Socialism Art Nature

When I set out to write the life of Eleanor Marx in 2006 some friends worried that yet again I’d been seduced by an unfashionable and overly abstruse biographical subject. Either that, or they just said: “Who?” A Marx? The mother of socialist feminism? It didn’t sound catchy in our new century.

Yet Eleanor Marx is one of British history’s great heroes. Born in 1855 in a Soho garret to hard up German immigrant exiles, her arrival was initially a disappointment to her father. He wanted a boy. By her first birthday Eleanor had become his favourite. She was nicknamed Tussy, to rhyme, her parents said, with “pussy” not “fussy”. Cats she adored; fussy she wasn’t. She loved Shakespeare, Ibsen, both the Shelleys, good poetry, bad puns and champagne. She would be delighted to know that we can claim her as the first self-avowed champagne socialist.

 … Eleanor went out into the world to put into practice and to test what she’d learned from Marx and Engels. Her quest to go ahead; to live it, soon took her into new worlds: the cultural realms of radical modern theatre, the contemporary novel and the artistic circles of early bohemian Bloomsbury. She was a pioneer of Ibsenism in Britain. She translated Flaubert’s Madame Bovary into English for the first time. She took to the stage herself – with sometimes hilariously misdirected results. She was also her father’s first biographer.

Eleanor was born into a Britain that was not yet an electoral democracy. Working-class men, all women and the poor were prohibited from voting. But Eleanor’s life is one of the most significant and interesting events in the story of British socialism. Not since Mary Wollstonecraft had any individual made such a profound, revolutionary contribution to political thought – and action.


Well this is rather interesting. Though I have never seen it mentioned in any biography of Lucy Parsons anywhere, according to this article (see image and link below) from the Chicago Daily Tribune, dated 11 December 1888, Parsons had at least temporarily been engaged to marry Eduard Bernstein, the famous German socialist.

Though Parsons only mentions her “future husband’s” last name in the article (” … a gentleman named Bernstein … “), everything else checks out. Parsons had gone on a speaking tour in London in 1888 alongside Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, and William Morris, the British Marxist and friend of Frederick Engels. Bernstein had coincidentally also arrived in London that year, having been exiled from Germany, by way of Zurich, Switzerland. At this time, Bernstein was indeed editor of the Social Democrat — as indicated by Parsons in the article below — which was the leading newspaper of the German Social Democratic Party.

It seems quite likely that Parsons would have met Bernstein through William Morris, as the two men shared a common close friendship with Frederick Engels.

Among other things, I think this historical relationship is interesting because it would appear to buttress a theory of mine regarding Lucy Parsons. Namely, that her anarchism was more or less synonymous with socialism of the revolutionary, Marxist, variety. Or rather, at the very least, that she did not see a rigid bifurcation between her vision of anarchism and that of revolutionary socialism or Marxism.

In 1888, Bernstein was a leading figure within the German Social Democratic Party, a close friend of Engels, and was internationally recognized as an unambiguous advocate of orthodox Marxism. [It was not until the mid-to-late 1890s that Bernstein would advance a “revisionist” (essentially reformist) version of Marxism, which he called “evolutionary socialism.”]

Of course, I in no way want to advance the idea that any individual’s politics can be judged exclusively by that of their spouse, partner, lover, etc. Parsons I’m sure disagreed with Bernstein on many issues regarding the politics of working class revolution. Nonetheless, it is a significant historical fact that only one year after the execution of her former husband, Albert Parsons, the internationally famous anarchist/socialist, she became engaged to one of the then-leading lights of international Marxism.

Indeed, one can see even from the very same article in question that there is no contradiction in Parsons’ mind when she speaks of the revolutionary movement in England, in one breath, as advancing the “cause of Socialism”, and in the next breath, as advancing “Anarchistic questions.”

PDF of article available at

Also see


International Socialist Review columnist Phil Gasper challenges the myth that Marxism has nothing useful to say about the environment—with help from the old man himself.

