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On an Article by Engels
July 19, 1934Comrade Adoratsky proposes to print in the next number of "Bolshevik", devoted to the twentieth anniversary of the imperialist world war, the article by Engels, entitled "The Foreign Policy of Russian Tsardom", which was first published abroad, in 1890. I should consider it a completely ordinary matter if it were proposed to print this article in a collection of Engels' works, or in one of the historical journals; but the proposal is made to print it in our fighting journal "Bolshevik", in the number devoted to the twentieth anniversary of the imperialist world war. This means that those who make this proposal, consider that the article in question can be regarded as an article which gives guidance, or which at least, is profoundly instructive for our Party workers, in the matter of the clarification of the problems of imperialism and of imperialist wars. But Engels' article, as is evident from its contents, is unfortunately lacking in these qualities, in spite of its merits. Moreover, it has a number of weaknesses of such a character that, if it were to be published without critical notes, it could mislead the reader. Therefore I consider it inexpedient to publish Engels' article in the next number of "Bolshevik".
What are the weaknesses to which I have referred?
1. Characterising the predatory policy of Russian Tsarism and correctly showing the abominable nature of this policy, Engels explained it not so much by the "need" of the military-feudal-mercantile upper circles of Russia for outlets to the sea, sea-ports, for extending foreign trade and dominating strategic points, as by the circumstance that there stood at the head of Russia's foreign policy, an all-powerful and very talented band of foreign adventurers, who succeeded everywhere and in everything, who, in wonderful fashion managed to overcome each and every obstacle in the way of their adventurist purpose, who deceived with astonishing cleverness, all the Governments of Europe, and finally brought it about that Russia became a most powerful state, from the point of military strength. Such a treatment of the question by Engels may seem highly improbable, but it is, unfortunately, a fact. Here are the relevant passages from Engels' article:
"Foreign policy is unquestionably the side on which Tsardom is strong - very strong. Russian diplomacy forms, to a certain extent, a modern Order of Jesuits, powerful enough, if need be, to overcome even the whims of a Tsar, and to crush corruption within its own body, only to spread it the more plenteously abroad; an Order of Jesuits originally, and by preference, recruited from foreigners, Corsicans like Pozzo di Borgo, Germans like Nesselrode, Russo- Germans like Lieven, just as its founder, Catherine the Second, was a foreigner.
Up to the present time, only one thoroughbred Russian, Gortchakov, has filled the highest post in this order, and his successor, Von Giers, again bears a foreign name.
It is this secret order, originally recruited from foreign adventurers, which has raised the Russian Empire to its present power. With iron perseverance, gaze fixed resolutely on the goal, shrinking from no breach of faith, no treachery, no assassinations, no servility, lavishing bribes in all directions, made arrogant by no victory, discouraged by no defeat, stepping over the corpses of millions of soldiers and of, at least, one Tsar, this band, unscrupulous as talented, has done more than all the Russian armies to extend the frontiers of Russia from the Dnieper and Dvina, to beyond the Vistula, to the Pruth, the Danube and the Black Sea; from the Don and Volga beyond the Caucasus, and to the sources of the Oxus and Jaxartes; to make Russia great, powerful and dreaded, and to open for her, the road to the sovereignty of the world."
One might suppose that in Russia's external history, it was diplomacy that achieved everything, while Tsars, feudalists, merchants, and other social groups did nothing, or almost nothing.
One might suppose that, if at the head of Russia's foreign policy, there had stood, not foreign adventurers like Nesselrode or Von Giers, but Russian adventurers like Gortchakov and others, the foreign policy of Russia would have taken a different direction.
It is hardly necessary to mention that the policy of conquest, abominable and filthy as it was, was by no means a monopoly of the Russian Tsars. Everyone knows that a policy of conquest was then the policy, to no less a degree, if not to a greater, of all the rulers and diplomats of Europe, including such an Emperor of bourgeois background as Napoleon, who notwithstanding his non-Tsarist origin, practised in his foreign policy, also, intrigue and deceit, perfidy and flattery, brutality and bribery, murder and incendiarism. Clearly, matters could not be otherwise.
It is evident that in writing his pamphlet against Russian Tsardom, (Engels' article is a good fighting pamphlet), Engels was a little carried away, and, being carried away, forgot for a short time, certain elementary things which were well known to him.
2. Characterising the situation in Europe, and expounding the causes and prospects of the approaching world war, Engels writes:
“The European situation today is governed by three facts:
“(1). The annexation of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. (2). The impending advance of Russian Tsardom upon Constantinople. (3). The struggle in all countries, ever growing fiercer, between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the working-class and the middle- class, a struggle whose thermometer is the everywhere advancing socialist movement.
“The first two facts necessitate the grouping of Europe today, into two large camps. The German annexation makes France the ally of Russia against Germany; the threatening of Constantinople by Tsardom, makes Austria and even Italy, the allies of Germany. Both camps are preparing for a decisive battle, for a war such as the world has not yet seen, in which ten to fifteen million armed combatants will stand face to face. Only two circumstances have thus far prevented the outbreak of this fearful war : first, the incredibly rapid improvements in firearms, in consequence of which, every newly invented weapon is already superseded by a new invention, before it can be introduced into even one army; and, secondly, the absolute impossibility of calculating the chances, the complete uncertainty as to who will finally come out victor from this gigantic struggle.
