Letter to Ferdinand Lassalle, November 6, 1859

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 6 November 1859


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 40, p. 539;
First published: F. Lassalle. Nachgelassene Briefe und Schriften, Stuttgart-Berlin, 1922.

To Ferdinand Lassalle in Berlin

In Berlin

London, 6 November 1859[edit source]

Dear Lassalle,

You'd have had a reply from me sooner if my spare time hadn’t been entirely taken up with a mass of repulsive domestic business.

1. Thank you for your good offices with Duncker. You're mistaken, by the by, if you think that I expected glowing tributes from the German press, or gave a rap for them. I expected to be attacked or criticised but not to be utterly ignored, which, moreover, is bound to have a serious effect on sales. Considering how vehemently these people have, at various times, railed against my communism, it was to be expected that they would now unleash their wisdom against the theoretical argument in support of the same. For after all, Germany is not without its specialised journals on economics.

In America the first instalment [Contribution to Critique of Political Economy] was discussed at length in the entire German press from New York to New Orleans. I only fear that it is too theoretical in tone for the working-class public there.

2. ad vocem Vogt.

You'll have been surprised by the information in the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung concerning Vogt’s law-suit and by the strange company in which I find myself in that journal. Here, in brief, is the story:

Besides the Hermann, there used to, be a so-called working-men’s paper here, Die Neue Zeit, whose last editor was Edgar Bauer. One of his colleagues on that paper was Biskamp, who was a schoolmaster out in the country. The paper was opposed on what is called principle to the Hermann. For Edgar Bauer thought it was time he played at being a communist. I, needless to say, had nothing to do with this. Bauer wrote and told Biskamp that, in order to rid himself of a rival, Kinkel had transferred his sheet to the printer of the Neue Zeit which last, depending as it did on that printer’s credit, was completely in his power. On receipt of this letter, Biskamp rushed up to London to discover, not only that Kinkel had destroyed the Neue Zeit by swapping printers, but also that Edgar Bauer, the editor of the so-called ‘working-men’s paper’, had joined the editorial staff of the Hermann and gone over to Kinkel.

A brief note re Biskamp: He was at one time a co-publisher of the Hornisse. He edited the Bremer Tages-Chronik in company with Dulon and Ruge. In Switzerland he joined the Communist League. His relationship with Ruge meant that we never saw each other while he was in London. I took no notice of him, but he occasionally took notice in a polemical way of me. This man is a strange mixture of noble instincts, innate (and also physical) weakness, asceticism and idleness, Kantian moral consciousness and tactless whimsicality. His nervous irritability makes him liable to surrender any position ‘on principle’, to precipitate himself suddenly into the most hopeless situation, to endure it passively and stoically for a while, and then suddenly perpetrate stupidities bordering on the iniquitous. The man as I paint him here is not, of course, the man I used to know. I am painting a portrait which experience has gradually pieced together for me.

But to return to my story. Biskamp at once gave up his schoolmaster’s post to take up ‘the struggle of labour against capital’ (i.e. Kinkel), started Das Volk without any means whatsoever except subsidies from a workers’ society, etc. So long as the thing lasted he was, of course, on the verge of starvation. He had secured work as correspondent to a couple of papers in Germany, but lost this as soon as his new function became known. A few private lessons barely enabled him to eke out the life of a Bohémien.

Before continuing I should point out that I have had no connection whatever with any of the public workers’ associations (including the so-called communist one) since 1851. The only workers with whom I foregather are 20-30 picked men to whom I give private lectures on political economy. Liebknecht, however, is chairman of the workers’ society which helped Biskamp to start Das Volk.

A few days after the birth of this paper Biskamp and Liebknecht came to see me and invited me to collaborate. At the time I declined outright, partly for want of time and partly because I was about to leave London for a longish spell. All I promised was to obtain a few financial contributions from friends in England, which in fact I did. On that same day I related to both of them what Blind had told me with great moral indignation the day before about Vogt, and also named my source. Biskamp used this for an article, as I later saw. During my absence he reprinted in Das Volk Blind’s anonymous pamphlet, which was printed by the same press as Das Volk At the same time Liebknecht sent a copy of the pamphlet to the Augsburg Allgmeine Zeitung for which he supplies the English article. (As to this last circumstance, I should point out that the refugees here contribute to all papers indiscriminately. I believe myself to be the only exception to this, as I do not contribute to any German paper. Be it noted, by the by, that Palmerston, through the channel of the Prussian embassy, which in turn used Williams — the English bookseller — for its organ, has tried to get Liebknecht removed from the A. A. Z. on account of his anti-governmental tendencies.)

