Letter to August Bebel, January 24, 1893

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 24 January 1893


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First published abridged in: F. Engels, Politisches Vermächtni. Aus unveröffentlichen Briefen, Berlin, 1920 and in full in: Marx and Engels, Works, First Russian Edition, Vol. XXIX, Moscow, 1946

Extract: Marx & Engels on the Irish Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971, p. 355-56;

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 50

To Bebel in Berlin

London, January 24, 1893[edit source]

Dear August,

I continue. What Aveling told me confirms the suspicion I already had, namely, that Keir Hardie secretly cherishes the wish to lead the new party in a dictatorial way, just as Parnell led the Irish, and that moreover he tends to sympathise with the Conservative Party rather than the Liberal opposition. He publicly declares that Parnell’s experiment, which compelled Gladstone to give in, ought to be repeated at the next election and where it is impossible to nominate a Labour candidate one should vote for the Conservatives, in order to show the Liberals the power of the party. Now this is a policy which under definite circumstances I myself recommended to the English; however, if at the very outset one does not announce it as a possible tactical move but proclaims it as tactics to be followed under any circumstances, then it smells strongly of Champion. Especially when, at the same time, Keir Hardie refers disparagingly to the extension of the suffrage and other reforms, which alone might be expected to give reality to working-class suffrage over here, as purely political matters which must take second place after social demands—eight hours, industrial safety, etc. Though, renouncing as he does their enforcementhy Labour M.P.s, he fails to explain how these social demands are to be implemented unless by grace of the middle classes, or else by means of indirect pressure exerted by Labour’s casting vote in the elections. I draw your attention to this knotty point in order that you may be informed should occasion arise. For the time being I do not attach any particular importance to the matter since at the very worst Keir Hardie is likely to err gravely in his estimate of the workers in the industrial districts of the North of England, who are not a flock of sheep, and since he will, in any case, encounter opposition enough in the Executive. But a tendency of this kind ought not to be completely ignored.

I am very anxious to see the stenographic copy of Singer’s[1] speech on the stock exchange; it read very well indeed in the Vorwärts[2]. But one point of this topic is easily overlooked by all our people: the stock exchange is an institution where the bourgeoisie exploit not the workers but one another. The surplus value which changes hands on the Exchange is surplus value already in existence, the product of past exploitation of labour. Only when that process is finished can the surplus value serve the ends of stock exchange swindling. The stock exchange interests us in the first place only indirectly just as its influence, its repercussion on the capitalist exploitation of the workers, is felt only indirectly, and in a roundabout way. To ask that the workers should take a direct interest and wax indignant over the way the landlords, manufacturers and petty bourgeois are fleeced on the stock exchange means demanding that the workers should take to arms in order to protect their direct exploiters so that they can remain in possession of the surplus value which they had filched from these self-same workers. No, thank you. But as the finest fruit of bourgeois society, as the hearth of extreme corruption, as the hothouse of the Panama[3] and other scandals — and therefore also as an excellent medium for the concentration of capitals, the disintegration and dissolution of the last remnants of naturally formed interconnections in bourgeois society and at the same time for the annihilation of all orthodox moral concepts and their perversion into their opposites, as an incomparable means of destruction and as a most powerful accelerator of the impending revolution — in this historical sense the stock exchange is also of direct interest to us.

I see the Centre[4] has moved that there be a stay of prescription for the period in which the Reichstag suspends prosecutions. Since the Centre is the dominant party the motion seems likely to be carried.[5] Should this happen, it would seem to me inappropriate to make the government a gratuitous present of the above limitation of parliamentary rights without any quid pro quo. The quid pro quo should consist in the express acknowledgement that the Reichstag’s right of suspension is also applicable to penal detention. Otherwise the Reichstag would again be beating a retreat— whatever legal plausibility the measure might seem to possess.

