Letter to Karl Marx, October 26, 1847

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 26 October 1847


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 38, p. 133;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, 1913.

To Marx in Brussels

Paris, 25-26 October 1847[edit source]

Dear Bartholomäus,

Only today am I able to write to you because it was only today that I managed to see little Louis Blanc – after terrible tussles with the portière. As a result of my long conversation with him, the little man is prepared to do anything. He was courtesy and friendliness itself, and seems to have no more urgent wish than to associate with us as closely as possible. There is none of the French national patronage about him. I had written to tell him that I was coming with a mandat formel to him from the London, Brussels and Rhineland democrats, and also as a Chartist agent.[1] He asked for details about everything; I described the condition of our party to him in the most glowing terms, spoke about Switzerland, Jacoby, the Badeners as allies[2] etc., etc.

You, I said, were the chief: You can regard Mr Marx as the head of our party (i. e. of the most advanced section of German democracy, which I was representing vis-à-vis him) and his recent book against Mr Proudhon as our programme. Of this he took most careful note. Then finally he promised to comment on your book in the Réforme. He told me a great deal about the mouvement souterrain [underground movement] that is now going on among the workers; he also said that the workers had printed 3,000 copies of his Organisation du travail cheaply and that at the end of a fortnight a further edition of 3,000 copies had been needed — he said the workers were more revolutionary than ever, but had learned to bide their time, no riots, only major coups that would be sure to succeed, etc., etc. By the way he too would seem to have got out of the habit of patronising the workers.

When I see such things as M. de Lamartine’s new programme, I can’t help laughing! In order to assess the present state of French society properly you have to be in a position which enables you to see a little of everything, to visit a minister in the morning, a merchant in the afternoon, and a working man in the evening.’

The coming revolution, he went on, would be quite different from, and much more drastic than, all previous ones, and it would be sheer bêtise [stupidity] to keep on thundering only against kings, etc., etc.

By and large, he was very well-behaved and perfectly cordial. You see, the man is all right, he has the best intentions in the world. He spoke of you with great sympathy and said he was sorry that you and he had parted rather froidement [coldly], etc., etc. He still has a special hankering after a German and French review to be published in Paris. Might come in useful later.

As to Ruge, after whom he inquired, I warned him; he has appointed himself panegyrist of the Prussian Diet, and this even after the result.[3] — So he’s taken a step back? — Yes, indeed.

With père Flocon I am hitting it off well. I first approached him as if I were an Englishman and asked him in Harney’s name why he so ignored the Star. Well, yes, he said, he was sorry, he’d be only too glad to mention it, only there was no one on the editorial staff who understood English! I offered to write a weekly article for him[4] which he accepted de grand coeur. When I told him I was the Star’s correspondent, he seemed quite moved.[5] If things go on like this we shall have won over this whole trend in four weeks. Flocon wishes me to write an essay on Chartism for his personal benefit, he hasn’t the vaguest idea about it. I shall call on him presently and ensnare him further in our net. I shall tell him that the Atelier is making approaches to me (which is true; I am going there this evening), and that, if he behaves decently, I shall turn them down. That will touch his worthy heart.

When I’ve been here a little longer and have grown more accustomed to writing French, I’ll make a start on the Revue indépendante.

I quite forgot to ask L. Blanc why he hadn’t accepted your Congress article.[6] I shall tax him with it when he next comes to see me. By the way I doubt whether he has, in fact, received your book. He was quite unable to remember having done so today. And before I went away he spoke in very uncertain terms about it. I shall find out within a day or two. If he hasn’t got it, I shall give him my copy.

Just imagine, little Bernays, who trots round here and plays the martyr — one betrayed by everybody, one ‘who has helped everybody with money or good advice’ (littéralement) — this creature has a horse and gig! It’s Börnstein’s, of course, but no matter. This same chap who makes himself out to be an oppressed, penniless martyr one day, boasts the next that he is the only one who knows how to earn money. He has been plodding away at 21 sheets (!) on the Praslin affair[7] which are coming out in Switzerland. [Bernays, Die Ermordung der Herzogin von Praslin] The nub of the matter is this: not la duchesse but le duc is the martyr! My response to his prating about martyrdom was to remind him that he has long owed me 60 fr. He is becoming every inch the industrialist and brags about it. In any case he’s cracked. — Even Ewerbeck is furious with him.

I have not yet seen Cabet. He is happy, it seems, to be leaving, having noticed that things are showing signs of disintegrating here. Flocon wants to commence the attack, not so L. Blanc, and rightly, although L. Blanc has a finger in all manner of pies and looks forward with glee to seeing the bourgeoisie jolted out of their security by the sudden onset of revolution.

