Letter to Eduard Bernstein, January 25, 1882

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To Eduard Bernstein in Zurich

London, 25 January 1882[edit source]

Dear Mr Bernstein,

Not until today have I been able to get round to answering your letter of the 12th. Marx is home from the Isle of Wight with his youngest daughter,[1] both considerably better, and Marx strong enough to go walking with me yesterday for 2 hours without a break. Since he isn’t working yet and the Lafargues as often as not also drop in before dinner (i. e. 5 o’clock) when a bottle of good Pilsener is served up, my hours of daylight are usually frittered away and I have never liked writing by lamplight after the warning (chronic conjuctivitis) that was given to my left eye 3 years ago.

Just now I happen to be at Marx’s, so would you be so good as to thank Höchberg very much on Marx’s behalf for his kind offer which, however, he is unlikely to be able to make use of; all that he knows for certain about his journey south is that he is not going to the Riviera or to any part of Italy, if only on account of the police. The first proviso where convalescents are concerned is that there should be no harassment by the police, in which respect Italy can hold put fewer guarantees than anywhere else — save, of course, Bismarck's empire.

We were greatly interested in the reports about the happenings among the ‘leaders’ in Germany. I never concealed the fact that in my opinion the masses in Germany are much better than the gentlemen in the leadership, especially since the party, thanks to the press and agitation, has become a milch cow for them, providing butter, and now Bismarck and the bourgeoisie have all of a sudden butchered that cow. The thousand people who thereby immediately lost their livelihoods had the personal misfortune of not being placed directly into the position of revolutionaries, that is, sent into exile. Otherwise very many of those who are now bemoaning their lot would have gone over to Most’s[2] camp or at any rate would find the Sozialdemokrat[3] much too tame. Most of those people remained in Germany and had to, went to rather reactionary places, remained socially ostracised, dependent for their living on philistines, and a great number of them were themselves contaminated by philistinism. Soon they pinned all their hopes on a repeal of the Anti-Socialist Law. No wonder that under pressure of philistinism the idea, which is really absurd, took hold of them that this could be attained by meekness. Germany is an execrable country for people with scant will-power. The narrowness and pettiness of civil as well as political relations, the small-town character of even the big cities, the small but constantly increasing vexations encountered in the struggle with police and bureaucracy – all this is exhausting and does not spur on to resistance, and thus in this 'great children’s nursery'[4] many become children themselves. Petty relations beget petty views, so that it takes great intelligence and energy for anyone living in Germany to be able to see beyond his immediate environment, to keep one’s eye upon the great interconnection of world events and not to lapse into that self-complacent ‘objectivity’ which sees no further than its nose and precisely for that reason amounts to the most narrow-minded subjectivity even when it is shared by thousands of such subjects.

But no matter how natural may be the rise of this trend, which covers up its lack of insight and power of resistance with ‘objective’ supersapience, it must be resolutely fought. And here the masses of workers furnish the best pillar of support. They alone live in Germany under more or less modern conditions; all their minor and major afflictions centre in the oppression emanating from capital, and whereas all other struggles in Germany, social as well as political, are petty and paltry and concern mere trifles which elsewhere have been settled long ago, their struggle is the only one being fought magnificently, the only one that is up to the mark of the times, the only one that does not exhaust the fighters but provides them with ever new energy. So the more you are able to draw your correspondents from amongst the genuine workers,— not those who have become ‘leaders’ — the better will be your chance of counterbalancing the whines of the leadership. This time it was inevitable that all manner of peculiar people should get into the Reichstag. All the more unfortunate, then, that Bebel should not have been elected. He alone is lucid, politically far-sighted and energetic enough to prevent blunders being committed.

Could you not, after you have done with them, let us have for a week or two the ‘stenographic reports’ of debates[5] in which our deputies have played a serious part? I will vouch for their return. Newspaper reports, as we have often seen, simply cannot be relied on and none of the deputies, not even Liebknecht, could be induced to send us speeches that do them no honour.

