Eleanor Marx: A Life [Book Note] by Thomas Riggins

Book notice

Eleanor Marx: A Life [Book Note]

Thomas Riggins

Rachel Holmes' new biography of Eleanor Marx (1855-1898) is coming out in the US early next year  and can be pre- ordered at Amazon. I hope some board member will be able to write a full review.  Here I am posting some notes from "Troubles of Tussy" by Elaine Showalter (TLS August 22 & 29 2014). "Tussy" was the Marx family's nickname for Eleanor.

Ms. Holmes calls EM "the foremother of socialist feminism." EM was the fourth child of Karl and Jenny Marx and thus a member of the world's original set of red diaper babies. She was home schooled by her father and could quote passages from Shakespeare when she was three years old. She became a avid socialist at a young age (hanging out with Marx "one of the greatest minds in Europe" and Engels her "second father" may have unduly influenced her!) At sixteen she became her father's private secretary and he took her with him to meetings and congresses both at home and in Europe.

Eleanor also became a leading proponent of feminism. It seems that even Marx and Engels, who were champions of women's rights had difficulty putting into practice what they preached-- the nineteenth century was not noted for being very open to the rights of women.  Jenny Marx,  AKA Mrs. Karl Marx , once wrote, as quoted by Showalter,  regarding the activities of the male socialists that "in all these battles we women have to bare the hardest, i.e., pettiest parts. In the battle with the world the man gets stronger ... we sit at home and darn socks."

But EM did not stay home and darn socks. She became super-educated for her time and helped her father in the researching and writing of Das Kapital. She also organized workers and gave speeches to large crowds: "Karl Marx was the theory," Holmes says, "Eleanor Marx was the practice."

Some of noted accomplishments: she translated the first English edition of "Madame Bovary" as well as several plays by Ibsen-- and performed the fist staged reading of his "A Doll's House" playing Nora. She also translated Edward Berstein's book on Lassalle from German into English (she was, naturally, fluent in French, German and English among other languages-- Ibsen wrote in Norwegian). She also translated a history of the Paris Commune from French to English, as well as Georgi Plekhanov's Anarchism and Socialism.

Unfortunately she hooked up with a genuine cad in the form of Edward Aveling (he co-authored with her the very important Marxist work "The Women Question") ["the founding text of socialist femminism"]who, after many years of living together, secretly married a young actress of 22 [typical male menopausal action] which made her so despondent she killed herself at the age of 43. Aveling died four months later of kidney disease (aged 49). This very last action of hers was unMarxist but her biographer still thinks her life was inspiring and indeed exemplary. The reviewer concurs, writing that "With the infectious conviction of her narrative, Rachel Holmes has restored her to history." Personally, however, I don't think EM was ever lost to history.

One caveat: the portrait of Eleanor Marx at eighteen published in the TLS along with this article is actually a portrait of her sister Laura Marx (who also committed suicide!). At least it appears as such in the book Marx's General and also on the internet as Laura.

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  • Reading these notes for which Thomas Riggins should be thanked, the Marxist-Leninists may still be deeply saddened at the tragedy of it all-also, the death of Jenny's being so close to Karl's, some say contributing to it.
    Whatever, some member or board member should write a full review.
    With this type of effort the Party can become grown, known for its feminism, and after the record of Karl Marx's feminism, and his concrete influence on his family and society, the Marxist-Leninists are truly challenged in following that tradition.
    In a recent PA article, a friendly, comradely, article by brother Charles Brown attempts a constructive criticism of the Communist Manifesto as regards feminism. This article ends up conceding that with the active development of Marx's (this from Marx's hand and brain-with the help of Engels's) historical materialism, vestiges of male chauvinism and philistine notions are discarded and
    Marx's contact, confidence and great influence on Eleanor, helps substantiate the great and enduring feminism of Marx-the greatest mind of the modern era-promising a socialist and communist future free from practices and theories of male superiority.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 08/25/2014 10:52am (4 years ago)

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