Paul Lafargue


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Lafargue, Paul

 

Born Jan. 15, 1842, in Santiago, Cuba; died Nov. 25, 1911, in Paris. Prominent figure in the French and international working-class movement. Lenin characterized Lafargue as “one of the most gifted and profound disseminators of the ideas of Marxism” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 20, p. 387).

Lafargue was the son of a French wine merchant who lived in Cuba. The family returned to France in 1851. In 1864, Lafargue, who was then a student at the Ecole Supérieure de Medecin, joined the socialist movement. He was expelled from the school because he took part in the international revolutionary student congress in Liège in October 1865. In early 1866 he moved to London, joined the First International, and became a member of its General Council. He completed his medical education in 1868 in England. Lafargue became an acquaintance of Karl Marx and his family. In April 1868 he married Marx’ daughter Laura.

Returning to France in 1868, Lafargue helped found the Paris Federation of the International (April 1869). Subsequently, he moved to Bordeaux, where he organized and led a section of the International. After the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871, he emigrated to Spain, where he struggled to convince the Spanish sections of the International to support the line of the General Council against the Bakuninists. As a participant in the Hague Congress of the International in 1872, Lafargue helped Marx and Engels write the pamphlet The Alliance of Socialist Democracy and the International Workingmen’s Association, which was directed against the Bakuninists. In 1872 he moved back to London.

Lafargue’s collaboration with J. Guesde began in the late 1870’s. In 1880 he and Guesde, in collaboration with Marx and Engles, drew up the program of the French Workers’ Party. Returning to France in 1882 after amnesty had been granted to the Communards, Lafargue joined Guesde in leading the party. Lafargue waged a determined struggle against all varieties of opportunism and defended the principles of revolutionary Marxism. As a deputy in Parliament from 1891 to 1893, he regularly raised the question of the need for unity of action with the Catholic workers. In the Dreyfus Affair he sharply protested against the sectarian policy of abstention followed by Guesde and E. Vaillant.

Although he joined the United Socialist Party, which was founded in 1905, Lafargue did not share the reformist views of Guesde’s followers concerning the trade unions. Insisting on the need for antimilitarist propaganda, he was a consistent internationalist. He had ties with the Russian revolutionary movement and published articles in the Russian progressive press. He ascribed great importance to the Russian revolution of 1905–07 and believed that its victory would spur on the Western European working-class movement.

Lafargue made a significant contribution to the development of Marxist theory. He sharply criticized agnosticism and idealism, as well as every attempt to reconcile materialism with them. In his numerous works on economics (for example, Marx’ Theory of Value and Surplus Value and the Bourgeois Economists; Reply to the Criticism of Karl Marx; Property, Its Origin and Development; and The American Trusts) he leveled devastating criticism against the capitalist system and its apologists. He was particularly interested in the problem of “the influence of economic phenomena in society, not only upon its political movements but also on the development of its literary and philosophical thought and on its moral development” (Lafargue’s letter to the Russian economist N. Danielson, in the journal Letopis’ marksizma, no. 2, 1927, pp. 109–110).

Lafargue wrote a number of works in which he sought to trace the origins of the most abstract, complex categories and phenomena of the superstructure and their dependence on social relations (for example, Idealism and Materialism in the Explanation of History and The Economic Determinism of Karl Marx: Studies in the Origins of Moral, Philosophical, and Religious Ideas). In The Myth of Prometheus and The Myth of Adam and Eve he gave his interpretation of the origin of religious ideas in primitive society and their subsequent evolution and of the origin of myths and a number of religious rituals. Lafargue endeavored in his studies on literature to reveal the class and social tendency in literary works as well as to analyze their form. In The French Language Before and After the Revolution he surveyed the history of language from the standpoint of historical materialism, demonstrating the considerable impact of social and economic factors.

Philosophically, Lafargue adopted the position of metaphysical materialism in some instances. In literary scholarship some of his opinions are characterized by sociological schematism. Nevertheless, on the whole, his works made substantial contributions to some of the most varied fields of social science, helping to extend and strengthen the Marxist world view.

Long before his death, Lafargue decided that he wanted to die before he reached his seventies, when old age would sap his vitality. He and his wife, Laura, committed suicide together. He left a letter ending “I die happy in the assurance that the cause to which I have devoted the past 45 years will triumph. Long live communism. Long live international socialism” (L’Humanité, Paris, Dec. 4, 1911). V. I. Lenin, who had known Lafargue personally and highly respected his work, spoke at his funeral as the representative of the RSDLP.

WORKS

In Russian translation:
Soch., vols. 1–3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1925–31.
Pamflety. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Literaturno-kriticheskie stat’i. Moscow, 1936.
Religiia i kapital. Moscow, 1937.
Engels, F., and P. and L. Lafargue. Correspondance, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1956–59.
Textes choisis. Paris, 1970.

REFERENCES

Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vols. 31–36. (See Index of names.)
Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 18, pp. 211–13.
Lenin, V. I. Ibid., vol. 20, pp. 387–88.
Momdzhian, Kh. N. Lafarg i nekotorye voprosy marksistskoi teorii. Yerevan, 1954.
Goffenshefer, V. Iz istorii marksistskoi kritiki: P. Lafarg i bor’ba za realizm. Moscow, 1967.
Dalin, V. M. “Bylo li gedistskoe napravlenie edinym?” In his book Liudi i idei. Moscow, 1970.
Willard, C. Les Guesdistes. Paris, 1965.
Dommanget, M. L’Introduction du marxisme en France. Lausanne, 1969.

V. M. DALIN

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