Letter to Friedrich Engels, August 8, 1870

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 8 August 1870

First published in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Bd. IV, Stuttgart, 1913

Extract published in Marx and Engels Correspondence; International Publishers (1968);

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 44

To Engels in Manchester

[London,] 8 August 1870[edit source]


I shall not get away until tomorrow (I’ve been held back by BUSINESS for the INTERNATIONAL). I shall not be going to Brighton after all, but to Ramsgate, since the former place turned out on inquiry to be too hot, and besides it is made unsafe by the presence of Arnold Winkelried Ruge.[1]

L'Empire est fait[2], i.e., the German Empire. It seems as if all the trickery that has been perpetrated since the Second Empire has finally resulted in carrying out, by hook and crook, though neither by the path intended nor in the way imagined, the "national" aims of 1848--Hungary, Italy, Germany! It seems to me that this sort of movement will only come to an end as soon as the Prussians and the Russians come to blows. This is by no means improbable. The press of the Moscovite party (I have seen a lot of it at Borkheim's) has attacked the Russian government just as violently for its friendly attitude to Prussia as the French papers representing Thiers' point of view attacked Boustrapa [Napoleon III] in 1866 for his flirtation with Prussia. Only the tsar, the German-Russian party and the official St. Petersburg Journal sounded a note hostile to France. But the last thing they expected was such a decided Prussian-German success. Like Bonaparte in 1866, they thought that the belligerent powers would weaken each other by a long struggle so that Holy Russia could intervene as supreme arbiter and dictate to them.

But now! If Alexander does not want to be poisoned, something must be done to appease the national party. Russia's prestige will obviously be even more "injured" by a German-Prussian Empire than the prestige of the Second Empire was by the North German Confederation.

Russia therefore--just as Bonaparte did in 1866-70--will intrigue with Prussia in order to get concessions in relation to Turkey, and all this trickery, despite the Russian religion of the Hohenzollerns, will end in war between the tricksters. However silly German Michael may be, his newly fortified national sentiment will hardly allow him to be pressed into the service of Russia without any remaining reason whatever, or so much as a pretext (especially now when he can no longer be lectured into putting up with everything in order that German unity may first be achieved). Qui vivra.verra [who lives longest will see most]. If our Handsome William lives on for a bit we may yet witness his proclamations to the Poles. When God wants to do something especially great, says old Carlyle, he always chooses out the stupidest people for it.

What troubles me at the moment is the state of affairs in France itself. The next great battle can hardly fail to turn against the French. And then? If the defeated army retreats to Paris, under the leadership of Boustrapa, the result will be a peace of the most humiliating kind, perhaps with the restoration of the Orleans. If a revolution breaks out in Paris, the question is whether they have the means and the leadership to offer a serious resistance to the Prussians. One cannot conceal from oneself that twenty years of the Bonapartist farce have produced enormous demoralisation. One is hardly justified in reckoning on revolutionary heroism. What do you think about it?

I understand nothing of military matters, but it is still my impression that rarely has a campaign been conducted in a more mindless, planless and mediocre manner than this campaign of Badinguet’s.[3] And then, too, the beautiful opening scene with the whole Porte St Martin[4] melodrama of the LOWER EMPIRE: the father and son at the flash-vent of the cannon, and the infamous deeds such as the bombarding of Saarbrücken with which this ‘sublime’ scene is amalgamated! It’s the man to a T!

MacMahon pressed for swift action in the original war council in Metz, but Leboeuf was of the opposite point of view.

Apropos! We have heard from Vienna (in a letter from a cousin of Eccarius, a 72-year-old man) that Bismarck was there on a secret visit!

Quite in accordance with the spirit of the LOWER EMPIRE, we can see how in this war—in its commissariat and its diplomacy—everyone acts in obedience to the maxim: steal from one another and lie to one another, so that everyone in France, from the minister to the CLERK, from the marshall to the common soldier, from the Emperor to the man who cleans his boots—everyone stands amazed as soon as THE TRUE STATE OF THINGS is revealed under cannon fire.

Mr John Stuart Mill was full of praise for our Address.[5] It has had a great EFFECT in London generally. Among others, the philistine Cobden PEACE SOCIETY has made a written offer to distribute it.

Ad vocemb Oswald’s Address. I have taken advantage of your permission since I was in fact reluctant to act without ‘you’. The delay has, of course, only made the Address even more absurd, but this is of no concern to us as we have only endorsed ITS GENERAL SENTIMENTS, etc., so far as, etc. It cannot be withdrawn now, despite its ridiculousness, since Louis Blanc, etc., would imagine we had done so because of the Prussian victories.

Apropos! Old Ruge had written to Oswald a week ago saying he could not sign. Why not? Because he was ‘convinced that the Prussians would proclaim a French republic in Paris’l Can’t you just picture to yourself the old woolly muddlehead in all his glory? Enclosed are a number of pieces by the Prophet Urquhart.



K. M.

P.S. In an article in The Fortnightly Review (August issue) on ‘OUR UNCULTIVATED LANDS’,[6] I found the following on the soil in Ireland: * ‘That her soil is fertile is proved upon the testimony etc. etc. and M. de Laveleye : the latter gentleman says etc. etc’ (p. 204).*

Since the English regard Laveleye as a great authority on agronomy because of his books on Belgian and Italian agriculture, the passage may be of use to you.

  1. Arnold Winkelried was a legendary folk-hero of the Swiss struggle for freedom against the Habsburgs. Used by Marx to deride Ruge.
  2. The Empire is created
  3. A derisive nickname of Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon III) who, in 1846, fled from prison in Ham in the clothes of a mason by the name of Badinguet.
  4. A theatre company in Paris that catered for low tastes during the Second Empire.
  5. K. Marx, 'First Address of the General Council of the International Working Men's Association on the Franco-Prussian War'.
  6. F. A. Maxse, 'Our uncultivated Lands', The Fortnightly Review, No. XLIV, 1 August 1870.