Letter to Hermann Schlüter, March 30, 1892

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 30 March 1892

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

Extract: Marx & Engels on the Irish Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971, p. 354;

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 49

To Hermann Schlüter in New York

London, March 30, 1892[edit source]

Dear Schlüter,

First of all I must thank you for the letter you sent me last year, which provided me with so much valuable information. Unfortunately I cannot repay you in the same coin. By and large enough can be learned about the general political situation in Europe from a carefully selected reading of the newspapers and in order to allow time for my work it behoves me to keep myself out of the internal affairs of individual socialist parties as much as possible, otherwise I should never get anything done. I cannot therefore give you any information about the sequence of events inside the parties in the various countries in so far as these take the form of squabbles amongst the leaders, as is usually the case, for even the little that I do know about it has as often as not been told me only on condition that I keep my mouth shut.

Had I known that the Figaro article would have interested you people over there, I should have let you have it, for I was sent one by Lafargue. It has long since gone astray, departed into limbo, so I shall write to Paris but hardly imagine I shall be able to unearth another copy or get any real information out of Lafargue who has doubtless long since forgotten about it. Since his election he has been travelling indefatigably all over France on his free ticket, agitating and propagating (I don’t mean the race) evidently with great success. May Day — since it coincides with the municipal elections to be held throughout France except Paris — will on this occassion be a highly critical day for the French; they are spurred on by the ambition to emulate the Germans.

Your great obstacle in America, it seems to me, lies in the exceptional position of the native workers. Up to 1848 one could only speak of the permanent native working class as an exception: the small beginnings of it in the cities in the East always had still the hope of becoming farmers or bourgeois. Now a working class has developed and has also to a great extent organised itself on trade union lines. But it still takes up an aristocratic attitude and wherever possible leaves the ordinary badly paid occupations to the immigrants, of whom only a small section enter the aristocratic trades. But these immigrants are divided into different nationalities and understand neither one another nor, for the most part, the language of the country. And your bourgeoisie knows much better even than the Austrian Government how to play off one nationality against the other: Jews, Italians, Bohemians, etc., against Germans and Irish, and each one against the other, so that differences in the standard of life of different workers exist, I believe, in New York to an extent unheard-of elsewhere. And added to this is the total indifference of a society which has grown up on a purely capitalist basis, without any comfortable feudal background, towards the human beings who succumb in the competitive struggle: “there will be plenty more, and more than we want, of these damned Dutchmen[1], Irishmen, Italians, Jews and Hungarians”; and, to cap it all, John Chinaman[2] stands in the background who far surpasses them all in his ability to live on next to nothing.

In such a country, continually renewed waves of advance, followed by equally certain setbacks, are inevitable. But the advancing waves are always becoming more powerful, the setbacks less paralysing, and on the whole things are nevertheless moving forward. But this I consider certain: the purely bourgeois basis, with no pre-bourgeois humbug behind it, the corresponding colossal energy of the development, which manifests itself even in the mad excesses of the present protective tariff system, will one day bring about a change that will astound the whole world. Once the Americans get started it will be with an energy and vehemence compared with which we in Europe shall be mere children.

With kindest regards.


F. Engels

[From Louise Kautsky]

Dear Schlüter,

A woman does not usually lift a finger and hence only becomes affable when she wants something. What I should now like to have is some authentic information on the bourgeois women’s movement in America, i.e. their relative privileges and voting rights in the various states as regards not only school or municipal elections but also political suffrage, etc. I, or rather the General on my behalf, gets through Sorge the 2 most prominent women’s rights papers, Woman’s Journal and Woman’s Tribune. But I need more, I need a brief, concise but historically complete account of the struggle to attain women’s civil rights, not the dreadful, dreary catchphrases of the female pioneers of women’s civil rights. The book which you...

The end of the letter is missing

  1. A. In the U.S.A. this was applied to the Germans. — Ed.
  2. B. A nickname for the Chinese used in the U.S.A. — Ed.