Letter to Eduard Bernstein, February 27, 1883

From Marxists-en
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 27 February 1883

First published in Die Briefe von Friedrich Engels an Eduard Bernstein, Berlin, 1925

Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975).

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 46

To Eduard Bernstein in Zurich

London, 27 February, 1883[edit source]

Dear Mr Bernstein,

I recently had a little dispute with Viereck which has forced me to break with him. As he might possibly come to Zurich for the congress and make use of the occasion to mention the matter in private conversation, I am concerned lest in that event his version be the only one to go the rounds. I therefore authorise you to read this letter to anyone Viereck may discuss the matter with, but at all events to Bebel and Liebknecht.

Some little while before Christmas Viereck, or rather his wife,[1] sent me the visiting card of one Deinhardt, a Munich engineer, with three questions of a chemico-physico-industrial nature and asked me to get hold of the information if possible. I sent the card to Schorlemmer in Manchester who rightly suspected from the questions a pushful and importunate inventor and for good measure appended a ‘motto’ to his extremely terse reply. Here is the card as returned to Viereck:

‘1 . Has ozone come into use alongside chlorine and chloride of lime for bleaching rags in English paper mills? — No.

‘2. Compared with other bleaching agents, does ozone offer a manufacturing concern any noteworthy advantages in a technical or financial sense? — No.

‘3. Is the production and use of ozone in an industrial concern attended by considerable difficulties? — Yes.

‘C. Deinhardt, Engineer (printed on card).

‘Motto: Apage inventor![2]

In this form the card went back. So if Viereck did not wish to show Deinhardt the motto, all he had to do was copy questions and answers onto a sheet of paper or a postcard, and that would have been that.

Next I received No. 7 (17 January) of the Süddeutsche Post (which Viereck sent me in exchange for The Labour Standard) and, in the ‘Letter Box’, saw the following:

‘To Mr Deinhardt, engineer of this city. The author of the ‘electrotechnical revolution’ writes to tell us that, despite information to the contrary supplied by Prof. Schorlem of Manchester, he must stand by his contention that the production of ozone would be effected by means of a dynamo, etc’

What was the meaning of this? How was it that this purely private piece of information found its way into the paper rather than into a proper letter box? And how could Viereck have had the impudence to make public use in his paper of private information supplied by Schorlemmer for Deinhardt — on Viereck’s own evidence an extremely importunate man — purely to oblige Viereck? Either Viereck didn’t know what he was doing or he did it out of revenge for the ‘motto’.

But there is nothing whatever in the 3 questions and answers that turns on whether the production of ozone is effected by means of a dynamo; a dynamo is not mentioned at all. Thus, by indirectly attributing to Schorlemmer a statement actually denying that the production of ozone is effected with a dynamo, Viereck is guilty of outright falsification; he is attributing to Schorlemmer things he has never said. But obviously it cannot be a matter of indifference to a chemist whose reputation extends beyond Europe if someone attributes to him things about chemico-physical questions he has never said, and does so publicly in the university city of Munich where, after all, there are also chemists and physicists who might possibly read it.

So I sent the paper, as was only my duty, to Schorlemmer who sent me the following letter for Viereck:

‘If anyone’ (I am quoting from memory) ‘publishes a private communication without permission, then it is improper. But if in addition he goes on to distort the said communication, then it is barely ethical.’

Accordingly Schorlemmer called for the publication of the card as it stood, with questions, answers and motto, in order that the matter might be clarified. Whereupon a long letter arrived from Viereck addressed to me. Deinhardt, he said, had bombarded him with three letters on the subject of ozone (so the Apage inventor was wholly appropriate!). By sending him [Viereck] the above-mentioned letter I was now holding a pistol to his head (which is untrue, let him show it to you; all I did was demand in polite terms full satisfaction for Schorlemmer), while Schorlemmer’s letter and the demands made therein were even more intemperate. He could not, he added, publish the motto (needless to say this request was not intended seriously) and the remainder only if Schorlemmer withdrew the insulting expressions contained in his letter; for the time being he could not admit having made a mistake, but must refuse to accede to our peremptory demands in ‘this entirely unqualifiable form’.

