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Lot #4022
Karl Marx Autograph Letter Signed on the French Edition of Das Kapital: "The revolutionary spirit of the book is revealed only gradually"

Rare and important handwritten letter by Karl Marx on the French edition of Das Kapital: "The revolutionary spirit of the book is revealed only gradually"

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Rare and important handwritten letter by Karl Marx on the French edition of Das Kapital: "The revolutionary spirit of the book is revealed only gradually"

Rare and important ALS in French, signed "Karl Marx," three pages on two adjoining sheets, 5 x 8.25, March 7, 1872. Handwritten letter to the publisher Maurice Lachâtre, on the subject of the French edition of Das Kapital. Marx opens by noting that on receipt of his correspondent's "too flattering letter" he immediately wrote to his translator, asking him "to send the manuscript to Paris." He goes on to make reference to a projected biography: "As for the biography, you will oblige me by not insisting on its immediate publication. My friend F. Engels, who will provide details to Lafargue [Marx's son-in-law, Paul Lafargue], is at the moment too overworked to deal with it. In my opinion, we should not waste time, and nothing prevents us from publishing the biography later."

Returning to Das Kapital, Marx writes, "I completely agree with you that no communication should be made to newspapers regarding the French translation. With the Russian edition we took the same precautions, and unfortunately France is now under a 'Russian' regime." He then asks that it be clarified "in the first issue that the translation is made from the manuscript of the second German edition, which will not begin publication for a few weeks." Marx goes on to emphasize the originality of his work: "I hope the book does not bring you further persecution. The method is quite different from that applied by the French socialists and others."

"I do not take general ideas like 'equality' etc. as my point of departure, but I begin, on the contrary, with the objective analysis of economic relations as they are, and that is why the revolutionary spirit of the book is revealed only gradually. What I fear, on the contrary, is that the aridity of the first analyses will put off the French reader. Nevertheless, there are in the first chapters some anti-religious jokes which could hurt the devotees of the rural republic." In a postscript, Marx reminds his correspondent that their agreement entitles him to a payment of 2000 francs in fifteen days' time. In fine condition, with minor edge chipping and a short split to the bottom of the hinge.

In 1872, Lachâtre published the first book of Marx's Das Kapital in French—Le Capital, translated by Joseph Roy but edited by Marx himself. In his publishing agreement, Marx demanded that 'the edition of his book be expressly in a form and at a price that make the work accessible to the smallest purses.' The work proved to be the foundational text for Marxism, exploring the exploitative nature of the capitalist mode of production and the resultant struggle between social classes. Marx drew heavily from the French socialist thinkers—Claude Henri St. Simon and Charles Fourier in particular—in his studies of the political economy, making a French translation a natural fit. And, as he was fluent in French, Marx was able to edit and revise it himself.

In the end, Marx complained that Roy often translated too literally, but 'whatever the literary defects of the French edition, it possesses a scientific value independent of the original and should be consulted even by readers familiar with German.' Marx's letters are incredibly scarce, and as this example is associated with the publication of his most important work, it is of the utmost desirability.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Remarkable Rarities
  • Dates: #707 - Ended February 22, 2024

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