Karl Marx
Original publication: marxists.org

Karl Marx interviewed by the Chicago Tribune (1879)

27 minutes | English | Interviews Marx & Engels

In 1879 Karl Marx was interviewed in his London home by a correspondent of that most Republican of American newspapers, the Chicago Tribune. For many years the Tribune had been hysterically blasting both Socialism and the emerging Trade Unions (considered to be identical), and each article invariably characterized Marx as the mastermind of world conspiracy.

In 1972 it was reproduced by The American Institute for Marxist Studies with several notes added by Thomas W. Porter of Northern Illinois University. [1] Porter explains that according to the Research Division of the Tribune there is no clue as to the identity of the correspondent “H”, and that there’s only speculation about why Marx, who generally avoided interviews and preferred to write full statements, ceded to this right-wing paper in particular.

I’ve segmented the document into “H”’s skeptical yet interesting description of Marx, the 12-point program as presented in their discussion, and then the interview proper (reformatted in a modern style). I also added a few footnotes covering definitions, and reduced some others.
 — R. D.


Description of Doctor Marx

The Doctor was found in his library, with a book in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He must be over seventy years of age. [2] His physique is well knit, massive, erect. He has the head of a man of intellect, and the features of a cultivated Jew. His hair and beard are long, and iron-gray in color. His eyes are glittering black, shaded by a pair of bushy eyebrows. To a stranger he shows extreme caution. A foreigner can generally gain admission; but the ancient-looking German woman [Helene Demuth] who waits upon visitors has instructions to admit none who hail from the Fatherland, unless they bring letters of introduction. Once into his library, however, and having fixed his one eyeglass in the corner of his eye, in order to take your intellectual breadth and depth, so to speak, he loses that self-restraint, and unfolds to you a knowledge of men and things throughout the world apt to interest one. And his conversation does not run in one groove, but is as varied as are the volumes upon his library shelves. A man can generally be judged by the books he reads, and you can form your own conclusions when I tell you a casual glance revealed Shakespeare, Dickens, Thackeray, Moliere, Racine, Montaigne, Bacon, Goethe, Voltaire, Paine; English, American, French blue books; works political and philosophical in Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, etc., etc. During my conversation I was struck with his intimacy with American questions which have been uppermost during the past twenty years. His knowledge of them, and the surprising accuracy with which he criticized our national and state legislation, impressed upon my mind the fact that he must have derived his information from inside sources. [3] But, indeed, this knowledge is not confined to America, but is spread over the face of Europe. When speaking of his hobby — socialism — he does not indulge in those melodramatic flights generally attributed to him, but dwells upon his utopian plans for “the emancipation of the human race” with a gravity and an earnestness indicating a firm conviction in the realization of his theories, if not in this century, at least in the next.

Davis vs. Marx on The Gotha Programme

During my visit to Dr. Marx, I alluded to the platform given by J. C. Bancroft Davis in his official report of 1877 as the clearest and most concise exposition of socialism that I had seen. [4] He said it was taken from the report of the socialist reunion at Gotha, Germany, in May, 1875. [5] The translation was incorrect, he said, and he volunteered corrections which I append as he dictated:

  1. Universal, direct, and secret suffrage for all males over twenty years, for all elections, municipal and state.
  2. Direct legislation by the people. [6] War and peace to be made by direct popular vote.
  3. Universal obligation to militia duty. No standing army.
  4. Abolition of all special legislation regarding press laws and public meetings.
  5. Legal remedies free of expense. Legal proceedings to be conducted by the people.
  6. Education to be by the state — general, obligatory, and free. Freedom of science and religion. [7]
  7. All indirect taxes to be abolished. Money to be raised for state and municipal purposes by direct progressive income tax.
  8. Freedom of combination among the working classes.
  9. The legal day of labor for men to be defined. The work of women to be limited, and that of children to be abolished.
  10. Sanitary laws for the protection of life and health of laborers, and regulation of their dwelling and places of labor, to be enforced by persons selected by them.
  11. Suitable provision respecting prison labor.