‘I did not even know,’ his letter goes on, ‘that Prof. Schorlemmer read the Süddeutsche Post and surely cannot in any circumstances assume that you had sent him this issue ad hoc. For I regard it ... as out of the question that you could inform against me and I should have been only too pleased had you suggested what steps ought to have been taken to pacify the much agitated professor.’ ... 11/12 of his readers consisted of party members ... nothing ought to be imputed to him that was ‘inconsistent with the conduct of a man of honour’, etc.

So they make improper use of Schorlemmer’s name and, on their own admission, distort what he says because they hope he won’t find out. And when I, the sole cause of his involvement in the affair, tell him about it, then I am ‘informing’ against Viereck. Not Schorlemmer but Viereck is the injured party, because Schorlemmer characterises Viereck’s conduct, and with great restraint at that. Not a word about the falsification of which Schorlemmer was the victim. Well, Viereck may read our reply to anyone he chooses. We sent him a statement, addressed not to him but to the editorial board, i. e. a statement intended for publication, together with a request that at the same time they print questions and answers. What does Viereck do? First, a polite apology in the ‘Letter Box’, to wit:

‘We profoundly regret this tiresome misunderstanding’ and promise to put the matter right.

And then? In No. 17, 9 February:

In regard to the electrotechnical revolution. On being consulted, Prof. Schorlemmer of Manchester supplied the following information which we herewith print in order to clear up a (!) misunderstanding (!)’: (the questions and answers follow).

The clarification of this ‘misunderstanding’ is tantamount to the total obfuscation of the affair, as is satisfaction for Schorlemmer to attempted mockery and to further misuse of his name. Thereafter I returned the Süddeutsche Post unopened. Yet another postcard from Viereck, asking what he had done to deserve being rebuffed in this insulting (everything is insulting!) way, etc. What I said in my reply — also per postcard — he can read to you himself if he likes. ‘One must make a complete break with a swine like that,’ Schorlemmer writes to me. And that has been done.


F. Engels
London, 27 February 1883 [sent 1 March]

Dear Mr Bernstein,

Your letter received yesterday evening. The Egalité has gone phut again and I would ask you to publish the following facts (see enclosed slip of paper) in the Sozialdemokrat. Let us hope that the chaps will finally learn some sense and not go founding daily papers on the strength of contracts of this kind. Taking legal action is a mug’s game and costs money, and any French court of law would revel in non-suiting socialists and losing them their case, while the paper would still remain defunct.

Guesde and Lafargue, amongst others, were arraigned under Article 91 of the Code pénal — conspiracy and incitement to civil war — death penalty. What a farce!

At any rate, it’s a good thing that they can no longer publicly declare their solidarity with the anarchists, the latter being now behind bars — mere children who play with fire and, when given a hiding, try and make out they’re the most innocent fellows in the world. And now some fool in Brussels sets off a bomb in his own trousers pocket! In due course dynamite will come to seem plain ridiculous.

Now for a different tableau. Because of a dirty trick Viereck played on Schorlemmer in the Süddeutsche Post, I have broken with him. Further details are contained in a letter I have sent to Schorlemmer and which he, if he is agreeable, will send on to you tomorrow direct from Manchester (I have got it here, returned because I had forgotten to sign it).[3] I need hardly tell you that, when Viereck and Fritzsche were over here, they would have been given a very cool reception by us had they not come as the official emissaries of the party. As it was, however, and since Marx was exempted by his indisposition, I had to some extent to do them the honours. Moreover, a certain intimacy grew up between his (Viereck’s) present wife[4] and my niece[5] (both of whom were then secretly engaged), etc., etc. At the same time I told him pretty plainly what I thought of his proclivity for vulgar democracy. In short, I became involved with him, but now it is all over.

The veriest boot-black could not have tolerated the treatment meted out to Schorlemmer by Viereck. Yet Schorlemmer is, after Marx, undoubtedly the most eminent man in the European socialist party. When I got to know him 20 years ago he was already a communist. At that time an impoverished private assistant to English professors, he is now a member of the ROYAL SOCIETY (the equivalent over here of the Akademie der Wissenschaften), and the world’s leading authority in his own speciality, the chemistry of the simpler hydrocarbons (paraffin and its derivatives). His great Treatise on Chemistry, brought out jointly with Roscoe,[6] but written almost entirely by Schorlemmer (as all chemists know), is now without a rival in England and Germany. And this position he has carved out for himself abroad, in competition with men who exploited him for as long as they could, and he has done so entirely on the strength of genuinely scientific work, without ever making any concession to humbug. Moreover, he never hesitates to proclaim himself a socialist as, for instance, when he reads jokes aloud from the Sozialdemokrat for the benefit of the other lecturers with whom he is lunching; but he also demands, and justly so, that he should not have unwanted publicity, in whatever guise, thrust upon him, as was done by Viereck. But now, good-bye until tomorrow. It is almost midnight and I have broken my rule of not writing at night. 28 February. There is, however, one favour I would ask of you, and that is not to keep chucking the word ‘comrade’ at me in the paper[7].

