Letter to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, September 27, 1873

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To Friedrich Adolph Sorge in Hoboken

[London,] 27 September 1873

Dear Sorge,

My wife has written you a number of letters about my state of health. There was a serious possibility of my succumbing to apoplexy and I am still suffering greatly from headaches, so that I must severely restrict my working time. This is the sole reason for my long silence. As far as I can recollect, I have only written one letter to New York, and that was to Bolte since it seemed to me from your letter that I might usefully intervene to smooth the troubled waters and clarify matters.

The fiasco of the Geneva Congress was unavoidable. From the moment it became known here that no delegates would be coming from America, it was clear that matters were going awry. The attempt had been made in Europe to represent you as mere figureheads. If you had not put in an appearance and instead we had turned up, this would have been interpreted as confirmation of the rumour anxiously put about by our adversaries. It also would have passed as proof that your American Federation existed only on paper.

Furthermore, the British Federation was unable to scrape enough money together for a single delegate; the Portuguese, the Spaniards and Italians notified us that in the circumstances they could not send any delegates directly. The news from Germany, Austria and Hungary was just as bad and participation by the French was out of the question.

It was a foregone conclusion therefore that, under the circumstances, the great majority at the Congress would have consisted of Swiss—moreover, of local Genevans. From Geneva itself we had heard nothing; Outine was no longer there, old Becker[1] persisted in an obstinate silence and Mr Perret wrote once or twice to create a false impression.

At the very last moment a letter arrived for the British Federal Council from the Romance Committee in Geneva couched in sentimentally conciliatory terms. In it the Genevans firstly refuse to accept English mandates and then enclose a leaflet (signed by Perret, Duval, etc.) directly attacking the Hague Congress and the former General Council in London. In some respects the fellows even go further than the Jurassians, e.g. they call for the expulsion of the so-called brain-workers. (The nicest thing about the whole business is that this piece of nonsense was written by that miserable MILITARY ADVENTURER Cluseret (who in Geneva describes himself as the founder of the ‘International’ in America). The gentleman wanted to have the General Council in Geneva in order to run a secret dictatorship from there.)

This letter, together with its enclosure, arrived just in time to keep Serraillier from setting off for Geneva, and to induce him to protest against the activities of the fellows there (as did the British Federal Council) and to inform them in advance that their congress would be treated as nothing more than a local Genevan event. It was very good that no one turned up there whose presence might have cast doubt on such a view of the congress. Notwithstanding this state of affairs the Genevans failed in their bid to gain control of the General Council, but they have, as you will be aware, managed to nullify all the work done since the first Geneva Congress and even to carry through numerous measures running counter to the resolutions adopted there.

As I view European conditions it is quite useful to let the formal organisation of the International recede into the background for the time being, but, if possible, not to relinquish control of the central point in New York so that no idiots like Perret[2] or adventurers like Cluseret[3] may seize the leadership and discredit the whole business. Events and the inevitable development and complication of things will of themselves see to it that the International shall rise again improved in form. For the present it suffices not to let the connection with the most capable people in the various countries slip altogether out of our hands and as for the rest not to give a hang for the Geneva local decisions, in fact simply to ignore them. The only good decision adopted there, to postpone the Congress for two years, facilitates this mode of action. Furthermore the fact that the spectre of the International cannot be used during the impending reactionary crusade, and that on the contrary the bourgeoisie everywhere believes that the spectre is laid for good upsets the calculations of the Continental governments.

Apropos. It is absolutely essential that the account book with the records of how the monies were managed for the refugees of the Commune is sent back to us. We simply cannot do without it if we are to justify ourselves against slanderous insinuations. It was something completely unconnected with the general function of the General Council and in my view it should never have left our hands.

I hope that the American PANIC does not get too much out of hand and so have too great a repercussion on England and hence on Europe. General periodic crises are always preceded by such partial ones. If they are too violent they only preempt the general crisis and take the sting out of it.

With cordial greetings from my wife.


Karl Marx

I would be glad to receive any cuttings from the Yankee papers reporting on the crisis.

What is the address of our mutual friend, Weydemeyer’s executor[4]?

Next week Engels will send you the 25 copies of the Alliance[5] still outstanding.

  1. Johann Philipp Becker
  2. Henri Perret – took part in Swiss working-class movement, active member of International in Switzerland, member of Social-Democratic Alliance (1868-69), General Secretary of Latin Federal Committee (1868-69), in 1869 broke with Bakuninists but following Hague Congress of International began to advocate reconciliation with them – Progress Publishers.
  3. Gustav-Paul Cluseret (1823-1900) – French political figure, member of International, close to Bakuninists, participant in revolutionary uprisings in Lyons and Marseilles (1870), member of Paris Commune, emigrated after its defeat – Progress Publishers.
  4. Hermann Meyer
  5. K. Marx and F. Engels, The Alliance of Socialist Democracy and the International Working Men's Association