After my return to London, Das Volk received from myself and Engels various contributions wholly unrelated to the affaire Vogt. Apart from a few attacks on Schleinitz’s diplomatic circulars, all I supplied was a humorous comment or two on Kinkel’s aesthetic dissertations in the Hermann viewed from a grammatical standpoint [Quid Pro Quo]. Life here in London is too tough for one not to indulge in distractions of this kind every 8 years or so.

The paper came to a sudden end, mainly for lack of money. Biskamp, besides being wholly without means of subsistence, contracted a painful disease and had to go into the German hospital. When he was discharged he must literally have starved to death if I hadn’t taken care of him. During this period he wrote to several German papers in the hope of becoming their correspondent, but to no effect. Then he got a letter from the editorial board of the A. A. Z., whereupon he wrote them that shockingly discreditable epistle — behind the backs of his friends, of course. Naturally he believed he was writing a private letter. The idiot is now overcome with contrition and for a couple of days has neither eaten nor slept. I don’t know what will become of him. If I have told you all this at some length, it is not in order to justify the man’s behaviour, but to explain it. If he were so venal a fellow as most of the ‘democrats’ here, he wouldn’t have precipitated himself into a situation which he hadn’t the strength to endure.

As to my statement in the A. A. Z., the circumstances are as follows:

As you know, Blind published his denunciation of Vogt. At the same time an anonymous article by him appeared in the London Free Press (Urquhart’s paper), containing much the same information — I enclose the article with this letter — but omitting Vogt’s name and sundry other particulars. Now when Vogt brought his action against the A. A. Z., and the latter appealed to Liebknecht, he, being responsible to the A. A. Z., naturally appealed to me and I to Blind. The latter refused to answer for his statements. It was all due to a misunderstanding, he said. The whole thing had nothing to do with him. He even went so far as to give his word of honour that he had had nothing to do with the anonymous pamphlet. Repeated requests were of no avail. This conduct was all the more infamous in that the worthy fellow knew that Vogt was citing me — privately in London and publicly in Switzerland — as the source of the denunciation so as to represent the whole thing as deriving from the malicious ill-will borne by the communist towards the ‘eminent democrat’ and ‘ex-imperial regent’. I therefore began by turning to Collet, who made no bones about stating that Blind had written the article in The Free Press. Next, I obtained a statement from the typesetter who had set the type for the pamphlet. Blind’s duplicity called for castigation. I had absolutely no intention of pulling this ‘republican’s chestnuts out of the fire for him. Indeed, it is only by forcing him and Vogt to attack one another that the truth will come out. Finally, like any paper which accepts a denunciation of this kind, the A. A. Z. deserves to be supplied with any information that can possibly help to throw light on the facts.

I shall now have the whole of Germany’s vulgar democracy about my ears, and Biskamp’s folly will make this all the easier for them. Needless to say, it would never occur to me to skirmish in insignificant journals with all these insignificant scoundrels. However, I believe it necessary to make an example of one of them, namely Mr Eduard Meyen of the Freischütz, pour encourager les autres. I'm sending one copy to the A. A. Z., one to the Reform in Hamburg and I'd like the copy I sent you to appear in a Berlin paper.

I must save up my exposé of the Italian war, an affair upon which I have in no way changed my views, for my next letter (shortly).

Salut.

Your
K. M.

P.S. Much as I detest alluding to this point, my financial affairs are in a dangerously critical state — so much so that I can hardly find time for my articles for the Tribune, let alone the political economy. Admittedly I shall be receiving over £40 in 8 to 10 weeks’ time. But for me the essential and crucial point is to anticipate its receipt. Can you help me with a bill transaction towards that end? In 8, or at most 10, weeks’ time I shall be good for £50.