Letters: Marx-Engels Correspondence 1895

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Marx-Engels Correspondence 1895

Engels to Karl Kautsky
In Stuttgart


London, May 21, 1895

I have learnt a great deal from the book,[Forerunners of Modern Socialism, by K. Kautsky] it is an indispensable preliminary study for my new revision of the Peasant War. The main faults seem to be only two: (1) A very inadequate examination of the development and role of the declassed elements, almost like pariahs, who stood right outside the feudal organisation and were inevitably bound to come to the fore whenever a town was formed; who constitute the lowest stratum of the population of every mediaeval town, having no rights at all, detached from the Markgenossenschaft, from feudal dependence and from the craft guild. This is difficult, but it is the chief basis, for by degrees as the feudal ties are loosened, these elements become the pre-proletariat which in 1789 made the revolution in the suburbs of Paris, and which absorbs all the outcasts of feudal and guild society. You speak of proletarians--the expression is ambiguous--and bring in the weavers, whose importance you describe quite correctly--but only after declassed journeymen weavers, existed outside the guilds, and only in so far as these existed, can you make them into your proletariat. Here there is still a lot to make good.

(2) You have not fully grasped Germany's position in the world market, her international economic position, in so far as it is possible to speak of this, at the end of the 15th century. This position alone explains why the bourgeois plebeian movement in religious form which was defeated in England, the Netherlands and Bohemia could have a certain success in Germany in the 16th century: the success of its religious disguise, whilst the success of the bourgeois content - of the new direction of the world market which had arisen in the meantime--was reserved for: Holland and England. This is a lengthy subject, which I hope to deal with in extenso [in full] in the Peasant War.--If only I were already at it!

[Note: a few months later Engels died of throat cancer.]