Letters: Marx-Engels Correspondence 1882

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Marx-Engels Correspondence 1882

Engels to Johann Philipp Becker
In Geneva


Written: February 10 1882
First Published: F. Engels, Vergessene Briefe, (Briefe Friedrich Engels' and Johann Philipp Becker), Berlin, 1920;
Translated: Peter and Betty Ross;
Transcribed: zodiac@interlog.com;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

London, February 10 1882

Dear Old Man,

We had absolutely no idea that you were so seriously ill; all we knew was that you had been suffering from erysipelas and that's something that can be cleared up pretty easily. Had I had an inkling of how matters stood, I should have raised some money for you straight away, even though I myself was very short at the time and calls were being made on me from all sides. However, it's still not too late and I've therefore taken out a money order for you for four pounds = 100 frs 80 cts. of which you will doubtless have already been advised; because of an irregularity that cropped up here I wasn't able to write until today.

Between ourselves, one might almost count it a blessing that Marx should have been so preoccupied with his own illness during his wife's last days as to prevent him being unduly preoccupied with his loss, both when it was impending and when it actually happened. Even though we had known for 6 months or more how matters stood, the event itself still came as a terribly hard blow. Marx left yesterday for the South of France [1]; where he will go from there won't be definitely decided until he gets to Paris. Under no circumstances will he make for Italy first; at the start of his convalescence even the possibility of harassment by the police must be avoided.

We have thought about your proposal [2] and take the view that the time has not yet come, though it soon will, to put it into effect. Firstly, a new, formally reorganised International in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy and Spain would only give rise to fresh persecution and ultimately leave one with the choice either of giving the thing up, or of carrying on in secret. The latter option would be a calamity on account of the inevitable passion for coups and conspiracies and the no less inevitable admittance of mouchards ["informers"]. Even in France the renewed application of the law banning the International, [3] a law which has not been repealed -- far from it -- is by no means impossible. -- Secondly, in view of the current wrangles between the Egalite and the Proletaire, there's absolutely no counting on the French; we would have to declare ourselves for one party or the other and that, too, has its disadvantages. As individuals we are on the side of the Egalite, but shall take good care not to support them publicly just now after the succession of tactical blunders they have made, despite our express warnings. -- Thirdly, the English are proving more intractable than ever at present. For 5 whole months I tried, through The Labour Standard, for which I wrote leading articles, [4] to pick up the threads of the old Chartist movement and disseminate our ideas so as to see whether this might evoke some response. Absolutely nothing, and since the editor, a well-meaning but feeble milksop, ended up by taking fright even at the Continental heresies I introduced into the paper, I called it a day.

Thus, we should have been left with an International confined, apart from Belgium, exclusively to refugees, for with the possible exception of Geneva and its environs we couldn't even count on the Swiss -- vide the Arbeiterstimme and Buerkli. It would, however, hardly be worth the trouble to set up a mere refugee association. For the Dutch, Portuguese and Danes wouldn't really improve matters either and the less one has to do with Serbs and Romanians the better.

On the other hand the International does indeed still exist. In so far as it can be effective, there is liaison between the revolutionary workers of all countries. Every socialist journal is an international centre; from Geneva, Zurich, London, Paris, Brussels and Milan the threads run criss-cross in all directions and I honestly don't see how at this juncture the grouping of these small centres round a large main centre could give added strength to the movement -- it would probably only lead to greater friction. But once the moment comes for us to concentrate our forces, it will, for that very reason, be the work of a moment, nor will any lengthy preparation be called for. The names of the pioneers in one country are known in all the others and a manifesto signed and supported by them all would make a tremendous impact -- something altogether different from the largely unknown names of the old General Council. But that is precisely why such a manifesto should be saved up for the moment when it can really strike home, i. e. when events in Europe provoke it. Otherwise you will detract from its future effect and will simply have put yourselves out for nothing. But such events are already taking shape in Russia where the avant-garde of the revolution will be going into battle. You should -- or so we think -- wait for this and its inevitable repercussions on Germany, and then the moment will also have come for a big manifesto and the establishment of an official, formal International, which can, however, no longer be a propaganda association but simply an association for action. For that reason we are firmly of the opinion that so splendid a weapon ought not to be dulled and blunted during the comparatively peaceful days on the very eve of the revolution.

I believe that if you think the matter over again you will come round to our view. Meanwhile we both wish you a good and speedy recovery and hope to hear before long that you are quite all right again.

Ever your old friend,

F. E.

From the MECW


1. In early February 1882, following medical advice, Marx took a trip to Algiers, where he stayed from 20 February to 2 May. On the way there, he stopped over in Argenteuil (a Paris suburb) to visit his daughter Jenny.


2. In his letter to Engels of 1 February 1882, Becker proposed setting up a new international workers' organization along the lines of the International Working Men's Association.


3. Under the law proposed by the Minister of Justice Dufaure, and passed by the French National Assembly on 14 March 1872, membership of the International was punished by imprisonment.


4. In May-August 1881, Engels contributed to the printed organ of the British labour unions The Labour Standard, which appeared in London and was edited by George Shipton. Engels' contributions were printed anonymously nearly every week as leaders.