The bogey of war has again raised its head. Herewith Dalziel’s despatch from today’s Daily Chronicle—as a youthful competitor of Reuter, Wolff and Havas, Dalziel is more readily open to such reptilian manoeuvres.[6] The affair as such is absurd. The Russians are simply not prepared for war and would have to be quite off their heads to embark on one now. There is, of course, a possibility that, after the failure of the last Parisian loan,[7] they would only be able to obtain money in Paris if war were really imminent or had already broken out—but that would be a counsel of despair. What cannot be completely ruled out is the possibility that the Opportunists[8] and Radicals [9] in France will seek to save themselves from Panama by means of a war or at any rate have this at the back of their minds as a last recourse. But where could they find the pretext that would justify them in the eyes of the world? As I have said before, in the next war England will play a dominant role on account of its naval supremacy.[10] And as it happens, England has just played a nasty trick on the French in Egypt.[11] To gain England’s support, in the present state of tension between the two governments, there would have to be a casus belli which, even to your philistine, would seem a gross provocation, and this Caprivi will not provide.

The more information I gather on this point, the more I am struck by the fact that Bismarck formed the Austrian resp. Triple Alliance.[12] simply in order that he might, on the eve of the now inevitable war, give Austria to Russia in exchange for France: Leave me France and I’ll leave you Austria and Turkey and, what’s more, unleash Italy against Austria via Trieste and Trient.[13] And he clearly imagined he would pull it off. Reflect for a while on the course of history since 1878[14] and you will, I believe, come round to my view.

To me Tutzauer’s hire-purchase speech in the Reichstag Report (Vorwärts) of the 21st is quite incomprehensible. He wasn’t speaking as a Social Democrat but as a furniture salesman.[15] How could this have happened? The Young[16] will be overjoyed.

Last night there was a concert and ball for the benefit of the Society.[17] I stayed until 11 o’clock and shall now presumably be exempted for a while from such obligations; Louise[18] had to stay at home because of neuralgia in her side. She is a bit better, but still suffers a lot of pain which, Freyberger says, will persist for another day or two. Otherwise her cold is on the mend and her voice and general condition have also improved. She sends you and your wife her warmest regards, as does

Your

F.E.