In Mr. Bancroft Davis’ report there is a twelfth clause, the most important of all, which reads: “State aid and credit for industrial societies, under democratic direction.” [8] [9] I asked the Doctor why he omitted this.


Marx: When the reunion took place at Gotha, in 1875, there existed a division among the Social Democrats. The one wing were partisans of Lassalle, the others those who had accepted in general the program of the International organization, and were called the Eisenach party. The twelfth point was not placed on the platform, but placed in the general introduction by way of concession to the Lassallians. Afterwards it was never spoken of. Mr. Davis does not say that is was placed in the program as a compromise having no particular significance, but gravely puts it in as one of the cardinal principles of the program.

Interviewer: But, socialists generally look upon the transformation of the means of labor into the common property of society as the grand climax of the movement.

Marx: Yes; we say that this will be the outcome of the movement, but it will be a question of time, of education, and the institution of higher social status.

Interviewer: This platform applies only to Germany and one or two other countries.

Marx: Ah! If you draw your conclusions from nothing but this, you know nothing of the activity of the party. Many of its points have no significance outside of Germany. Spain, Russia, England, and America have platforms suited to their peculiar difficulties. The only similarity in them is the end to be attained.

Interviewer: And that is the supremacy of labor?

Marx: That is the emancipation of labor.

Interviewer: Do European socialists look upon the movement in America as a serious one?

Marx: Yes: it is the natural outcome of the country’s development. It has been said that the movement has been imported by foreigners. When labor movements became disagreeable in England, fifty years ago, the same thing was said; and that was long before socialism was spoken of. In America, since 1857 only has the labor movement become conspicuous. [10] Then trade unions began to flourish; then trades assemblies were formed, in which the workers in different industries united; and after that came national labor unions. If you consider this chronological progress, you will see that socialism has sprung up in that country without the aid of foreigners, and was merely caused by the concentration of capital and the changed relations between the workmen and employers.

Interviewer: What has socialism done so far?

Marx: Two things. Socialists have shown the general universal struggle between capital and labor — the cosmopolitan chapter, in one word — and consequently tried to bring about an understanding between the workmen in the different countries, which became more necessary as the capitalists became more cosmopolitan in hiring labor, pitting foreign against native labor not only in America, but in England, France, and Germany. International relations sprang up at once between workingmen in the three different countries, showing that socialism was not merely a local, but an international problem, to be solved by the international action of workmen. The working classes move spontaneously, without knowing what the ends of the movement will be. The socialists invent no movement, but merely tell the workmen what its character and its ends will be.

Interviewer: Which means the overthrowing of the present social system.

Marx: This system of land and capital in the hands of employers, on the one hand, and the mere working power in the hands of the laborers to sell a commodity, we claim is merely a historical phase, which will pass away and give place to a higher social condition.

We see everywhere a division of society. The antagonism of the two classes goes hand in hand with the development of the industrial resources of modern countries. From a socialistic standpoint the means already exist to revolutionize the present historical phase. Upon trade unions, in many countries, have been built political organizations. In America the need of an independent workingmen’s party has been made manifest. They can no longer trust politicians. Rings and cliques have seized upon the legislatures, and politics has been made a trade. But America is not alone in this, only its people are more decisive than Europeans. Things come to the surface quicker. There is less cant [11] and hypocrisy than there is on this side of the ocean.

Interviewer: (I asked him to give me a reason for the rapid growth of the socialistic party in Germany.)

Marx: The present socialistic party came last. Theirs was not the utopian scheme which made headway in France and England. The German mind is given to theorizing, more than that of other peoples. From previous experience the Germans evolved something practical. This modern capitalistic system, you must recollect, is quite new in Germany in comparison to other states. Questions were raised which had become almost antiquated in France and England, and political influences to which these states had yielded sprang into life when the working classes of Germany had become imbued with socialistic theories. Therefore, from the beginning almost of modern industrial development, they have formed an independent political party.

They had their own representatives in the German parliament. There was no party to oppose the policy of the government, and this devolved upon them. To trace the course of the party would take a long time; but I may say this: that, if the middle classes of Germany were not the greatest cowards, distinct from the middle classes of America and England, all the political work against the government should have been done by them.

