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Paul Lafargue and the Flowering of French Socialism, 1882–1911

Paul Lafargue and the Flowering of French Socialism, 1882–1911

Leslie Derfler

ISBN 9780674659124

Publication date: 09/15/1998

Paul Lafargue, the disciple and son-in-law of Karl Marx, helped to found the first French Marxist party in 1882. Over the next three decades, he served as the chief theoretician and propagandist for Marxism in France. During these years, which ended with the dramatic suicides of Lafargue and his wife, French socialism, and the Marxist party within it, became a significant political force.

In an earlier volume, Paul Lafargue and the Founding of French Marxism, 1842-1882, Leslie Derfler emphasized family identity and the origin of French Marxism. Here, he explores Lafargue's political strategies, specifically his break with party co-founder Jules Guesde in the Boulanger and Dreyfus episodes and over the question of socialist-syndicalist relations. Derfler shows Lafargue's importance as both political activist and theorist. He describes Lafargue's role in the formulation of such strategies as the promotion of a Second Workingmen's International, the pursuit of reform within the framework of the existent state but opposition to any socialist participation in nonsocialist governments, and the subordination of trade unionism to political action. He emphasizes Lafargue's pioneering efforts to apply Marxist methods of analysis to questions of anthropology, aesthetics, and literary criticism.

Despite the crucial part they played in the social and political changes of the past century and the heritage they left, the first French Marxists are not widely known, especially in the English-speaking world. This important critical biography of Lafargue, the most audacious of their much maligned theorists, enables us to trace the options open to Marxist socialism as well as its development during a critical period of transition.


  • In his analysis of the final three decades of Lafargue's political life and writings, Derfler...[argues] that his subject was not only an original and creative thinker, but also an influential pedagogue who was successful in keeping the flame of Marxism alive in France in the crucial decades preceding the establishment of the Communist Party in 1920...The book is at its strongest in its sympathetic portrayal of a highly engaging figure...The book also sensitively depicts Lafargue's complex intellectual personality...[It is] a fine biography, with many evocative and touching details about the personal circumstances of Lafargue, ranging from his constant requests for money from Engels to the personal effects which accompanied the political prisoner during his imprisonment at Sainte-Pélagie (he took his own bathtub).

    —Sudhir Hazareesingh, Times Literary Supplement


  • Leslie Derfler is Professor of History, Florida Atlantic University.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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