To begin with, I detest anything that smacks of title-mongering and since, in all the German literature that counts for anything, people are called simply by their names and are not given titles unless under attack, we too should conform to this unless the designation ‘comrade’ is really intended to inform the reader that the person concerned belongs to the party. What is in place and normal on the platform and in verbal debate can look pretty awful in print. And then again, we here are not in fact ‘comrades’ in the narrower sense of the term. We belong to the German party scarcely more than to the French, American or Russian party and can consider ourselves as little bound by the German programme as by the minimum programme. We lay stress upon this special status of ours as representatives of international socialism. But it also forbids us to belong to any particular national party until we return to Germany and take a direct part in the struggle there. It would be pointless now.

What you say about Liebknecht’s complicity in importing philistine elements has long been our view. For all his excellent qualities, Liebknecht has one fault, namely the desire to attract ‘educated’ elements to the party by hook or by crook, and to him, a former teacher, the worst thing that can happen is for a working man in the Reichstag to say ‘me’ for T. A man like Viereck ought never to have been put up as a candidate. He would have exposed us in the Reichstag to far more deadly ridicule than would a hundred wrong ‘mes’ of which, after all, the Hohenzollerns and field marshals are likewise guilty. Unless the newcomers — the educated ones and those from bourgeois circles generally— adopt the proletarian standpoint unreservedly, they can do nothing but harm. But if they have genuinely adopted that standpoint, then they are exceedingly useful and welcome. Another of Liebknecht’s characteristics is that, for the sake of a momentary success, he will unhesitatingly sacrifice subsequent, more important successes. Thus Viereck and Fritzsche’s highly dubious mission to America. 119 It went off reasonably well, but is there any knowing to what ridicule Fritzsche may not expose us later on in America? And then people will say: ‘And there you have the representative of German Social Democracy in America, sent over officially!’

And the caution one has to observe vis-à-vis this type of person when it comes to candidatures is evident from the Oppenheimer case.

Yet another interruption!

1 March. We have always done our utmost to combat the petty-bourgeois and philistine mentality within the party, because this mentality, developed since the time of the Thirty Years’ War, has infected all classes in Germany and become a hereditary German evil, sister to servility and submissiveness and to all the hereditary German vices. This is what has made us ridiculous and contemptible abroad. It is the main cause of the slackness and the weakness of character which predominate among us; it reigns on the throne as often as in the cobbler’s lodging. Only since a modern proletariat has been formed in Germany has a class developed there which is hardly affected at all by this hereditary German malady, a class which has demonstrated that it possesses clear insight, energy, humour, tenacity in struggle. And ought we not to fight against every attempt artificially to inculcate the old hereditary poison of philistine slackness and philistine narrow-mindedness in this healthy class, the only healthy class in Germany? But in their fright right after the criminal attempts and the Anti-Socialist Law, the leaders exhibited so much anxiety which merely proved that they had lived much too long among philistines and were influenced by the views of the philistines. They intended at that time that the party should seem to be philistine if not actually become philistine. All this has now fortunately been overcome, but the philistine elements, which were drawn into the party shortly before the Anti-Socialist Law and prevail particularly among college graduates and undergraduates who did not get as far as the examinations, are still there and have to be carefully watched. We are glad to have your assistance here and, being on the Sozialdemokrat, you are in a key position.

But for goodness sake don’t go raking up that wretched Jahrbuch article.[8] It was an apologia for the stock exchange men. But one can perfectly well be at one and the same time a stock exchange man and a socialist and therefore detest and despise the class of stock exchange men. Would it ever occur to me to apologise for the fact that I myself was once a partner in a firm of manufacturers? There’s a fine reception waiting for anyone who tries to throw that in my teeth! And if I could be certain of making a million on the stock exchange tomorrow, and thus put an ample supply of funds at the disposal of the party in Europe and America, to the stock exchange I should promptly go.

