Letter to Karl Kautsky, June 1, 1893

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 1 June 1893


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Extract: Marx Engels On Art and Literature;

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 50

To Kautsky in Stuttgart

London, June 1, 1893[edit source]

Dear Baron,

Many thanks for drawing my attention to Brentano. The man has evidently not forgiven me for having once again nailed him down with regard to the old Concordia business, No doubt he wishes to participate in A. Mulberger’s life-long hostility to me. Not that I greatly care. But all the same, I should like to make the gentleman’s acquaintance in this new sphere. He seems to me very much the sort of person who would make a splendid ass of himself in prehistory. However, I’m not quite sure whether you mean Vol. 1 or Vol. 3 of the journal; please let me know by postcard and also whether it is to be had separately, in which case I should order it. The very fact of his defending Westermarck[1] is enough; the latter is a duffer par excellence, exceedingly diligent but no less superficial and muddle-headed for all that.

I have just read Elie Reclus’ PRIMITIVE FOLK—what it is called in French I don’t know.[2] Here again, unparalleled muddleheadedness and pragmatism; moreover, his material is appallingly jumbled up so that one is often at a loss to know what tribes and peoples he is talking about; such material as might be of value is absolutely useless in the absence of an accurate comparison with sources. Add to that the anti-theological prejudice of an anarchist who, on top of that, is a son of a Protestant clergyman. There is an occasional good, cynical observation. Valuable to Englishmen in so far as it flies in the face of their respectable preconceived ideas.

The elections brought joy only to ourselves and to Caprivi. It’s too funny for words to see how the Centre and the Free Thinkers, the two parties most anxious to avoid a dissolution because they were most afraid of the electorate, should now, after dissolution, be on the whole more afraid of the government and the possibility of conflict than they are of the electorate—so afraid, in fact, that, even before the elections, they have split into two sides of which one has come out squarely in favour of the government while the other still continues to vacillate. I must say, I had never imagined that progress towards the ‘one reactionary mass’ would be so rapid. The resistance put up by the Richters and Liebers is, in fact, a very half-hearted and ineffectual affair and, should we gain the victories—in numbers of votes polled, seats being of lesser importance—which this disarray seems to promise, that resistance might collapse altogether. In which case we shall be the only opposition party, and then the fun can begin.

It is strange how circumscribed all these ‘heddicated classes’ are by their social milieu. Such gasbags of the Centre and the Free Thinker Party as still remain in opposition represent farmers and lower middle-class, if not actually working-class people of whose fury at the ever-increasing burden of taxation and the impressment of recruits there can be little doubt. Yet that popular fury is transmitted to their honourable deputies through heddicated organs, lawyers, merchants, parsons, schoolmasters, doctors, etc., men who, because of their more general education, see a little bit further than the party masses and who have learnt enough to know that, in a major conflict, they would be crushed between the government and ourselves. Hence they seek to avoid such a conflict and transmit the fury of the populace in muted form to the men in the Reichstag—let there only be compromise! Needless to say, they fail to see that this method of postponing the conflict propels the masses on to our side, i.e. gives us the strength, when the conflict comes, to fight it out to the finish. I expect to see a significant advance on the occasion of these elections—24 million votes, maybe more—but many more still the next time!

Caprivi’s joy, by the way, will be short-lived. If, as seems probable, his demand goes through, the masses will be driven over to us from the other side. And for a couple of years Germany will doubtless be able to stand the strain of additional taxation, but this demand will not be the last. In a couple of years Russia may give the appearance of having recovered a little, whereupon the more will have to be demanded again and in that case even the one reactionary mass may be driven to seek another dissolution. All over Europe we are again coming into the revolutionary mainstream—vive la fin de siècle![3]

Bax’s sketches are certain to cause you trouble. Though they have their moments, these are becoming increasingly rare and the style as a whole is tailored to a local and, what’s more, pretty narrow readership consisting of Fabian and other intellectuals.

Your Berlin correspondent[4] has a pronounced subjective streak, but he can write, and has a good command of the materialist view of historical—though not, perhaps, always of current-events. His Lessing-Legende was quite excellent, although there are one or two points on which I would place a different interpretation.

You can manage the Zurich Congress on your own. My plans are not yet settled, but I shall most certainly go to Zurich in the middle of August and hope to meet you there. For the rest, I hope you will keep fit and well.

Your F. E.

  1. E. Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage
  2. É. Reclus, Les primitifs....
  3. Long live the end of the century!
  4. Franz Mehring