Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, January 18, 1893

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To Sorge in Hoboken

London, January 18, 1893[edit source]

Dear Sorge,

Today I am sending you two old numbers of the defunct Berliner Volks-Tribüne, the others having got mislaid in the turmoil of Christmas; if I find them I shall send them on to you. The reason for my failure to put them in the post was the Bakunin article which in the end I felt bound to answer, and that meant keeping the numbers here in case of possible controversy. In the last (13th)[1] article, which has unfortunately been mislaid—we have just realised that it has meanwhile been sent to you by Mrs Kautsky[2]—there is yet another batch of rubbishy anarchist lies. The author, who gives his name—one Héritier (a young Genevese, nurtured in the bosom of old J. Ph. Becker) tries to justify himself even after my answer—mendaciously. Since he has written to me, I shall reply,c notifying him that, if be does the same sort of thing in his proposed opus, I shall rap him severely over the knuckles for it.[3]

Here there has been a Conference in Bradford of the Independent Labour Party, which you know from the Workman's Times. The S.D.F. on the one hand and the Fabians on the other have not been able, with their sectarian attitudes, to absorb the mass pressure for socialism in the provinces, so the foundation of a third Party was quite good. But the pressure has now become so great, especially in the industrial districts of the north, that the new Party came out already at this first Congress stronger than the S.D.F. or the Fabians, if not stronger than both put together. And as the mass of the membership is certainly very good, as the centre of gravity lies in the provinces and not in London, the home of cliques, and as the main point of the programme is ours, Aveling was right to join and to accept a seat on the Executive. If the petty private ambitions and intrigues of the London would-be-greats are slightly held in check here and the tactics do not turn out too wrong-headed, the Independent Labour Party may succeed in detaching the masses from the Social-Democratic Federation and in the provinces from the Fabians too, and thus forcing unity.

The Fabians are an ambitious group here in London who have understanding enough to realise the inevitability of the social revolution, but who could not possibly entrust this gigantic task to the rough proletariat alone and are therefore kind enough to set themselves at the head. Fear of the revolution is their fundamental principle. They are the "educated" par excellence. Their socialism is municipal socialism; not the nation but the municipality is to become the owner of the means of production, at any rate for the time being. This socialism of theirs is then represented as an extreme but inevitable consequence of bourgeois Liberalism, and hence follow their tactics of not decisively opposing the Liberals as adversaries but of pushing them on towards socialist conclusions and therefore of intriguing with them, of permeating Liberalism with Socialism, of not putting up Socialist candidates against the Liberals but of fastening them on to the Liberals, forcing them upon them, or deceiving them into taking them. That in the course of this process they are either lied to and deceived themselves or else betray socialism, they do not of course realise.

With great industry they have produced amid all sorts of rubbish some good propagandist writings as well, in fact the best of the kind which the English have produced. But as soon as they get on to their specific tactics of hushing up the class struggle it all turns putrid. Hence too their fanatical hatred of Marx and all of us – because of the class struggle.

These people have of course many bourgeois followers and therefore money, and have many active workers in the provinces who will have nothing to do with the S.D.F. But five-sixths of the provincial members agree more or less with our point of view and at the critical moment will certainly fall away. In Bradford, where they were represented, they several times decisively declared themselves against the London Executive of the Fabians.

You see that it is a critical moment for the movement here and something may come of this new organisation. There was a moment when it nearly fell into the clutches of Champion-who consciously or unconsciously works just as much for the Tories as the Fabians do for the Liberals – and of his ally Maltman Barry, whom you knew at the Hague (Barry is now an acknowledged and permanent paid Tory agent and manager of the Socialist wing of the Conservatives!) – see the Workman's Times for November and December. But in the end Champion preferred to start publishing his Labour Elector again and has thus placed himself in opposition to the Workman's Times and the new Party.

Hardie brought off a clever stroke by putting himself at the head of this new Party, while John Burns, whose complete inactivity outside his constituency has already done him a lot of harm, committed a fresh piece of stupidity by holding back here too. I am afraid he is heading straight for an impossible position.

