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Leon Trotsky 19380210 Letter to Charles R. Walker

Leon Trotsky: Letter to C. R. Walker

February 10, 1938

[Writing of Leon Trotsky, Vol. 14, New York 1979, p 758 f., title: “Marx's Living Thoughts”]

Dear Friends:

For the second time I have received a proposition from Mr. Alfred O. Mendel, representative of Longmans, Green & Company, publishers, to give in 108 pages the condensation of Marx's thought in his own words together with a preface of 20 pages of my own. As payment he proposes $500 for all rights. The idea of making such a work is very attractive in itself but it is a tremendous task. Marx's style is condensed to the limit. To reduce his thought as an economist, sociologist, historian, philosopher, journalist, leader of the First International, to 108 pages of 340 words to the page requires a great deal of time, if in general the work is feasible. It is a bit astonishing that in this collection of books "The Living Thoughts of Marx" has the same allotment as Machiavelli, Montaigne, Loyola, and Napoleon. Condensing the works of Napoleon to 100 pages is a matter of a week's work and Napoleon's thought would not suffer very much. But with Marx the question is very different.

I believe also that in the next period Marx will be more widely read in the States than Montaigne or Loyola, even Nietzsche and Spinoza. During the next ten years, thanks to the educational work of crises, Marx will be one of the most widely read authors in the United States. Such a condensation can become, and, if it is well done, must become, a book with 100,000 readers. But the book must be readable and I cannot imagine, I repeat, the possibility to expound the dialectical materialism, the historical materialism, the economic theories, and the revolutionary strategy in Marx's own words in 108 pages, and to summarize them in 20 pages. It seems to me that the publisher should give two volumes for Marx. The first volume could be devoted to the general philosophical, historical, and revolutionary conceptions of Marx with only a short reference to his most important work, Capital. The second volume could be devoted to Capital itself. The first volume would be more readable than the second and would sell like ice cream.

In any case the proposed payment seems to me absolutely inadequate, in view of the great difficulties of the work itself and of the perspectives for the book. The $500 is not even sufficient as an advance, and royalties must be based upon a permanent percentage.

With the best greetings.


Leon Trotsky