Interviewer: (I asked him a question regarding the numerical strength of the Lassallians in the ranks of the Internationalists.)

Marx: The party of Lassalle does not exist. Of course there are some believers in our ranks, but the number is small. Lassalle anticipated our general principles. When he commenced to move after the reaction of 1848, he fancied that he could more successfully revive the movement by advocating cooperation of the workingmen in industrial enterprises. It was to stir them into activity. He looked upon this merely as a means to the real end of the movement. I have letters from him to this effect. [12]

Interviewer: You would call it his nostrum? [13]

Marx: Exactly. He called upon Bismarck, told him what he designed, and Bismarck encouraged Lassalle’s course at that time in every possible way.

Interviewer: What was his object?

Marx: He wished to use the working classes as a set-off against the middle classes who instigated the troubles of 1848.

Interviewer: It is said that you are the head and front of socialism, Doctor, and from your villa here pull the wires of all the associations, revolutions, etc., now going on. What do you say about it?

Marx: (The old gentleman smiled.) I know it.

It is very absurd, yet it has a comic side. For two months previous to the attempt of Hoedel, Bismarck complained in his North German Gazette that I was in league with Father Beck, the leader of the Jesuit movement, and that we were keeping the socialist movement in such a condition that he could do nothing with it.

Interviewer: But your International Society in London directs the movement?

Marx: The International Society has outlived its usefulness and exists no longer. [14] It did exist and direct the movement; but the growth of socialism of late years has been so great that its existence has become unnecessary. Newspapers have been started in the various countries. These are interchanged. That is about the only connection the parties in the different countries have with one another. The International Society, in the first instance, was created to bring the workmen together, and show the advisability of effecting organization among their various nationalities. The interests of each party in the different countries have no similarity. This specter of the Internationalist leaders sitting at London is a mere invention. It is true that we dictated to foreign societies when the Internationalist organization was first accomplished. We were forced to exclude some sections in New York, among them one in which Madam Woodhull was conspicuous. [15] That was in 1871. There are several American politicians — I will not name them — who wish to trade in the movement. They are well known to American socialists.

Interviewer: You and your followers, Dr. Marx, have been credited with all sorts of incendiary speeches against religion. Of course you would like to see the whole system destroyed, root and branch.

Marx: (After a moment’s hesitation.) We know that violent measures against religion are nonsense; but this is an opinion: as socialism grows, religion will disappear.

Its disappearance must be done by social development, in which education must play a part.

Interviewer: The Reverend Joseph Cook, [16] of Boston — you know him —

Marx: We have heard of him, a very badly informed man upon the subject of socialism.

Interviewer: In a lecture lately upon the subject, he said,

Karl Marx is credited now with saying that, in the United States, and in Great Britain, and perhaps in France, a reform of labor will occur without bloody revolution, but that blood must be shed in Germany, and in Russia, and in Italy, and in Austria.

Marx: (Smiling.) No socialist need predict that there will be a bloody revolution in Russia, Germany, Austria, and possibly Italy if the Italians keep on in the policy they are now pursuing. The deeds of the French Revolution may be enacted again in those countries. That is apparent to any political student. But those revolutions will be made by the majority. No revolution can be made by a party, but by a Nation.

Interviewer: The reverend gentleman alluded to gave an extract from a letter which he said you addressed to the Communists of Paris in 1871. Here it is:

We are as yet but 3,000,000 at most. In twenty years we shall be 50,000,000 — 100,000,000 perhaps. Then the world will belong to us, for it will be not only Paris, Lyon, Marseilles, which will rise against odious capital, but Berlin, Munich, Dresden, London, Liverpool, Manchester, Brussels, St. Petersburg, New York — in short, the whole world. And before this new insurrection, such as history has not yet known, the past will disappear like a hideous nightmare; for the popular conflagration, kindled at a hundred points at once, will destroy even its memory!

Now, Doctor, I suppose you admit the authorship of that extract?

Marx: I never wrote a word of it. I never write such melodramatic nonsense.