“All this danger of a general war will disappear on the day when a change of things in Russia will allow the Russian people to blot out, at a stroke, the traditional policy of conquest of its Tsars; and to turn its attention to its own internal vital interests, now seriously menaced, instead of dreaming about universal supremacy.
“...a Russian National Assembly, in order to settle only the most pressing internal difficulties, would at once have to put a decided stop to all hankering after new conquests.
“Europe is gliding down an inclined plane with increasing swiftness towards the abyss of a general war, a war of hitherto unheard-of extent and ferocity. Only one thing can stop it – a change of system in Russia. That this must come about in a few years there can be no doubt.
“On that day, when Tsardom falls, – this last stronghold of the whole European reaction – on that day, a quite different wind will blow across Europe.”
It is impossible not to observe that in this characterisation of the situation in Europe, and summary of the causes leading towards world war, Engels omits one important factor, which later on played the most decisive part, namely, the factor of imperialist struggle for colonies, for markets, for sources of raw materials. This had very serious importance already at that time. He omits the role of Great Britain as a factor in the coming world war, the factor of the contradictions between Germany and Great Britain, contradictions which were already of serious importance and which later on played almost the determining part in the beginning and development of the world war.
I think that this omission constitutes the principal weakness in Engels' article. From this weakness there ensue the remaining weaknesses of the article, of which the following are noteworthy
(a). Overestimation of the role of Tsarist Russia's striving towards Constantinople in connection with the maturing of the world war. True, Engels mentions first as a war factor, the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by Germany, but thereafter, he removes this factor into the background and brings to the forefront the predatory strivings of Russian Tsardom, asserting that "all the danger of general war will disappear on the day when a change of things in Russia will allow the Russian people to blot out, at a stroke, the traditional policy of conquest of its Tsars."
This is certainly an exaggeration.(b). Overestimation of the role of the bourgeois revolution in Russia, the role of the "Russian National Assembly" (bourgeois Parliament), in relation to averting the approaching world war. Engels asserts that the downfall of Russian Tsarism is the only means of averting world war. This is plain exaggeration. A new bourgeois order in Russia, with its "national assembly", could not avert war, if only because the principal sources of war lay in the increasing intensity of imperialist struggle between the main imperialist powers. The fact is, that from the time of Russia's defeat in the Crimea in the 'fifties of the last century, the independent role of Tsarism in the sphere of European foreign policy, began to wane to a significant extent, and that, as a factor in the imperialist world conflict, Tsarist Russia served essentially as an auxiliary reserve for the principal powers of Europe.
(c). Overestimation of the role of the Tsarist power as the "last stronghold of the whole European reaction." That the Tsarist power in Russia, was a mighty stronghold of all European (and also Asiatic) reaction, there can be no doubt. But that it was the last stronghold of this reaction, one can legitimately doubt.It is necessary to note that these weaknesses of Engels' article are not only of "historical value." They have, or can have, a most serious practical importance. Truly, if imperialist struggle for colonies and spheres of influence is lost sight of, as a factor in the approaching world war; if the imperialist contradictions between England and Germany are forgotten; if the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by Germany is withdrawn from the foreground as a war factor in favour of Russian Tsardom's striving towards Constantinople, considered as the more serious and determining factor; if, finally, Russian Tsardom represents the last rampart of all European reaction, - then, is it not clear that a war, let us say, of bourgeois Germany against Tsarist Russia is not an imperialist war, not a robber war, not an anti-popular war, but a war of liberation, or almost of liberation?
One can hardly doubt that this way of thinking facilitated the sin of the German Social-Democrats on August 4th, 1914, when they decided to vote for war credits, and proclaimed the slogan of defence of the bourgeois Fatherland against Tsarist Russia and against "Russian barbarism" and so on.
It is characteristic that, in his letters to Bebel written in 1891, a year after the publication of this article, when he deals with the prospects of the coming war, Engels says directly that "the victory of Germany is, therefore, the victory of the revolution", and that "if Russia starts a war, then - forward against the Russians and their allies, whoever they may be!"
It is obvious that such a way of thinking allows no place for revolutionary war into civil war.
That is how matters stand as regards the weaknesses in Engels' article.
Evidently Engels, alarmed by the Franco-Russian alliance which was then (1801-91) being formed, with its edge directed against the Austro-German coalition set himself the task of attacking Russia's foreign policy in this article, so as to deprive it of all credit in the eyes of European public opinion, and especially British public opinion; but in carrying out this task, he lost sight of a number of other very important and even determining factors, with the result that he fell into the one-sidedness which we have revealed.
After all this, is it appropriate to print Engels' article in our fighting organ, "Bolshevik", as an article which provides guidance, or which, in any case, is profoundly instructive – because it is clear that to print it in "Bolshevik", would mean to give it, tacitly, such a recommendation?
I think it is not appropriate.
(Written as a letter to members of the political bureau of the C.P.S.U. on July 19, 1934.)
Bolshevik No. 9