Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, September 19, 1879

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 19 September 1879

First published in Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen von Joh. Phil. Becker, Jos. Dietzgen, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx u. A. an F. A. Published in English in full for the Sorge und Andere, Stuttgart, 1906

Extract published in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975).

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 45

To Friedrich Adolph Sorge in Hoboken

London, 19 September 1879

41 Maitland Park Road,

Haverstock Hill, N. W.

Dear Friend,

It was not till the day before yesterday that I got back to London after a seven-week stay, first in Jersey and after that in Ramsgate. But I had at least made provision that business matters and commissions contained in your letters be immediately attended to by Engels. However, I have not yet had from old Becker[1] the form for the power of attorney which you want me to sign, and which Engels asked him to send me. As soon as the thing arrives I’ll fill it in. My LONG RUSTICATION was due to my nervous condition—(complicated by the fact that, because of Bismarck, Karlsbad has been inaccessible to me for the past two years)—which has latterly made all brain work virtually ‘unfeasible’. But I’m much better now.

The new edition of Weitling[2] hasn’t reached me. The only American journal I am sent is the by no means very substantial Paterson Labor Standard. The things you sent last, Labor Bureau Statistics of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Massachusetts, received with thanks (likewise Steward’s speech). I am delighted that the CHIEF of the Massachusetts Bureau,[3] as he tells me in a letter, should from now on be sending me the PUBLICATIONS direct (also the census) immediately they come out.

As for Most and Co., our attitude towards them is a ‘passive’ one, i.e. we maintain no sort of relations with them, although I do see Most himself from time to time at my own house. To say that Engels and I had made any kind of ‘statement’ condemning Most or the Freiheit is a lie on Mr Lübeck’s part. According to a letter Engels received from little Jew Bernstein in Zurich, Most had written to Switzerland and Germany claiming he had our support. To this Engels replied that if Bernstein could adduce any proof of this, he would make a public statement refuting these untruths. But Bernstein (nephew of the Berlin rabbi Rebenstein, of the Berlin Volks-Zeitung) was IN FACT unable to adduce an atom of proof. Instead he confided the bogus secret to that jackass Lübeck who, with the usual discretion of such PENNY-A-LINERS, sold it forthwith to the United States.

The issues upon which we differ from Most in no way tally with those of the gentlemen in Zurich, the trio ‘Dr Höchberg-Bernstein (his secretary)-and C. A. Schramm’. Our complaint against Most is not that his Freiheit is too revolutionary; our complaint is that it has no revolutionary content, but merely indulges in revolutionary jargon. Again, our complaint is not that he criticises the party leaders in Germany, but, in the first place, that he kicks up a row in public instead of telling these men what he thinks in writing, as we do, i.e. by letter; in the second, however, that he merely used this as a pretext to make himself look important and to disseminate the silly secret conspiracy-mongering of Messrs Weber junior and Kaufmann. Long before his arrival these laddies had felt it was their vocation to take the ‘general working men’s movement’ under their august wing and, in their numerous attempts to realise this ‘gracious’ venture, had gone plotting and scheming all over the place. The good John Most, a man of the most childish vanity, actually believes that, because the self-same Most is no longer domiciled in Germany but in London, the whole world has been turned upside down. The man’s not without talent, but he kills what he has by writing so profusely. Moreover, he has no esprit de suite.[4] With every change of wind he turns now this way, now that, like a weathercock.

Matters may indeed reach the point where Engels and I would be compelled to issue a ‘public statement’ against the Leipzigers and their Zurich allies.

This is the state of affairs: Bebel wrote us that they wanted to found a Party organ[5] in Zurich and he requested our names as collaborators. We were informed that Hirsch[6] would probably be the editor. Thereupon we accepted, and I wrote direct to Hirsch (then in Paris, from where he has since been banished, for the second time) to accept the editorial post, for he alone afforded us the certainty that a mob of doctors, students, etc, and a professorial socialist rabble, such as strut about in the Zukunft, etc, and have already begun to penetrate the Vorwärts,[7] would be kept out, and the Party line would be adhered to strictly... These fellows, nonentities in theory and incompetent in practice, want to draw the teeth of socialism (which they interpret in accordance with university recipes) and particularly of the Social-Democratic Party, to enlighten the workers or, as they put it, to supply them with ‘cultural elements’ from their confused half-knowledge, and above all to make the Party respectable in the eyes of the philistines. They are poor counter-revolutionary windbags...