AT THE demonstration in Washington, D.C., in February to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline, which is being built to transport tar sands oil from Western Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, members of the Ecosocialist Contingent carried signs reading “System Change, Not Climate Change!”

The slogan was well received, as growing numbers of environmental activists recognize that only fundamental social and economic changes can solve the deepening global ecological crisis.

But what kinds of changes are needed and what strategies can win them? There are serious debates within the movement. What I want to argue here is that activists have much to gain by engaging with the ecological critique of capitalism first developed by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the 19th century.

Until quite recently, there was a common myth that Marx and Engels had nothing useful to say about the environment. But over the past 10 to 15 years, this myth has been refuted by writers like the sociologist John Bellamy Foster and the environmental economist Paul Burkett.

 … As Engels pointed out:

Let us not…flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places, it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first…

Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature—but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.

Their political and intellectual bankruptcy is scarcely any longer a secret to the bourgeoisie themselves. Their economic bankruptcy recurs regularly every 10 years. In every crisis, society is suffocated beneath the weight of its own productive forces and products, which it cannot use, and stands helpless, face-to-face with the absurd contradiction that the producers have nothing to consume, because consumers are wanting. The expansive force of the means of production burst the bonds that the capitalist mode of production had imposed upon them. Their deliverance from these bonds is the one precondition for an unbroken, constantly-accelerated development of the productive forces, and therewith for a practically unlimited increase of production itself. Nor is this all. The socialized appropriation of the means of production does away, not only with the present artificial restrictions upon production, but also with the positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products that are at the present time the inevitable concomitants of production, and that reach their height in the crises. Further, it sets free for the community at large a mass of means of production and of products, by doing away with the senseless extravagance of the ruling classes of today, and their political representatives. The possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialized production, an existence not only fully sufficient materially, and becoming day-by-day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties—this possibility is now, for the first time, here, but it is here.
Frederick Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, 1877

From the outset the Commune was compelled to recognize that the working class, once come to power, could not manage with the old state machine; that in order not to lose again its only just conquered supremacy, this working class must, on the one hand, do away with all the old repressive machinery previously used against it itself, and, on the other, safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment. What had been the characteristic attribute of the former state? Society had created its own organs to look after its common interests, originally through simple division of labor. But these organs, at whose head was the state power, had in the course of time, in pursuance of their own special interests, transformed themselves from the servants of society into the masters of society, as can be seen, for example, not only in the hereditary monarchy, but equally also in the democratic republic.

… This shattering of the former state power and its replacement by a new and really democratic state is described in detail in the third section of The Civil War. But it was necessary to dwell briefly here once more on some of its features, because in Germany particularly the superstitious belief in the state has been carried over from philosophy into the general consciousness of the bourgeoisie and even to many workers. According to the philosophical notion, “the state is the realization of the idea” or the Kingdom of God on earth, translated into philosophical terms, the sphere in which eternal truth and justice is or should be realized. And from this follows a superstitious reverence for the state and everything connected with it, which takes roots the more readily as people from their childhood are accustomed to imagine that the affairs and interests common to the whole of society could not be looked after otherwise than as they have been looked after in the past, that is, through the state and its well-paid officials. And people think they have taken quite an extraordinary bold step forward when they have rid themselves of belief in hereditary monarchy and swear by the democratic republic. In reality, however, the state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy; and at best an evil inherited by the proletariat after its victorious struggle for class supremacy, whose worst sides the proletariat, just like the Commune, cannot avoid having to lop off at the earliest possible moment, until such time as a new generation, reared in new and free social conditions, will be able to throw the entire lumber of the state on the scrap-heap.
Frederick Engels, on the 20th anniversary of the Paris Commune (1891)


Engels & Marx (Official Video)

THE GRAND COULEE presents: a mini-opera about Engels & Marx, love & revolution and the meaning of friendship. Based on a true story.


Actually, this really is quite historically accurate.

