4 July 2020

Did Marx Ever Meet Walras (on a Lake in Switzerland)?

Ahmet Tonak

There have been many urban legends about Marx’s life.An oft-repeated myth is that Marx attempted to dedicate one of the volumes of Capital to Darwin.This claim has been refuted, in my view rather persuasively, by M. Fay’s scholarly detective work in which she demonstrated that the attempt to dedicate a book (The Students’ Darwin) to Darwin was not made by Marx, but rather by Edward B. Aveling, the lover of Marx’s daughter Eleanor.1

Obviously not at the scale of the above myth, an interesting speculation has relatively recently been made by Sam Bowles, based on a conversation with William Jaffe: that Karl Marx and Leon Walras vacationed in the Summer of 1862 on the same lake in Switzerland.2

Here is the first dialogue in Sam Bowles’ play “Three’s a crowd: my dinner party with Karl, Leon, and Maynard”:

KARL (warmly shaking Leon’s hand as he rises)

Leon [Walras], I am very sorry that we were not able to meet that summer in 1862 when we vacationed on the same lake in Switzerland. (Pause, Leon starts to say something but Karl continues) Perhaps I could have persuaded you that even your modest market socialist reforms could be implemented only by a revolutionary working class.


Had I known of your interest in mathematics, Karl—may I call you Karl?—I certainly would have looked you up.” (Bowles: 13)

Bowles provided information about the facts described in his play at the end of the text.Regarding the claim that Marx and Walras vacationed on the same lake in Switzerland during the Summer of 1862, Bowles writes: “The playwright recalls that in his youth William Jaffe (Leon’s biographer3) mentioned this to him, but it may not have really happened.”

Let me first explore (and speculate on) the uncertainty of the above claim regarding Marx’s vacation in Switzerland during the Summer of 1862. Later, I will suggest a (speculative) explanation for W. Jaffe’s remark to Bowles concerning the Marx-Walras vacation.

Based on standard sources, namely Draper’s The Marx-Engels Chronicle4 and Gabriel’s Love and Capital,5 let me list some of Marx’s activities during the months of June, July, and August 1862.

June:As usual, Marx experienced financial difficulties. The Vienna paper Die Presse did not publish enough of Marx’s pieces. His wife Jenny tried “in vain to raise money by selling part of Marx’s books.” (Draper: 112.)

July: Even though Die Presse published four articles by Marx, their financial plight continued.Engels helped them pay part of their debt. Lasalle came to London for the Industrial Exhibition and often met with Marx (July 9 – August 4). Draper writes: “Marx learns of Lasalle’s plan to launch a movement among German workers based on the demands for universal suffrage and producers’ cooperatives with state aid (by the Prussian state).Marx reached the opinion that Lasalle’s state-socialistic views are essentially reformist and reactionary.To Lasalle’s proposal that Marx be English correspondent for his planned organ, Marx replies he would be willing ‘for good pay’ but without political responsibility for the paper, since he and Lasalle ‘agree politically on nothing’ save certain distant objectives.” (Draper: 112.)

August: A day before Lasalle leaves, Marx reveals his financial difficulties. “Lasalle agrees to arrange for a loan of £15 [about $2300 today] plus possible future drafts provided Engels guarantees repayment.” (Draper: 112). Marx travels to Zaltbommel in the Netherlands “to ask his uncle Lion Philips for financial help, but Philips is away on a trip.”He then goes on to Trier to see his mother, and “on the way he stops in Cologne.” (Draper: 112.)

These activities and travels are also confirmed by Gabriel’s account for the same period.Although Marx visited a couple of places outside England in August, those were mostly related to securing financial help.During the month of July, Marx was also preoccupied with Lasalle’s visits.On these grounds, I highly doubt that Marx had the time and money to spend his vacation on a lake in Switzerland during the Summer of 1862, where he might have met Walras.

Regarding Jaffe’s passing comment on the vacation that Marx and Walras might have spent on a lake in Switzerland in 1862, I would suggest the slim possibility that Jaffe may have misread one of the most authoritative biographies of Marx published during the 1970s: D. McLellan’s Karl Marx: His Life and Thought (also published as Karl Marx: A Biography).There, McLellan discussed Lasalle’s visit to London and his meetings with Marx during July 1862.His description of Lassalle’s personality is in itself interesting: a “Don Juan and a revolutionary Cardinal Richelieu. And there is also his continual chatter in an unnatural falsetto voice, his ugly demonstrative gestures and didactic tone. And it must indeed have been difficult for Marx to tolerate long the company of a man who could, with complete self-assurance, begin a speech with the words: ‘Working men! Before I leave for the Spas of Switzerland …’”This quote from Lasalle mentioning “the Spas of Switzerland” comes from a book by R. Morgan, The German Social Democrats and the First International (Cambridge, 1965).

So, the year (1862), the season (Summer), and the lake in Switzerland (Spas of Switzerland) would seem to support that a vacation was indeed taken there.The only problem is that the person who may have taken that vacation was probably Lassalle, not Marx!



  • 1. Margaret A. Fay, 1980. “Marx and Darwin: A Literary Detective Story” Monthly Review. March.
  • 2. This speculation is tolerable because it is a part play about a fictional gathering of K Marx, L. Walras, and J.M. Keynes. Bowles, Sam. 2013. “Three’s a crowd: my dinner party with Karl, Leon, and Maynard” in Jeannette Wicks-Lim and Robert Pollin, eds. Capitalism on Trial: Explorations in the Tradition of Thomas E. Weisskopf. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • 3. Apparently, Jaffe only completed the first two chapters of Walras’s biography and was never able to finish it before he died in 1980. Walker, Donald. 1981. “William Jaffe, Historian of Economic thought, 1898-1980” American Economic Review. 71 (5).
  • 4. Draper, Hal. 1985. The Marx-Engels Chronicle: A Day-by-Day Chronology of Marx and Engels’ Life and Activity. New York: Schocken Books.
  • 5. Gabriel, Mary. 2011. Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution. New York: Little, Brown and Company.