Interview of Frederick Engels by the Daily Chronicle Correspondent at the End of June 1893

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Engels was interviewed by a correspondent from the Daily Chronicle in connection with the June elections to the Reichstag and the German Social Democrats’ success in them. Apart from the British newspaper, the interview, in a somewhat abridge form, was carried by Le Socialiste, No. 148, July 15, 1893 and in full, by the Critica Sociale, No. 14, July 16, 1893.

...I found Herr Engels at his house in Regent’s Park Road, jubilant, of course, over the result of the elections to the German Reichstag.

“We have gained 10 seats, “said he, in answer to my inquiries. “On the first ballot we obtained 24 seats, and out of 85 of our men left in the second ballots, 20 were returned. We gained 16 seats and lost 6, leaving us with a net gain of 10 seats. We hold 5 out of the 6 seats in Berlin.“

“What is your gross poll? “

“That we shall not know until the Reichstag meets, when the returns will be presented, but you may take it at something over 2,000,000 votes. In 1890 we polled 1,427,000 votes. And you must remember that this is a purely socialist vote. All parties coalesced against us with the exception of a small number of the Volkspartei, which is a sort of Radical-Republican party. [1] We ran 391 candidates, and we refused to make terms with any other party. Had we cared to do so, we might have had 20 or 30 more seats, but we steadfastly set our faces against any compromise, and that is what makes our position so strong. None of our men are pledged to support any party or any measure excepting our own party programme.“

“But surely your 2,000,000 votes ought to have carried more seats?“

“That is owing to the defects in the distribution of seats. When the Reichstag was first created, we were supposed to have equal electoral districts, with one member to every 100,000 inhabitants, but original inequalities and the growth and shifting of population have made the number of electors in each district very unequal. This tells heavily against us. Take the case of Liebknecht’s seat in Berlin. He polled 51,000 votes in a constituency which contains some 500,000 inhabitants.“

“And how about the 6 seats you have lost?“

“Well, there are circumstances connected with each which explain their loss. Bremen was always looked upon as a fluke in 1890. In Lübeck, I have just heard from Bebel, many working people are away, and if the election had occurred in the winter we should have held the seat. Then, again, you must remember that trade depression affects us more than it does you, and we have had to fight against the bitter hostility of every employer of labour. Although voting is by ballot, interested people have found out means nullifying its secrecy. We don’t vote marking a paper, as you do in England, but by means of ballot papers, which each voter brings with him. The depression of trade, besides, and the cholera epidemic of 1892, have compelled numbers of working men to accept publi relief which disfranchises them for the term of a year.

“But I am more proud of our defeats than our victories, “continued Herr Engels. “In Dresden (country district) we came within 100 of the votes polled for a candidate who received the suffrages of every other party, and in a total poll of 32,000. In Ottenseen our candidate came within 500 of a member who has been supported in the same way, on a gross poll of 27,000. In Stuttgart our candidate polled 13,315 votes, and he was only 128 behind the sitting member. In Lübeck we were only 154 behind on a total poll of 19,000. And, as I said before, these are all socialist votes polled against a combination of all other parties.“

“Now, tell me what is your political programme? “

“Our programme is very nearly identical with that of the Social-Democratic Federation in England, [2] although our policy is very different.“

“More nearly approaching that of the Fabian Society, [3] I suppose?“

“No, certainly not, “replied the Herr, with great animation.“ The Fabian Society, I take to be nothing but a branch of the Liberal Party. It looks for no social salvation except through the means which that party supplies. We are opposed to all the existing political parties, and we are going to fight them all. The English Social-Democratic Federation is, and acts, only like a small sect. It is an exclusive body. It has not understood how to take the lead of the working-class movement generally, and to direct it towards socialism. It has turned Marxism into an orthodoxy. Thus it insisted upon John Burns unfurling the red flag at the dock strike, where such an act would have ruined the whole movement, and, instead of gaining over the dockers, would have driven them back into the arms of the capitalists. We don’t do this. Yet our programme is a purely socialist one. Our first plank is the socialisation of all the means and instruments of production. Still, we accept anything which any government may give us, but only as a payment on account, and for which we offer no thanks. We always vote against the Budget, and against any vote for money or men for the Army. In constituencies where we have not had a candidate to vote for on the second ballot, our supporters have been instructed to vote only for those candidates who pledged to vote against the Army Bill, any increased taxation, and any restriction on popular rights.“

“And what will be the effect of the election on German politics?“

“The Army Bill will be carried. [4] There is a complete breakdown of the Opposition. In fact, we are now the only real and compact Opposition. The National Liberals have joined the Conservatives. The Freisinnige party has split into two, and the elections have all but annihilated it. The Catholics and the small sections dare not risk another dissolution, a d will give way sooner than face it.“

“Now, coming to European politics, what do you think will be the effect of the elections on them?“

“Well, the Army Bill being voted, France and Russia will evidently do something in the same direction. France has already absorbed all her male population into her Army, even down to those who are physically unfit, but she will no doubt go in for improving her Army as a fighting machine. Russia will be met with the difficulty of obtaining officers . Austria and Germany will of course stick together.“

“Then there is rather an ugly outlook for the peace of Europe?“

“Of course, any little thing may precipitate a conflict, but I don’t think the rulers of these countries are anxious for war. The precision and range of the new quick-firing arms, and the introduction of smokeless powder, imply such a revolution in warfare that nobody can predict what will be the proper tactics for a battle fought under these novel conditions. It will be a leap in the dark. And the armies confronting each other in future will be so immense as to make all previous wars mere child’s play in comparison with the next war.“

“And what do you think will be the influence of the Social-Democratic Party in Europe?”

