Letter to Karl Marx, January 20, 1845

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To Marx in Paris

The letter is not dated. The postmark shows that it was sent on 20 January 1845, but its contents prove that Engels wrote it over several days.

An excerpt from this letter was published in English for the first time in: Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1955; published in English in full for the first time in Letters of the Young Engels. 1838-1845, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1976.

Barmen, about 20 January 1845[edit source]

Dear Marx,

If I haven’t answered your letter before, it’s mainly because I was waiting for the Vorwärts you promised me. But as the thing has still not arrived, I've given up waiting, either for that or for the Critical Criticism [The Holy Family] of which I have no further news whatever. As regards Stirner, I entirely agree with you. When I wrote to you, I was still too much under the immediate impression made upon me by the book [M. Stirner, Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum] Since I laid it aside and had time to think it over, I feel the same as you. Hess, who is still here and whom I spoke to in Bonn a fortnight ago, has, after several changes of mind, come to the same conclusion as yourself. He read me an article, which he is shortly to publish, about the book [M. Hess, Die letzten Philosophen, published in pamphlet form in June 1845]; in it he says the same as you, although he hadn’t read your letter. I left your letter with him,[1] because he still wished to use some things out of it, and so I have to reply from memory. As regards my removal to Paris, there is no doubt that in some two years’ time I shall be there; and I've made up my mind too that at any cost I shall spend 4 to 6 weeks there next autumn. If the police make life difficult for me here, I'll come anyway, and as things are now, it may occur to these scum any day to molest us. Püttmann’s Bürgerbuch [Deutsches Bürgerbuch für 1845]. Will show us just how far one can go without being locked up or thrown out.

My love affair came to a fearful end. [reference to German saying, coined in 1809 by Major Ferdinand von Schill] I'll spare you the boring details, nothing more can be done about it, and I've already been through enough over it as it is. I'm glad that I can at least get down to work again, and if I were to tell you the whole sorry tale, I'd be incapable of anything this evening.

The latest news is that from 1 April Hess and I will be publishing at Thieme & Butz’s in Hagen the Gesellschaftsspiegel, a monthly in which we shall depict social misère and the bourgeois regime. Prospectus, etc., shortly.[2] In the meantime it would be a good idea if the poetical Ein Handwerker[3] would oblige by sending us material on misère in Paris. Particularly individual cases, exactly what’s needed to prepare the philistine for communism. Not much effort will be involved in editing the thing; contributors enough can be found to supply sufficient material for 4 sheets a month — we shan’t have much work to do with it, and might exert a lot of influence. Moreover, Leske has commissioned Püttmann to put out a quarterly, the Rheinische Jahrbücher, bulky enough to evade censorship,[4] which is to be communism unalloyed. You too will doubtless be able to have a hand in it. In any case it will do no harm if we have part of our work printed twice — first in a periodical and then on its own and in context; after all, banned books circulate less freely and in this way we'll have twice as much chance of exerting an influence. So you see we here in Germany have our work cut out if we're to keep all these undertakings supplied with material and at the same time elaborate greater things — but we shall have to put our backs into it if we're to achieve anything, and that’s all to the good when you're itching to do something. My book on the English workers [Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England] will be finished in two or three weeks, after which I shall set aside four weeks for lesser things and then go on to the historical development of England and English socialism.[5]

What specially pleases me is the general recognition, now a fait accompli, which communist literature has found in Germany. A year ago it began to gain recognition, indeed, first saw the light of day, outside Germany, in Paris, and now it’s already worrying the German man-in-the-street. Newspapers, weeklies, monthlies and quarterlies, and reserves of heavy artillery coming up — everything’s in the best of order. It’s certainly happened devilish fast! Nor has the underground propaganda been unfruitful. Every time I visit Cologne, every time I enter a pub here, I find fresh progress, fresh proselytes. The Cologne meeting has worked wonders. One gradually discovers individual communist groups which have quietly evolved without any direct cooperation on our part.

