Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, February 8, 1890

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To Friedrich Adolph Sorge in Hoboken

London, February 8, 1890[edit source]

Dear Sorge,

Have got your letter of the 14th and 2 postcards re H. Schlüter.

In my opinion we hardly lose anything worth counting by the going-over of the official Socialists there to the Nationalists. [Followers of Edward Bellamy, U.S.] If the whole German Socialist Labour Party went to pieces as a result it would be a gain, but we can hardly expect anything so good as that. The really serviceable elements will come together again in the end all the same, and the sooner the waste matter has separated itself the sooner this will happen; when the moment comes in which events themselves drive the American proletariat forward there will be enough fitted by their superior theoretical insight and experience to take the part of leaders, and then you will find that your years of work have not been wasted.

The movement there, just like the one here and in the mining districts of Germany now as well, cannot be made by preaching alone. Facts must hammer the thing into people's heads, but then it will go quickly too, quickest, of course, where there is already an organised and theoretically educated section of the proletariat at hand, as in Germany. The miners are ours to-day potentially and necessarily: in the Ruhr district the process is proceeding rapidly, Aix la Chapelle and the Saar basin will follow, then Saxony, then Lower Silesia, finally the Polish bargemen of Upper Silesia. With the position of our party in Germany all that was needed in order to call the irresistible movement into being was the impulse arising from the miners' own conditions of life.

Here it is going in a similar way. The movement, which I now consider irrepressible, arose from the dockers' strike, purely out of the absolute necessity of defence. But here too the ground had been so far prepared by various forms of agitation during the last eight years that the people without being Socialists themselves still only wanted to have Socialists as their leaders. Now, without noticing it themselves, they are coming on to the right theoretical track, they drift into it, and the movement is so strong that I think it will survive the inevitable blunders and their consequences and the friction between the various trade unions and leaders without serious damage. ...

I think it will be the same with you in America too. The Schleswig-Holsteiners [Anglo-Saxons] and their descendants in England and America are not to be converted by lecturing, this pig-headed and conceited lot have got to experience it on their own bodies. And this they are doing more and more every year, but they are born conservatives – just because America is so purely bourgeois, so entirely without a feudal past and therefore proud of its purely bourgeois organisation – and so they will only get quit of the old traditional mental rubbish by practical experience. Hence the trade unions, etc., are the thing to begin with if there is to be a mass movement, and every further step must be forced upon them by a defeat. But once the first step beyond the bourgeois point of view has been taken things will move quickly, like everything in America, where, driven by natural necessity, the growing speed of the movement sets some requisite fire going under the backsides of the Schleswig-Holstein Anglo-Saxons, who are usually so slow; and then too the foreign elements in the nation will assert themselves by greater mobility. I consider the decay of the specifically German party, with its absurd theoretical confusion, its corresponding arrogance and its Lassalleanism, a real piece of good fortune. Not until these separatists are out of the way will the fruits of your work come to light again. The Socialist Laws were a misfortune, not for Germany, but for America to which they consigned the last Knoten. I often used to marvel at the many Knoten faces one met with over there; these have died out in Germany but are flourishing over yonder.

Here we are having yet another storm in a tea cup. You will have seen the outcry in the Labour Elector on the subject of Parke, the assistant editor of the Star, who, in a local paper, and à propos the buggery scandals among the aristocracy here, actually accused Lord Euston of paederasty. It was a scurrilous article, but only in a personal sense, the matter being hardly a political one. But it caused a great scandal, the Star took it up and challenged Burns outright and Burns, instead of consulting the committee, disavowed Champion outright in the Star. There was a great rumpus on the committee of the Labour Elector, all of whose members were opposed to Champion but each of whom wishes to get into parliament and must look to his own particular interests; nothing, therefore, was decided, which may also have been because they had no power (last autumn Champion told Tussy that the paper belonged to the committee, he being merely a temporary editor, but I doubt whether that was really the entire truth)—in short, Burns and Bateman resigned from the committee on account of this affair (Burns also on account of the chauvinistic article on the Portuguese rumpus), and this week the entire committee absented itself from the paper. Tussy, too, has now written off Champion, whom she used to provide with international items on France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Scandinavia—(the crazy stuff about Spain, Portugal, Mexico, etc., is by Cunninghame-Graham, a very honest, very brave but very muddle-headed ex-ranchman).

All that the case has proved, so far as I’m concerned, is that Champion did in fact accept Tory money and then, with the opening of Parliament, found himself under an obligation to do something for the value received. The actual author of the articles is alleged to be our sometime friend of The Hague, Maltman Barry, who is regarded over here as a Tory agent and of whom Jung, Hyndman, etc., tell marvellous if untrue stories of a cock-and-bull nature. But all these gentlemen are behaving stupidly, for Champion has utterly ruined himself in the process and, at a meeting of his own Labour Electoral Association, was shouted down and had to leave the platform under the protection of 2 policemen. Wonderful grist to Hyndman’s mill, of course, but I believe both these gentlemen are finished for good. What happens next remains to be seen. But it will no more wreck the movement than did the defeat of the gas stokers in South London. The chaps were too cocky, everything had been made too easy for them, and at this juncture a few checks will do no harm.

In Paris our people are still trying to bring a daily into being. The Possibilist Parti Ouvrier, a daily financed by the government, has perished; on n’a plus besoin de ces messieurs[1].

Bax’s Time is quite an ordinary, middle-class affair and he’s terrified of making it socialist. Well, it can’t carry on just as it is, but there is still no room here for a purely socialist monthly, especially at 1/- a copy. As soon as there’s anything interesting in it, I shall send it to you.

Here too we have our Nationalists, the Fabians, a well-meaning gang of eddicated middle-class folk who have refuted Marx with Jevons’ worthless vulgar economics—so vulgar that you can make anything of it, including socialism. As in America, its chief object is to convert your bourgeois to socialism and so introduce the thing peacefully and constitutionally. They have brought out a bulky tome on the subject, written by 7 authors.[2]

I trust you are keeping well and the work is becoming easier as you grow accustomed to it.

I am having the same trouble with Percy Rosher as you are with your Adolph[3], only more so. The laddie has got into such a hole with his mania for speculation that his family and I have had to compromise with his creditors, and now all he can do is try and find some position or other for himself. But it would be better not to mention this to the Schlüters, lest word of it gets back here.

My eyes seem to be improving and I have put on 10 pounds; on the other hand, I have virtually had to give up smoking on account of insomnia, and now find that alcohol sometimes has a similarly disagreeable effect. What bitter irony it would be if I had to become a teetotaller in my old age!

Cordial regards to your wife.[4]


F. E.

Schorlemmer isn’t allowed to drink either.

  1. They no longer have any need of those gentry
  2. Fabian Essays in Socialism, London, 1889
  3. Adolph Sorge Junior
  4. Katarina Sorge