International Workingmen’s Association 1869
Record of Speech by Karl Marx

On Landed Property

Source: MECW Volume 21, p. 392;
First published: in full in Marx and Engels, Works, 2d Russian Edition, 1960.

Marx spoke twice on landed property during the discussion of the Basle Congress programme at the General Council meeting of July 6, 1869. Although the Brussels Congress of 1868 had adopted a resolution by a majority vote in favour of common property, this question was again put on the agenda of the Basic Congress on the insistence of a minor group of advocates of small private property in land headed by Proudhonist Tolain.

In his first speech Marx replied to the General Council member Milner who had spoken in defence of the natural right of man to land when trying to substantiate the Brussels Congress resolution on land.

In his second speech Marx opposed the French anarchist Elisée Reclus who was present at the meeting as a guest and who declared that since the peasants did not attend the International congresses they should not be cared for.

By a majority vote the General Council confirmed the correctness of the resolution on landed property adopted by the Brussels Congress.

Marx’s speeches have been preserved in the Minute Book as written down by Eccarius. They were also published in brief in the Bee-Hive July 10, 1869 report of the General Council meeting of July 6, 1869. In English they were first published in full in The General Council of the First International. 1868-1870, Moscow, 1966.

From the Minutes of the General Council Meeting of July 6, 1869


Cit. Marx was of opinion that Milner had not quite understood the nature of the controversy. There was no opposition to the mines and woods being made common property. The injury caused by the accumulation of land in the hands of the few was granted; it was only with regard to arable land that there was any dispute, the opposition came from the partisans of small farming; small property was the point in dispute.

The plea of social necessity was superior to the claim of abstract right. Every thing, every possible form of oppression had been justified by abstract right; it was high time to abandon this mode of agitation. The question was, under what form this right should be realised. There was a social necessity to transform feudal property into peasant property. In England the proprietor has ceased to be a necessity in agriculture.

As for natural right, the animal had a natural right to the soil since it cannot live without it. To push this natural right to its logical consequences would land us at the assertion of every individual to cultivate his own share.

Social right and social necessity determined in what manner the means of subsistence must be procured. Social necessity enforced itself in the course of which factory had arrived, where cooperation was compulsory. The fact that no one could produce anything by himself gave the social necessity for co-operation.

He was not against giving a more emphatic form to the resolutions.


The small peasantry is not at the Congresses, — but their idealistic representatives are there. The Proudhonists are very strong upon the point and they were at Brussels. The Council is responsible for the resolutions; they were shaped by the Brussels Committee, [458] by men who well knew the opposition they had to deal with. I am not against recasting them. Cit. Weston has only spoken of social necessity. We see that both forms of private property in land have led to bad results. The small man is only a nominal proprietor, but he is the more dangerous because he still fancies that he is a proprietor. In England the land could be transformed into common property by act of Parliament in the course of a fortnight. In France it must be accomplished by means of the proprietors’ indebtedness and liability to taxation.

458 The Committee, elected at the Brussels Congress to prepare a study of landed property, presented two reports to the congress on the agrarian question: one by Emile Aubry (Rouen Section) and the other by César De Paepe (Brussels Section). The Committee informed the congress that they were all unanimous on the socialisation of mines, collieries, canals, railways etc., but disagreed over arable land. The majority, headed by De Paepe, a Belgian delegate, moved a resolution in favour of common property in all land. It was adopted by the congress, while the minority headed by, Tolain, a Proudhonist, defended theownership by peasants of small private property in land.

459 Marx spoke on the right to inheritance at the General Council meeting of July 20, 1869, during the debate of the programme of the Basle Congress. The record of his speech in Eccarius’ hand has been preserved in the Minute Book of the General Council.

There is also a brief summary in The Bee-Hive July 24. 1869 in the report of this Council meeting. The full text of Marx’s speech on the right to inheritance was first published in English in The General Council of the First International. 1868-1870, Moscow, 1966.

460 A mistake in Eccarius’ entry: the reference is here to Saint-Simon’s followers, not to Saint-Simon, who died in 1825.