The Gemeinnütziges Wochenblatt which was formerly published together with the Rheinische Zeitung, is now also in our hands. It has been taken over by d'Ester who will see what can be done. But what we need above all just now are a few larger works to provide an adequate handhold for the many who would like to improve their imperfect knowledge, but are unable to do so unassisted. Do try and finish your political economy book, even if there’s much in it that you yourself are still dissatisfied with, it doesn’t really matter; minds are ripe and we must strike while the iron is hot. Presumably my English things cannot fail to have some effect either, the facts are too convincing, but all the same I wish I had less on my hands so that I could do some things which would be more cogent and effective in regard both to the present moment and to the German bourgeoisie. We German theoreticians — it may be ludicrous, but it’s a sign of the times and of the dissolution of the German national filth — cannot yet so much as develop our theory, not even having been able as yet to publish the critique of the nonsense. But now it is high time. So try and finish before April, do as I do, set yourself a date by which you will definitely have finished, and make sure it gets into print quickly. If you can’t get it printed in Paris, have it done in Mannheim, Darmstadt or elsewhere. But it must come out soon.

The fact that you enlarged the Critical Criticism to twenty sheets surprised me not a little. But it is all to the good, for it means that much can now be disseminated which would otherwise have lain for heaven knows how long in your escritoire. But if you have retained my name on the title page it will look rather odd since I wrote barely 1 1/2 sheets. As I told you, I have as yet heard nothing from Löwenberg [lion’s mountain — a pun on Löwenthal — lion’s valley, the Frankfort publisher’s name], nor anything about the publication of the book, which I most eagerly await.

Yesterday I received Vorwärts, which I haven’t seen since my departure. I was greatly amused by some of Bernays’ jokes; the fellow can make one laugh so heartily, which I seldom do when reading. For the rest, it is definitely bad and neither interesting nor instructive enough to induce many Germans to take it for any length of time. How does it stand now, and is it true, as I hear in Cologne, that it is to be turned into a monthly[6]? We're so terribly overburdened with work here that you can expect no more than an occasional contribution from us. You over there will also have to bestir yourselves. You should write an article every 4 or 6 weeks for it and not allow yourself to be ‘governed’ by your moods. Why doesn’t Bakunin write anything, and why can’t Ewerbeck be induced to write at least something humdrum? Poor Bernays is, I suppose, by now in jug. Give him my regards and tell him not to take this dirty business too much to heart. Two months is not an eternity, although it’s dreadful enough. What are the lads doing generally? You tell me nothing about it in your letters. Has Guerrier returned, and is Bakunin writing French? What’s become of the tot who used to frequent the Quai Voltaire every evening in August? And what are you doing yourself? How goes it with your situation there? Is the Fouine [marten, Arnold Ruge’s nickname] still living under your feet? Not long ago, the Fouine again let fly in the Telegraph [A. Ruge. ‘An einen Patrioten’, Telegraph für Deutschland, Nos. 203 and 204, December 1844] On the subject of patriotism, needless to say. Splendid how he rides it to death, how he doesn’t care a rap, provided he succeeds in demolishing patriotism. Probably that was the substance of what he refused to give Fröbel. German newspapers recently alleged that the Fouine intends to return to Germany. If it’s true I congratulate him, but it can’t be true, else he'd have to provide himself for the second time with an omnibus with privy, and that’s out of the question.