Nowhere do “politicians” form a more separate, powerful section of the nation than in North America. There, each of the two great parties which alternately succeed each other in power is itself in turn controlled by people who make a business of politics, who speculate on seats in the legislative assemblies of the Union as well as of the separate states, or who make a living by carrying on agitation for their party and on its victory are rewarded with positions.

It is well known that the Americans have been striving to shake off this yoke, which has become intolerable, and that in spite of all they can do they continue to sink ever deeper in this swamp of corruption. It is precisely in America that we see best how there takes place this process of the state power making itself independent in relation to society, whose mere instrument it was originally intended to be…. We find here two great gangs of political speculators, who alternately take possession of the state power and exploit it by the most corrupt means and for the most corrupt ends – and the nation is powerless against these two great cartels of politicians, who are ostensibly its servants, but in reality exploit and plunder it.
Frederick Engels, 1891. Commenting on the illusion of democracy presented by the American two-party electoral system in which both the Democrats and Republicans in reality merely take turns oppressing and misleading the nation in the interests of the wealthy elite.


Though a bit dated, this is a truly fascinating piece explaining why mainstream academic anthropology has become such a wretched morass of a discipline. Also, posits some interesting notions I hadn’t heard regarding the origin of the human species and why this leap was manifested in a sort of (primitive) communistic and specifically matriarchal form.

[Frederick] Engels called attention to the fact that labor was key to human beginnings and the birth of labor was simultaneously the birth of humanity…. Some 50 years later in 1927, with the publication of his work ‘The Mothers,’ Robert Briffault provided the biological link to this proposition. He demonstrated that maternal functions and relations were the indispensable biological basis for the first laboring activities and social cooperation. Earlier investigators had established that the matriarchy represented a definite stage in social evolution …

The theories of Engels and Briffault dovetail. If, as Engels explained, labor was the central factor in transforming our branch of the anthropoid species into humanity, and if, as Briffault has shown, the females were the pioneers and leaders in labor, it follows that women-as-laborers provided the main living force in developing the first social horde.

Incredibly intriguing!

Comparison with animals proves that [the] explanation of the origin of language from and in the process of labour is the only correct one. The little that even the most highly-developed animals need to communicate to each other does not require articulate speech. In its natural state, no animal feels handicapped by its inability to speak or to understand human speech. It is quite different when it has been tamed by man. The dog and the horse, by association with man, have developed such a good ear for articulate speech that they easily learn to understand any language within their range of concept. Moreover they have acquired the capacity for feelings such as affection for man, gratitude, etc., which were previously foreign to them. Anyone who has had much to do with such animals will hardly be able to escape the conviction that in many cases they now feel their inability to speak as a defect, although, unfortunately, it is one that can no longer be remedied because their vocal organs are too specialised in a definite direction. However, where vocal organs exist, within certain limits even this inability disappears. The buccal organs of birds are as different from those of man as they can be, yet birds are the only animals that can learn to speak; and it is the bird with the most hideous voice, the parrot, that speaks best of all. Let no one object that the parrot does not understand what it says. It is true that for the sheer pleasure of talking and associating with human beings, the parrot will chatter for hours at a stretch, continually repeating its whole vocabulary. But within the limits of its range of concepts it can also learn to understand what it is saying. Teach a parrot swear words in such a way that it gets an idea of their meaning (one of the great amusements of sailors returning from the tropics); tease it and you will soon discover that it knows how to use its swear words just as correctly as a Berlin costermonger. The same is true of begging for titbits.

