Paul Lafargue

Paul Lafargue books and biography


Paul Lafargue

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Paul Lafargue (June 16, 1842 – November 26, 1911) was a French revolutionary Marxist socialist journalist, political writer and activist; he was Karl Marx's son-in-law, having married his second daughter Laura. His best known work is The Right to Be Lazy. Born in Santiago de Cuba of a Franco-Caribbean family, Lafargue spent most of his life in France, with periods in England and Spain. At the age of 69, he and Laura died together in a suicide pact.


Early life and first French period

Given that his father was the accommodated owner of coffee plantations in Cuba, which allowed Paul to study in Santiago first and then in France. In 1851, the Lafargue family moved to Bordeaux - Lafargue finished lycée in Toulouse, and studied medicine in Paris.

It was there that Lafargue started his intellectual and political career, adhering the Positivist philosophy, and contacting with the Republican groups that opposed Napoleon III. The work of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon seem to have particlarly influenced him in this phase. As a Proudhonian anarchist, Lafargue joined the French section of the International Workingmen's Association (the First International). Nevertheless, he soon contacted two of the most prominent figures of revolutionary thought and action: Marx and Auguste Blanqui, whose influx largely eclipsed the first anarchist tendencies of the young Lafargue.

In 1865, after participating in the International Students' Congress in Liege, Lafargue was banned from all French universities, and had to leave for London in order to start a career. It was there where he became a frequent visitor to Marx's house, meeting his second daughter Laura, whom he married in 1868. His political activity took a new course, and he was chosen member of the General Council of the First International, then appointed corresponding secretary for Spain. However, he doesn't seem to have succeeded in establishing any serious contact with workers' groups in that country - Spain joined the international movement only after the Cantonalist Revolution of 1868, while events such as the arrival of the Italian anarchist Giuseppe Fanelli made it a strong bastion of Anarchism (and not of the Marxist current that Lafargue chose to represent).

Lafargue's opposition to Anarchism became notorious when, after his return to France, he wrote several articles attacking the Proudhonian tendencies that were very influential in some French workers' groups; the series marked Lafargue started with those a long career as political journalist.

Spanish period

After the revolutionary episode of the Paris Commune in 1871, political repression forced him to flee to Spain. He finally settled in Madrid, where he contacted those local members of the International over whom his influence was going to be very important.

Unlike in other parts of Europe where Marxism came to play a dominant part, Spain's revolutionaries were mostly followers of the International's anarchist faction (they were to remain very strong up until the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and the subsequent dictatorship. Lafargue became involved in redirecting the trend toward Marxism, an activity that was largely developed under directions from Friedrich Engels, and one that became intertwined with the struggles that both tendencies had at the international level - as the Spanish federation of the International was one of the main pillars of the Anarchist group.

The task given to Lafargue consisted mainly of gathering a Marxist leadership in Madrid, while exercising an ideological influence through unsigned articles in the newspaper La Emancipación (where he defended the need of creating a political party of the working class, one of the main topics opposed by the anarchists). At the same time, Lafargue took initiative through some of his articles, expressing his own ideas about a radical reduction of the working journey (a concept which was not entirely alien to the original thought of Marx) started to make presence.

In 1872, after a public attack of La Emancipación against the new, anarchist, Federal Council, the Federation of Madrid expelled the signatories of that article, who soon went on to found the New Federation of Madrid, a group of limited influence. The last activity of Lafargue as Spanish activist was to represent this Marxist minority group in the 1872 Hague Congress which marked the end of First International as unitarian group of all socialists.

Second French period

Between 1873 and 1882, Paul Lafargue lived in London, and avoided practicing medicine as he came to lack faith on that science. He opened a photolitography workshop, but the limited income forced him to request money from Engels (who was an owner of industries) on several occasions. Thanks to Engels' assistance, he again contacted the French workers' movement from London, after it had started to regain ground lost with the reactionary repression under Adolphe Thiers during the first years of the Third Republic.

