Letter to Eduard Bernstein, January 18, 1883

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To Eduard Bernstein in Zurich

18 January 1883[edit source]

Dear Mr Bernstein,

Days of festivity, followed by days of mourning, constant obstructions. At present I have scarcely a moment to call my own, as you will understand when I tell you that Marx is back here from Ventnor, confined to the house with bronchitis — so far, luckily, only a mild attack — and forbidden to talk much, while all the family business devolves on me. (But not a word of all this in the paper[1]; Marx would be furious if he were to see the worthy Viereck’s indiscreet and, what’s more, not altogether veracious comments in today’s Süddeutsche Post.)

Enfin,[2] I still have an hour or so to spare for you. As for Gumbel, returned herewith, he resembles Heine’s Gumpelino[3] in as much as he too is interested in stocks and shares. For that matter, he’s an outstanding example of the German socialist abroad, having obviously been in Paris. Because we have provided these chaps with a theory of which they are entirely innocent, seldom bothering, moreover, to acquire a rudimentary — if indeed any — understanding of it, every provincial nincompoop among them considers himself superior to all other foreigners. Arriving from Heilbronn, or whatever the potty little place may be called, in London or Paris, he is appalled when he finds that his particular brand of provincialism does not hold good there. Instead of broadening his horizons and learning something, he deliberately makes himself more blinkered than before, for this serves to render all the more glaring the contrast between himself and the bad, stupid foreigners — i. e. his supposed superiority over them. Yet this is the kind of person who predominates in German associations abroad, and if you are now under pressure from them, just ask yourself who it was, after the promulgation of the Anti-Socialist Law, that sought to give undeserved prominence to these associations by means of centralisation, etc. If you had known the chaps then as well as you do now, you would have been unlikely to go to so much trouble.

‘The party with clean hands’ — meaning what? The hands, perhaps, of Hasselmann or Fritzsche and of so many others, about whom everyone arriving here as an exile or something of the kind had a tale to tell?

Gumpelino is at his best when he comes to his stocks and shares. When some such provincial champion of moral virtue tilts thus pharisaically at practices, unpleasant enough in themselves, but from which the party none the less derives a real advantage that far outweighs any possible damage, there must be a catch somewhere. The workers do not have stocks and shares, nor do they give a damn for the financial page. Hence—the little bourgeois, who also wants to dabble in stocks and shares, proceeds to demand that his party paper carry a benevolent, honest, moral, financial page. In the first place, it is not the business of a socialist paper to indicate how best the workers can be exploited — income from stocks and shares is, however, also the product of unpaid labour. If, then, in the second place Gumpelino nevertheless demands that the socialist press should do this, it says little for his socialism and even less for his flair as a businessman. I, too, have stocks and shares, buying and selling from time to time. But I am not so simple as to look to the socialist press for advice on these operations. Anyone who does so will burn his fingers, and serve him right! Get yourself baptised, Abraham Gumpelino!

We were very glad about the answers of Grillenberger and the Sozialdemokrat to Puttkamer’s hypocrisy.[4] That’s the way to do it. Not to twist and turn under the blows of the opponent, not to whine and moan and stammer excuses that you did not mean any harm – as so many still do. One must hit back, and return two or three blows for every one the enemy strikes. That has always been our tactic and so far I believe we have got the best of almost every one of our opponents. ‘Moreover the genius of our soldiers lies in their attack and that is a very good thing’, old Fritz[5] said in one of his instructions to his generals, and that’s the way our workers act in Germany. But when Kayser[6] for instance withdraws during the discussion of all the Exceptional Laws – provided the summary of ⬜[7] is correct – and wails that we are revolutionaries only in the Pickwickian sense[8], what then? It should have been said: that the entire Reichstag and the Bundesrat are sitting there only by virtue of a revolution; that when old William swallowed three crowns and one free city[9] he was also a revolutionary; that the whole idea of legitimacy, the whole so-called basis of legality, is nothing but the product of countless revolutions made against the will of the people and directed against the people. O, that accursed German flabbiness of thought and will which was brought into the party with so much effort together with the ‘eddicated'! When at last shall we be rid of it!

Time for the post. I shall reply as soon as possible to whatever points in your letter I may have overlooked. Thanks for the photograph.

Proofs[10] when?

Regards, yours,

F. E.

  1. Der Sozialdemokrat
  2. well
  3. See Heine's Reisebilder, 2nd part
  4. The reference is to the speech of Grillenberger, the Social-Democratic member of the Reichstag, and several articles printed in the Sozialdemokrat which dealt with the debate in the Reichstag on the proposed renewal of the Anti-Socialist Law. Karl Grillenberger (1848-1897) – German Social-Democrat, from 1881 member of Reichstag, in 1890s belonged to opportunist wing of German Social Democratic Party. Robert Victor Puttkamer (1828-1900) – German reactionary statesman, representative of Prussian aristocracy, German Interior Minister and Vice-President of Prussian government (1881-88), instituted legal proceedings against Social-Democrats under Anti-Socialist Law – Progress Publishers.
  5. Frederick II, King of Prussia – Progress Publishers.
  6. Max Kayser (1853-1888) – German Social-Democrat, member of Reichstag (from 1878), belonged to right-wing Social-Democratic group – Progress Publishers.
  7. Of Louis Viereck (the German word Viereck means ‘square’) – Progress Publishers.
  8. A reference to Max Kayser's speech in the Reichstag on 11 January 1883.
  9. Engels is alluding to the annexation of the Kingdom of Hanover, the electorate of Hesse-Cassel, the grand duchy of Nassau and the free city Frankfort on the Main by Prussia after its victory in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 – Progress Publishers.
  10. of Engels' Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, German edition