Book Review from the March 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Life of Eleanor Marx. 1855-1898 A Socialist Tragedy by Chushicki Tsuzuki. (O.U.P. 45/-)
Born 16th January, 1855, Eleanor Marx was the sixth child of Karl Marx, co-founder of the scientific socialist movement. Marx took care to provide his daughters with the best education he could afford. Eleanor developed with unusual rapidity, at the age of nine writing letters to her uncle, Lion Philips, commenting on the international political situation. Later on, no doubt at least partly due to the influence of her father, her main concern became the socialist and working class movements.
Her main political work was achieved with the co-operation of Dr. Edward Aveling, a secularist lecturer who became interested in Socialism in the early 1880’s. It is not known exactly when Eleanor and Aveling met, but it was probably in 1882. Soon after they began to live together in free association. Both were opposed to a formal marriage, which was not possible anyway since Aveling was already married but separated from his wife (who, according to Engels, was highly religious and ran away with a priest!)
By 1884 Eleanor and Aveling associated themselves with the recently organised Social Democratic Federation, while Aveling was still President of the North Western (London) Branch of the National Secular Society.
The SDF, though claiming to be socialist, was in fact a basically reformist organisation dominated by its leader, H. M. Hyndman. Largely as a result of a disagreement over Hyndman's dictatorial position a group, including Eleanor Marx, and Edward Aveling, left the Federation toward the end of 1884 in order to form a separate organisation. This was the Socialist League, which tended to oppose parliamentary action. Despite the presence in it of such as Eleanor Marx and Aveling, this organisation was eventually taken over by the anarchists and soon became defunct. Later, Aveling participated in the formation of the Independent Labour Party, a definitely reformist organisation, at a conference in Bradford in 1893. Only a few years later, Eleanor was to meet her tragic end. On 31st March, 1898 she committed suicide, taking prussic acid.
The movements such as the SDF in which Eleanor Marx became involved were essentially reformist and therefore, non-socialist. As with all such movements, these became completely reformist, concerned only with patching up the capitalist system. Eleanor Marx made an invaluable contribution to the evolution of the working-class movement, industrial as well as political, in Britain.