Letter to Eduard Bernstein, June 13, 1883

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To Eduard Bernstein in Zurich

London, June 12-13, 1883[edit source]

Dear Bernstein,

It is half past eleven at night and having just read the proof of the second sheet of the third edition of Capital[1] (no small task), and sent it off, I shall try and utilise what is left of the evening at least to begin a letter to you.

As regards internal matters, I had more or less read between the lines of the official report[2] and, soon after, also received a short exposé from Bebel. Some while previously I had written and told Bebel that there must ultimately be a break with the ninnies of the right wing,[3] but that in my view it was not in our interests to force it before we were again in a position to consort directly with the masses; i. e. not so long as the Anti-Socialist Law remained operative. Should they force our hand, then we should see to it that it was they, not us, who rebelled against party discipline, in which case the game would already be ours. And they should be brought to do this if they refused to keep quiet. So far as Liebknecht is concerned, he will do everything in his power to put off the crisis, but when it does come and he realises that it can no longer be postponed, he will be in the right place.

Let me briefly sum up what I have to do:

1 ) Put the papers in order 2; here almost everything has to be done by myself since no one except me knows about the old stuff, and there’s an enormous pile of it in a fine state of disarray. Much is still missing and a lot of packages and boxes haven’t even been opened yet.

2) See to the third edition, with sundry alterations and a few addenda from the French edition. On top ofthat, read the proofs.

3) Take advantage of an opportunity that has presented itself to bring out an English translation — in connection with which I today called on one of the big publishers here[4]—and then revise the translation myself (Moore, who will be doing it, is first-rate, a friend of ours for twenty-six years, but slow).

4) Collate the 3 or 4 versions of the beginning of Volume II and prepare them for the press, besides making a fair copy of the whole of the second volume.

5) Spend a week every now and again tippling with Schorlemmer who returned to Manchester yesterday — he always brings some work with him, but o, jerum![5]

Voilà la vie!

The ass who wrote the article in the Vossische (and four different people have sent me a copy) seems to have stirred up a good deal of sorrow about the sorrowful Marx in our good old Germany. When I'm in the mood for some fun perhaps I'll give him a good kick. If these oxen ever read the correspondence between the Moor and myself, they would be struck dumb. Heine’s poetry is child’s play compared to our impudent, laughing prose. The Moor might have raged, but mope — jamais! I rolled with laughter when I re-read the old things. This correspondence, remarkable also from the historical point of view, is going to fall into the proper hands as far as it depends on me. Unfortunately I have Marx’s letters only from 1849 but these at least are complete.

Herewith part of the original draft from the last part of the Communist Manifesto which you want to keep as a memento. The first two lines were dictated, and were taken down by Mrs Marx.

I would have sent you the enclosed poem by Weerth in time for the feuilleton, had you not so contrived matters that your letter arrived twelve hours too late — as it was, I had to wait and see whether you printed the feuilleton tel quel. Anyhow, you can put it in somewhere else. If only by contrast with the solemn Freiligrath, all of Weerth’s stuff is ironical and humorous. Never any question of ‘sherioushness’ here.

As regards the repeal of the Anti-Socialist Law, the chaps in Germany can never see beyond their own noses. By disappointing Russia (and things are far more acute there) with his proclamation in Moscow just as Frederick William IV disappointed the Prussians in 1841, Alexander III has done more towards that end than all your Geisers, Bloses and Co. could ever do with their lamentations. If, one fine morning, he is riddled with bullets—as he surely will be — Bismarck’s internal régime won’t be worth a brass farthing. Then they’ll change their tune. Even if old William[6] merely (I don’t mean Wilhelm Blos[7]) kicks the bucket, there will of necessity be changes. The men of today have never experienced, nor can they possibly imagine, what a crown prince,[8] grown up in what has in the meantime become a revolutionary situation, is capable of. And a fool, what’s more, as vacillating and weak-willed as ‘our Fritz’. Nor, for that matter, can the possibility be excluded that the crazy French government may fall foul of all the world in such a way as to incite violent action in Paris. Tunis, Egypt, Madagascar, Tonkin — and now they are actually seeking to contest England’s possession of a few rocky islands, with barely 50 inhabitants, off the coast of Normandy. I only hope that nothing happens in Paris, for the stupidity that prevails among the masses there is exceeded only here, in London.