The fact that here too people like Keir Hardie, Shaw, Maxwell and others are pursuing all sorts of secondary aims of personal ambition is of course obvious. But the danger arising from this becomes less according to the degree in which the Party itself becomes stronger and gets more of a mass character, and it is already diminished by the necessity for exposing the weakness of the competing sects. Socialism has penetrated the masses in the industrial districts enormously in the last years and I am counting on these masses to keep the leaders in order. Of course, there will be stupidities enough, and cliques of every kind too, but so long as it is possible to keep them within decent limits!

At the worst, the foundation of the new organisation has this advantage that unity will be more easily brought about between these competing sects than between two which are diametrically opposed.

As regards what you wrote about Poland on 23 December, since the time of Kronstadt the Prussians have been prepared to go to war with Russia and are therefore pro -Polish (indeed have provided proof of this).[4] The said Poles will have sought to exploit this to provoke a war whereby they hope to be liberated with Germany’s help. But that is not at all what Berlin wants and, should they pull off their coup, Caprivi will undoubtedly leave them in the lurch. At the moment a war would be utterly useless to us; we have a sure means of making progress which a war could only disrupt.

Warm regards to your wife and yourself. Mrs Kautsky, who wrote to you on Saturday, though unfortunately too late to catch the post, also sends

her regards.

Your F.E.

  1. 12th in the Ms
  2. Engels inserted this afterwards, in the margin
  3. From 6 August to 24 December 1892 the German Social-Democratic newspaper Die Berliner Volks- Tribüne was publishing (in its supplement) a series of articles by the Swiss Socialist Louis Héritier under the general title ‘Die Juraföderation und Michael Bakunin; the author’s name was indicated only in the final article. Proceeding from Bakuninist principles, the author gave a slanted picture of the history of the First International in Switzerland and vindicated the divisive activities of the Bakuninists in particular, of the anarchist Jura Federation which, at its congress in La Chaux-de-Fonds held between 4 and 6 April 1870, had broken away from the International sections in Roman Switzerland. In addition, the articles contained numerous innuendoes about the activity of the General Council, Marx and his associates, specifically, about Johann Philipp Becker. Thus, it was claimed without any ground whatever that the London Conference of the First International (1871) had been held in Marx’s house. The tenth article, published on 12 November 1892, contained particularly numerous distortions. Engels therefore decided to speak out and refute the insinuations without waiting for the end of the series. He sent his statement, together with the present letter, to August Bebel for delivery to the editorial board of Die Berliner Volks-Tribüne. The newspaper published Engels’ statement on 19 November 1892. On 24 December 1892 L. Héritier offered his reply, which was published together with his final article. As in his letter to Engels of 15 December 1892, Héritier tried to rebut the accusations. See also Engels’ letters: to Héritier of 20 January 1893 and to Kautsky of 25 March 1895.
  4. In this letter Sorge wrote to Engels that a few days before, the editor of Die New Yorker Volkszeitung, Friedrich Schlüter, had been visited by a group of Polish emigres who wished to learn about the newspaper’s stand on an uprising which allegedly was to take place in Poland.
    There was a welcome ceremony at Kronstadt in July 1891 for a French naval squadron to demonstrate a rapprochement between tsarist Russia and France. The two countries, meanwhile, were holding diplomatic negotiations which, in August 1891, terminated in the signing of an agreement whereby France and Russia undertook the commitment to consult each other on foreign policy issues and to come to terms on steps which both governments were to take in case of the threat of an attack on either. Further talks led to the signing of a Franco-Russian military convention in August 1892 which envisaged joint military operations if either side was attacked. This convention was an important landmark toward a Franco-Russian alliance which was sealed with the ratification of the convention by both governments on 27 December 1893—4 January 1894. Seeking to enlist Poland’s support in the event of a war with Russia, the German ruling quarters took steps in the early 1890s to soften the German policies in the western Polish lands under German jurisdiction, specifically by relaxing the police surveillance over Polish national societies, by making concessions in teaching the Polish language at school, and so on.