Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, September 17, 1874

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To Friedrich Adolph Sorge in Hoboken

London, 12[-17] September 1874[edit source]

Dear Sorge,

The invoice you requested enclosed. As far as the German Rules[1] are concerned, please look in the books to see whether the printing costs for them were paid for by the old General Council or not. I think not; they were charged up to me privately by the Volksstaat and, to the best of my knowledge, I have never been reimbursed. However, if the amount appears in the account book as one laid out by the General Council here, then obviously the copies will be inherited by the new General Council and the balance in its favour vis-à-vis myself rises to £6.3.6. Unless you have any claims on the money, which of course take precedence, the present General Council can use it as it wishes, if you agree. I have advanced £32 for the cost of printing the Alliance[2] and shall certainly lose something like half of it, so that there may be a nice little counter invoice at the end of the year. The fact is it would be idiotic to hand the money over to these nonentities who are only there to make sure that everything goes wrong.

With your resignation the old International is entirely wound up and at an end. And that is well. It belonged to the period of the Second Empire, during which the oppression reigning throughout Europe entailed unity and abstention from all internal polemics upon the workers' movement, then just reawakening. It was the moment when the common, cosmopolitan interests of the proletariat could be put in the foreground: Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark had only just come into the movement or were just coming into it. Actually in 1864 the theoretical character of the movement was still very confused everywhere in Europe, that is, among the masses. German Communism did not yet exist as a workers' party, Proudhonism was too weak to be able to insist on its particular fads, Bakunin's new trash had not so much as come into being in his own head, even the leaders of the English trade unions thought the programme laid down in the Preamble to the Statutes gave them a basis for entering the movement. The first great success was bound to explode this naive conjunction of all fractions. This success was the Commune, which was without any doubt the child of the International intellectually, although the International did not lift a finger to produce it, and for which the International — thus far with full justification — was held responsible.

When, thanks to the Commune, the International had become a moral force in Europe, the row at once began. Every fraction wanted to exploit the success for itself. The inevitable collapse arrived. Jealousy of the growing power of the only people who were really ready to work further along the lines of the old comprehensive programme — the German Communists — drove the Belgian Proudhonists into the arms of the Bakuninist adventurers. The Hague Congress was really the end — and for both parties. The only country where something could still be accomplished in the name of the old International was America, and by a happy instinct the executive was transferred there. Now its prestige is exhausted there too, and any further effort to galvanise it into new life would be folly and waste of energy. For ten years the International dominated one side of European history — the side on which the future lies — and can look back upon its work with pride. But in its old form it has outlived itself. In order to produce a new International after the fashion of the old one — an alliance of all the proletarian parties in every country — a general suppression of the workers' movement like that which predominated from 1849-64 would be necessary. But for this the proletarian world has become too big, too extensive. I think that the next International — after Marx's writings have had some years of influence — will be directly Communist and will openly proclaim our principles.

Stahl from Chicago was here. A man of much practical ability, like most German Americans. I liked him in other respects too, but this does not mean that he won’t do anything silly in Germany. Even he is not entirely immune to that conciliation nonsense. The Belgians and the Bakuninists are now holding their congress in Brussels. For reports see The Times, London, of 10 September et seq.[3] Fourteen full delegates: one German (Lassallean), one Frenchman, one Spaniard (an unknown called Gomez), one Schwitzguébel. The remainder all Belgians. General disagreement on all essentials, concealed by the fact that they did not debate, but only narrated and listened. Admittedly, I have only seen one report. The Italians announced what amounted to their resignation; a public International could only harm them, they intended in future only to conspire. The Spaniards are leaning in the same direction. For the rest, they just tell each other lies about the colossal movements they are creating. And they imagine they will still find people who will be taken in.

Mr Bastelica, too, has become a Bonapartist agent. In Strasbourg, he made approaches of that nature to Avrial, a former member of the Commune, and was, of course, shown the door. One by one, these anarchists all end up in the same way.

Mesa has written to me from Madrid saying that he will have to go to Paris because government persecution is becoming more than he can bear. So we are back in contact with Spain once more.

In Germany things are going splendidly in spite of all the persecution, and partly just because of the persecution. The Lassalleans have been so much discredited by their representatives in the Reichstag that the Government has had to start persecuting them in order to give this movement once more the appearance of being intended seriously. For the rest, since the elections the Lassalleans have found it necessary to come out in the wake of our people. It is a real piece of luck that Hasselmann and Hasenclever were elected to the Reichstag. They are discrediting themselves there visibly; they will either have to go with our people or else perpetrate tomfooleries on their own. Both will ruin them.

Mr Jung thought it fitting to write to Liebknecht and make advances to him! Liebknecht sent me the letter and I have shown it to people who will reveal this to Mr Jung.

Marx is in Karlsbad drinking the waters to restore his liver. He has had a lot of bad luck. Scarcely had he managed to recover somewhat in July on the Isle of Wight when he had to return because his youngest daughter[4] suddenly fell seriously ill. No sooner had he arrived than Jenny’s little boy[5] died at the age of about one year. That really hit him hard again. I think that once his liver is all right again the cure may more easily have an effect on his overworked nervous system. All the doctors prophesied that Karlsbad would do him a lot of good. Up to now the Austrian government has left him in peace, and he will probably be leaving at the end of this week.

The squabbles in New York, which made it impossible for you to remain in the General Council any longer, are just as much proof as consequence of the fact that the thing has outlived itself. When circumstances no longer allow a society to act effectively, when the first thing to be done is simply to keep the bond of union tied so that it can be used again when the occasion arises, there are always people to be found who cannot fit themselves into this situation, definitely want to play the BUSYBODY, and demand that ‘something be done’, and this something can then only be folly. And if these people succeed in getting the majority, they compel everyone who does not want to bear the responsibility for their absurdities to resign. What good fortune that we did not send the minute books over!

The French refugees are in utter chaos. They have all fallen out with each other and with everyone else for quite personal reasons, money matters for the most part, and we are now almost entirely rid of them. They all want to live without doing any real work, their heads are full of imagined inventions which would bring in millions if only someone would enable them to exploit their discoveries, a matter of just a few pounds. But anyone who is naive enough to take them at their word will be cheated of his money and denounced as a bourgeois into the bargain. Le Moussu has behaved more disgracefully than anyone and now stands exposed as a charlatan pure and simple. All these people have been horribly demoralised by their dissolute life during the war, the Commune and in exile, and the situation really has to be desperate to rescue a Frenchman once he has let himself go. The great mass of politically unknown French workers, on the other hand, has simply abandoned politics for the moment and found work here.

Best regards.


F. Engels

17 September 1874

General Council of the International Working Men’s Association

On account with F. Engels[6]


  1. K. Marx, Allgemeine Statuten und Verwaltungs- Verordnungen der Internationalen Arbeiterassoziation (K. Marx, General Rules and Administrative Regulations of the International Working Men's Association).
  2. K. Marx and F. Engels, The Alliance of Socialist Democracy and the International Working Men's Association.
  3. The Times, Nos. 28104, 28105, 28107, 28108, 28109; 10, 11, 14, 15, 16 September 1874 ('The Seventh International Working Men's Congress').
  4. Eleanor
  5. Charles, first-born of Jenny Longuet
  6. The account is written on a separate sheet of paper and enclosed with this letter.