What you say about courting the enemy’s praise is perfectly right. We have often been infuriated by the glee with which the slightest sign, be it only a fart, of recognition from the armchair socialists was recorded in the Volksstaat and the Vorwärts. It was the phrase, ‘We must exact recognition from the bourgeoisie in every sphere’, that marked the beginning of Miquel’s betrayal. And however much Rudolf Meyer may butter us up, all the recognition he is likely to get in return is for his really meritorious Politische Gründer.[9] We never, of course, discussed serious topics with him, but confined ourselves almost entirely to Bismarck and the like. But Meyer is at least a decent fellow and one who is also quite capable of defying the aristos, nor is he ambitious like all the rest of the armchair socialists, who are now also flourishing in Italy; one specimen, Achille Loria, was over here recently but two calls on me were enough for him.

In the case of Viereck, who knows absolutely nothing about the matter, the to-do over the electrotechnical revolution is merely an advertisement for the pamphlet he has published. In fact, however, it’s a tremendously revolutionary affair. The steam engine taught us to transform heat into mechanical motion, but the exploitation of electricity has opened up the way to transforming all forms of energy — heat, mechanical motion, electricity, magnetism, light — one into the other and back again, and to their industrial exploitation. The circle is complete. And Deprez’s latest discovery, namely that electric currents of very high voltage can, with a comparatively small loss of energy, be conveyed by simple telegraph wire over hitherto undreamedof distances and be harnessed at the place of destination — the thing is still in embryo — this discovery frees industry for good from virtually all local limitations, makes possible the harnessing of even the most remote hydraulic power and, though it may benefit the towns at the outset, will in the end inevitably prove the most powerful of levers in eliminating the antithesis between town and country. Again, it is obvious that the productive forces will thereby acquire a range such that they will, with increasing rapidity, outstrip the control of the bourgeoisie. All Viereck sees in it, short-sighted as he is, is a fresh argument in favour of his beloved nationalisation. What the bourgeoisie cannot do must be done by Bismarck.

I’m sorry about the Schumacher business. Let’s hope it’s just a passing phase; he used to be such a lively, resolute chap. But, as you say, it’s that damned German imperial atmosphere!

There are a great many reasons why I should not consider coming to the congress. Things being what they are just now on the Continent, I would sooner remain here.

Kautsky has sent me his second piece on marriage in which he again tries to sneak in community of wives as a secondary manifestation. But that won’t do. Indeed, I shall write to him about it and enclose the letter in one to you. It is Kautsky’s misfortune that, in his hands, complex questions do not resolve themselves into simple ones — rather, simple questions become complex. And then, it’s impossible to achieve anything if one is so prolific. He ought to write popular stuff for the sake of the fee, and take his time over scientific matters, thus dealing with them in a considered and exhaustive way, which alone can be rewarding.

The pederast, who made us laugh a great deal, has already been posted on to Manchester where he will be widely disseminated.

Marx is still incapable of work, keeps to his room (he returned here immediately after his daughter’s death), and reads French novels. His case seems to be a very complicated one. My hopes are high, now that a better season is on its way.


F. Engels

Whatever you do, don’t put anything about Marx’s state of health into the paper[7]; Viereck shamefully exploited in the Süddeutsche Post the information I sent his wife[1] from time to time (he hardly ever wrote to me himself!), but naturally I was able to keep this from Marx, otherwise he would have hauled me over the coals. Here again Viereck had failed to ask my permission.

  1. 1.0 1.1 Laura Viereck
  2. Be off with you, inventor!
  3. Words in brackets were added by Engels at the bottom of the page
  4. Laura Viereck
  5. Mary Ellen Rosher
  6. H. E. Roscoe, C. Schorlemmer, Ausführliches Lehrbuch der Chemie, vols I-III, Brunswick, 1877-82
  7. 7.0 7.1 Der Sozialdemokrat
  8. [K. Höchberg, E. Bernstein, C. A. Schramm,] 'Rückblicke auf die sozialistische Bewegung in Deutschland. Kritische Aphorismen', Jahrbuch für Sozialwissenschafi und Sozialpolitik, 1. Jg., 1. Hälfte, Zürich-Oberstrass, 1879.
  9. R. Meyer, Politische Gründer und die Corruption in Deutschland, Leipzig, 1877