Marx, contrary to his previous aloofness from organizations that
were not fully committed to his own view, sensed the importance
of this gathering and resolved not only to join it but to become
its directing genius. German artisans residing in London made him
their representative, and soon after the first meeting, Marx took
full command. The Inaugural Address of the International, which
Marx composed and which was adopted by the organization, is a historic
document hardly less important in the Marxist canon than The Communist
Manifesto penned fifteen years earlier.
During the next ten years of his life, Marx devoted a major part
of his energies to the affairs of the International. He fought for
his theoretical orientation against middle-class reformers and Bakuninist
anarchists alike; he waged a continuous battle with the disciples
of Blanqui and Proudhon in France and with the Lassalleans in Germany.
Throughout these years he strove to make what had started as a loose
alliance with divergent ideologies into a united movement informed
by that one revolutionary ideology which he had forged in the many
years of loneliness and isolation during his British exile.
The International soon became a powerful movement, inspiring fear
in the defenders of the status quo. Branches of the International
were formed in all the principal countries of Europe. From then
on, Marx, as head of the General Council of the International, was
in effective control of the movement and insisted on rigid adherence
to the line he had set down. The specter of Communism that Marx
had seen haunting Europe in 1847 seemed much more real to the men
of power of the late sixties than it had been twenty years earlier.
The obscure scholar from the British Museum suddenly became an object
of choice attention for the various intelligence services that combed
the world of London revolutionaries for information about subversive
When the first volume of Das Kapital was published in 1867, Marx
was already in the limelight as the leader of the International.
Although the book did not attract as much immediate attention as
he had no doubt expected, it soon gained an audience, particularly
among Continental socialists. In England there was only one critical
review, which amusingly remarked that "the presentation of
the subject invests the driest economic questions with certain peculiar
charm;" but on the Continent there was a more understanding
reaction. A number of Marx's friends propagandized it strongly,
and some of his old German associates sent him praise. In Russia,
in particular, reviews were very favorable and more searching than
anywhere else. Generally, quite apart from its scientific merits,
the book was widely read by members of the International. Marx's
previous books had been neglected even in German speaking countries.
The first volume of Das Kapital was translated into Russian, French,
English, and Italian within ten years of its publication.
In the late sixties, Marx, as head of the International and author
of a book that sought to lay bare "the economic law of motion
of modern society," must have felt that he had finally achieved
the union of socialist theory and revolutionary practice that he
had aimed for ever since 1847. He had provided the intellectual
foundation for a socialist movement over which he exercised full
organizational control. Yet that dream was soon shattered.
Ironically, the Paris Commune of 1871, the first instance of the
working class achieving power for itself and thus seemingly vindicating
Marx's vision, also proved the undoing of the International. although
the Paris Commune was dominated by Proudhonians and latter-day Jacobins
rather than by Marxists, Marx had risen to its defense in an eloquent
address published under the title, The Civil War in France. But
soon after the Commune was drowned in blood, the latent dissensions
in the ranks of the International came to a head. The English trade
unionists grew frightened; they feared to be associated in the mind
of peaceful British workers with the "red terrorists of Paris."
The French movement was shattered, and its exiled leaders, as is
the wont of emigre politicians, fell to quarreling among themselves.
Followers of Bakunin now attempted to grasp the opportunity to wrest
control from Marx. In order to insure his continued domination of
the International, Marx managed to have its seat transferred to
the United States where his followers were in full control. This
proved to be the fatal blow. The International finally expired in
Philadelphia in 1876.
In the few years that remained, Marx, wrecked by illness, produced
no major work. When his followers and those of Lasselle united in
1875 to form a united socialist party at a congress in Gotha, he
wrote a series of marginal and highly critical notes on its program
in which he formulated for the last time his conception of the theory
and practice that should guide the socialist movement. This Critique
of the Gotha Program, published after his death, was his last major
Toward the end of his life Marx finally achieved a measure of comfortable
living. Engels, by now quite prosperous, settled an annuity on him,
enabling him to spend his last few years in relative ease. He had
become a famous man, and socialists from all over Europe consulted
him by letter or in person. Russian radicals in particular--to the
astonishment of Marx who for thirty years had attacked Russia as
the charnel house of Europe--now flocked to him and asked for his
advice. In addition, the young leaders of the now united German
Social Democratic movement--Bebel, Bernstein and Kautsky--visited
him and consulted him on all important issues. The German movement
flourished, and one of the leaders of the revived French movement,
Jules Guesde, consulted Marx on the program to be adopted. Slowly,
the Bakuninist influence was pushed back by Marxist leaders in Italy
and Switzerland, with whom Marx also carried on a long correspondence.
A revered figure in the growing socialist movement, Marx had finally
found an audience and a satisfying role. But his creative powers
were diminished. He still read voraciously; he even taught himself
new languages such as Russian and Turkish, but, to Engels' despair,
he wrote less and less, and more obscurely than ever.
In 1881, his wife died of cancer. A year later his eldest daughter,
the wife of the French socialist leader Jean Longuet, also died.
Marx never recovered from these blows. He died in an armchair in
his study on March 14, 1883. Only a few friends and socialist representatives
from abroad accompanied the casket to Highgate cemetery. His death
was hardly noticed by the general public.