Letter to Eduard Bernstein, December 29, 1884

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 29 December 1884


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 47;
First published: in Russian, in Marx-Engels Archives, Book I, Moscow, 1924.

To Eduard Bernstein in Zurich

London, 29 December 1884[edit source]

Dear Ede,

From Kautsky I learn that you have lost not only your sister but also your father. Let me assure you of my warmest sympathy. It is one of the more sombre aspects of exile which I, too, have come to know. The fatherland as such is something one can easily dispense with, but —

Now for events over here. On Saturday the Social Democratic Federation happily disintegrated. The bubble burst somewhat sooner than I had expected, but it was bound to come.

Hyndman, a political adventurer with aspirations to a carrière in Parliament, had long since gained control of the whole business. When, a year ago, Bax launched To-Day, there was not enough literary talent to keep the little affair going, let alone a weekly, but a weekly Hyndman must needs have. Hence Justice was founded with money given by two enthusiasts, Morris and Carpenter, it was edited by Hyndman with the aid of a few young literati who were on the look-out for some new movement capable of paying them (Fitzgerald and Champion) and one Joynes, a teacher dismissed from Eton for agitation conducted in company with Henry George, and hence a socialist, willy-nilly. These men were paid, directly or indirectly — Hyndman is rich but tight-fisted — , the rest had to contribute gratis. All the Federation’s papers went to Hyndman, Fitzgerald and Champion, who placed before the Council only what they thought fit, and corresponded off their own bat in the Federation’s name; in short, Hyndman treated the Council as Bismarck treats the Reichstag. Loud complaints; they even reached me. I said: ‘Give the man his head. He’s a petty-minded chap and won’t last long, for he cannot wait.’ And he has come a cropper sooner than I thought he would.

Morris, who was in Scotland a fortnight ago, uncovered there such intrigues on Hyndman’s part that he said he could no longer continue to work with the fellow. He had long had his suspicions. An interview with Andreas Scheu in Edinburgh brought matters to a head. Hyndman had defamed Scheu by calling him an anarchist and dynamiter — Scheu was able to provide Morris not only with proof to the contrary, but also of the fact that Hyndman knew this. Similar machinations of Hyndman’s in Glasgow, where the branch had received letters from the secretary, Fitzgerald, bearing the Federation’s stamp but which had not only not been written at the behest of the Council, but actually in defiance of its resolutions. Furthermore, Hyndman had told several people that a somewhat mysterious letter to the Council in Paris was a forgery concocted by Mme Lafargue and Tussy with a view to laying a trap for him. However, he had withheld the actual letter from the Council. Finally, in addition to having repeatedly stirred up strife between members of the Council, he was shown to have fabricated a provincial branch which did not exist at all.

In short, last Tuesday things came to a head. Hyndman was attacked from every side, Scheu himself was there, documents in hand. Tussy had a letter from her sister about the alleged forgery. There was a row. Meeting adjourned till Saturday. Morris and Aveling came to see me beforehand, when I was able to give them some further advice. Big debate on the Saturday. None of the facts could be denied, either by Hyndman or by the supporters he had drummed up. Motion of censure on Hyndman adopted. Whereupon the majority resigned from the Federation. The grounds for this were, 1) that at a congress, Hyndman might fabricate a majority with the aid of his bogus branch, while they would be unable to prove the non-existence of that branch, or at any rate not until it was too late, 2) — and this was the main reason — because the entire Federation was, after all, no better than a racket.

Those who resigned were Aveling, Bax and Morris, the only honest ones amongst the literati, but also three as unpractical men — two poets and a philosopher — as it is possible to find. Also, the cream of the better-known working men. They intend to do the rounds of the London branches in the hope of winning over the majority, whereupon they will let Hyndman and his non-existent provincial branches go whistle. Their organ is to be a little monthly . At last they are going to operate modestly and in accordance with their powers, and not go on pretending that the English proletariat must instantly jump to it the moment the trumpet is sounded by a few literary converts to socialism. (In London, according to Morris’ admission, they were 400 strong at the outside and barely 100 in the provinces.) The circulation of Justice is about 3,500.

Hyndman is retaining Justice and To-Day, together with his speculative literati Fitzgerald, Champion, Burrows, Shaw and possibly also Sketchley who, as a former Chartist, presumably considers himself entitled to a pension. Add to that what remains of the old democratic or socialist sects. Whose prize the other remnants of the Federation will be, remains to be seen. But since Hyndman will no longer be getting any money either from Morris or from Carpenter for his unprofitable organs, he will either have to pay up himself, or sell himself, his organs and the remnants of his faction to the Christian Socialists or — to Lord Randolph Churchill and Tory Democracy. He'll have to look sharp if he wants to stand for Parliament in the elections next autumn.

I have the satisfaction of having seen through the whole racket from the outset, correctly sized up all the people concerned and foretold what the end would be, and similarly that the said racket would eventually do more harm than good.

Your
F. E.