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Letters of Frederick Engels 1882

Engels To Eduard Bernstein
In Zurich

Source: MECW Volume 46, p. 353;
First published: in full, in Marx Engels Archives, Moscow, 1924;
Transcribed: Andy Blunden

London, 2-3 November 1882

Dear Mr Bernstein,

Have still received no proofs (just arrived 3/11). On the other hand, have had from Bebel the Accident and Health Insurance Bill of 1882, but not the earlier one which represents genuine Bismarckian socialism, unclouded by parliamentary divisions. This 1 would much like to have, along, perhaps, with other matter relating to the Accident Insurance Bank; without it I can do nothing.

Many thanks for Marquis Posener [Stock Exchange nickname for the Märkisch-Posener Railway Company]. I do not need all the details in respect of the remaining railways. The early or mid-1879 prices (before anything was known about nationalisation) would suffice. The difference between then and now would be proof enough of the way the state has bought up the bourgeoisie.

In many respects Lassalle was a good jurist and, moreover, had studied his Roman law of inheritance sufficiently to impress jurists by the extent of his knowledge. (Impress was a favourite expression of his; while contemplating the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, he said to Marx: ‘Should I, do you think, set aside six months in order that I may impress the Egyptologists?') In Germany all one has to do is elaborate some point in accordance with a particular theory, and the jurists of today have forgotten that the theory elaborated by Lassalle was lifted word for word from Hegel’s Philosophy of Law and History and, moreover, does not hold water if applied to the Roman law of inheritance; this did not evolve out of what Hegel called ‘the will'; rather, it evolved out of the history of the Roman gens, the tribal kinship group about which, indeed, few jurists know very much. I only said, by the way, that I should be obliged to demolish the legend of Lassalle as an original thinker, and that is absolutely essential.

I had not seen Lafargue’s letter in the Prolétaire and shall certainly ask for it to be sent me from Paris, though I am unlikely to get it. If you still have it, I should be glad if you could send it me; you shall have it back. Incidentally, Malon had better be on his guard; Lafargue has a whole pile of compromising letters from him.

Picard’s absurd article has certainly been disclaimed in the Citoyen, as Marx saw with his own eyes. Come to that, the man who sent it to you, marked in blue, does not know French; he has underlined as a chauvinistic remark of the Citoyen’s a passage which Picard attributes to the exploiteurs bourgeois ... ligue des patriotes ... dont Gambetta est la tête! [bourgeois exploiters ... patriotic league ... of which Gambetta is the chief] I have marked it in red. Picard enjoys pitting himself against Guesde and, by way of playing a nasty prank on the latter, smuggled the article into the paper; if a proper editorial department were a possibility over there, this nonsense wouldn’t have occurred.

Now for the ‘nothing short of creditable performance put up by the editors of the Citoyen in the affaire Godard’. We happen to know all about this, Marx having often heard the tale when in Paris, both from those who had taken part and those who had had nothing whatever to do with it. Following an incident at a meeting Godard went to the editorial office of the Citoyen where he was accorded an amiable reception by Guesde who still has something of a soft spot — of a personal nature — for his erstwhile anarchist brothers. In the middle of a quiet conversation Godard, with no excuse whatsoever, suddenly dealt Guesde a violent blow in the face. The others sprang to their feet, whereupon Godard, like the cowardly anarchist he is, took refuge in a corner — surely they would not ill-treat him, a prisonnier. And, instead of beating him into pulp, the childlike Citoyen chaps conferred together and decided qu'en effet il fallait le lâcher parce qu'il — était prisonnier [that in fact he ought to be let go because he was a prisoner]!! Godard left in a hurry, sad to say, unchastised. But the following evening, when most of the editors were known to be absent, a dozen armed (with cudgels, etc.) anarchists forced their way into the office and, with threats, demanded satisfaction of some kind or other. Massard, however, stood firm, and they had to retire empty-handed. But now the fédération du centre was informed; for several evenings they placed working men on guard, and messieurs les anarchistes did not return.

But now I would ask you to give me some idea of the sort of thing the ‘nothing short of creditable’, etc., is supposed to have consisted in.

