Letter to August Bebel, March 8, 1892

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To August Bebel in Berlin

London, 8 March 1892[edit source]

Dear August,

We were all very glad to hear that your parliamentary anniversary was such a jolly occasion. So far as the address is concerned, I did, as requested, certainly send off a draft which — since I had to take account of the wishes, specific but unknown to me, of a parliamentary group most of whose 35 members were likewise personally unknown to me — seemed to me distinctly flat nor, till that moment, had I heard anything about either it or its fate. The French wrote one for you, published in today’s Socialiste, in which they could let themselves go a bit more.

So Liebknecht has been chucked out of the Dresden froggery. Considering how petty those philistines are, little else was to be expected. Pretexts are never wanting and, while the affair may have accorded their vindictiveness some small personal satisfaction, the jackasses have derived no advantage whatever therefrom. The Vorwärts, by the by, has shown a marked improvement of late.

I am very glad that the disturbances in Berlin have blown over and that our people have so firmly kept out of them. There was always the possibility that some shooting might occur, and that would have served as a sufficient reason to cause us all sorts of trouble. If shooting had taken place in Berlin the National-Liberals might have gladly voted the elementary-school law and finally turn against us the sporadic fits of anger of certain people. The one reactionary mass which is gradually coming into being is from our point of view at present undesirable; as long as we are unable to participate actively in the making of history it is not in our interest that historical development should cease and to that end the brawls between the bourgeois parties come in useful. In this respect the present regime is priceless, for it helps to create this situation. If, however, shooting starts too early, that is before the old parties are tightly locked in combat with one another, they will be induced to come to terms and form a united front against us. That is as certain as twice two is four. If this happens when we are twice as strong as now, it won’t do us any harm. And even if it were to happen now, the personal regime would surely see to it that squabbles start again among our opponents. But it is best to be on the safe side. At present things are going so well that we can only hope that nothing will interfere with their further progress.

As regards unemployment, it is indeed possible that this will become worse next year. Protectionism has had exactly the same consequences as Free Trade, namely to glut individual national markets – and in fact it has done so almost everywhere – except that it is so far not as bad here as in your parts. But even here, where since 1867 we have experienced two or three lingering minor crises, it seems that an acute crisis is in the offing. The colossal cotton harvests of the last two or three years, reaching over nine million bales per year, have brought down prices to as low a level as during the worst period of the 1846 crisis and are, moreover, exerting an enormous pressure on industry so that the manufacturers here must over-produce because the American planters have produced too much. In doing so they constantly lose money, because, as a result of the falling prices of raw material, their products that are being made from expensive cotton depreciate before they reach the market. This is also the cause of the cries of distress uttered by the German and Alsatian spinners; but this is passed over in silence in the Imperial Diet. Other branches of industry too are no longer in a particularly good state; railway revenues and the export of industrial commodities have been certainly declining during the past 15 months, so that next winter things may become rather difficult here as well. An improvement in the continental protectionist states can hardly be expected, trade agreements may bring some temporary relief, but their effect will be counterbalanced within a year. If next winter a similar row, on a larger scale, begins in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, and is re-echoed from London and New York it can become serious. In that case it is good that at least Paris and London have town councillors who know only too well their dependence on the workers’ votes, and who will therefore not be inclined to offer serious resistance to demands that can be put into operation immediately, such as employment on public works, short working hours, wages in accordance with trade-union demands – since they realise this is the best and only way of saving the masses from worse socialist – really socialist – heresies. We will then see whether the town councillors in Vienna and Berlin, elected on the basis of a system of class voting and of electoral qualification, will have to follow them nolentes volentes[1].

Yesterday’s Standard carried a telegram from St Petersburg according to which, after William’s[2] speech in the Brandenburg Landtag, one of the gentlemen pointed out that the ‘glory’ to which he had alluded was opposed by, inter alia, Russia. Whereat William replied: ‘I SHALL PULVERIZE RUSSIA’, or words to that effect. Shuvalov, it seems, got to hear of this and, having assured himself of the authenticity of the report, passed it on to his Emperor. Whereupon Alexander promptly sought occasion to reprimand Schweinitz, instructing him to tell his Emperor that ‘should he again feel the urge to pulverise Russia, I shall have the pleasure of sending half a million soldiers across his borders’.

