Letter to Eduard Bernstein, April 14, 1881

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To Eduard Bernstein in Zurich

London, 14 April 1881[edit source]

Dear Mr Bernstein,

Very many thanks for the excerpt — for numerous reasons, however, it is desirable that we should read the full text of the relevant speeches. Kautsky will already have asked you to let us have the shorthand report for a day or two. So much has been said in the Reichstag and Landtags that would have been better left unsaid that we cannot express an opinion on such matters unless we are fully acquainted with the case.

Your announcement that you wished to resign from the paper[1] came as a most unpleasant surprise. We can see absolutely no reason for it and it would give us great pleasure if you were to reconsider your decision. You have edited the paper ably from the outset, have given it the right tone, at the same time developing the humorous side it needed. Erudition in a newspaper editor is far less important than the ability speedily to interpret things from the aspect that matters, and this you have nearly always done. Kautsky, for example, would never be able to do that; he always has too many secondary viewpoints, which is perfectly all right for longish articles in a revue, but in the case of a paper, where rapid decisions are called for, frequently makes it impossible to see the wood for the trees, and that mustn’t happen in a party organ. Alongside you, Kautsky would be quite all right, but on his own he would, I’m afraid, be all too often prevented by qualms of conscience over theory from following up a crucial advantage as unswervingly as is required by the Sozialdemokrat. I don’t see who could take your place at this juncture, so long as Liebknecht remains in jail and doesn’t go to Zurich, which would be senseless except in an emergency, since there’s much more need of him in the Reichstag. So you’ll have to stay on after all whether you like it or not.

If we have not yet come forward directly and by name in the Sozialdemokrat, the fault, I do assure you, does not lie with your editorship of this paper up till now. On the contrary. It lies with the very statements made in Germany I alluded to at the beginning. Admittedly, we have been promised that this won’t recur and that the revolutionary nature of the party is to be plainly spelled out and adhered to. But we should like to see evidence of it first, nor do we have any great confidence (rather the reverse) in the revolutionary bent of certain of these gentlemen, and that is precisely why it is most desirable that we should have the stenographic reports of the speeches made by all our deputies. After you have used them you can easily send them over here for a day or two; I guarantee their prompt return. That will help to clear away the last obstacles that still exist — through no fault of our own — between ourselves and the party in Germany. This in confidence.

It would seem that Gladstone has paved the way for the triumph of Most. It’s hardly likely that 12 jurors will be found who will unanimously find Most guilty, and, if only one finds him innocent, the case will fall to the ground. Admittedly, he can be brought before another jury, but this hardly ever happens. On top ofthat, however, the 1861 Act, 143 under which Most is being charged, has never been applied before and by and large it is the opinion of jurists that the wording is inapplicable to the case.

Argyll’s retirement from the Ministry because the Irish Land Bill gives the tenants a certain co-ownership of the land is a bad omen for the fate of the Bill in the Upper House. In the meantime Parnell has successfully begun his agitation tour of England in Manchester. The position of the big liberal coalition is becoming more and more critical. Everything here seems to go slowly, but it is so much more thorough.

So don’t be deterred by the initial difficulties; don’t lose heart but carry on editing just as before. If the worst comes to the worst, you could write to Leipzig and ask them to send you an assistant. That would probably be the best way of overcoming the difficulties you have to contend with. Then, when you have taught the new man the ropes, there will still be time enough to talk of resigning.

Kindest regards.


F. Engels