Letter to Eduard Bernstein, March 24, 1884

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 24 March 1884


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First published, in Russian, in Marx-Engels Archives, Book I, Moscow, 1924

Extract: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975).

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 47

To Eduard Bernstein in Zurich

London, 24 March 1884[edit source]

Dear Ede,

In great haste, a bit of gossip. We have at last wound things up today at Maitland Park and handed back the old house to its owner.[1] I, on the other hand, am still in the throes of sorting out the books and papers nor, until this has been done, shall I be able to embark on any regular work.

The demonstration of the 16th caused two people to make fools of themselves — Hyndman and Frohme.

Hyndman, without having actually given his assent, had been proposed as speaker—by, it is said, Rackow. Not being convinced of success, he declared in Justice that ‘a working man’ must speak and that as for him, he would merely listen.[2] The same issue of Justice contained an extremely impertinent notice on the last number of To-Day— amounting to a veiled declaration of war. Hyndman next proceeded to intrigue against the despatch of delegates to the Roubaix congress, alleging that those responsible were in a minority and that one ought not to go meddling in internal French disputes. But at a committee meeting of the DEMOCRATIC FEDERATION the following Tuesday, he was well and truly defeated; his most trusty followers took the floor against him, nor could he confess the real motives for his intervention; it was enthusiastically resolved to participate in both demonstration and congress, and Hyndman, who would now have gladly spoken in Highgate, had cut off his own line of retreat, the invitation to speak having passed to Aveling and been gladly accepted. That’s what invariably befalls these clever-clever cliquists — they are hoist with their own petard.

Frohme apparently spoke very well in Highgate and, by contrast, quite atrociously at the Society. I am sending you the Deutsche Londoner Zeifung in which the philistine reporter naively betrays his delight at the way Frohme had, with his atrocious platitudes, voiced his inmost thoughts for him.[3] This, apparently, was altogether too much of a good thing and gave rise to a tremendous row in the Society; Frohme was given a dressing-down and is said to have declared that he hadn’t met a single socialist, let alone a human being, in London. He’s unlikely to reappear for some time to come. He has left me alone, I’m glad to say.

Many thanks for the Deutsches Tageblatt which I return herewith. To reply to Bernhard Becker’s balderdash would be doing him too great an honour. What the ex-president of mankind writes and the Tageblatt prints is a matter of complete indifference, and even in Berlin it has long been forgotten. This kind of impotent malice chokes on its own bile. But what sort of press must it be to print such stuff? Even the Parisian Figaristes were more adept liars, albeit only during the period of general alarm immediately after the Commune.

The March article was in spite of everything very good and the essential points are properly emphasised. The same applies to the article in the next issue[4] on the sermon to the peasants delivered by the member of the People’s Party; the only sore point there is that the ‘concept’ of democracy is invoked. That concept changes every time the Demos[5] changes and so does not get us one step further. In my opinion what should have been said is the following: The proletariat too needs democratic forms for the seizure of political power but they are for it, like all political forms, mere means. But if today democracy is wanted as an end it is necessary to rely on the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie, that is, on classes that are in process of dissolution and reactionary in relation to the proletariat when they try to maintain themselves artificially. Furthermore it must not be forgotten that it is precisely the democratic republic which is the logical form of bourgeois rule; a form however that has become too dangerous only because of the level of development the proletariat has already reached; but France and America show that it is still possible as purely bourgeois rule. The ‘principle’ of liberalism considered as something ‘definite, historically evolved’, is thus really only an inconsistency. The liberal constitutional monarchy is an adequate form of bourgeois rule: 1) at the beginning, when the bourgeoisie has not yet quite finished with the absolute monarchy, and 2) at the end, when the proletariat has already made the democratic republic too dangerous. And yet the democratic republic always remains the last form of bourgeois rule, that in which it goes to pieces. With this I conclude this rigmarole.

Nim[6] sends her regards. I did not see Tussy yesterday.

Yours
FE

  1. Edwin Willis
  2. H.M. Hyndman, 'A Sad Anniversary. To the Editor of Justice', Justice, No. 8, 8 March 1884
  3. 'Die Märzfeier in London', Londoner Leitung. Hermann, No. 1316, 22 March 1884
  4. Engels refers to two leading articles of the Sozialdemokrat, the first, which was written by Eduard Bernstein, was published on 13 May 1884, under the title ‘Zum Gedenktage der Märzkämpfe’ ('On the Anniversary of the March Fights’); the second published on 20 March 1884, was entitled ‘Zur Naturgeschichte der Volkspartei’ (‘A Natural History of the People’s Party’) – Progress Publishers.
  5. The people – Progress Publishers.
  6. Hélène Demuth (1823-1890) – maid at Marx’s house and close friend of the family – Progress Publishers.