Frederick Engels, The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man


Leaving aside the masculinized nomenclature, this is interesting …

"The Urning you sent me is a very curious thing. These are extremely unnatural revelations. The paederasts [homosexual paedophiles] are beginning to count themselves, and discover that they are a power in the state. Only organisation was lacking, but according to this source it apparently already exists in secret. And since they have such important men in all the old parties and even in the new ones, from Rosing to Schweitzer, they cannot fail to triumph. Guerre aux cons, paix aus trous-de-cul will now be the slogan. It is a bit of luck that we, personally, are too old to have to fear that, when this party wins, we shall have to pay physical tribute to the victors. But the younger generation! Incidentally it is only in Germany that a fellow like this can possibly come forward, convert this smut into a theory, and offer the invitation: introite [enter], etc. Unfortunately, he has not yet got up the courage to acknowledge publicly that he is ‘that way’, and must still operate coram publico‘ from the front’, if not ‘going in from the front’ as he once said by mistake. But just wait until the new North German Penal Code recognises the droits du cul [rights of the arse-hole] then he will operate quite differently. Then things will go badly enough for poor frontside people like us, with our childish penchant for females. If Schweitzer could be made useful for anything, it would be to wheedle out of this peculiar honourable gentleman the particulars of the paederasts in high and top places, which would certainly not be difficult for him as a brother in spirit.” (Letter from Engels to Marx, June 22, 1869;

First of all, Engels is not commenting here on Karl Ulrichs’s overall theory of ‘Urning’ (his term for homosexuality), but rather on the specific pamphlet that Marx sent him titled, Incubus (see below)*. (Ulrichs has no such work titled simply, Urning. Engels must have just been confused here). Indeed, it appears that Engels probably wasn’t that familiar with any of Ulrichs’s work other than this one pamphlet. This is evidenced by the fact that in this and other letters, Engels and Marx seem to not even readily know the name of the author, let alone show a familiarity with his overall works.

If one actually reads Incubus, it becomes quite clear why Engels may have reacted as viscerally as he does here. Further, it can be seen to be ridiculous to claim that Engels’ comments on Incubus somehow in themselves show that he is nothing but a ‘hopeless bigot’.

Incubus is actually one of Ulrichs’s least flattering texts. It is a broad attempt at a (psycho-social) analysis of the causes that lead older men to commit the rape and murder of young children. The particular incident that spurs his writing is the case of Lieutenant von Zastrow, who had been charged with the rape, physical mutilation, and murder of two young boys in Berlin in 1867 and 1869.

Ulrichs, who makes clear that he is in no way defending acts of child rape and gruesome pedestary, nonetheless makes a plea for leniency for such criminals on the grounds that they are driven not by malice, but rather by a “faulty natural disposition,” or “a diseased nature,” as he puts it alternatively.

All in all, the work is a very macabre, rather clumsy attempt to use his findings in his earlier studies of the Uraniun (gay) male to prove that violent pederasts should not be treated as criminals, but rather spiritually ill people, who cannot control the inborn nature of their sexual-selves any more than a Uranian (or straight, “Dionian,” for that matter).

As Ulrichs puts it, “The Zastrow case stands in a close relationship to the sexual nature of the man-loving Urning.” He goes on to explain, “There is at times a yearning, wild, inordinate desire in certain individuals to commit cruelties and to see blood flow for no clear reason; a bloodthirstiness which, as it appears, goes far beyond a responsible state of mind, which at the moment in which it sets in seems to press heavily upon the soul of the individual as an incubus rising from the realm of darkness.”

In the course of Ulrichs’s analysis, he describes 15 cases of sexual ‘perversion’ in addition to the Zastrow case, many of which cases involve older men of high standing in German society. This is very tough reading. To give you a flavor, Ulrichs describes in gorey detail how Zastrow first raped, castrated, and beat a 6-year old boy to near-death, and then later how he raped, beat, sodomized with a sharp stick, and then murdered a 15-year old boy. The fifteen other cases are of like brutality and graphic description.

Indeed, Ulrichs wants to highlight the utter brutality of these cases in order to prove his point that their ‘pathological’ (and therefore uncontrolled) character is as great as the sexual brutality of the acts themselves. Therefore, he argues, the courts ought not to punish these people, but rather seek other means of curbing this behavior.