I have been to see père Flocon. The good man was cordiality itself, and the honest frankness with which I told him about my affair with the Atelier nearly brought tears to his eyes. From the Atelier I went on to talk about the National: ‘When in Brussels we were discussing the question of which faction of French democracy to approach, we were unanimously agreed that our very first move should be to make contact with the Réforme, there being a strong and well-founded bias against the National abroad. In the first place this paper’s national prejudices prevent any rapprochement’ — ‘yes, yes, that’s true,’ said Flocon, ‘and this was precisely why the Réforme was founded; we declared from the very outset that we were not out for conquests’ — ‘and then,’ I went on, ‘if I am to believe my predecessors, for I myself have never been to the National those gentlemen always give the impression of wanting to patronise foreigners, which for that matter is perfectly consistent with their national prejudices; we for our part have no need of their patronage; it is not patrons we want, but allies. — ‘Ah, yes, but we’re not at all like that; it would never occur to us: — ‘True, and I have nothing but praise for the way the gentlemen of the Réforme proceed.’

But how helpful it was that I reminded little Blanc of our affairs. Your Congress speech had, it appears, been mislaid; today he hastened to look for it and send it to Flocon with a very urgent note requesting him to print it forthwith. I explained the thing to Flocon; the man was unable to understand the why, how and when because Blanc had sent it to him without any further explanation. Flocon greatly regretted that the thing had become so outdated; while parfaitement d’accord with it, he thought it was now too late. Nevertheless he would see whether it could not be included in an article. He would, he said, do his very best.

The article in the Réforme on Lamartine’s pious intentions was by L. Blanc, as you will have seen. It isn’t bad, and in all respects a thousand times better than perpetual Flocon. Undoubtedly he would attack Lamartine very harshly, did he not happen to be his rival just now.

People, you see, are as well-disposed as one could wish. My relations with them are already ten times better than Ewerbeck’s ever were. I shall now utterly forbid the latter to write for the Réforme. He can relieve himself in the National and there compete with Venedey & Co.; he’ll do no harm there, and anyway nothing of his will be published.

Afterwards I again visited the Atelier. I took with me an amendment to an article in the last issue on English working men which will also be included. The fellows were very well-behaved; I told them un tas d’anecdotes about English workers, etc. They requested me most urgently to collaborate, which I shall only do, however, if needs must. Just imagine, the rédacteur en chef thought it would be a good idea if the English workers were to dispatch an address to their French counterparts, calling on them to oppose the libre-échange movement and champion the cause of travail national. Quel héroïque dévouement! But in this he failed even where his own people were concerned.

By the way, I was not compelled to make any concessions to these people. I told L. Blanc that we were in agreement with them on all practical and current questions and that on purely theoretical questions we were marching towards the same goal; that the principles propounded in his first volume agreed in many respects with our own and that, regarding the rest, he would find it more fully developed in your book. As for the religious question, we regarded this as altogether secondary, as a question which should never be allowed to become a pretext for strife between men of the same party. For all that, I went on, a friendly discussion of theoretical questions was perfectly feasible and indeed desirable, with which he was parfaitment d’accord.

Lupus was perfectly right in assuming that I would very soon meet the management.[8] Barely three days after my arrival here I ran into Seiler in the Boulevard des Italiens. You will long since have heard that he has done a bolt and has no intention of returning. He is going the rounds of the French correspondence bureaux in search of a berth. Since then I have repeatedly failed to find him and don’t know how his affairs are going. If he meddles with the Réforme we shall have to disown him.

Ask that accursed Bornstedt what he means by not sending me his paper. [Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung] I cannot forever be chasing after the Straubingers[9] for it. Should he feign ignorance of my address, give it to him, 5, rue Neuve Saint-Martin. I’ll send him a few articles as soon as ever can.

Hellish confusion among the Straubingers. In the days immediately preceding my arrival, the last of the Grünians were thrown out, an entire community of whom, however, half will return. We are now only thirty strong. I at once set up a propaganda community and I rush round speechifying. I was immediately elected to the district [Paris District Committee of the Communist League] and have been entrusted with the correspondence. Some 20-30 candidates have been put up for admission. We shall soon grow stronger again. Strictly between ourselves, I’ve played an infernal trick on Mosi. [Moses Hess] He had actually put through a delightfully amended confession of faith.[10] Last Friday at the district I dealt with this, point by point, and was not yet half way through when the lads declared themselves satisfaits. Completely unopposed, I got them to entrust me with the task of drafting a new one [Engels, ‘Principles of Communism’] which will be discussed next Friday by the district and will be sent to London behind the backs of the communities. Naturally not a soul must know about this, otherwise we shall all be unseated and there’ll be the deuce of a row.

Born will be coming to see you in Brussels; he is going to London.[11] He may arrive before this letter. He will be travelling, somewhat rashly, down the Rhine through Prussia, always provided they don’t cop him. Drum something more into him when he arrives; the fellow is the most receptive of all to our ideas and with a little preparation will be able to do good service in London.

