Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, August 11, 1891

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 11 August 1891


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First published abridged 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 and in full in: Marx and Engels, Works, First Russian Edition, Vol. XXVIII, Moscow, 1940

Extract: Marx and Engels on the Trade Unions, Edited by Kenneth Lapides and Marx & Engels on the Irish Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971, p. 353;

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 49

To Sorge in Mount Desert

Ryde, Isle of Wight, 9-11 August 1891[edit source]

Dear Sorge,

Your two letters of 14 and 20 July have been forwarded to me here. I and Schorlemmer have been spending the past two weeks here with Pumps whose husband is the agent here for his brothers. Shall be going home in about a week.

I am very grateful for the information regarding the Journal of the Knights of Labor — I have to look through such a pile of papers that it is often very hard for me to get my bearings without such reports. Likewise, regarding Gompers and Sanial; very important, should I see them in London?

Anna[1] will have to look to her own future; this nonsense is really too much.

The Possibilist-Hyndmanian racket will probably take a hard knock at the Brussels Congress. The split in the ranks of the Paris Possibilists has completely cut the ground from under Brousse’s feet. In the provinces they count for nothing while in Paris the majority support Allemane against Brousse. This has resulted in the Possibilists of both complexions losing control of their last great vantage point, the bourse du travail. Or so the Socialiste of 24 July says. The Brussels chaps who are, in their heart of hearts, themselves Possibilists and have stood by the latter as long as they could, have made a complete volte-face; they aim at becoming the General Council of a new International and are paying court to the all-transcendent ‘Marxists’; hence the comical lamentations of the ‘friends’ they have left in the lurch in Paris and London. I fear, I fear that Mr Hyndman will cease to be our official ‘enemy’ and will try and make out that he is our 'friend'. That would be a bad thing; we haven't got the time to keep a constant eye on a schemer like him.

Tussy, Aveling, Thorne, and others of the Gas Workers, Sanders (John Burns’ secretary), and several other Englishmen of our side are going to Brussels. I don’t know as yet how matters stand with the old trade unions.

The dockers are on the verge of collapse. Their strike was won solely as a result of the £30,000 blindly contributed from Australia; but they think they did it themselves. Hence they are making one mistake after another — the last one was closing their lists, not accepting any more new members, and so breeding their own scabs. Then they refused to conclude a cartel with the gas workers. Many workers are dockers in summer, and gas workers in winter; the gas workers proposed that the ticket of one union should hold good for both with this alternating employment — rejected! Up to now the gas workers have respected the dockers’ ticket nevertheless — one can’t say how much longer. Then the dockers are raising an outcry against the immigration of foreign paupers (Russian Jews). Of their leaders, Tom Mann is upright but boundlessly weak, and he has been made half-crazy by his appointment as a member of the Royal Commission on Labor; Ben Tillett is an ambitious intriguer. They have no money, their members are dropping out in droves, and discipline has vanished.

A week ago someone wrote to me from St Petersburg saying: ‘ WE ARE ON THE EVE OF A FAMINE.’ This was substantiated yesterday by the banning of the export of grain from Russia. In the first place, this will ensure us a year’s peace; with famine in the land, the Tsar may well rattle his sabre, but he won’t unsheathe it. But if, as seems probable, Gladstone comes to power here next year, an attempt will be made to persuade England and France to consent to the closing of the Dardanelles to all fleets, even in time of war, i. e. prevent the Sultan from obtaining assistance against Russia. So that’s the next item on the oriental agenda.

In the second place, however, the Russian ban on the export of grain means extending the famine to rye-eating Germany; only Russia can make good Germany’s colossal deficit in rye. But this would mean the complete collapse of Germany’s grain tariff policy, which in turn would mean a whole series of political convulsions. For instance, the landed aristocracy cannot forego its protective tariffs without also undermining the industrial tariffs of the middle classes. The protectionist parties will lose credit and the whole situation be totally altered. And our party will grow tremendously — the failure of this harvest will put us five years ahead of schedule, quite apart from the fact that it will prevent a war which would claim a hundred times more lives.

These two aspects will, in my opinion, temporarily dominate European politics, and if Schlüter would care to draw attention to this in the Volkszeitung[2], it would be very useful. As soon as the Congress is over, I shall also bring it up in the European press. Only I cannot, of course, be responsible for what others in Germany will make of the information I have supplied.

I am glad that Mount Desert is, as always, doing you good. I, too, am feeling the benefit of the sea air — only here in Europe the weather is so uncertain that one can’t really plan anything. Schorlemmer sends his regards. I won’t finish this letter off yet as there may be something more to tell you tomorrow.

August 11, 1891[edit source]

The ban on the export of grain from Russia is not yet official but is almost a certainty; we may expect an official proclamation. In East Prussia there have been 2 parliamentary elections — we gained an enormous number of votes. So we have at last opened up the rural areas — cela marche![3] With the help of the price rise we may well see something happen there by 1900, unless we kick the bucket first.

Louise Kautsky is in Vienna, will be going to Brussels with a Viennese mandate, and will bring Adler back to London with her and also perhaps Bebel; I have written to him in Switzerland but have not yet had a reply.

Tussy’s report to the Brussels Congress on behalf of the gasworkers and others, is very good. I shall send it to you. Tussy is going to Brussels with a mandate from the Dublin Congress of Gasworkers and General Labourers, thus representing 100,000.[4] Aveling, too, has 3 or 4 mandates. To all appearances, the old Trades Unions will be poorly represented. So much the better this time!

Regards from Schorlemmer and myself to your wife. Your old friend

F.E.

  1. Stanislaw Padlewski
  2. New Yorker Volkszeitung
  3. Things have got going
  4. The Second Congress of the National Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers of Great Britain and Ireland was held on May 17, 1891, in Dublin. The Congress adopted a decision on the participation of the Union in the forthcoming International Socialist Workers’ Congress in Brussels: and Eleanor Marx-Aveling and William Thorne were elected delegates