I am very careful what I do write. That was put in Le Figaro, over my signature, about that time. There were hundreds of the same kind of letters flying about them. I wrote to the London Times and declared they were forgeries; but if I denied everything that has been said and written of me, I would require a score of secretaries.

Interviewer: But you have written in sympathy with the Paris Communists?

Marx: Certainly I have, in consideration of what was written of them in leading articles; but the correspondence from Paris in English papers is quite sufficient to refute the blunders propagated in editorials. The Commune killed only about sixty people; Marshal MacMahon and his slaughtering army killed over 60,000. There has never been a movement so slandered as that of the Commune.

Interviewer: Well, then, to carry out the principles of socialism do its believers advocate assassination and bloodshed?

Marx: No great movement has ever been inaugurated without bloodshed.

The independence of America was won by bloodshed, Napoleon captured France through a bloody process, and he was overthrown by the same means. Italy, England, Germany, and every other country gives proof of this, and as for assassination, it is not a new thing, I need scarcely say. Orsini tried to kill Napoleon; kings have killed more than anybody else; the Jesuits have killed; the Puritans killed at the time of Cromwell. These deeds were all done or attempted before socialism was born. Every attempt, however, now made upon a royal or state individual is attributed to socialism. The socialists would regret very much the death of the German Emperor at the present time. He is very useful where he is; and Bismarck has done more for the cause than any other statesman, by driving things to extremes.

Interviewer: (I asked Dr. Marx what he thought of Bismarck.)

Marx: Napoleon was considered a genius until he fell; then he was called a fool. Bismarck will follow in his wake. He began by building up a despotism under the plea of unification, his course has been plain to all. The last move is but an attempted imitation of a coup d’etat; but it will fail. The socialists of Germany, as of France, protested against the war of 1870 as merely dynastic. They issued manifestoes foretelling the German people, if they allowed the pretended war of defense to be turned into a war of conquest, they would be punished by the establishment of military despotism and the ruthless oppression of the productive masses. The Social-Democratic party in Germany, thereupon holding meetings and publishing manifestoes for an honorable peace with France, were at once prosecuted by the Prussian Government, and many of the leaders imprisoned. Still their deputies alone dared to protest, and very vigorously too, in the German Reichstag, against the forcible annexation of French provinces. However, Bismarck carried his policy by force, and people spoke of the genius of a Bismarck. The war was fought, and when he could make no conquests, he was called upon for original ideas, and he has signally failed. The people began to lose faith in him. His popularity was on the wane. He needs money, and the state needs it. Under a sham constitution he has taxed the people for his military and unification plans until he can tax them no longer, and now he seeks to do it with no constitution at all. For the purpose of levying as he chooses, he has raised the ghost of socialism, and has done everything in his power to create an émeute[17]

Interviewer: You have continual advice from Berlin?

Marx: Yes, my friends keep me well advised. It is in a perfectly quiet state, and Bismarck is disappointed. He has expelled forty-eight prominent men — among them Deputies Hasselman and Fritsche and Rackow, Bauman, and Adler, of the Freie Presse[18] These men kept the workmen of Berlin quiet. Bismarck knew this. He also knew that there were 75,000 workmen in that city upon the verge of starvation. Once those leaders were gone, he was confident that the mob would rise, and that would be the cue for a carnival of slaughter. The screws would then be put upon the whole German Empire; his petty theory of blood and iron would then have full sway, and taxation could be levied to any extent. So far no émeute has occurred, and he stands today confounded at the situation and the ridicule of all statesmen.

[1] Thomas W. Porter, “Introduction and Notes for Interview with Karl Marx in 1879” (1972). [web] 

[2] Marx was 61 years old, having been born in Trier on May 5, 1818. 

[3] Marx had a wide circle of friends in the United States and he corresponded regularly with many of them. F. A. Sorge, former Secretary General of the International, and G. J. Harney, the former Chartist leader, were particularly helpful concerning American affairs. because they sent government documents and legal texts to Marx. He also received official documents from Carroll D. Wright, Chief of the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics. Marx required such material because of his work on volume two of Capital. See Letters: Marx to Sorge, October 19, 1877 and September 19, 1879; also, Marx to Engels, August 25, 1879. 

