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Response to Review of Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life

I would like to thank Diana Siclovan for her thoughtful and eminently sensible review of my biography of Karl Marx. She portrays the content and the approach of the book very precisely; her favorable comments about it are naturally welcome to me, but even her critical remarks are certainly justified. There are two points brought up in her review about which I would like to make a few observations.

One concerns the vexed issue of the paternity of Freddy Demuth. Siclovan seems to think that it is all a matter of political opinion, with little certain evidence, just one document of dubious provenance. Pro-Marx authors reject the idea Marx got the family maid pregnant; anti-Marx authors embrace the notion. Since the end of the Soviet Union, however, new evidence has come to light, first gathered during the 1920s by David Ryazanov, the editor of the abortive first edition of Marx’s and Engels’s collected works. Stalin had Ryazanov arrested and shot during the Great Purges and his information remained in secret archives until the 1990s.  Ryazanov had collected a letter sent by Freddy Demuth to Marx’s daughter Laura, at the beginning of the 20th century, showing that Demuth himself knew Marx was his father. There was also a letter to Ryazanov by Clara Zetkin, the leading feminist in the pre-1914 German social democratic movement and one of the founders of the German Communist Party. Her letter demonstrates that Marx’s paternity of Freddy Demuth was well known to leaders of the Social Democratic Party by the end of the 1890s. These documents were found by Heinrich Gemkow and Rolf Hecker, two former East German Marxist-Leninists, and hardly anti-Marx authors. So, I would have to say that it is not just a matter of political prejudice or dubious documents; the weight of evidence is on the side of Marx’s paternity.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, Siclovan finds chapter 11, ‘The economist’, and chapter 12, ‘The private man’, rather inferior in quality to the other parts of the book. Let me just explain what I was trying to do in those two chapters. In ‘The economist’, I attempted to present a brief outline of Capital, showing Marx’s Hegelian form of economic reasoning, the way he took up the ideas of the classical economists and the key dilemmas that remained for him after the publication of volume one in 1867 – particularly the question of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the so-called ‘transformation problem’, that is, the transformation of surplus value, calculated in terms of labor time, into profit, calculated in terms of money. The chapter concludes by showing how Marx’s work, designed to be in the orthodox tradition of Smith, Ricardo, James and John Stuart Mill, only reached the public after new forms of economic reasoning, particularly the neo-classical marginal utility school had emerged, making Marx’s economics seem unorthodox, quite against Marx’s own intentions. In chapter 12, I was trying to place Marx’s life in the context of recent historical scholarship on the German and English middle class, and the growing interest in the history of gender – here, particularly of masculinity. I will leave it to readers to decide whether these chapters accomplish what they set out to do, or are, as Siclovan suggests, less successful than the rest of the book.