Now that we have a clear picture of the content of the specific work of Ulrichs’s that Marx had given Engels to read in 1869, and which Engels commented on in reply to Marx, we can understand why Engels would write that the work is a “very curious thing” involving “extremely unnatural revelations.” Again, Engels is not here commenting on homosexuality in general, or even the theory of Urning itself, but rather the phenomena of violent pederasty (pedophilia) — which Ulrichs himself calls ‘unnatural’ — as detailed in Incubus.

This also explains the comment Engels makes regarding his fear for the fate of the “younger generation;” a fate that does not await “older” individuals. It should now be clear that Engels is not just bringing the question of pederasty into his correspondence with Marx out of nowhere, owing purely to some supposed prejudiced notion that all homosexuals are pederasts (as has been intimated by some recent writers). He is, in fact, only talking about the issue at hand as raised by Ulrichs in the pamphlet concerned.

None of this is to deny that this particular, private letter between Engels and Marx is written quite crassly and undoubtedly would have been formulated differently by Engels if it had been intended for public consumption. And his crude quip about “frontside” people with their “childish penchants for females,” is itself plainly a childish and ridiculous comment.

Moreover, I personally tend to agree with parts of Ulrich’s argument that sex offenders should be treated as mentally ill people and not as sound-of-mind criminals. Engels seems to (close-mindedly, I think) dismiss this perspective.

Finally, Engels undoubtedly expresses an utter cluelessness about the nascent “homosexual identity” just beginning to be articulated in Germany at the time. Though, to be fair, homosexuality was talked about as a pathology by even its proponents until the rise of the German gay rights movement in the 1870s and ’80s — well after Engels penned the clumsy letter above. Indeed, the idea that there were even distinct “homosexual” and “heterosexual” types of people was not advanced until the 1870s by the German scientist and human rights campaigner, Karl-Maria Kertbeny. (It’s also worth noting that the German Social-Democratic Party, which Engels helped found and influenced until his death in 1895, would also, to its credit, become an early and dedicated supporter of the German gay rights movement upon its inception).

In conclusion, I do think it is rather quite disingenuous to assert that this one letter in question proves the pervasive homophobia of Marx and Engels. Say what you will about Engels’s response here to a muddled treatise analyzing the phenomenology of rape and violent pederasty in the “man-loving Urning,” but don’t attempt to turn this letter into something it is not — that is, a conscious diatribe against homosexuality in general.



* Even one of the foremost proponents of the “Homophobic Engels” theory admits that the work, which Marx and Engels were discussing in their letter above, was precisely the pamphlet, Incubus, and not one of Ulrich’s other works on the actual theory of Urning:

Hubert Kennedy, “The Queer Marx Loved to Hate”

The booklet that Marx sent Engels was identified by the editors
of the Marx Engels Werke as Ulrichs’s Argonauticus,8 and this
identification has been repeated in the Karl Marx, Frederick Engels:
Collected Works, whose translation of Marx’s letter is given

But this cannot be correct, since Argonauticus was not completed
until late September 1869. The reference to ‘‘introite,’’
which Engels wanted to read as an invitation to anal intercourse,
instead suggests some knowledge of Ulrichs’s Memnon (1868), for
it appears in that booklet’s epigraph: ‘‘Introite! nam et hoc templum
naturae est’’ (‘‘Enter! for this is also a temple of nature’’), which is
rather a reference to the edifice of Ulrichs’s theory. (This is a
variation of a phrase that goes back to Heraclitus and would have
been known to Engels through its use as an epigraph to Lessing’s
play Nathan der Weise.)

More probably the booklet that Engels read was Incubus, which
was completed on May 4, 1869. This is confirmed by several indications, the most important of which is Ulrichs’s use of ‘‘von vorn
hinein’’ for ‘‘von vorn herein,’’ which Engels puns on and which
occurs twice in Incubus. (The idiomatic phrase ‘‘von vorn herein’’
means ‘‘from the beginning.’’) That Ulrichs admits he is not ‘‘from
the front’’ is clear enough in Memnon, in which he several times
refers to himself as an example of an Urning, but is not apparent
in Incubus.

