Julia Nicholls on the origins of Marxism in France – London, 14 February

31st Jan 2018

Seminar in Contemporary Marxist Theory 

Dr Julia Nicholls (King’s College London)

Marx’s Capital and the origins of Marxism in modern France


14 February 2018

King’s College London
Room K-1.14 (basement)
Strand Campus
London WC2R 2LS


It is commonly assumed that Marxism took root in France only in the 1890s. The period before, it is suggested, was ‘a dead loss’, in which a distant and irascible Marx was endlessly frustrated by self-involved and linguistically-challenged French activists who were unable to read, let alone understand, his ideas. This paper demonstrates that this was not the case. Marx’s ideas were widely available in France at this time through a series of translations that appeared from 1872. Through an exploration of the French translation of vol.1 of Das Kapital, I show that these works presented a ‘French Marx’ that was subtly, but noticeably different from the German original, and whose ideas were more finely attuned to French circumstances. The construction of this French Marx was overseen and encouraged by Marx himself, who in translation was often willing to sacrifice the ‘purity’ of his ideas in order to broaden their appeal. The creation of the French Marx was thus a constant process of collaboration and circulation between French activists, French circumstances, and Marx himself. The paper concludes by using this to rethink the nature of Marxism in modern France.


This talk is open to the public. No registration is required. Contact: Stathis Kouvelakis (stathis.kouvelakis@kcl.ac.uk)

For future speakers, see https://www.kcl.ac.uk/marxist-theory-seminar/cmt.aspx