arguing with him to make him understand Hegel’s philosophy. Marx admired the work of Proudhon entitled What is Property? in which he saw the first scientific examination of the modern proletariat; however, soon he raised a contradiction with the doctrine of Proudhon, and when he sent his book Philosophy of Poverty, Marx answered directly in French with the work The Poverty of Philosophy (1846), which dismantled the petty-bourgeois theories of Proudhon. The project of Marx and Ruge to create in Paris the Franco-German Annals to “work on the approximation of German thought and French praxis”, does not come together for various reasons (particularly the disagreements between Marx and Ruge9), and only he published a single number of the proposed journal. But in Paris, the capital of political exiles, there were a lot of German political refugees, many of them militants (liberals, republicans, and also socialists). From the beginning of the 1840s, a magazine Vorwärts was published in Paris twice a week, to which Marx collaborated. In June 1844, he wrote an article about the rebellion of the weavers of Silesia.10 The Prussian government pressed hard on the French government to, if not prohibit the magazine, to at least expel those of its collaborators that they considered especially dangerous. Marx was one of those to whom the decree of expulsion was applied. He was forced to leave Paris.

Marx’s Works on France

If Marx was forced to leave Paris (he first went to Brussels, then to London) he did not stop following the events there.  He wrote three works on the political situation in France and the struggle of the French working class.

* The Class Struggles in France (1848-1850), which Engels will say in his extensive prologue of 1895, “was the first attempt by Marx to explain a fragment of contemporary history through his materialist conception, starting from the existing economic situation “, he further adds that for the first time the thesis is formulated in this text by which modern workers’ socialism is distinguished from the various other tendencies, and cites the text:

“. . . But behind the right to work is power over capital, and behind power over capital, the appropriation of the means of production, its submission to the associated working class, and therefore the abolition of both wage labor and capital and their mutual relations.”

* The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) This work revisits the plot of the previous book (Class Struggles in France) and expands on it, but also introduces a new idea, the need to suppress the state apparatus and its army of officials. In this work that Marx published the day after the coup d’état, he exposes the nature and class function of Bonapartism.

* The Civil War in France (1871), undoubtedly the best known and most read of these three works, is an analysis of the Paris Commune. The analysis of the experience of the first seizure of power by the working class leads Marx to formulate the need to destroy the machine of the bourgeois State and to replace it with a new State.11

Obviously these three works of Marx, although based on the history of France between 1848 and 1871, are of an extent that far exceeds our borders. Translated in all languages, they are classics of Marxism and each of them has contributed to the elaboration of dialectical and historical materialism applied to the study of moments in the history of France.

The Penetration of Marxism into the French Labor Movement

According to different studies on Marx and France, it is clear that the work of Marx, his ideas, took some time to gain influence in the French labor movement. As we have seen previously, in the workers’ movement there were different currents of socialism whose theorists of social revolution dominated the Parisian political scene:  Proudhon, Babeuf, Luis Blanc, Blanqui, Fourrier, among others.

Only with the Commune and the Directive of the International drafted by Marx did Marxism, at last, receive a certain recognition. In Marx’s and Engels’ fight within the First International against the ideas of Proudhom, Fourrier and Bakunin, they gained support from French labor militants such as Leo Fränkel and Eugène Varlin, who communicated with Marx during the Commune and ask him to advise them. Eduardo Vaillant and Charles Longuet were “Marxists” and members of the General Council of the International Workers’ Association (AIT). In 1880 Marx went to meet Jules Guesde and wrote the theoretical part of the socialist program of the Workers Party (PO).

