Letter to August Bebel, August 18, 1886

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 18 August 1886


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 47;
First published: in Marx-Engels Archives, Vol. I (VI), Moscow, 1932.

To August Bebel in Plauen near Dresden

Eastbourne, 18 August 1886 4 Cavendish Place[edit source]

Dear Bebel,

It is a long time since I sent you word of myself, but on the one hand nothing in particular had happened that seemed to call for an exchange of opinions and, on the other, the ms. of the translation of Capital was giving me such an immense amount of work that I had, quite literally and on principle, to let slide all correspondence that did not require immediate attention for about 10 weeks. Now that, too, has been dealt with, so that all that is pursuing me down to the seaside here are the very troublesome proofs and this means that I shall at last be able to make good my omissions, especially since various things have happened that are worth writing about.

First and foremost the Freiberg verdicts. It would seem that your German, and notably Saxon, magistrate still deems himself insufficiently depraved. His case is like that of Eccarius in the days of the International, of whom Pfänder once said: ‘You have absolutely no idea what Eccarius is like; he intends to become far worse than he already is.’ And the Saxons are no exception. In Germany everything official is corrupt, but a petty state gives rise to a particular brand of corruption. For its semi or wholly hereditary official class is so small and at the same time so jealous of its caste privileges that its judiciary, police, administration and army, all brothers and relatives, come to one another’s aid and play into one another’s hands, and to such good purpose that the legal norms, indispensable in larger countries, are completely lost to view, and what is utterly impossible becomes possible. I myself have seen what can happen in this way, not only in Germany but also in Luxembourg and, quite recently, in Jersey, not to mention Switzerland in the bad old Bonapartist days. And I am convinced that Bismarck could have achieved the same end in any other petty German state as soon as the Court, the chief of the robber band, ceased to oppose him. In the largest of the petty states, in Prussia itself, this mutual aid society is formed by the military and official elite and is capable of any infamy in the real or purported interest of the caste.

Just now the ruling clique has more than enough to do. The death of old William [I] will usher in a period of uncertainty and indecision for them — hence, or so they believe, the need to consolidate their position as much as possible beforehand. Hence, too, the sudden furious hue and cry which is raised to an even higher pitch by their fury over the complete failure of all their previous machinations against us, and their hope of [provoking] minor disturbances which would make it possible to tighten up the law. And that is why you people have got to spend nine months in jug.

I hope you will return from your travels this summer so fortified that those 9 months will not be deleterious to your health. This, your enforced retirement, will prove extremely deleterious to the party; true, the tractable members will at last be made to realise that mildness is no safeguard against imprisonment, yet they are unlikely to change their spots and their endeavour to pass themselves off as the genuine representatives of the party will be facilitated by everything that impedes the organisation, and hence the organised expression of opinion, of our masses. And once they know you're safely under lock and key, they'll really start to give themselves airs. Much will then depend on Liebknecht, but upon what will he depend? He will be coming over here in a fortnight’s time and will pass on to me a vast amount of party gossip, or as much of it as he thinks fit. But of one thing you may be sure — my view of the German movement as a whole, of the tactics it should adopt, and of its individual members including Liebknecht himself, will remain what it has always been. Come to that, I am greatly looking forward to seeing him again, although I know from experience that reasoning with him is a complete waste of time — at most he may take some account of my opinion while in America, where Tussy Aveling will be able to give him an occasional nudge and so keep him on the straight and narrow. As regards the fund-raising success of the tour, I have my doubts. Now that the American movement is acquiring reality, it is bound to become an ever less productive source of funds for Germany. This it could only be while still a completely academic proposition. But now that the Anglo-American workers have been roused from their lethargy, it is essential that in speeches and the press they be helped to take their first, still tentative steps, that a truly socialist nucleus be formed in their midst, and this costs money. Nevertheless, this time there may still be some pickings to be had.

The entry of the Americans into the movement and the revival of the French movement by the three labour deputies and by Decazeville — these are the two events of world historic importance this year. In America there’s all sorts of tomfoolery going on — here the anarchists, there the Knight of Labour — but no matter; the thing has got going and will make rapid progress. There are still many disappointments in store — the wire-pullers of the old political parties are preparing covertly to take over the leadership of the budding workers’ party — and colossal blunders will be made, but nevertheless, things will go faster there than anywhere else.

In France the 108,000 votes obtained by Roche prove that the Radicals’ spell is broken and the Paris workers are beginning to disown them, and to do so on a massive scale. To consolidate this victory, this new-won position, our men have managed to transform the temporary organisation set up for Roche’s election into a permanent one and in this way have become the theoretical teachers of the working men who are turning away from the Radicals. Though they all describe themselves as socialists, these people are learning from bitter experience that the threadbare remnants they have inherited from Proudhon and Louis Blanc are mere bourgeois and petty-bourgeois dross; hence they are proving quite accessible to Marx’s theory. This is a consequence of the Radicals being partially at the helm; once wholly so, they will lose their entire working-class following and I maintain that the victory of Radicalism, i.e. of old, threadbare French socialism, in the Chamber will spell victory for Marxism, to begin with in the Paris municipal council. Oh, had Marx but lived to see his thesis vindicated in France and America, — his thesis that today’s democratic republic is no more than the battleground upon which the decisive struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat will be fought out!

For all that, practically nothing is yet happening in this country.

In the original ‘trotz alledem und alledem’ — a line from a poem by Ferdinand Freiligrath Trotz alledem!

Not even a socialist sect, as in Owen’s day, can be said to exist. There are as many sects as there are heads. The Social Democratic Federation does at least have a programme and a certain amount of discipline, but no backing whatever from the masses. Its bosses are political adventurers of the most ambitious kind, and their paper, Justice, is one long lie about the historic power and importance of the Federation. Even the worthy Ede occasionally forgets this and inopportunely cites the paper, thus doing the genuine movement over here more harm than he can make good; from where he is it is difficult for him to assess the way in which Justice exploits this. The League is going through a crisis. Morris, a sentimental dreamer pure and simple, the personification of good will with so good an opinion of itself that it turns into ill will if ever there’s a question of learning anything, has been taken in by the catchword ‘Revolution’ and fallen victim to the anarchists. Bax is very talented and no fool but, philosopher-fashion, has concocted his own brand of socialism which he regards as true Marxian theory and with which he does a great deal of harm. However, in his case these are merely teething troubles and will soon disappear; only it’s a pity the process should have to take place in public. Nor can Aveling learn very much, taken up as he is with working for his livelihood; he is the only one I see regularly. However, the publication of Capital in English will clear the air enormously over here.

And with that I must close if I want to finish this letter. It is 6.45, tea is about to be served and the last post goes at 8. So take care of yourself and mind you don’t pay my long silence back in kind. And above all, let me assure you that any gossip that might perhaps concern you yourself will make no impression on me whatever.

Your old friend,
F. E.

I am sure to be here until the 28th of this month, after which you had better write to London.