The reference to Johannes Rösing, a merchant in Bremen
who was active in the democratic movement in Germany in the
1830s and 1840s, may also be pointed out here, since he was mentioned in Incubus, but Engels could well have known about him
from other sources. The ‘‘personal details’’ about Schweitzer, of
course, were known to all.


There is much myth-making and exaggeration regarding the supposed virulent homophobic tendencies of Karl Marx’s long-time collaborator, Frederick Engels.

One of the oft-cited examples of this is the passage from his Origins of the Family, Private Property & the State, that has him supposedly criticizing the “abominable practice of sodomy”:

This Athenian family became in time the accepted model for domestic relations, not only among the Ionians, but to an increasing extent among all the Greeks of the mainland and colonies also. But, in spite of locks and guards, Greek women found plenty of opportunity for deceiving their husbands. The men, who would have been ashamed to show any love for their wives, amused themselves by all sorts of love affairs with hetairai [prostitutes]; but this degradation of the women was avenged on the men and degraded them also, till they fell into the abominable practice of sodomy and degraded alike their gods and themselves with the myth of Ganymede (see at
This passage, as it does indeed appear here in the first English translation of “Origins,” published by the Communist Party’s (Stalinist) International Publishers in 1942, is the one that people usually use when they want to bash Engels (& Marx).

However, Engels never actually wrote this in the original German! The translation that this version of the passage comes from—the International Publishers 1942 edition—is inaccurate. They actually totally change the text and the meaning — presumably to further their own, Stalinist-party line of opposition to sodomy and all homosexuality within Russia.

In the original, German text, which Engels wrote and published in several editions between 1884 and 1891, this quote reads quite differently. Here’s the English translation done by Foreign Language Press in 1978, which is way more true to the original German:

This Athenian family became in time the accepted model for domestic relations, not only among the Ionians, but to an increasing extent among all the Greeks of the mainland and colonies also. But, in spite of locks and guards, Greek women found plenty of opportunity for deceiving their husbands. The men, who would have been ashamed to show any love for their wives, amused themselves by all sorts of love affairs with hetaerae ; but the degradation of the women avenged itself on the men and degraded them also, till they fell into the abominable practice of pederasty and degraded alike their gods and themselves with the myth of Ganymede (see at
Here’s the last sentence in the original German: “Diese, die sich geschämt hätten, irgendwelche Liebe für ihre Frauen zu verraten, amüsierten sich in allerlei Liebeshändeln mit Hetären; aber die Entwürdigung der Frauen rächte sich an den Männern und entwürdigte auch sie, bis sie versanken in die Widerwärtigkeit der Knabenliebeund ihre Götter entwürdigten wie sich selbst durch den Mythus von Ganymed” (see at

The key word here is “Knabenliebe.” In german, this literally means “boy-love,” deriving from the root words ‘Knabe’ (young boy), and ‘Liebe’ (love).

The german word for ‘sodomy’ — ‘sodomie’ or more appropriately, ‘analverkehr’ — is nowhere in the original text at all. International Publishers clearly just grafted the word onto the text for who-knows-what reason.

Therefore, the translation of the term as ‘pederasty’ is much more appropriate, fitting, and logical (‘pederasty,’ of course, meaning pedophilia, the sexual yearning of an adult towards a prepubescent child).

Incidentally, the fact that Engels mentions the Myth of Ganymede in the next breath, further contextualizes what his implications were.  The Ancient Greek myth has it that Ganymede was a young boy (exact age not clear) who Zeus lusted after and kidnapped to have for his own.  This myth is an allegory for what was the common Greek practice of older men engaging in sexual affairs with adolescent boys. 

These particular homosexual affairs, though notable for their widespread acceptance in Greek society, were many things, but usually not what we could call a ‘healthy,’ ‘liberated,’ sexual experience.  Oftentimes, it consisted of an older male of superior social standing relishing in the dominance over an inferior boy of lower social standing.  It was socially frowned upon for the boy to express pleasure and ‘mature emotion,’ and this affair, accordingly, was rarely an act of love between two adult males of comparable social status.            