Now if the weekly,[8] the Party journal, should actually proceed along the lines initiated by Höchberg’s[9] Jahrbuch, we should be compelled to take a public stand against such a debasement of Party and theory! Engels has drawn up a circular (letter) to Bebel, etc[10] (only for private circulation among the German Party leaders, of course), in which our standpoint is set forth without reserve. Thus the gentlemen have been warned in advance, and they know us well enough to understand that this means: either bending or breaking! If they want to compromise themselves, so much the worse for them! In no event will they be allowed to compromise us. You can see how low they have already been brought by parliamentarism for example from the fact that they are accusing Hirsch of having committed a great crime – why? Because he has handled the scoundrel Kayser somewhat roughly in the Laterne for the latter’s disgraceful speech on Bismarck’s tariff legislation.[11] But now they say the Party, that is, the handful of parliamentary representatives of the Party, had authorised Kayser to speak like that! All the more shame for this handful! But even that is a miserable excuse. In fact they were foolish enough to let Kayser speak for himself and on behalf of his constituents; but he spoke in the name of the Party. However that may be, they are already so far affected by parliamentary idiotism that they think they are above criticism, and they denounce criticism as a crime: lèse-majesté...

As regards the Communist Manifesto, nothing has so far been done because now Engels, now I, had not enough time. But it must at long last be proceeded with.

I hope that your next letter will bring reassuring news as to the health and prosperity of you and yours. MEANWHILE—my wife sends her most cordial regards—I remain,

Yours very truly,

Karl Marx

John Most wrote and told me about Lübeck’s tittle-tattle in the Chicago paper. I didn’t reply; but now that I’m in London, I shall ask him to come and see me in person, and shall tell him what I think by word of mouth.

Hirsch has been here since his expulsion from Paris. I haven’t seen him yet since he could not, of course, have found me at home while I was away.

I am using a ‘registered’ envelope only because I could find no other and yet wanted to avoid any further delay.

  1. Johann Philipp Becker
  2. The new edition of Weitling's Garantien der Harmonie und Freiheit came out in New York in 1879 under the title Des seligen Schneider's Weitling Lehre vom Sozialismus und Communismus.
  3. Carroll Davidson Wright
  4. sense of logic
  5. The reference is to Der Sozialdemokrat, the central organ of the German Socialist Workers Party, founded in Zurich in September 1879. After the repeal of the Anti-Socialist Law in 1890 the paper ceased to appear and the Vorwärts again became the central organ of the party – Progress Publishers.
  6. Karl Hirsch (1841-1900) – German Social-Democrat, journalist, edited with Wilhelm Liebknecht Demokratische Wochenblatt in Leipzig, after Bebel and Liebknecht’s arrest edited Social-Democratic newspaper Der Volksstaat, while Anti-Socialist Law was in force lived in France, Belgium, England, popularised ideas of scientific socialism – Progress Publishers.
  7. Vorwärts – the central organ of the Socialist Workers Party of Germany, published in Leipzig from October 1876. The paper was closed down in October 1878 following the introduction of the Anti-Socialist Law – Progress Publishers.
  8. Der SozialdemokratProgress Publishers.
  9. Karl Höchberg (1853-1885) – German social reformist, son of a wealthy merchant, in 1876 joined Social-Democratic Party, founded and financed a number of reformist newspapers and journals – Progress Publishers.
  10. See Marx and Engels, Circular Letter to August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebknecht, Wilhelm Bracke and others, September 1879Progress Publishers.
  11. Marx is referring to the speech made by Kayser, a Social-Democratic member of the Reichstag, in defence of the protective tariffs bill tabled by the government in 1879. Marx and Engels sharply criticised Kayser for defending a bill that was designed to protect the interests of the big industrialists and landowners at the expense of the masses of the population and also condemned the leading Social-Democrats who sided with Kayser. Max Kayser (1853-1888) – German Social-Democrat, member of Reichstag from 1878, belonged to right-wing Social-Democratic group – Progress Publishers.