Letter to Carlo Cafiero, July 16, 1871

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 16 July 1871


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First published in La Societa, No. 4, 1951

Translated from the Italian

Published in English for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 44

Extract published in Marx and Engels on the Trade Unions, Edited by Kenneth Lapides;

To Carlo Cafiero in Naples

London, July 16, 1871[edit source]

My dear Friend,

I hope you have received my letter of 3 July which I sent to Barletta. I got yours of 28 June the day after sending mine, and I was pleased to hear that you have received the Address,[1] which is currently being translated into Italian and will be published in that language. As for the Russian translation, urge the lady by every possible means to finish it, because the sooner it is done and published the better. Besides, the German, Dutch and Spanish translations are being published in Madrid, the French translation will be published in Geneva and perhaps another in Brussels. Thus despite all the persecutions of the continental Government it is satisfying to recognise that our Association has greater means of international publishing than the semi-official press of any European Government.

When your letter arrived mine to Florence had not yet been sent, and considering the position I thought it better not to write directly there. A letter containing printed documents sent from London to a shoemaker in Florence, whose name had appeared in the Address to the Commune, would naturally arouse suspicion, whereas the same letter addressed to a doctor of law in Naples[2] would appear quite normal. I am therefore enclosing herewith:

1. Inaugural Address and Provisional Rules of 1864

2. Regulations established by the Congress[3]

3. Resolutions of the 1866 and 1868 Congresses

4. Two Addresses of the General Council on the War

5. Address on the Civil War in France. 2nd Edition

6. Idem on Mr Washburne.[4] 3 copies.

Perhaps you will be so good as to send certain of these documents as you can afford to Florence and keep the rest for your own use. I do not know exactly which documents our secretary[5] gave you before you left. If you require further copies of some or all of these kindly let me know and they will be sent to you as soon as we have them. In any case, you now have enough material to communicate whatever information about the present state of our Association may be requested by our friends in Florence. It will perhaps be a good idea if, for the moment, I do not correspond with them except through you, until the present persecutions are over, because it would not be advantageous to compromise anyone more than is necessary. Meanwhile, and until their society is reconstituted, they could form a section of our Association right away among their closest friends, from six to a dozen, and write us a letter stating that they are affiliating and nominating their secretary, with whom I shall then enter into correspondence. This section could at a later date be merged into the reconstituted society. As soon as the letter arrives the list of names will be transcribed and sent for publication.

We are pleased to hear that you and other friends do not fear the persecutions but welcome them as the best means of propaganda. This is my opinion and it seems we are destined to have an abundance of such persecutions. In Spain many people have been imprisoned and others are in hiding. In Belgium the government is trying with all its might to give free rein to the law and even more against us. In Germany the followers of Bismarck are starting to play this game too, except that there more than in Spain they are impeded by the forceful resistance of our men who have been much more fortunate. No doubt you will still have your share in Italy, but we are satisfied that these persecutions will be met in a different spirit from that of Caporusso and his friends.

It is truly remarkable that these partisans of Bakunin should display such cowardice as soon as there is the slightest sign of danger. The Spanish Bakuninists, who recently wrote to tell us that their practice of abstention from political affairs had been a huge success, so much so that the socialists were no longer feared, but considered completely innocent people (!!), have not behaved at all well in the face of the recent persecutions, and we are not able to find a single one of them from any nation who has at any time allowed himself of his own will to be exposed to danger either on a barricade or elsewhere.— It will be good for us to get rid of them altogether, and if you can find people in Naples or in some other town who are not connected to this current in Geneva it will be so much the better.—Whatever we manage to do or whatever congress we prescribe these men will always form, in reality if not in name, an internal sect in our society, and the men of Naples, Spain,etc., will give more weight to our communications received through their own headquarters than to anything else our Association can do. Thus if they come back into our Association we think it will be for a short time only and once again the disputes will arise that will lead to their exclusion. We have had proofs of the fact that they still intend to form their own International within the Great International and they can rest assured that neither the General Council nor the Congress will warrant any violation of our Rules.

What you say about the state of the population in the south of Italy does not surprise us. Even here in England, where the movement of the working classes is almost as old as this century, one meets with apathy and ignorance in abundance. The trade-union movement has become more an obstacle to the general movement than an instrument of its progress, and outside the trade unions there exists here a huge mass of workers in London who for several years have kept quite apart from the political movement and are consequently very ignorant. But on the other hand they are also exempt from many of the traditional prejudices of trade-unionists and other old sects and thus constitute excellent material upon which to work. They are about to be mobilised by our Association, and we have recognised that they are intelligent.

I can understand perfectly your position in Naples. It is the same position as some of us were in 25 years ago in Germany, when we first founded the social movement. At that time we had among the proletarians the only few men in Switzerland, France and England who had absorbed socialist and communist ideas; we had very few means with which to work on the masses and, like you, we had to find supporters among the schoolmasters, journalists and students. Luckily in this period of the movement such men, not belonging exactly to the working class, were easy to find. Later, when the working people as a mass are in command of the movement, they certainly become rarer.

With the freedom granted by 1848, with the press and with the register of meetings and associations, this first phase of the movement was naturally much curtailed, and no doubt in a year or two you will be able to give us a different report of the state of affairs in Naples.

We thank you also for your resolution to tell us the facts as they really are. Our Association is strong enough to show itself willing to know the real truth, even when it seems unfavourable, and nothing can weaken it more than exaggerated reports without a real foundation. Act in this way and you will never receive from me any report which might in the slightest way make you see things differently from the way they are.

I enclose the report of the meeting of the Council on 4 July with all the facts relating to Major Wolff. Since the man is well known in Italy it will be a good thing to publish them there. May I add that we have a rule for all periodical newspapers published by our organisation: two copies must be sent regularly to the Council here, one for the archive where they are all kept, one for the secretary of the country where they are published. Would you trouble yourself to see to this as soon as there is an Italian organ of the Association? In the case of Italian translations, too, a number of copies should be sent here.

We now have Italian refugees here who fought in Paris for the Commune and are being helped by our refugee fund.

Fraternal greetings.

F. Engels

  1. K. Marx, The Civil War in France.
  2. Carlo Cafiero
  3. 'Administrative Regulations' in Rules of the International Working Men's Association, London, [1867]
  4. K. Marx, 'Mr. Washburne, the American Ambassador, in Paris'
  5. P. Giovacchini