Great heavens, I was on the point of forgetting all that avalanche of trash unloosed upon me from the heights of the Alps by the great Heinzen. [K. Heinzen, ‘Ein “Repräsentant” der Kommunisten’, Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, 21 October 1847 — written in reply to Engels’ ‘The Communists and Karl Heinzen’] It is truly fortunate that it should all have been packed into one issue; nobody will plough his way through it. I myself had to break off several times. What a blockhead! Having first maintained that he can’t write, I now find myself compelled to add that he can’t read either, nor does he seem particularly conversant with the four rules of arithmetic. The ass ought to read F. O’Connor’s letter in the last Star, addressed to the radical newspapers, which begins with ‘You Ruffians’, and ends with ‘You Ruffians’, [F. O’Connor, ‘To the Editors of the Nottingham Mercury, the Nonconformist, the Dispatch, the Globe, the Manchester Examiner and Lloyds’ Trash’, The Northern Star, No. 522, 23 October 1847] then he would see what a miserable duffer he is in the matter of invective. Well, you will be duly hauling this low, stupid lout over the coals. [Marx, Moralising Criticism and Critical Morality] I’m very glad that you intend to keep your answer quite brief. I could never answer such an attack, simply couldn’t bring myself to — save perhaps with a box on the ears.

Tuesday[edit source]

My article [The Commercial Crisis in England. — The Chartist Movement. — Ireland] has appeared in the Réforme. Curiously enough Flocon hasn’t altered one syllable, which greatly surprises me.

I have not yet called on père Heine. As you can well imagine, with all this business, I’ve had a devilish lot to do and a fearsome amount of running about and writing.

I have written to Elberfeld about the Free Trade — protective tariff business and am daily expecting a reply.[12] Write again soon. My regards to your wife and children.

Your
Engels

You really should read O’Connor’s article in the last Star attacking the six radical newspapers; it’s a masterpiece of inspired abuse, in many places better than Cobbett and approaching Shakespeare.

What bug can have bitten poor Moses to make him thus perpetually air in the newspaper his fantasies on the consequences of a revolution by the proletariat? [a reference to M. Hess, ‘Die Folgen einer Revolution des Proletariats’, Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, 14 and 31 October, 7 and 11 November 1847]

  1. Engels’ letter to Louis Blanc presumably written soon after his arrival in Paris from Brussels in mid-October 1847 has not been found.
  2. At that time a civil war was imminent in Switzerland between the Sonderbund (a separatist union formed by seven economically backward cantons which opposed progressive bourgeois reforms and defended the privileges of the Church and the Jesuits) and the other cantons which persuaded the Swiss Diet to declare the dissolution of the Sonderbund in July 1847. Hostilities began early in November, and the Sonderbund army was defeated by the federal forces on 23 November 1847.

    Johann Jacoby, a representative of the German radicals since the convocation of the United Diet in Prussia in 1847 (*), criticised it as a substitute for people’s representation. In April and June 1847 he made a trip to Saxony, South Germany, Switzerland, visited Cologne and Brussels where he established contact with the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung.