The whole gist of your letter points to the conclusion that you are not getting the Citoyen regularly and hence, apart from the Égalité and the Prolétaire, have to depend on the accounts provided by comrades in Paris who, in turn, exclusively rely on the services of Malon and Co., in regard to whom their credulity would seem to have assumed no mean proportions. In my view, however, the party organ ought in no circumstances to allow its judgment of a workers’ movement in a foreign country to be unduly influenced by comrades in that country’s capital who are, after all, a shifting population. German associations a road are unquestionably the worst sources of information on the movement abroad; they seldom command a bird’s eye view and generally have their own particular connections to the exclusion of any others, which means that they are unable to participate in the daily life and development of the movement around them; finally, they persist in the belief that, even today, they are still of more than passing significance to the masses actually inside Germany. What would have become of our freedom to form an opinion of the English movement or non-movement, had we paid the slightest heed to the changing majority in the London Society? And are not the German associations in New York equally uncritical in their attitude towards the American labour movement? Every association desires above all else to be thought important, and will therefore — in the absence of a very energetic and intelligent leadership — fall an easy prey to any foreigner who knows the ropes.


Nor have you any other source, i. e. other than Malon at second hand, for your reiterated assertion that in France ‘Marxism’ suffers from a marked lack of esteem. Now what is known as ‘Marxism’ in France is, indeed, an altogether peculiar product — so much so that Marx once said to Lafargue: ‘Ce qu'il y a de certain c'est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste.’ [If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist] But if, last summer, the Citoyen was able to sell 25,000 copies and attain a standing such that Lissagaray hazarded his reputation in order to gain control of it, would not this seem somewhat incompatible with the lack of esteem you insist upon? Even more incompatible, however, is the fact that the said lack of esteem does not prevent these chaps from enjoying an esteem so great as to enable them, after being chucked out of the Citoyen, to start up an important new daily paper the self-same day and, supported almost exclusively by workers and petty bourgeois (ouvriers et petit industriels as Lafargue puts it), to keep it going for almost a fortnight despite harassment by the proprietors of the old Citoyen, and find a capitalist with whom they will be negotiating the paper’s fate — oui ou non tomorrow. The facts speak so clearly for themselves that Malon will doubtless have to swallow his ‘lack of esteem’. However, so great is the ‘esteem’ in which Mr Malon himself is held that, upon his applying to Rochefort for an increase in the fee he is paid for his Intransigeant articles, he received the reply: ‘Je vous paierai plus si vous écrivez moins.’ [I shall pay you more if you write less.] One of these days Malon ought to have a go at founding a daily paper in Paris without so much as a farthing in his pocket, and then he could show us just what the esteem he enjoys is capable of doing.

But enough. I have asked Lafargue to send the Égalité to the Sozialdemokrat by way of exchange, and today he writes to say he will do so, in return for which kindly send the Sozialdemokrat to the Égalité. Should the Égalité not arrive regularly, you need only drop a line on a postcard to P. Lafargue, 66 boulevard de Port-Royal, Paris.

As regards Vollmar’s articles the first in particular, levelled as it was directly against those people who, cost what it may, are clamouring for the repeal of the Anti-Socialist Law, was very good and hit the nail on the head. The second I read rather cursorily before a journey, with 3 or 4 people chattering around me. Otherwise I would not have taken the lenient view I in fact did of the excessively fervent language which, in conclusion, he advocates for use by the party. Bebel is right about this point which, however, I think he takes rather too seriously. The real weakness of the 2nd article (which I did note, but attached little importance to) lies in its childish idea of the corning revolution which is to begin by the whole world splitting itself ‘A Guelph! A Waibling!’, into 2 armies — on one side ourselves, on the other the whole of the ‘single reactionary mass’ . I. e. the revolution is to start with the fifth act, not with the first, in which the masses of the opposition parties stand shoulder to shoulder against the government and its blunders and thus win through, whereupon one after the other of the individual parties amongst the victors loses its efficacity and puts itself out of the running, until finally the mass of the people are thereby forced onto our side, at which juncture the decisive battle so much vaunted by Vollmar can take place. However, in this context the point was a subsidiary one; what mattered was the demonstration that, if the gentlemen of the ‘right wing’ were to have their way, we should indeed be able to rid ourselves of the Anti-Socialist Law on conditions which, while more detrimental to the party than the Anti-Socialist Law itself, would permit these gentlemen to publish sheets like the Hamburg Gerichts-Zeitung, etc., and pass them off as party organs. In this I agree entirely with Vollmar and have, indeed, written and told Bebel as much.

Yesterday I took out in your name, 137 alte Landstrasse, Riesbach, a money order for 12/- = 15.10 frs in payment of Marx’s and my subscription. Kindly remind me when this again falls due.

Congratulations on entering your seventh thousand.

F. E.

In view of your amendment in the preface, there is no longer any call for an allusion to the Wyden Conference, and I shall therefore delete it. Kindly send me 2 fair proofs. Proof will go off today or tomorrow.