Letter to August Bebel, July 24, 1885

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 24 July 1885

First published, in Russian, in Marx-Engels Archives, Vol. I (VI), Moscow, 1932

Published: Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe, International Publishers, 1942;

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 47

To August Bebel in Zurich

London, 24 July, 1885[edit source]

Dear Bebel,

I shall try and see whether this letter finds you in Zurich on the 26th, as you lead me to suppose.

So far as I can see from here, the row in the party is taking just the course we wanted. Frohme has got his comrades into as nasty a fix as possible, which cannot but please us, but luckily Liebknecht is there to save their bacon; he has notified the Society over here that he will now go to Frankfurt and put everything to rights but that should this fail, Frohme will have to be thrown out. The part being played by Liebknecht in all this business is the entertaining one of the hen that has hatched out ducklings: he had thought he was rearing ‘eddicated’ socialists and lo! what emerged from the eggs but a clutch of cits and philistines! And now the worthy hen would have us believe that it’s chickens after all, and not ducks, swimming about out there in bourgeois waters. Not that there’s anything we can do except take him for what he is, illusions and all, but at Offenbach, if one is to believe the newspaper account, he really has gone a bit too far. Well, little will come of the whole affair save the party’s awareness that it harbours two tendencies, one of which determines the course taken by the masses, the other that taken by the majority of the self-styled leaders, and that these two courses must increasingly diverge. This will pave the way for an eventual split, and that is no bad thing. Our friends of the Right will think twice before promulgating another ukase.

You have exactly hit off Kautsky's decisive weakness. His youthful inclination towards hasty judgment has been still more intensified by the wretched method of teaching history in the universities--especially the Austrian ones. The students there are systematically taught to do historical work with materials which they know to be inadequate but which they are supposed to treat as adequate, that is, to write things which they themselves must know to be false but which they are supposed to consider correct. That has naturally made Kautsky thoroughly cocky. Then the literary life--writing for pay and writing a lot. So that he has absolutely no idea of what really scientific work means. There he has thoroughly burnt his fingers a few times, with his history of population and later with the articles on marriage in primitive times. In all friendship I rubbed that well into him too and spare him nothing in this respect: on this side I criticise all his things mercilessly. Fortunately, however, I can comfort him with the fact that I did exactly the same in my impudent youth and only first learnt the way one has got to work from Marx. It helps quite considerably, too.

The articles in the Berlin Zeitung are undoubtedly by Mehring; I, for one, don’t know of anyone else in Berlin who writes so well. The chap has a great deal of talent and a lucid brain, but he’s a calculating scoundrel and a born traitor. I hope you will bear this in mind should he return to our midst, as he surely will the moment times have changed.

Walther and his wife came to see me, bringing with them papers with news of the row in the party. They are coming again on Sunday.

I sent off Capital II to you in Dresden as soon as it arrived. I have finished dictating the manuscript of III in so far as this was possible, and in the autumn, as soon as I have had a bit of a holiday and attended to all manner of other urgent work, I shall embark on the final editing. However, my mind is at rest, the ms. is now available in a legible hand and can, if the worst comes to the worst, be printed as it stands, even if I were to kick the bucket in the meantime. Until this had been done I was constantly on tenterhooks. Not that the editing of 3 very important parts, i. e. 2/3 of the whole, won’t involve a hell of a lot of work. But it will all come right in the end, and I look forward to the hullaballoo it will create when it appears. In the autumn we shall see two peaceful revolutions — the elections in France and over here.

In France, the scrutin de liste invented by the out-and-out Republicans and introduced by the Gambettists so as to make sure of remaining perpetually in power by means of the enforced election of lawyers and journalists, especially Parisians, will probably lead to the wholesale ejection of the Gambettists and will almost certainly bring Clemenceau and the Radicals to power, if not immediately, then in the near future. Of the bourgeois parties that now exist, they are the only remaining possibility. Clemenceau’s panacea is departmental and communal self-government, i. e. decentralisation of the administration and abolition of bureaucracy. The very fact of embarking on this would, in France, be a revolution greater than any that has happened since 1800. But government by the Radicals in France means above all the emancipation of the proletariat from the old revolutionary tradition and a direct struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie, i.e. the establishment of an ultimate, unequivocal state of hostilities. In this country the new suffrage will completely upset the old state of the parties. The alliance between Whigs and Tories to form one big Conservative party, having for its basis landed property as a single whole rather than divided into two camps as hitherto, and comprising all the conservative elements of the bourgeoisie — banks, high finance, trade and some of the industries; alongside this, on the other hand, the radical bourgeoisie, i. e. the bulk of large-scale industry, the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat as a tail for the time being, awakening once more to political life — that is a revolutionary starting-point such as England has not seen since 1689.

And on top of all that, old William,[1] now on his last legs. It promises great things. You’ll see.


F. E.

  1. William I