    A radical programme of political reforms was adopted at a meeting of representatives of the democratic wing of the opposition movement (F. Hecker, G. Struve, etc.) in Offenburg (Grand Duchy of Baden) on 12 September 1847.
    (*) The reference is to the rescripts by Frederick William IV of 3 February 1847 convening the United Diet — a united assembly of the eight provincial diets. The United Diet as well as the provincial diets consisted of representatives of the estates: the curia of high aristocracy and the curia of the other three estates (nobility, representatives of the towns and the peasantry). its powers were limited to authorising new taxes and loans, to voice without vote during the discussion of Bills, and to the right to present petitions to the King.
    The United Diet opened on 11 April 1847, but it was dissolved as early as June because the majority refused to vote a new loan.
  3. The Prussian United Diet was dissolved in June 1847. In calling A. Ruge the panegyrist of the Diet Engels refers to the ‘Adresse an die Opposition des vereinigten Landtages in Berlin’ of 11 June 1847 included by Ruge in the Polemische Briefe published in Mannheim that year.
  4. Engels’ first article in La Réforme, ‘The Commercial Crisis in England. The Chartist Movement. Ireland’, appeared as early as 26 October 1847. After that the newspaper regularly carried his articles, or summaries of The Northern Star reports on the Chartist movement which he translated into French. As a rule they were published under the headings ‘Mouvement chartiste’ and ‘Agitation chartiste’ and introduced by the editorial ‘On nuns écrit de Londres’. Engels contributed to La Réforme till January 1848. Though Engels’ views differed from those of the newspaper’s editors (especially Louis Blanc and Ledru-Rollin), his articles on the Chartist movement to some extent helped to overcome the national exclusiveness of La Réforme and exerted a revolutionary influence on its readers — the French workers and the radical middle classes.
  5. Engels contributed to the Chartist Northern Star from the end of 1843 to 1848. From May 1844 he sent in regular reports about European events, primarily about the political and social movement.
  6. Here Engels refers to the speech on free trade Marx intended to deliver at the International Congress of Economists in Brussels held between 16 and 18 September 1847 (*). Not being allowed to speak, Marx published it in the Atelier Démocratique on 29 September. Part of the speech was also published by Joseph Weydemeyer in 1848 under the title ‘The Protectionists, the Free Traders and the Working Class’ and excerpts from it were quoted by Engels in his article ‘The Free Trade Congress at Brussels’ in The Northern Star, No. 520, 9 October 1847. As is seen from this letter the version sent to La Réforme was not printed, and it is not extant.
    (*) The reference is to Georg Weerth’s speech at the International Congress of Economists held in Brussels on 16-18 September 1847 to discuss free trade. Marx, Engels and Wilhelm Wolff also attended the congress, intending to make use of it to criticise bourgeois economics (the free trade doctrine, in particular) and to defend working-class interests. When Weerth made a speech along these lines the congress organisers closed the discussion on 18 September without allowing Marx to speak. Excerpts from Weerth’s speech were published in a few German, British and French newspapers. It was published in full in the Belgian Atelier Démocratique on 29 September 1847.
  7. Engels alludes to the case of the Duke of Praslin. In August 1847 the Duchess of Praslin was found murdered in her house. Suspicion fell on her husband and he was arrested. A political scandal broke out which caused the Duke of Praslin to take poison during the investigation.
  8. The management referred to is that of the Correspondence Bureau of S. Seiler and K. Reinhardt. Set up in the spring of 1845, it supplied information and correspondence material to the German newspapers.
  9. Straubingers — travelling journeymen in Germany. Marx and Engels used this term for German artisans, including some participants in the working-class movement of that time, who were still largely swayed by guild prejudices and cherished the petty-bourgeois illusion that it was possible to return from capitalist large-scale industry to petty handicraft production.
  10. In the summer of 1847 the London Central Authority of the Communist League distributed for discussion in the League’s local communities and districts the ‘Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith’ drawn up by Engels and approved by the First Congress (*). In mid-October, when Engels returned to Paris from Brussels, the League’s draft programme written in the form of a catechism was already being discussed in the Paris communities. Hess proposed to the Paris District Committee his own version of the draft, which was rejected after sharp criticism by Engels. But Engels was no longer satisfied with his own version because in drafting it he had to take into account the fact that the delegates to the League’s First Congress were still influenced by utopian communism. In a new version — ‘Principles of Communism’ — drawn up by Engels this shortcoming was eliminated and the programme principles of the working-class movement were elaborated in greater detail, but still in the form of a catechism. This new document was later approved by the Paris communities as the draft programme for the Second Congress of the Communist League.
    (*) The reference is to the congress of the League of the Just at which, as agreed between the League leaders in London (H. Bauer, J. Moll, K. Schapper) and Marx and Engels early in 1847, the League was to be reorganised. The congress was held between 2 and 9 June 1847. Engels represented the Paris communities, and Wilhelm Wolff, briefed by Marx, was a delegate of the Brussels communists.
    Engels’ active participation in the work of the congress affected the course and the results of its proceedings. The League was renamed the Communist League, the old motto of the League of the Just ‘All men are brothers’ was replaced by a new, Marxist one: ‘Working Men of All Countries, Unite!’ The congress expelled the Weitlingians from the League. The last sitting on 9 June approved the draft programme and the draft Rules of the League, which had been drawn up either by Engels or with his help. Both documents and the congress circular to the League members were sent to the local communities and districts for discussion to be finally approved at the next, second congress.
    This congress laid the foundation for the first international proletarian communist organisation in history.
  11. Engels refers to Born’s intended participation in the Second Congress of the Communist League, but Born did not go to the congress.
  12. Neither Engels’ letter to the Elberfeld communists nor their reply to it has been found. Presumably they were about the possibilities for publishing Marx’s and Engels’ works on free trade and protective tariffs.
    Marx intended to deliver a speech on free trade at the International Congress of Economists in Brussels held between 16 and 18 September 1847. Not being allowed to speak, Marx published it in the Atelier Démocratique on 29 September. Part of the speech was also published by Joseph Weydemeyer in 1848 under the title ‘The Protectionists, the Free Traders and the Working Class’ and excerpts from it were quoted by Engels in his article ‘The Free Trade Congress at Brussels’ in The Northern Star, No. 520, 9 October 1847.