Letter to Conrad Schmidt, July 1, 1891

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 1 July 1891

First published in Sozialistische Monatshefte, Printed according to the original Nr. 22, Berlin, 1920

Extract: Marx and Engels Correspondence; International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe;

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 49

To Conrad Schmidt in Zurich

Ryde, Isle of Wight, July 1, 1891[edit source]

Dear Schmidt,

I have taken refuge here for a few days. Pumps is now living in this place where her husband has taken on an agency and, since my work had become altogether too much for me, I have come to stay with her for a few days if only to get a breath of fresh air and to deal with the most pressing correspondence. Tomorrow I go back to London again.

I have before me your two letters of 5 March and 18 June. You would be well-advised not to finish your work on the credit system and the money market until Volume III comes out; in it you will find much that is new on these topics and still more that yet remains to be explored — new solutions, that is, and new tasks. As soon as my summer holiday is over, I shall set to work unremittingly on Volume III.— Your second project — the transitional stages on the way to a communist society — is worth thinking about, but my advice to you is nonum prematur in annum[1]; it’s the most difficult subject on earth because conditions are constantly changing. For instance, every new trust causes them to change while the vantage points never remain the same from one decade to the next.

Your latest academic adventures in Zurich are exceedingly funny. These gentlemen are everywhere alike. Well, I hope you will eventually succeed, to the mortification of the whole of that clique, and thus at long last be left in peace.

I am very much disappointed with Barth's book[2]. I had expected something rather less shallow and slap-dash. A man who judges every philosopher not by the enduring and progressive part of his activity but by what is necessarily transitory and reactionary – by the system – would have done better to remain silent. According to him, in fact, the whole history of philosophy is nothing but a pile of the "ruins" of broken-down systems. How high old Hegel stands above this alleged critic of his! And then to imagine he is criticising Hegel because here and there he gets on the track of one of the false connections by means of which Hegel, like every other systematiser, has to get his system neatly constructed! The colossal discovery that Hegel sometimes lumps contrary and contradictory oppositions together! I could show him some more tricks very different from that if it was worth the trouble. The man is what we call on the Rhine a Korinthenscheisser – he turns everything into petty trash – and until he has got rid of this habit, he will, to use Hegel's language, “come from nothing through nothing to nothing.”

His criticism of Marx is really funny. First he makes up a materialist theory of history for himself, which Marx is supposed, in his opinion, to have held, and then he finds something quite different in Marx's works. But from this he does not conclude that he, Barth, has foisted something distorted on to Marx: no, on the contrary, Marx contradicts himself and cannot apply his own theory! “Yes, if people could only read!” as Marx used to exclaim at criticisms of this kind.

I have not got the book here; if I had time I would show you hundreds more absurdities one by one. It is a pity: one sees that the man could accomplish something if he were not so hasty in passing his judgments. It is to be hoped that he will soon write something which will be attacked more; a regular dose of knocking about would do him a lot of good.

As for me, I am very well — better than this time last year and shall, I think, be quite fit again after a bit of a holiday. If only one could work with fewer interruptions! 2 or 3 months ago I set to work on the new edition of the Origin of the Family, etc.[3] and should have finished it in a fortnight had it not been for the arrival of the new draft programme which they wanted me to criticise, on top of which all sorts of little ineptitudes were perpetrated on the- Continent, thus making it more difficult for us here in England — where the material is good but needs careful handling — to pave the way for the Brussels Congress, etc. All this tends to throw me off course again and to distract me, and yet the thing must not only be almost entirely revised and brought up to date, but must also he finished if I am to get down to Volume III. WELL, since it’s got to be managed somehow, managed it will be.

You’d almost think yourself in Prussia here. On Sunday we encountered 4 or 5 sailors from the Stosch, splendid fellows, very well able to stand comparison with the English MAN-OF-WARS MEN; this morning, constant rumbling of guns and explosions of shells from the gunnery practice at the Portsmouth forts.

Many kind regards from Pumps, Percy and

Your old friend

F. Engels

  1. Let it be kept quiet till the ninth year (Horace, Ars Poelica, 388).
  2. P. Barth, Die Geschichlsphilosophie Hegel's und der Hegelianer bis auf Marx und Hartmann.
  3. the fourth German edition of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State