Letter to August Bebel, August 30, 1883

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To August Bebel in Borsdorf near Leipzig

Eastbourne, 30 August, 1883

4 Cavendish Place

Dear Bebel,

I am taking advantage of a moment’s peace to write to you. In London numerous jobs, down here numerous interruptions (three grown-ups and two small children in one room!); on top of that proofreading[1] and the revision of an English specimen translation as also of a popularised French version of Capital. How’s a chap to write letters!

I have corrected up to sheet 21 of the 3rd edition which contains voluminous addenda; by the end of the year the thing will be out. As soon as I am back I shall get down to Volume 2 in real earnest and that is an enormous task. Alongside parts that have been completely finished are others that are merely sketched out, the whole being a brouillon[2] with the exception of perhaps two chapters. Quotations from sources in no kind of order, piles of them jumbled together, collected simply with a view to future selection. Besides that there is the handwriting which certainly cannot be deciphered by anyone but me, and then only with difficulty. You ask why I of all people should not have been told how far the thing had got. It is quite simple; had I known, I should have pestered him night and day until it was all finished and printed. And Marx knew that better than anyone else. He knew besides that, if the worst came to the worst, as has now happened, the ms. could be edited by me in the spirit in which he would have done it himself, indeed he told Tussy as much.

As regards the photograph,[3] the head is quite excellent. The pose is stiff, as in all his photographs; he was a bad ‘sitter’. It does not irritate me in any way but, because of the stiffness of the pose, I prefer the smaller one to the larger.

The election in Hamburg has also created a great sensation abroad. But then the behaviour of our chaps could not have been more exemplary. Such tenacity, perseverance, flexibility and ready wit, such waggish confidence of winning in the struggle with the greater and lesser miseries of the Germany of today, is unprecedented in recent German history. Especially splendid is the contrast it presents to the corruption, flabbiness and general decay of all other classes of German society. The very extent to which these classes demonstrate their inability to rule brings out in brilliant relief the ruling mission of the German proletariat, its ability to overturn the whole sordid old mess.

The ‘jets of cold water’ directed by Bismarck on Paris are becoming ridiculous, even in the eyes of the French bourgeois. Even a paper as stupid as the Soir has discovered that nothing more is involved dian the new appropriations in the Reichstag for the military (this time the field artillery).[4] As for his alliances (he has descended to Serbia, Romania and now Spain of all places), all these are houses built of cards that will be blown down by a puff of wind. If he’s lucky he won’t need them and if he’s unlucky they will land him in the cart. The greater a blackguard a man is, the more he believes in the uprightness of others and that, in the end, is his undoing. It is unlikely to get to that stage with Bismarck so far as his foreign policy is concerned, for the French won’t do him the favour of picking a quarrel. Only the Tsar[5] might try something of the kind out of desperation and come to grief in the process. But I hope he will come to grief at home before that.

The Manifesto of the Democratic Federation in London has been issued by about twenty to thirty little societies which under different names (always the same people) have for the last twenty years at least been repeatedly trying, and always with the same lack of success, to make themselves important. All that is important is that now at last they are obliged openly to proclaim our theory, which during the period of the International seemed to them to be dictated from outside, as their own, and that a crowd of young bourgeois intelligentsia are emerging who, to the disgrace of the English workers it must be said, understand things better and take them up more passionately than the workers. For even in the Democratic Federation the workers for the most part only accept the new programme unwillingly and as a matter of form. The chief of the Democratic Federation, Hyndman, is an arch-conservative and an extremely chauvinistic but not stupid careerist, who behaved pretty shabbily[6] to Marx (to whom he was introduced by Rudolf Meyer) and for this reason was dropped by us personally.

Do not on any account whatever let yourself be deluded into thinking there is a real proletarian movement going on here. I know Liebknecht tries to delude himself and all the world about this, but it is not the case. The elements at present active may become important since they have accepted our theoretical programme and so acquired a basis, but only if a spontaneous movement breaks out here among the workers and they succeed in getting control of it. Till then they will remain individual minds, with a hotch-potch of confused sects, remnants of the great movement of the 'forties, standing behind them and nothing more. And--apart from the unexpected--a really general workers' movement will only come into existence here when the workers are made to feel the fact that England's world monopoly is broken.

Participation in the domination of the world market was and is the basis of the political nullity of the English workers. The tail of the bourgeoisie in the economic exploitation of this monopoly but nevertheless sharing in its advantages, politically they are naturally the tail of the "great Liberal Party," which for its part pays them small attentions, recognises trade unions and strikes as legitimate factors, has relinquished the fight for an unlimited working day and has given the mass of better placed workers the vote. But once America and the united competition of the other industrial countries have made a decent breach in this monopoly (and in iron this is coming rapidly, in cotton unfortunately not as yet) you will see something here.

I asked Liebknecht to tell you that, if you happened to be in the neighbourhood of Darmstadt between now and 12 September, you should advise Schorlemmer who is staying there, so that he can look you up somewhere in that region. It is probably too late now. Regards to Liebknecht.


F. E.

  1. of the third German edition of Volume I of Capital
  2. draft
  3. of Marx
  4. Le Soir, 29 August 1883
  5. Alexander III
  6. The words 'ziemlich schofel' ('pretty shabbily') were crossed out in the original and 'nicht schön' ('not nicely') written above them in an unknown handwriting.