As far as anything written is concerned, I don’t think we actually know what Engels thought of anal-sex as a general act … and anyway, it just seems somewhat illogical that Engels, who was in the midst of writing a whole book on the possibility of totally different sexual relations in a world bereft of classes, would make such a statement. 

This seems further illogical given that the German Social-Democrat Party (SPD) at this time, and some of Engels closest comrades, such as August Bebel, Karl Kautsky, Eduard Bernstein, et al, were clearly by the late-’80s and early-’90s, coming to see allies in the German homosexual community and movement. Bebel (one of Engels’ dearest friends next to Marx) would actually earn his place in the history of the gay rights struggle in 1898 by becoming the first political figure to ever give a speech in defense of homosexual rights on the floor of a Parliament.

Engels was intimately concerned about and involved in the development of the SPD, which in the years preceding his death (1895) came to be involved in several campaigns to overturn restrictive sodomy laws and bans on homosexuality in Germany. One must ask the question: if Engels were so opposed to homosexuality, why does he not raise this issue in a single piece of correspondence with Bebel, Bernstein, et al (between whom hundreds of letters were exchanged over the years)?

None of this is to diminish the fact that Engels may have said or wrote some things during his life that were, at best, ignorant and possibly callous, and at worst, reflective of backward Victorian morals.

However, I do think it’s important to be genuine and accurately-informed when studying the matter.  In this vein, I think it is clear that the oft-cited passage of the English translation of Origins including the condemnation of ‘sodomy,’ really should be dispensed with as evidence of a dogged, anti-gay predilection in Engels.

Equal wages for equal work to either sex are, until abolished in general, demanded, as far as I know, by all Socialists…. [Yet], It is my conviction that real equality of women and men can come true only when the exploitation of either by capital has been abolished and private housework has been transformed into a public industry.
Frederick Engels


This is part of an ongoing research project I’ve been conducting on the various accusations of Marx and Engels’ supposed virulent homophobia. The other two entries I’ve done on this topic can be viewed here and here.

I recently stumbled upon a Wikipedia entry titled “Socialism and LGBT rights.” Of particular interets to me was the section, “Marx, Engels, Ulrichs and Schweitzer.”

Having already dealt elsewhere with most of the fallacious criticisms raised in the section in question (see the two links at top), I wanted to address one particular argument here, which is the following [my italics]:

Known to both Ulrichs and Marx was the case of Jean Baptista von Schweitzer, an important labor organiser who had been charged with attempting to solicit a teenage boy in a park in 1862. Social democrat leader Ferdinand Lassalle defended Schweitzer on the grounds that while he personally found homosexuality to be dirty, the labor movement needed the leadership of Schweitzer too much to abandon him, and that a person’s sexual tastes had “absolutely nothing to do with a man’s political character”. Marx, on the other hand, suggested that Engels use this incident to smear Schweitzer: “You must arrange for a few jokes about him to reach Siebel, for him to hawk around to the various papers.” However, Schweitzer would go on to become President of the German Labor Union, and the first Social Democrat elected to a parliament in Europe.

The claim here is that Marx wanted homophobic jokes to be spread around about Schweitzer in order to further sully his name.

However, if one actually looks at the letter from which this quote by Marx is drawn, and investigates even cursorily the history and relationship of Schweitzer with Marx and Engels, it becomes painfully evident that the above claim is downright untrue. One can only assume that the author of the above Wikipedia entry is either horribly misinformed and ignorant, or simply has an axe to grind with Marx and/or Marxism and therefore willfully twists the facts in order to buttress his or her argument.

Unable to find the above quote by Marx online anywhere, I took a picture of the relevant page in the Marx-Engels Collected Works. For reference purposes, I also took a picture of the letter in which Engels responds to Marx (the next day), and an explanatory footnote from the Collected Works that I thought useful.