31 January

More interruptions. Amongst others, little Hepner has been here, on his way to seek refuge in America, his purse and heart alike empty of content. A poor little chap in every respect, author of a wellintentioned pamphlet on distraint, the law governing bills of exchange, the Jewish question and postal reform, dull as dull can be, all the old Jewish stuff he turned out 10 years ago,2 6 2 completely gone to rack and ruin; I almost felt like advising him to get baptised. Yet he provided me with the opportunity of finding out about the new imperial judicial code.263 It really is unutterably infamous! All the dirty tricks of Prussian law combined with all the infamies of the Code Napoléon,264 and without any of the latter’s better side. The judge has freedom of decision in all spheres, being bound by nothing save — the Disciplinary Law which, in political cases, will undoubtedly, and indeed does, grant him power of ‘discretion’. Thus — within the general German context — the judge inevitably becomes the executive official and tool of the police. Incidentally, here is a joke (originating no doubt from Windthorst) about Leonhardt, who is alleged to have said on his death-bed: ‘Now I have avenged myself on Prussia; I’ve given it a legal system that’s bound to bring it to its knees.’

Bürkli’s interest-bearing mortgage certificates, also supposed to represent money, go back much further than that thoroughly addlepated, old Hegelian Pole, Cieszkowski. Similar schemes for the general good of mankind had already been adumbrated as far back as the founding of the Bank of England. Since there is no mention whatever of credit in the first volume of Capital (apart from the conditions governing simple debt), credit money admits of consideration here only, if at all, in its very simplest form (token of value, etc.) and in relation to its lowliest monetary functions, while interest-bearing credit money does not admit of consideration at all. Hence Bürkli is right in telling Schramm that none of these passages in Capital apply to my particular monetary paper; and Schramm is right when he proves to Bürkli from Capital that he, Bürkli, hasn’t the faintest idea of the nature and function of money. This is not to say, however, that Bürkli’s own particular monetary proposal is actually reduced to its own absurdity; that would require, besides general proof that this ‘money’ is incapable of fulfilling the most essential monetary functions, particular proof as to the functions which such paper might really be able to fulfil. Moreover, when Bürkli says, ‘What concern have I with Marx? I stick to Cieszkowski’ — the whole argument adduced by Schramm against Bürkli falls to the ground.— How fortunate that the Sozialdemokrat shouldn’t have got mixed up in all this business! No doubt the whole hullabaloo will eventually die down of its own accord.

That crises are one of the most powerful levers of political upheaval has already been pointed out in the Communist Manifesto and was expounded in the Neue Rheinische Leitung Review up to and including 1848, not without the rider, however, that a recurrence of prosperity will in turn hamstring the revolutions and pave the way for the victory of reaction. Any detailed argument in support of this should take into consideration intermediate crises, some being of a more localised and some of a more specialised character; we are currently experiencing one such intermediate crisis which may be attributed entirely to swindle on the stock exchange; up till 1847 they were recurring middle terms, which is why, in my Condition of the Working Class, the cycle is still shown as a five-year one.

In France, there have been gross blunders on both sides. However, in the end Malon and Brousse, in their impatience to bring matters to a head and engineer the suspension of the Egalité (which is quite outside the competence of the Union Federative) , have put themselves so clearly in the wrong that they are likely to suffer for it. Such bungling would be incomprehensible in cabalists as wily as Malon and Brousse, unless they felt that time was against them. For the Prolétaire is said to be on its last legs and, if it expires, they will have no paper at all while the others will have two.[6] Hence the issue had to be decided while they still had a paper in which the resolutions -were published. The scurrilities and pure fabrications they are now disseminating against Guesde, Lafargue, etc., and in particular Joffrin’s concoction — not concocted by him, however, but by Brousse and Malon — are altogether in the style of the old Bakuninist Alliance, and have awakened old memories in us. The Sozialdemokrat is absolutely right not to get involved until things have cleared up a bit, which they will, I think, before very long.

I had also meant to write to Kautsky about the Poles, but will have to drop that for today. Kindest regards,



  1. Eleanor
  2. Johann Most (1846-1906) – German anarchist, in 1860s joined working-class movement, emigrated to England after promulgation of Anti-Socialist Law (1878), in 1880 expelled from Social Democratic party for anarchist views, emigrated to America where he continued to advocate anarchism – Progress Publishers.
  3. Der Sozialdemokrat – the central organ of the German Socialist Workers Party, founded in Zurich in September 1879. After the repeal of the Anti-Socialist Law in 1890 the paper ceased to appear and the Vorwärts again became the central organ of the party – Progress Publishers.
  4. A paraphrase from Heine's 'Zur Beruhigung'
  5. Stenographische Berichte über die Verhandlungen des Reichstages. V. Legislaturperiode. I. Session 1881/82 [Bd. I], Berlin, 1882.
  6. L'Egalité and Le Citoyen