Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, January 7, 1888

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 7 January 1888


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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 Rochester

London, January 7, 1888[edit source]

Dear Sorge

First, let me wish you a Happy New Year and express the hope that you will soon settle down in your new locality and that you have completely recovered from your accidents last summer.

We can only hope that the gathering war clouds will disperse— everything is already going as nicely as we could wish and we can very well dispense with the interruption through a general war and one, moreover, on a vaster scale than ever before, although this too must eventually redound in our favour. Bismarck’s policy is driving the working and petty-bourgeois masses over to us in their thousands; the pitiable inadequacy of the social reforms, so pompously proclaimed, and which are a mere pretext for coercive measures against the workers (Puttkamer’s anti-strike edict, the proposed re-introduction of employment books, the purloining of trades union and provident funds) is proving enormously effective. The new Anti-Socialist Law will do little harm; this time, the expatriation clause is unlikely to go through and, if it does, it’s questionable how long it will last. For if—as would be best for us—old William[1] were shortly to kick the bucket and the Crown Prince[2] came to the helm, if only for six months, everything would probably be thrown into confusion. Bismarck has laboured so hard at getting rid of the Crown Prince altogether and bringing about the regency of that insolent guards’ subaltern, the younger William[3], that he would, in such an event, probably be got rid of and replaced by a short-lived, head-in-clouds liberal regime. That would be enough to destroy your philistine’s confidence in the stability of the Bismarckian system; and if, along with the young whippersnapper, Bismarck were subsequently to return to power, your philistine’s faith would nonetheless be gone, the lad being after all no substitute for the old man. For the bogus Bonapartes of today are as naught unless people believe in them and in their invincibility. And if the boy and his mentor Bismarck were then to grow cocky and produce measures even more insolent than the present ones, things would be all set for a crisis.

A war, on the other hand, would throw us back for years. Chauvinism would swamp everything, for it would be a fight for existence. Germany would put about five million armed men into the field, or ten per cent. of the population, the others about four to five per cent., Russia relatively less. But there would be from ten to fifteen million combatants. I should like to see how they are to be fed; it would be a devastation like the Thirty Years' War. And no quick decision could be arrived at, despite the colossal fighting forces. For France is protected on the north-eastern and south-eastern frontiers by very extensive fortifications and the new constructions in Paris are a model. So it will last a long time, and Russia cannot be taken by storm either. If, therefore, everything goes according to Bismarck's desires, more will be demanded of the nation than ever before and it is possible enough that partial defeats and the dragging out of the decisive war would produce an internal upheaval. But if the Germans were defeated from the first or forced into a prolonged defensive, then the thing would certainly start. If the war was fought out to the end without internal disturbances a state of exhaustion would supervene such as Europe has not experienced for two hundred years. American industry would then conquer all along the line and would force us all up against the alternatives: either retrogression to nothing but agriculture for home consumption (American corn forbids anything else) or -- social transformation. I imagine, therefore, that the plan is not to push things to extremities, to more than a sham war. But once the first shot is fired, control ceases, the horse can take the bit between its teeth.

So everything is tending inexorably towards a decision, war or peace, and I must hasten to complete the third volume [of Capital]. But events demand that I remain au courant and this, particularly as regards the military side, requires a great deal of time, and yet I must still take care of my eyes. If only I could simply withdraw into my study! However, it’s got to be done and I shall set to work next month at the latest.

Shorlemmer, who is here, sends his kindest regards.

Our people were immediately responsible for resolving the presidential crisis in Paris. The Blanquists took the lead, Vaillant having carried the day in the office of the Municipal Council. If the fun begins soon, Vaillant will be the guiding light of the next provisional government. He’s lucky—as a Blanquist he has no need to vindicate an economic theory and this enables him to keep out of many a squabble. The Possibilists have discredited themselves completely and utterly; having advocated total abstention from action, they unsuccessfully sought, in company with the reactionaries, to bring a vote of censure in the Municipal Council on its office, which had behaved as well as might be expected of Radicals of that ilk.

You have, I trust, been getting Commonweal, Gleichheit and To-day regularly.

Your old friend,

F. E.

  1. William I
  2. Frederick William (later Frederick III)
  3. Frederick William's son (William II)