Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, November 10, 1894

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To Sorge in Hoboken

London, November 10, 1894[edit source]

41 Regent’s Park Road, N. W.

Dear Sorge,

From the above address you will see that I have moved house. After Louise’s marriage our old home had become rather too cramped and, since the consequences of that marriage soon manifested themselves, we could no longer make do. We therefore took a larger house which became available a little further down the road, close by the gates into Regent’s Park and, after a great bother, moved in four weeks ago—bother with house agents, solicitors, contractors, furniture salesmen, etc., and it’s not yet over, my books being still in great disarray. Downstairs we have our communal living-rooms, on the first floor my study and bedroom, on the second Louise, her husband, the baby daughter, born on Tuesday the 6th of this month, and nursery maid, on the third floor the two housemaids, lumber-room and visitor’s room. My study is at the front, has three windows and is so big that I can accommodate nearly all my books (eight cases full) in it and yet, despite its size, very nice and easy to heat. In short, we are a lot better off. In the circumstances Louise and her baby are very well, and everything went off swimmingly.

Today, you will get two fat parcels, 3 copies of the (Berlin) Sozialdemokrat, 3 of the Pest Volksstimme, the rest of the proceedings of the Party Conference in the Vorwärts and a Critica Sociale containing a letter by me. Because of the removal, we have not been able to send things quite so regularly. The Workman’s Times no longer exists, more’s the pity. Tussy’s articles in it were the only ones in which the truth about the Continental movement was neither withheld from the English workers nor falsified.

The movement over here still resembles the American movement, save that it is somewhat ahead of you. The mass instinct that the workers must form a party of their own against the two official parties is getting stronger and stronger; this was more apparent than ever in the municipal elections on 1 November. But all kinds of old traditional memories and a lack of people capable of transforming this instinct into conscious action that will embrace the entire country tends to keep the workers in this preliminary stage which is marked by haziness of thought — and local isolation of action.

Anglo-Saxon sectarianism prevails in the labour movement, too. The Social-Democratic Federation, just like your German Socialist Labour Party[1], has managed to transform our theory into the rigid dogma of an orthodox sect; it is narrow-mindedly exclusive and thanks to Hyndman has a thoroughly rotten tradition in international politics, which is shaken from time to time, to be sure, but which has not been broken with as yet. The Independent Labour Party is extremely indefinite in its tactics, and its leader, Keir Hardie, is a super-cunning Scot, whose demagogic tricks are not to be trusted for a minute. Although he is a poor devil of a Scottish coal miner, he has founded a big weekly, The Labour Leader[2], which could not have been established without considerable money, and he is getting this money from Tory or Liberal-Unionist, that is, anti-Gladstone and anti-Home Rule sources. There can be no doubt about this, and his notorious literary connections in London as well as direct reports and his political attitude confirm it. Consequently, owing to desertions by Irish and radical voters[3], he may very easily lose his seat in Parliament at the 1895 general elections and that would be a stroke of good luck — the man is the greatest obstacle at present. He appears in Parliament only on demagogic occasions, in order to cut a figure with phrases about the unemployed — without getting anything done — or to address imbecilities to the Queen[4] on the occasion of the birth of a prince, which is infinitely banal and cheap in this country, and so forth. Otherwise there are very good elements both in the Social-Democratic Federation and in the Independent Labour Party, especially in the provinces, but they are scattered; yet they have at least managed to foil all the efforts of the leaders to incite the two organisations against each other.

John Burns[5] stands pretty much alone politically; he is being viciously attacked both by Hyndman[6] and by Keir Hardie[7] and acts as if he despaired of the political organisation of the workers and set his hopes solely on the trade unions. To be sure, he has had bad experiences with the former and might starve if the Engineers Union did not pay him his Parliamentary salary. He is vain and has allowed the Liberals, that is, the ‘social wing’ of the radicals, to lead him a bit too much by the nose. He attaches altogether too much importance to the numerous individual concessions that he has forced through, but with all that he is the only really honest fellow in the whole movement, that is, among the leaders, and he has a thoroughly proletarian instinct which will, I believe, guide him more correctly at the decisive moment than cunning and selfish calculation will the others.

On the Continent success is developing the appetite for more success, and catching the peasant, in the literal sense of the word, is becoming the fashion. First the French in Nantes declare through Lafargue not only (what I had written to them) that it is not our business to hasten by direct interference of our own the ruin of the small peasant which capitalism is seeing to for us, but they also add that we must directly protect the small peasant against taxation, usurers and landlords. But we cannot co-operate in this, first because it is stupid and second because it is impossible. Next, however, Vollmar comes along in Frankfort and wants to bribe the peasantry as a whole, though the peasant he has to do with in Upper Bavaria is not the debt-laden poor peasant of the Rhineland but the middle and even the big peasant, who exploits his men and women farm servants and sells cattle and grain in masses. And that cannot be done without giving up the whole principle. We can only win the mountain peasants and the big peasants of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, if we sacrifice their ploughmen and day labourers to them, and if we do that we lose more than we gain politically. The Frankfort Party Congress did not take a decision on this question and that is to the good in so far as the matter will now be thoroughly studied; the people who were there knew far too little about the peasantry and the conditions on the land, which vary so fundamentally in different provinces, to have been able to do anything but take decisions in the air. But there has got to be a resolution on the question some time all the same.