From 1880, he again worked as editor of the newspaper L'Egalité. In that same year, and in the pages of that publication, Lafargue began publishing the first draft of The Right to Be Lazy. In 1882, he started working in an insurance company, which allowed him to move back to Paris and re-enter the core of French socialist politics. Together with Jules Guesde and Gabriel Deville, he began directing the activities of the newly-founded French Workers' Party (Parti Ouvrier Français - POF), which he led into struggle with the other major left-wing options: Anarchism, as well as the "Jacobin" Radicals and Blanquists.

From that moment and until his death, Lafargue remained the most respected theorist of the POF, not just extending the original Marxist doctrines, but also adding original ideas of his own. He also took active part in public activities such as strikes and elections, and was imprisoned several times. In 1891, despite being in police custody, he was elected to the French Parliament for Lille, being the first ever French Socialist to be occupy such an office. His success would encourage the POF to remain engaged in electoral activities, and largely abandon the insurrectional policies of its previous period.

Nevertheless, Lafargue continued his defense of Marxist orthodoxy against any reformist tendency, as shown by his conflict with Jean Jaurès, as well as his refusal to take part in any "bourgeois" government show clearly.

Last years and suicide

In 1908, the different socialist tendencies got unified in a single party after a Congress in Toulouse. Lafargue made his last stand in the gathering, fighting fiercely against the social democrat reformism defended by Jaurès.

In these late years, Lafargue had already took his distance with any form of political activity, living on the outskirts of Paris, in the village of Draveil, limiting his contributions to a number of articles and essays, as well as occasional contacts with some of the most outstanding socialist activists of the time, such as Karl Liebknecht or Vladimir Lenin. It was in that house of Draveil where Paul and Laura Lafargue put end to their lives, to the surprise and even outrage of French and European socialists.

He wrote for that occasion:

"Healthy of body and spirit, I give me death before the implacable old age, that has stealed me one after the other all pleasures and joys of existence, and has expoiled me from my physical and intellectual strength, paralizes my energy and ends with my willpower, making me a burden for myself and others.
Since years ago I have promised myself not to surpass the age of seventy; I have fixed the season for my departure from this life and prepared the means to execute this decision: a hypodermic injection of cyanhydric acid.
I die with the supreme happiness of having the certainty that very soon will triumph the cause to which I have given myself since 45 years ago."

Most socialist leaders publicly or privately deplored his decision; a few, notably the Spanish Anarchist leader Anselmo Lorenzo, who had been a major political rival of Lafargue in his Spanish period, accepted his decision with understanding. Lorenzo wrote after Lafargue's death:

"The double, original and, whatever the rutinarians say, even sympathetic suicide of Paul Lafargue and Laura Marx [in Spain, women keep their maiden surname after marriage], who knew and could live united and lovers until death, has awakened my memories (...)
Lafargue was my teacher: his memory is for me almost as important as that of Fanelli.
(...) in Lafargue were two different aspects that made him appear in constant contradiction: affiliated to socialism, he was anarchist communist by intimate conviction; but enemy of Bakunin, by suggestion of Marx, he tried to damage Anarchism. Due to that double way of being, he caused different effect in those that had relations with him: the simple ones were comforted by his optimisms, but those touched by depressing passions changed friendship into hate and produced personal issues, divisions and created organizations that, because of original vice, will always give bitter fruit. (...)"


  • La matérialisme économique sociale de Karl Marx, (1884)
  • Cours d'économie sociale, (1884)
  • Le droit à la paresse, (1887)
  • The Evolution of Property from Savagery to Civilization, (1891), (new edition, 1905)
  • Le socialisme utopique, (1892)
  • Le communisme et l'évolution économique, (1892)
  • Le socialisme et la coquéte des pouvoirs publics, (1899)
  • La question de la femme Paris, 1904
  • Le déterminisme économique de Karl Marx, (1909)
  • The Right to be Lazy

See also

History of feminism

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Le Droit à La Paresse

By Paul Lafargue
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Le Droit à La Paresse
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