(Click on images below for expanded view).

While it is an indisputable part of the historical record that Marx and Schweitzer were bitter political enemies, there is nothing at all from these letters to suggest that Marx had a homophobic attitude towards him, or that Schweitzer’s sexuality affected Marx’s political assessment of him in any way.

The first thing that strikes one about Marx’s letter is that it was written in 1865, a full three years after the incident in which Schweitzer had been charged with pedophilia. It makes absolutely no sense that Marx would just be brining this up to Engels as if it were a fresh scandal to be “hawked around to the various papers.” The Schweitzer scandal had already been in all the papers for years before Marx wrote these words.

Second, we have no idea from the context what “jokes” Marx is talking about here, or whether or not they even relate to Schweitzer’s sexuality at all. I don’t know why someone would assume that the only “jokes” Marx would have to spread around about Schweitzer would concern sex at all. Marx and Engels considered Schweitzer an opportunist, a sycophant, a reformist, and a fool. Certainly there wasn’t a dearth of material for these two to laugh about and spread around, that would have had nothing to do with sexual matters. Further evidence of this is that in Engels’ letter responding to Marx, he makes no mention of Schweitzer’s sexuality, but merely comments along the lines of standing criticisms he and Marx shared of Schweitzers’ political behavior and writings. This leads the honest observer to just as much assume the “jokes” are political in nature, rather than personal or sexual.

Finally, upon closer reading of Marx’s letter, it is not even clear to me that the “jokes” he is asking Engels to “hawk around” even are about Schweitzer at all. Earler in the letter Marx refers to Schweitzer, but then transitions and brings up an article that Schweitzer had recently quoted, which a footnote tells us was written by someone named Karl Blind. Marx comments that Blind’s article — which had just been published 5 days previously — was arrogant and self-aggrandizing. It is in the very next sentence that he writes: “You must arrange for a few jokes about the fellow to reach Siebel, for him to hawk around to the various papers.”

Judged on the basis of syntax, content, and historical knowledge, it seems much more logical that Marx is actually refering to Karl Blind here, rather than Schweitzer. The fact that Blind’s article had just been published a few days prior meant that whatever ”joke” Marx thinks he deserves would be “newsworthy” from the standpoint of the “various papers,” since it still would have been fresh. At least it would have been much more fresh than a three-year-old sexual scandal that had already saturated the press by then.

Whatever else one thinks of Marx, Schweitzer, or the letter in question, it is self-evident that one cannot honestly draw the conclusion that homophobia has anything to do with Marx’s quip. One can assume, imagine, or believe, that Marx is addressing Schweitzer’s sexuality here, albeit empirically far-fetched. But one cannot present Marx’s homophobia as fact here without being utterly disingenuous.

This kind of sleight-of-hand scholarship is akin to the work of Hubert Kennedy, author of an article titled, “The Queer Marx Loved to Hate.” The “queer” is Schweitzer, and it is certainly a fact that he was gay. It is also a fact that Marx did come to hate him. However, it is false to insinuate — as the title does — that Marx hated Schweitzer because he was queer, rather than for reasons of political disagreement.

In conclusion, my intention is not to impart the idea that Marx and Engels were infallible or beyond reproach on all questions. They weren’t.

But what I am opposed to is dishonesty and misinformation. I am adamantly opposed to people who have a prejudiced political view of Marx and Engels inventing various conspiracies and blemishes in an attempt to cast aspersion on the ideas of the latter two. I am against this then being passed of as scholarly work.

Let us disagree on ideological questions. Let us debate historical and theoretical concerns. But let us remain honest in our appraisal of the facts.


For those who are interested, this short work by Karl Marx’s longtime collaborator, Frederick Engels, is the best little introduction (besides The Communist Manifesto) to the basic concepts of communism/socialism.

Presented as a series of 25 questions and answers, it’s a sort of FAQ on what has come to be known as ‘Marxism.’