On Saturday Russia won a victory here in London which, however, will no longer be of any use to it. In the County Council elections (in London what is known elsewhere as a municipal council is called County Council) the Liberals scored a resounding victory and there is no longer any doubt — if indeed there ever was — that, after the next parliamentary elections, Gladstone will come to power. But Gladstone is fanatically pro-Russian, anti-Turk and anti-Austrian, and his accession would provide Alexander with a further incentive for war since it would mean England’s benevolent neutrality, not to mention English pressure on Italy to keep her neutral as well. The famine and the internal conflicts which we may hope it will evoke in

Russia will redress the balance — provided, that is, nothing silly is done on either side of the Russian border, a possibility which can never entirely be excluded.

For the rest, and so far as this country is concerned, the Liberal victory is not a bad thing. The Conservatives aren’t up to much unless they have at their head a chap like Disraeli capable of leading the whole party by the nose and getting it to do the opposite of what it actually intended. The present leaders are nothing but fools and coxcombs who allow the local party leaders, i. e. the stupidest men on earth, to dictate what their programme should be. Moreover 6 years in office have exhausted and staled them. So there has got to be a change and that is what the whole of this farce ultimately boils down to.

Ede tells me he has had a letter from Mehring saying that neither the Neue Zeit nor the Vorwärts nor any other party newspaper has taken the slightest notice of his anti-Richter[3]; he considers this inexcusable, feels inclined to give up politics altogether, etc. I can see that, to an author accustomed to literary pretentiousness — this is not to imply any blame, for in the bourgeois press, even at its most literary, that sort of thing is not only the rule but a sine qua non— I can see, then, that to a man like this, who has grown up in the non-Social-Democratic press, these Social-Democratic customs could be highly objectionable. But then we should all of us have to raise our voices in complaint, for the same thing is done to you and me and all the rest. None the less, and however unpleasant it may sometimes be for the individual, I consider this haughty indifference on the part of our press to be one of its greatest merits. Mehring’s stuff will be bought and read even if the Vorwärts doesn’t puff and it is better not to boost anything than to boost the masses of party trash which, worse luck, are also launched upon the world. And if any one thing were to be singled out, ‘equal rights for all’ would be demanded for everything else, in accordance with time-honoured democratic custom.

That being so, I would rather put up with the equal right of being passed over in silence.

But there is one thing your chaps might do — come to an equitable arrangement with Mehring’s publisher as regards regular and frequent advertising. That, however, is another example of the total lack of business sense which is congenital to our newspapermen.

I recently got hold of a copy of the 3rd edition of Mehring’s Deutsche Socialdemokratie and took a look at the historical part. I should say that, in Kapital und Presse, he skates rather lightly over this incident. But it’s all one to us and we’ve got nothing to reproach him with; whether he’s got anything to reproach himself with is his own affair and no concern of ours. In his place / should have admitted my change of heart quite openly, since there’s nothing whatever for him to be ashamed of and it would have saved him a great deal of time, vexation and strife. It would, by the by, be absurd for him seriously to consider withdrawing from politics since he would thereby only be doing the ruling powers and the bourgeoisie a service; his leaders in the Neue Zeit are indeed really first-rate and we eagerly await the appearance of each one. Such verve should not be allowed to wither away or be wasted on rotten belletrists.

We all liked Siegel very much. He is yet another of those German working men whom one would be proud to be seen with in any company. The fact that he left in order to escape quite exceptionally rigorous and systematic persecution is in no way reprehensible. It’s just because they are only now entering the movement that the miners are being persecuted with especial rigour, nor can the victims in any way rely on the support of their fellow workers — and for the same reason solidarity has not yet gained general recognition. Cunninghame-Graham and Keir Hardie have procured work for him in Scotland and his family is following him there. The company he is working for are advancing him the money and deducting it from his wages. Now, it’s not going to be easy for him to repay this. I have given him five pounds for the journey to Scotland and to help him settle in, but cannot well do more. Would it not be appropriate for you people to grant him a subsidy of, say, 100 or 150 marks? I have read the letters Schroder wrote him and there seems small likelihood of his getting anything from that quarter. Think the matter over.

From the enclosed chit from the Witch’s kitchen you will see that your lobster mayonnaise will, ‘by virtue of the true elapse’ of time (to use Arnold Ruge’s words) put in an appearance only to disappear a moment later. Let us hope this dialectical process will then be crowned by a smoothly functioning negation of the negation.

Cordial regards.



The 10th of April is Palm Sunday. You should leave no later than the 8th, in which case you would be here by the evening of Saturday the 9th at the latest. That would be the best and most convenient arrangement. You won’t be needed for the Queen’s Speech. So we shall expect you here on the 9th.

  1. willy - nilly
  2. William II
  3. F. Mehring, Herr Eugen Richters Bilder aus der Gegenwart. Eine Entgegnung von Franz Mehring.