Here a question occurs to me about the Paris Socialiste; is it still alive or is it dead? No one seems to know, When Tussy was in Paris this summer it was not yet defunct, but anyone who wanted a copy had to go to the office and get one!! I haven’t set eyes on it since February or March. Dereure has gone off his head. He was manager and, having got things into a mess, did nothing whatever about it. Typically French.

Following the electoral victories in Belgium, the Belgians and French are making arrangements for the socialist parliamentarians in the various countries to keep in regular touch with each other and hold periodic conferences. Whether anything will come of this is questionable. At the moment the fifty French parliamentarians (among them some twenty-six Radical converts of a somewhat dubious kind) are very pleased with themselves, but there are snags. Amongst the twenty-four old Socialists a fierce but silent struggle is going on between the Marxists on the one hand and the Blanquists and Allemanists (Possibilists) on the other; whether it will result in an open breach is hard to say.

Besides other socialist papers, I am now also sent the Romanian one (Munca) and the Bulgarian (formerly Rabotnik (Working Man), now (Socialist), and am gradually familiarising myself with those languages, The Romanians are going to bring out a daily in Bucharest.[8]

More than any other world event, the death of the Russian Tsar is likely to bring about a change, either as a result of an internal movement or as a result of a financial crisis and the impossibility of obtaining money abroad. I cannot suppose that the existing system will continue to subsist if it brings to the throne an idiot whose health, both physical and mental, has been shattered by onanism. (This fact is notorious in all the faculties of medicine. Krause, a professor at Dorpat[9], who attended Nicholas, informed Tsar Alexander at the latter’s request that this—onanism—was the immediate cause of the illness, was boxed over the ears for his pains, resigned, returned the Order of Vladimir sent him after his departure, and went back to Germany where he related the story.) If the fun begins in Russia, however, young William, too, will become aware that something novel is afoot. For then a liberal wind will blow through Europe—a wind which now can only be of benefit to us.

The war in China[10] has given the death-blow to the old China. Isolation has become impossible; the introduction of railways, steam-engines, electricity and modern large-scale industry has become a necessity, if only for reasons of military defence. But with it the old economic system of small peasant agriculture, where the family also made its industrial products itself, falls to pieces too, and with it the whole old social system which made relatively dense population possible. Millions will be turned out and forced to emigrate; and these millions will find their way even to Europe, and en masse. But as soon as Chinese competition sets in on a mass scale, it will rapidly bring things to a head in your country and over here, and thus the conquest of China by capitalism will at the same time furnish the impulse for the overthrow of capitalism in Europe and America.

I hope you and your wife are feeling better than when you wrote last. Though I am not feeling at all bad myself, one does notice after a while how wide is the gap between 73 and 37.

Cordial regards to yourself and your wife,



  1. The Social-Democratic Federation — an English socialist organisation founded in August 1884, on the basis of the Democratic Federation. It united heterogeneous socialist elements, mainly intellectuals. The Federation was for a long time led by reformists, with Hyndman at the head, who followed an opportunist and sectarian policy. The group of revolutionary Marxists in the Federation (Eleanor Marx-Aveling, Edward Aveling, Tom Mann and others) opposed Hyndman’s line and fought for the establishment of close links with the mass working-class movement. After the split in the autumn of 1884 and the formation in December 1884 by the Left-wingers of an independent organisation — the Socialist League — the opportunists became more influential in the Federation. Under the influence of the revolutionary-minded masses, however, revolutionary elements kept forming in the Federation and dissatisfaction with the opportunistic leadership grew.

    The Socialist Labour Party of America was founded in 1876. Most of its members were immigrants (chiefly Germans) who had little contacts with the native American workers. As its programme the party proclaimed the struggle for socialism, but, owing to the sectarian policy of its leadership, which ignored work in the American proletariat’s mass organisations, it did not become a genuinely revolutionary Marxist party.
  2. The Labour Leader — an English monthly founded in 1887 as Miner. From 1889, under its new name, it appeared as the organ of the Scottish Labour Party, and in 1893 it became the organ of the Independent Labour Party. James Keir Hardie was its editor up to 1904.
  3. General Parliamentary elections were held in England from July 12 to 29, 1895, and were won by the Conservatives with a majority of more than 150 seats. Many candidates of the Independent Labour Party, including Keir Hardie, were blackballed.
  4. A. Victoria. — Ed.
  5. John Elliot Burns (1858-1943) — English politician and statesman, in 1880s a leader of trade unions, took part in many strikes, including big London dockers’ strike in 1889, was member of English Social-Democratic Federation, but soon withdrew from it. In 1892 was elected to Parliament, where he opposed workers’ interests and advocated collaboration with capitalists.
  6. Henry Meyers Hyndman (1842-1921) — English socialist, founder and leader of Democratic Federation (reorganised in 1884 into Social-Democratic Federation), pursued opportunist and sectarian policy in labour movement, later one of the leaders of British Socialist Party, from which he was expelled for supporting imperialist war.
  7. James Keir Hardie (1856-1915) — leader of English labour movement, reformist, founder and leader of Workers Party of Scotland (1888) and Independent Labour Party (1893), leader of Labour Party.
  8. Lumea noua
  9. Modern name: Tartu
  10. An allusion to the Chino-Japanese War of 1894-95 which ended in China’s defeat. By the Peace Treaty of Shimonoseki, Korea, overrrun by Japan, received nominal independence. China ceded a number of its islands (including Taiwan) to Japan. China was also to pay a war indemnity of 200,000,000 taels.