  1. Paul Singer (1844-1911) — prominent leader of German working-class movement, from 1887 member of Executive, from 1890 Chairman of Executive of Social-Democratic Party of Germany, waged active struggle against opportunism and revisionism.
  2. Vorwärts, No. 17, 20 January 1893
  3. The limited company formed in France in 1879 to build a canal across the Panama isthmus failed in 1888, ruining numerous small shareholders and causing many bankruptcies. The public was scandalised when, in the course of the ensuing legal proceedings, it became known that a large number of journalists, Members of Parliament and leading French politicians were involved in the underhand dealings and financial speculations and that many of them had accepted bribes.
  4. Centre—a political party of German Roman Catholics formed in 1870-71 as a result of unification between the Catholic factions in the Prussian Landtag and the German Reichstag (the seats of their deputies used to be in the centre of the assembly hall). The Centre Party would take an intermediate stand, as a rule, by manoeuvering between the parties that backed the government and the Left-wing opposition groups of the Reichstag. It rallied under the banner of Catholicism the socially heterogenous strata of the clergy, the landed aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, that part of the peasantry predominantly in small and mediumsized states, as well as Roman Catholic working men in Western and South-Western
    Germany. The Centrists, while being in opposition to the Bismarck government, voted nonetheless for its anti-labour and anti-Socialist enactments. Engels gave a detailed analysis of the Centre in his work The Role of Force in History and in the article What’s Next?. Since in 1893 the Centre Party had 196 seats in the Reichstag out of 397, it could play a decisive role in the event of differences among other parties.
  5. 121
  6. Reptiles, the reptilian press—an expression that gained wide currency after Bismarck’s speech in the Prussian Chamber of Deputies on 30 January 1869, when he used the word ‘reptiles’ to denigrate opponents of the government. The Left-Wing press, taking up this epithet, applied it to the semi-official press bribed by the Bismarck government and to journalists working for it.
  7. Engels alludes to a three percent interest loan which France agreed to grant Russia in September 1891 to a sum of 125 million gold roubles (or 500 million francs). The loan was a great success initially, with the sum of 125 million being surpassed seven-and-a-half-fold during the subscription. But then, because of the dramatic fall in the rate of Russian securities at European exchanges as a result of the 1891 famine in Russia and the country’s worsening economic situation, subscribers refused to accept the bonds. In a bid to prevent a total crash, the Russian government was compelled to buy up a portion of the bonds. As a consequence, bonds worth only 96 million roubles were sold.
  8. Opportunists—a party of moderate bourgeois Republicans which emerged after the 1881 split in the Republican Party and the formation of the left-wing Radical Party with Georges Clemenceau as its head. This name was introduced in 1877 by the journalist Henri Rochefort who coined it from the words of L. Gambetta, the leader of the ‘Moderates’, that reforms should be implemented ‘at an opportune time’ (‘en temps opportun).
  9. Radicals—in the 1880s-1890s, a parliamentary group in France that used to belong to the party of moderate Republicans (the ‘Opportunists’). The Radicals relied chiefly on the petty bourgeoisie and, to some extent, on the middle bourgeoisie; they supported certain bourgeois-democratic demands like a unicameral parliament, separation of the Church from the state, a progressive income tax, limitation of the working day and other social issues. The Radicals were led by G. Clemenceau. Officially the group became known as the Republican Radical and Radical-Socialist Party (Parti républicain radical et radical-socialiste), formed in 1901.
  10. Engels uttered this idea in his article ‘The Foreign Policy of Russian Tsardom
  11. After the death in January 1892 of the Turkish Viceroy (Khedive) of Egypt, Tewfik, his successor Khedive Abbas Hilmi II made an attempt to steer a policy independent of Great Britain. However, in January 1893 the British Consul General in Egypt, Lord Cromer, intervened after Abbas Hilmi II had replaced his prime-minister and, though the French government demanded the Khedive’s independence, forced the viceroy to discard the first candidate and appoint another person in his stead. This move strengthened British dominion over Egypt.
  12. The Triple Alliance—a military and political bloc of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy against France and Russia. This alliance took its final shape in 1882 after Italy had acceded to the Austro-German military alliance concluded in 1879. The Triple Alliance Treaty was signed for a term of five years; it was prolonged in 1887 and 1891 and then automatically extended (in 1902 and in 1912). The Triple Alliance set the stage for division of Europe into two major groups of states hostile to one another and ultimately led to the World War of 1914-18.
  13. Modern name: Trento.
  14. Engels refers to the outcome of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 sealed by the decisions of the Berlin International Congress (13 June - 13 July 1878) which involved representatives of Russia, Britain, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Germany as well as France and Italy. The Congress made significant changes in the terms of the preliminary San Stefano Peace Treaty (of 3 March 1878) between Russia and Turkey which fortified Russia’s positions in the Balkans.
  15. Engels means the speech of Franz Tutzauer, a Social-Democrat, in the Reichstag on 21 January 1893 during the first reading of the draft law on enterprises selling their merchandise on an instalment plan (the text of the speech was published by the newspaper Vorwärts on 22 January 1893). The speaker, who owned a small furniture-dealing shop, defended the rights of shop owners; in particular, their right to recover debts from defaulters, the working people as a rule.
  16. Die Jungen (The Young Ones)—a semi-anarchist opposition group in German Social-Democracy formed in the spring and summer of 1890. It was led by former university students: young literati and editors of party newspapers (hence the name), as well as tradeunion and party leaders from local organisations. The opposition drew support from Social-Democratic Party members among industrial workers and craftsmen. The leaders of the Young Ones were Paul Ernst, Paul Kampffmeyer, Hans Müller, Bruno Wille, Wilhelm Werner, Carl Wildberger and others. Ignoring the new realities obtained for the Party’s activity with the abrogation of the Anti-Socialist Law, the Young Ones opposed the Party’s parliamentary activities as not radical enough and were making demagogic attacks on the Party and its Executive Board (der Vorstand); thus, they accused it of political corruption, opportunism and violation of the Party democracy. In October 1891 the leaders of the Young Ones were expelled from the Party.
  17. This refers to the London German Workers’ Educational Society. Founded in 1840 by Karl Schapper, Joseph Moll, Heinrich Bauer and other activists of the League of the Just. In 1847 and 1849-50 Marx and Engels took part in the work of the Society. With the foundation of the First International it joined the International Working-Men’s Association. The London Educational Society continued in existence under different names until 1918 when it was closed by the British government.
  18. Kautsky