[4] John Chandler Bancroft Davis was the American Ambassador in Berlin from 1874 to 1877. A discussion of German Socialism was part of his official report of February 10, 1877 to Secretary of State Hamilton Fish. The report can be found in: United States State Department, Papers relating to Foreign Relations of the United States, Washington, 1877, #111, pp. 175-180. 

[5] The Programme of the Socialist Workers’ Part of Germany was drafted early in 1875 and criticised by Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme on May 5th. The Programme was adopted by a Unity Congress of the Eisenacher and Lassalean Parties at Gotha on May 25, 1875. It consisted of a preamble in three sections plus a set of Socialist demands in two parts. Part A included six demands for the “foundation of the State”; Part B listed eight articles to be realized “within existing society.” It is these 14 demands which Marx has summarized. 

[6] This sentence included the words “with the right of initiating proposals and veto.” 

[7] In its final edition the words “Freedom of Conscience” in article six were replaced by the “Declaration that religion is a private matter.” In his Critique Marx said that “the workers’ Party ought to have expressed its consciousness of the fact that bourgeois ‘freedom of conscience’ is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds of religious freedom of conscience, and that for its part it endeavors rather to liberate the conscience from the spectre of religion. But there is a desire not to transgress the ‘bourgeois’ level.” 

[8] Ambassador Davis’ report does error by including a twelfth clause which reads, “State aid and credit for industrial societies under democratic direction.” Davis then went on to cite the reason for his inclusion of this as a clause rather than as part of the preamble. “In a speech made in the Reichstag on February, 1875, Count Eulenburg, the minister of the Interior, stated the latter point much stronger. He said that the Socialists demand the transfer of the means of labor to the ownership of the state, and the application and distribution of the results of labor to be regulated by societies for the common good.” 

[9] Another demand was included in the original programme but is missing above. It asks for “full self-government for all workers’ aid and friendly societies.” Andréas’ article, in trying to be closer to the original programme, changes the wording of the interview and lists 13 demands rather than 11. 

[10] The discovery of gold in California and an increase in railroad construction combined in 1850-51 to produce a sharp inflation of living costs. 

[11] cant: To talk or beg in a whining or singsong manner. 

[12] The correspondence between Marx and Lassalle ends in 1862. In those letters known to exist the tactics ascribed to Lassalle above are not evident. 

[13] In his Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx called this quack cure-all of co-operation “the remedy of the Prophet.” 

[14] The Hague Congress of September, 1872 was the last full meeting of the First International. The Congress focused on a struggle over the power of the General Council. Marxists fought to hold the organization together while Bakunists wished to decentralize. This struggle showed the symptom of disintegration which would dissolve the International national as a coherent body by 1876. An anarchist element however struggled on until 1881. 

[15] Victoria Woodhull (1838-1927) was a bourgeois American feminist, business woman, and radical faddist. Backed by Cornelius Vanderbilt she ran a brokerage firm, and a newspaper — Woodhull and Claflin’s Weekly. In 1871 she attempted to seize leadership of the North American Federation of the International through her control of section 12 in New York. Section 12 was finally expelled from the International by the General Council as part of the struggle over Anarchism at the Hague Congress in May, 1872. Marx described her as “a banker’s woman, free-lover, and general humbug” in May 1872, Documents of the 1st International (Moscow, 1964), V, 323. 

[16] Joseph Cook (1838-1901) was a professional lecturer and evangelist. He held the Boston Monday Lectureship, begun in 1874, for nearly twenty years while also touring the United States and the world. Cook spoke on every conceivable topic concerning Religion and Science. His goal was to demonstrate that Christianity, including the Bible, is in complete harmony with modern scholarship. Cook’s lectures quickly became so popular with a broad middle class audience, who considered him an expert on labor and socialism, that they were republished in newspapers across the country. See: Boston Monday Lectures, 11 volumes. Houghton, Osgood, & Co., Boston, 1877-1888. 

[17] émeute: A seditious commotion; a riot; a tumult; an outbreak. 

[18] The actual number, according to August Bebel, was 67. Either Marx or the correspondent had confused the two numbers.