Not long ago I spoke to someone who'd come from Berlin. The dissolution of the caput mortuum [literally: dead head; the term is borrowed from the alchemists and figuratively means ‘the remnants'] of The Free would appear to be complete. Besides the Bauers, Stirner also seems no longer to have anything to do with them. The few who remain, Meyen, Rutenberg and Co., carry on serenely, foregathering at Stehely’s every afternoon at 2 o'clock, as they have done for six years past[7], and amusing themselves at the expense of the newspapers. But now they have actually got as far as the ‘organisation of labour’, [allusion to Louis Blanc’s Organisation du travail] and they will get no farther. It would seem that even Mr Nauwerck has ventured to take this step, for he participates with zeal in popular meetings. I told you all these people would become démocrates pacifiques. At the same time they have much ‘acclaimed’ the lucidity, etc., of our articles in the [Deutsch-Französische] Jahrbücher. When next the devil drives I shall begin corresponding with little Meyen; one can, perhaps, derive some entertainment from the fellows even if one doesn’t find them entertaining. As it is, there’s never any opportunity here for an occasional outburst of high spirits, the life I lead being all that the most splendiferous philistine could desire, a quiet, uneventful existence, replete with godliness and respectability; I sit in my room and work, hardly ever go out, am as staid as a German. If things go on like this, I fear that the Almighty may overlook my writings and admit me to heaven. I assure you that I'm beginning to acquire a good reputation here in Barmen. But I'm sick of it all and intend to get away at Easter, probably to Bonn. I have allowed myself to be persuaded by the arguments of my brother-in-law [Emil Blank] and the doleful expression on both my parents’ faces to give huckstering another trial and for [...] days have been working in the office. Another motive was the course my love affair was taking. But I was sick of it all even before I began work; huckstering is too beastly, Barmen is too beastly, the waste of time is too beastly and most beastly of all is the fact of being, not only a bourgeois, but actually a manufacturer, a bourgeois who actively takes sides against the proletariat. A few days in my old man’s factory have sufficed to bring me face to face with this beastliness, which I had rather overlooked. I had, of course, planned to stay in the huckstering business only as long as it suited me and then to write something the police wouldn’t like so that I could with good grace make off across the border, but I can’t hold out even till then. Had I not been compelled to record daily in my book the most horrifying tales about English society, I would have become fed up with it, but that at least has kept my rage on the simmer. And though as a communist one can, no doubt, provided one doesn’t write, maintain the outward appearance of a bourgeois and a brutish huckster, it is impossible to carry on communist propaganda on a large scale and at the same time engage in huckstering and industry. Enough of that — at Easter I shall be leaving this place. In addition there is the enervating existence in this dyed-in-the-wool Christian-Prussian family — it’s intolerable; I might end up by becoming a German philistine and importing philistinism into communism.

Well, don’t leave me so long without a letter as I have left you this time. My greetings to your wife, as yet a stranger, and to anyone else deserving of them.

For the time being write to me here. If I have already left, your letters will be forwarded.

F. E.

À Madame Marx. Rue Vanneau N 38, Paris.

  1. This letter of Marx has not been found.
  2. Engels took part in preparing the publication of the Elberfeld journal Gesellschaftsspiegel, in drawing up its programme and in compiling the prospectus published in the first issue in the form of the editorial address (see MECW, Vol. 4, pp. 671-74). The prospectus reflected Engels’ intention that the journal should expose the evils of the capitalist system and defend the interests of the workers by criticising half-measures and advocating a radical transformation of the social system. But at the same time, not a few abstract philanthropic sentiments in the spirit of ‘true socialism’, emanating from Hess, found a place in the prospectus. Dissatisfaction with the position adopted by Hess was apparently one reason why Engels refused to become one of the editors. Under the editorship of Hess the journal very soon became a mouthpiece of the reformist and sentimental ideas of ‘true socialism’.-16, 23
  3. Ein Handwerker (An Artisan) was the pseudonym under which Lebenslieder, a cycle of poems by J. F. Martens, was published in Vorwärts! on 24 August, 4 September and 20 October 1844, and the article ‘Über Handwerksunterricht’ on 25 December.
  4. Under the press laws existing in a number of German states, only publications exceeding 20 printed sheets were exempted from preliminary censorship. The size of the Rheinische Jahrbücher exempted it from censorship, but the police of the Grand Duchy of Hesse nevertheless confiscated the first volume of the journal which was published in Darmstadt in August 1845 and banned its publication altogether. The second volume was published in Belle-Vue, Switzerland, at the end of 1846.
  5. Originally Engels planned to write a work on the social history of England and to devote one of its chapters to the condition of the working class in England. But realising the special role played by the proletariat in bourgeois society, he decided to deal with this problem in a separate book, which he wrote on his return to Germany, between September 1844 and March 1845. Excerpts in Engels’ notebooks made in July and August 1845, and the letters of the publisher Leske to Marx of 14 May and 7 June 1845 (see MEGA2, Abt. III Bd. 1, S. 465, 469) show that in the spring and summer of 1845 Engels continued to work on the social history of England. Though he did not abandon his plan up to the end of 1847, as is seen from an item in the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, No. 91 of 14 November 1847, he failed to put it into effect.
  6. Marx intended to write a critical review of Stirner’s Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum at the end of December 1844 and originally wanted to publish it in the monthly Vorwärts! There is no information on whether this plan materialised. It is only known that two years later Marx and Engels scathingly criticised Stirner’s book in their German Ideology.
  7. Engels’ reference is to the Berlin confectioner who owned a shop in the Gendarmenmarkt where ‘The Free’ used to have their meetings.