It is in the 1880s, during the last ten years of Engels’ life, when Marxism truly entered the French labor movement, in particular the work of the Guesdist group  (Guesde, Lafarge and Deville), thanks to the translation of the works of Marx, tasks to which Paul and Laura Lafargue and Louis Longuet were dedicated.12

As we have just demonstrated, Marx maintained close relations with the French labor movement. Paris in the 1840s was a training ground for the young Marx. His knowledge, his hard work, his extraordinary intelligence, made him take advantage of his Parisian stay and establish ties that he continued to maintain with France in the following years. In his text on Marx, Lenin writes: “Marx is the brilliant continuator and consummator of the three great intellectual currents of the nineteenth century . . . classical German philosophy, classical English political economy and French socialism, linked to French revolutionary ideas in general.”13

Knowledge of Marx’s life and work confirms that it was formed closely linked to the practice of the labor movement. That gives it its strength and vitality. And this requires us to know him better, to study his works depth, clearly those devoted to the history of France; and above all we must strive to assimilate his method, dialectical and historical materialism, and use it to analyze the reality that we must transform. It is indispensable to make our theory, Marxism-Leninism, a guide for action, a weapon for the revolutionary struggle of today.

Workers Communist Party of France

August 2018


* The different prologues of Engels to Marx’s work on France.

* Lenin (Brief biographical note with an exposition of Marxism) Selected Works Three Volumes.

* Frans Mehring, Karl Marx, histoire de sa vie. Social Ed. 1983

* Prologue by Henry Mougin, to the edition of The Poverty of Philosophy. Social Ed 1972

* Prologue of “The work of Marx, unites passion française” (La Découverte, 2018, of which Antony Burlaud is with Jean-Numa Ducange, is coordinator. An excerpt from this prologue was published as an article in Le Monde Diplomatique, May, 2018

* Two courses of Jacqueline Mome (philosopher): Marx, thinker of History.  On “The Civil War in France” (Marx, 1871) The Case of “18 Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” (May 16, 2007, published on the site:   http // Pierre.campion2. free / ressources.Htme


  1. A clandestine working-class organization that brought together mainly German exiles, which quickly took on an internationalist character, later transformed by contact with the ideas of Marx, in the League of Communists, ancestor of the First International. (Some words on the history of the League of Communists, Engels, October 1885)
  2. The three daughters of Marx, joined French socialist militants (Lafargue, Longuet and Lissagaray). Laura married Paul Lafargue in 1868, and spread Marxism, particularly in France and Spain. Jenny, eldest daughter (1844-1883, socialist militant was married to the commune Charles Longuet, his son was the French socialist leader Jean Longuet Eleonora, the youngest and very linked to Marx, linked some time with Lissagaray, translated into English his History of the Commune, later joined an English socialist activist.At the death of Marx, was the executor testamentary, along with Engels, of his work.
  3. On May 12, 1839, the republican secret society “Les Saisons”, whose activists were Martin Bernard, Armand Barbés and Augusto Blanqui, launched an insurrectionary operation. They took some hundreds of their followers to the assault of the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris. The operation failed crushed by the National Guard. The leaders were arrested.
  4. Work of A. Cornu «Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. His life and his work. “T.3 Marx in Paris, (Puif-1962), cited by A. Burlaud.
  5. The film by Raoul Peck (2016) «The young Marx», tells concretely this decisive episode for the life and the thought of those two men.
  6. Marx will recognize that it was not he who launched the concept of “class struggle” as the engine of history.
  7. The Convention is the Assembly (elected by universal male suffrage during the summer of 1792) that led the French Republic from September 21, 1792 to October 26, 1795.
  8. First work written in collaboration with Engels to combat Bauer’s thesis (1845)
  9. Arnold Ruge (1802-1880), German political thinker of the Hegelian left. Some time close to Marx, he more quickly distanced himself and evolved differently.
  10. On June 4, 1844, the weavers of Peterswaldau and Langenbielau, threw themselves against the factories. It was about 5,000 that after breaking the machines in which despite their work did not escape from hunger, they threw themselves against the elegant buildings of the owners of the factories, looted and destroyed
  11. See our prologue to the reissue for the Editions In Avant, of this major work of Marx (September 2018)
  12. The Guesdists, under Marxist influence, meet in Roanne in September 1882 and create the Workers Party (PO). Read about our article in the special issue of the magazine on the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution (Nov. 2017. Page 58)
  13. Lenin: “Karl Marx,” Selected Works in Three Volumes. Foreign Language Editions, Moscow. Spanish edition, page 28

Categories: Dialectics, France, History, International, Revolutionary History, Theory, World History

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