Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, April 19, 1890

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 19 April 1890

First published in: Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen von Joh. Phil. Becker, Jos. Dietzgen, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx u. A. an F A. Sorge und Andere. Stuttgart, 1906

Extract: Marx and Engels Correspondence; International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe;

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 48

To Friedrich Adolph Sorge in Hoboken

London, April 19, 1890[edit source]

Dear Sorge

I receive the Nationalist regularly, but unfortunately it contains very little of interest. They are a poor imitation of the Fabians in this country. Superficial and shallow as the Dismal Swamp, but proud of the noble magnanimity with which they, the ‘educated’ bourgeois, condescend to emancipate the workers; in return however the workers must keep quiet and obediently carry out the orders of the ‘educated’ cranks and their isms. Let them amuse themselves for a little while, but one fine day the movement will efface all this. We continentals, who have felt the influence of the French Revolution in quite a different way, have the advantage that such things are quite impossible here.

Today I am also sending you The People’s Press, which, so far as reports on the new Trades Unions are concerned, has now taken the place of the Labour Elector. The latter, as you will have seen, no longer carries any factual news because the workers flatly refuse to have anything further to do with it. Not that this prevents Burns, Mann and others (particularly some of the dockers) from consorting a great deal with Champion on the sly and allowing themselves to be influenced by him. The People’s Press is edited by a very youthful Fabian named Dell, the second in command being the parson Morris; both, from what I have heard so far, are decent people and most obliging to the gas workers. The (secret) leader of the gas workers is Tussy and the union is, to all appearances at any rate, far and away the best of the lot. The dockers have been spoiled by the philistines’ subventions and are anxious not to blot their copybook with the bourgeois public. Moreover, their secretary, Tillett, is the mortal enemy of the gas workers, whose secretary he vainly strove to become. The dockers and gas workers, large numbers of whom are dockers in the summer and gas workers in winter, really belong together; hence the latter proposed an agreement whereby anyone who was a member of one of the two Unions should not, on changing his job, be forced to join the other. So far this has been rejected by the dockers, who demand that a gas worker who turns docker in the spring should pay his joining fee and membership dues. Hence a lot of unpleasantness. Altogether the dockers are putting up with the hell of a lot from their Executive. The Gas Workers and General Labourers take in all the unskilled workers, and in Ireland the agricultural day labourers are also flocking to join it—to the annoyance of Davitt, who has progressed no further than Henry George and considers, though quite without reason, his domestic Irish policy to be threatened. Here in London, the gas workers south of the Thames have been thoroughly trounced by the South Metropolitan Gas Co., that was all to the good, as they were getting altogether much too cocky and thought they could carry everything before them; in Manchester they suffered a like fate and now they are calming down and starting to consolidate the organisation and fill its coffers. In the Union Tussy represents the girls and women of Silvertown (India Rubber, etc., Works) whose strike she led, and will probably soon take her seat on the London Trades Council.

In a country with such an old political and labour movement there is always a colossal heap of traditionally inherited rubbish which has to be got rid of by degrees. There are the prejudices of the skilled Unions – Engineers, Bricklayers, Carpenters and Joiners, Type Compositors, etc. – which have all to be broken down; the petty jealousies of the particular trades, which become intensified in the hands and heads of the leaders to direct hostility and secret struggle; there are the mutually obstructive ambitions and intrigues of the leaders: one wants to get into Parliament and so does somebody else, another wants to get on to the County Council or School Board, another wants to organise a general centralisation of all the workers, another to start a paper, another a club, etc., etc. In short, there is friction upon friction. And among them all the Socialist League, which looks down on everything which is not directly revolutionary (which means here in England, as with you, everything which does not limit itself to making phrases and otherwise doing nothing) and the Federation, who still behave as if everyone except themselves were asses and bunglers, although it is only due to the new force of the movement that they have succeeded in getting some following again. In short, anyone who only looks at the surface would say it was all confusion and personal quarrels. But under the surface the movement is going on, it is seizing ever wider sections of the workers and mostly just among the hitherto stagnant lowest masses, and the day is no longer far off when this mass will suddenly find itself, when the fact that it is this colossal self-impelled mass will dawn upon it, and when that day comes short work will be made of all the rascality and wrangling.

Needless to say, the above details as to persons and momentary differences are solely for your own information and must not on any account be allowed to get into the Volkszeitung. Let this be understood once and for all—for when Schlüter was over here, he more than once demonstrated a tendency to take this sort of thing rather too lightly.

I much look forward to the First of May. In Germany the group in the Reichstag was duty-bound to restrain any excess of zeal. The bourgeois, the political police, whose ‘bread and butter’ is at stake, the worthy officers— all are itching for mayhem and slaughter and are seeking any pretext to persuade young William[1] that it’s never too soon to shoot. But this would completely ruin our game. First we have to get rid of the Anti-Socialist Law, i.e. survive the 30th of September. And after that our prospects in Germany will be much too brilliant for us to wreck them merely for the sake of blowing our own trumpet. Come to that, the parliamentary group’s proclamation is bad; it stems from Liebknecht and the nonsense about a ‘general strike’ was wholly unnecessary. But either way, our people have been so elated by the 20th of February that a certain amount of restraint is necessary if blunders are to be avoided.

In France the First of May might be a turning-point, for Paris at any rate, provided it helps to restore to their right minds the large numbers of working men who have gone over to Boulangism there. For this, our people have only themselves to blame. They have never had the courage to oppose the outcry against the Germans, qua Germans, and now in Paris they are falling victim to chauvinism. Luckily the position is better in the provinces. But abroad people look only to Paris.

If the French sent me their stuff, I would send it on to you. But I think they themselves are ashamed of the things. Well, it’s in the French nature—defeat is more than they can stomach. The moment they again have a taste of success, all will suddenly change.

Cordial regards to your wife and yourself.

Likewise to the Schlüters.

Schorlemmer returned to Manchester last Monday. We are both of necessity strict abstainers. Quelle horreur!

  1. William II