And on top of that the ingenuous Bismarck works for us like the very devil. His latest theory — that the imperial constitution is nothing but a contract made by governments for which they can substitute another one any old day, without consulting the Reichstag — is a real godsend to us. Just let him try. Add to which the manifest intention to bring about a conflict, his stupid, impertinent Bödikers & Co. in the Reichstag — all this is grist to our mill. True, this means the end of the catch-phrase about ‘one reactionary mass’, a phrase generally appropriate only for declamation (or, again, for a truly revolutionary situation). For it is precisely in this that the quirk of history — one operating in our favour—consists, namely that the different elements of that feudal and bourgeois mass erode, fight with and devour one another, to our advantage and are, therefore, the very opposite of that uniform mass which your lout imagines he can dismiss by dubbing the whole lot ‘reactionary’. On the contrary. All these diverse scoundrels must first mutually destroy, utterly ruin and discredit each other, and pave the way for us by proving their ineptitude, each lot in turn. It was one of Lassalle’s greatest mistakes, when engaged in agitation, wholly to lose sight of what little dialectics he had learned from Hegel. Thus, just like Liebknecht, he never saw more than one side and, since the former, for certain reasons, happened to see the right side, he ultimately proved superior to the great Lassalle after all.

The one regrettable thing about the present German bourgeois movement is precisely that the chaps constitute no more than ‘one reactionary mass’, and this has got to stop. We can make no progress until at least part of the bourgeoisie has been forced over onto the side of a genuine movement, whether by internal or external events. That is why we have now had enough of Bismarck’s regime in its present form, why he can only benefit us by provoking a conflict or resigning and also why the time will come for the Anti-Socialist Law to be done away with by semi-revolutionary or wholly revolutionary means. All those arguments as to whether the ‘Lesser’ alone should go, or the Law as a whole, or whether the ordinary penal law should be tightened up, seem to me like arguments about the virginity of Mary in partu and post partum.[9] What is crucial is the wider political situation both at home and abroad; and this changes, does not remain as it is today. In Germany, by contrast, the case is discussed solely on the assumption that present conditions in Germany will persist eternally.

And running parallel with this is an idea, related to that of one reactionary mass, namely that, with the subversion of the present state of affairs, we shall come to the helm. That is nonsense. A revolution is a lengthy process, cf. 1642-46 and 1789-93; and in order that circumstances should be ready for us and we for them, all the intermediate parties must come to power in turn and destroy themselves. And then we shall come — and may, perhaps, once more be momentarily routed. Not that I think this very probable in the normal course of events.

I have today despatched to ‘Volksbuchhandlung, Hottingen-Zurich’,[10] freight forward per CONTINENTAL PARCELS EXPRESS (correspondent of the German and Swiss parcel post), a parcel containing the photographs ordered, invoice enclosed. Of the money you should retain the £17/- credited to my account over there, against 4 frs for snifters transmitted by proxy, subscriptions, etc. (If, when remitting the balance, it would be more convenient to include a little more or a little less, that would, of course, be ALL RIGHT.) Over here 500 cartes[11] and 280 CABINETS are still available — first come, first served. Not that you have any competitors as yet, save for Dietz. Just how much is pushed on to me you will realise when I tell you that I have today had to attend, single-handed, to all the details of checking and repacking the photographs for you and Dietz, and have likewise had to take them to the office (2½ English miles from here). And then I’m expected to work!

Borde is a jackass whom we have known for years; at Marx’s house there are a hundred or more of the notebooks he sent him, lying about unopened. Envoyez-le au diable.[12]

I shall not come to Switzerland until the continental routes are safer. After all, there was no certainty of Marx’s being able to travel to, or through, France unscathed this summer. Once one has been expelled, that is that, unless one is prepared to take steps such as I should find impossible. Don’t I know it!

You do not, by the way, bore me in the least with internal matters. Anyone who’s abroad can never hear enough about the details of this sort of internal struggle in a workers’ party which, despite everything, is the leading one in Europe. And that kind of thing is withheld from me on principle by friend Liebknecht, all of whose reports are rosy red, dawn pink, sky-blue and green as the tender leaves of hope.

For the anniversary of the June battle of 1848, I am sending you a Neue Rheinische Reitung article by Marx,[13] who was the only man in the whole of the European press to back up the insurgents after they had fallen.

Kindest regards,



13 June 1883

Do you think the time is ripe for the Sozialdemokrat's feuilleton to print an excessively impudent piece Marx and I wrote in 1847, in which the ‘true socialists’, who are now also members of the Reichstag, are pulled to pieces? The most impudent thing ever to have been written in the German language.

  1. the third German edition of Volume I of Capital
  2. Protokoll über den Kongreß der deutschen Sozialdemokratie in Kopenhagen
  3. See Engels' letter to August Bebel of 21 June 1882
  4. Kegan Paul
  5. 0,jerum,jerum,jerum! O, quae mutatio rerum! (Oh, dear me, dear me, dear me. A crazy world. Lord, hear me!) —part of the refrain from a student song attributed to Eugen Höfling.
  6. William I
  7. In Engels' text the parenthesis was a footnote. In German 'merely' = bloss
  8. Frederick William
  9. during and after parturition
  10. a Social Democratic publishing house
  11. Cartes de visite; small photographic portraits mounted on a card.
  12. Consign him to the devil.
  13. 'The June Revolution'