“For peace, undoubtedly. We have always protested against the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, and after Sedan Marx and I drew up an address of the International, pointing out that the German people had no quarrel with the French Republic, and demanding peace on honourable terms, and also pointing out exactly what has happened—that the annexation would drive France into the arms of Russia, and would be a standing menace to the peace of Europe.[5] Our Party in the Reichstag has always demanded that the Alsace-Lorrainers should have the opportunity given them to decide their future destiny—whether they should rejoin France, remain German, join Switzerland, or become independent.”

“Then you look for a ‘United States of Europe’ at no distant date?” “Certainly. Everything is making in that direction. Our ideas are spreading in every European country. Here is” (producing a thick volume) “our new review for Roumania.[6] We have a similar one for Bulgaria.[7] The workers of the world are fast learning to unite.”

“Can you give me any figures to illustrate the growth of socialism in Germany?” Herr Engels then produced an elaborate diagram illustrating the number of votes polled by each party at every election to the Reichstag as at present constituted.

“In 1877”, he said, “we polled 500,000 votes; in 1881, owing to the rigour of the Socialist Law[8], only 300,000; in 1884, 550,000, and in 1890, 1,427,000. This time we have polled over 2,000,000.” “And to what do you attribute this marvellous growth?”

“Chiefly to economic causes. We have had as great an industrial revolution in Germany since 1860, with all its attendant evils, as you had in England from 1760 to 1810. Your manufacturers know this very well. Then, again, the present commercial depression has affected ours, a new industrial country, more than yours, an old one. Hence the pressure on the workers. I mean those of all classes. The small tradesman, crushed out by the big store, the clerk, the artisan, the labourer, both in town and country, are beginning to feel the pinch of our present capitalist system. And we place a scientific remedy before them, and as they can all read and think for themselves, they soon come round and join our ranks. Our organisation is perfect—the admiration and despair of our opponents. It has been made perfect owing to the Socialist laws of Bismarck, which were very much like your coercion laws for Ireland. Then, again, our military training and discipline is invaluable. The whole of the 240,000 electors of Hamburg received our election addresses and literature in a quarter of an hour. In fact, last year the government of that town appealed to us to help it in sending round instructions as to how to deal with cholera.”

“Then you expect soon to see, what everybody is curious to see—a Socialist Government in power?”

“Why not? If the growth of our Party continues at its normal rate we shall have a majority between the years 1900 and 1910. And when we do, you may be assured we shall neither be short of ideas nor men to carry them out. You people, I suppose, about that time, will be having a government, in which Mr. Sidney Webb will be growing gray in an attempt to permeate the Liberal Party. We don’t believe in permeating middle-class parties. We are permeating the people.”

  1. The reference is to the Freisinnige Volkspartei formed in May 1893 as a result of the split in the Freisinnige Partei (see Note 8). The split occurred on May 6, 1893, the day when the Reichstag was dissolved following a difference of opinion on the Military Bill. Part of the parliamentary group led by Heinrich Ricken and Theodor Barth, which supported the government, formed the Freisinnige Vereinigung; the other part, headed by Eugen Richter, which opposed an increase in military expenditure and reflected the mood of the radical elements, called itself the Freisinnige Volkspartei
  2. See Note 98.
  3. See Note 434.
  4. The Military Bill rejected in May 1893 was, in a somewhat modified form, again submitted by the government for approval by the Reichstag and passed by the latter on July 15, 1893. The new military law gave the government an opportunity to increase allocations to the army and to revise the war budget (actually to raise it) not every 7 years (as had occurred under the septennial laws of 1874, 1880 and 1887), but every 5 years. For this reason it became known as the quinquennium.
  5. Engels is referring to the “Second Address of the General Council of the International Working Men's Association on the Franco-Prussian War“ (see present edition, Vol. 22, pp. 263-70). The “Address“ was written by Marx but also contained material by Engels that exposed as unfounded the claims of the Prussian Junkers and the German bourgeoisie to Alsace and Lorraine and refuted the military-strategic arguments used to boost them.
  6. Contemporanul.—Ed.
  7. Социал-демократ.— Ed
  8. This refers to the Anti-Socialist Law passed by the Reichstag on October 21, 1878, for the purpose of suppressing the socialist and the working-class movement. It banned all party organizations, mass workers' associations, and the socialist and labor press and authorized repressive actions against Social Democrats. However, the Social-Democratic Party, supported by Marx and Engels, had managed to strike a balance between underground work and legal activities and to consolidate and expand its influence even in the years when the Anti-Socialist Law was in force. The Law's validity was extended in 1881, 1884, 1886, and 1888, and it was repealed on October 1, 1890. Engels gave an assessment of it in his essay "Bismarck and the German Working Men's Party" (present edition, Vol. 24, pp. 407-09).