Letter to Laura Lafargue, August 27, 1889

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 27 August 1889


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First published in full in Labour Monthly, No. 8, 1955

Extract: Marx and Engels on the Trade Unions, Edited by Kenneth Lapides;

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 48

To Laura Lafargue at Le Perreux


London, August 27, 1889

4 Cavendish Place

My dear Laura,

That letter-writing at the sea-side is well nigh an impossibility, I thought you knew long since. And if, as in my case, a lot of people whom I never saw seem to have conspired to overwhelm me with letters, visits, inquiries, requests of all sorts, the impossibility becomes a complete fact. Austrian student-clubs, a Viennese inquirer after ‘truth’ who wishes to know had he not better devour Hegel (better not, I replied), a Romanian socialist in propria persona, an unknown man from Berlin now in London, etc, etc., all have come down at once upon me and all expect to be attended to at once. So, with six people around me in the room whither they are but too often driven by rain, nothing remains for me but to retire from time to time to my bedroom and to turn that into my ‘office’.

You had your adventures with Séraphine, Nim had hers with Ellen.

Which Ellen having been long suspected by the knowing ones was one morning reported by the doctor to be six months gone in the way all flesh comes into the world and had consequently to leave—about a month before we came here. When we return there will be fresh engagement of someone—perhaps worse.

I am glad Paul is off on his election trip and moreover with funds from his Mamma.[1] Of the three put up for Marseilles, one, perhaps two, may get in; I hope Paul may be one. But anyhow it is a distinct step in advance to have once been put up as candidate for the party, and facilitates further moves; especially with a rising party as ours at this moment undoubtedly is in France, once a candidate generally means always a candidate.

I do hope Boulangism will come to grief next elections. Nothing worse could happen to us than even a succès d’estime of that humbug which might prolong, at least, the apparent dilemma: either Boulanger or Ferry—a dilemma which alone gives vitality to either scoundrel. If Boulanger got well thrashed, and his following reduced, more or less, to the Bonapartists, it would prove that this Bonapartist vein in the French character—explicable by the inheritance from the great Revolution—is gradually dying out. And with the elimination of this incident the regular development of French republican evolution would reprendre son cours[2] the Radicals would, in their new incarnation Millerand, gradually discredit themselves as much as in the incarnation Clemenceau, and the better elements among them pass over to us; the Opportunists would lose their last pretext for political existence, that of being at least defenders of the republic against pretenders; the liberties conquered by the Socialists would not only be maintained but gradually extended, so that our party would be in a better position for fighting its way than anywhere else on the Continent; and the greatest danger in war would be removed. To believe as the Boulangeo-Blanquists do that by sustaining Boulanger they can get a few seats in Parliament is worthy of these ignorant purs[3]- who would burn down a village in order to fry a côtelette. It is to be hoped that this experience will do Vaillant good. He knows perfectly what sort of fellows the mass of those Blanquists are, and his delusions as to the work to be got out of such materials must have received a severe shock.

Hyndman’s campaign with regard to the discredit to be thrown on the Marxist credentials seems to have utterly broken down. Burns’ disclosures[4] were a ready blow, and our further revelations, especially about the Austrian Possibilist credentials,[5] did the rest. These people never know what a glass-house they are living in themselves. And as in France the Possibilists seem to have kept quiet with regard to that point (these fellows are far cleverer than Hyndman and Co—in their small way) there will be no further necessity to follow up the victory unless fresh attempts are made. The whole trick was calculated for the British market, and there it has failed—cela suffit[6]. Then there is the resolution about the 1st of May demonstration. That is the best thing our Congress did. That will tell immensely here in England, and the Hyndman lot dare not oppose it; if they do, they ruin themselves; if they don’t, they must follow in our wake; let them choose.

Another great fact is the Dock Labourers’ strike. They are, as you know, the most miserable of all the miserable of the East End, the broken down ones of all trades, the lowest stratum above the Lumpenproletariat. That these poor famished broken down creatures who bodily fight amongst each other every morning for admission to work, should organise for resistance, turn out 40-50,000 strong, draw after them into the strike all and every trade of the East End in any way connected with shipping, hold out above a week, and terrify the wealthy and powerful dock companies — that is a revival I am proud erlebt zu haben. And they have even bourgeois opinion on their side: the merchants, who suffer severely from this interruption of traffic, do not blame the workmen, but the obstinate Dock companies. So that if they hold out another week they are almost sure of victory.

And all this strike is worked and led by our people, by Burns and Mann, and the Hyndmanites are nowhere in it.

My dear Laura, I am almost sure you are in want of some cash and I should have sent a cheque with this if I was not myself hard up. My balance at the bank is at the lowest ebb; a dividend of some £33, due generally about 18th August, has not yet been paid and Edward has borrowed £15 till end of month, as he was quite fast. So I have hardly room to turn round in, but as soon as I receive a supply I shall remit; at latest next Monday, I hope before.

Domela becomes quite incomprehensible. Is he perhaps after all not Jesus Christ, but Jan van Leiden? la prophète de Meyerbeer? Vegetarianism and solitary confinement seem apt to produce queer results in the long run. Edward and Tussy will be going to Dundee to report Trades Union Congress and then we shall get the boys[7] here in the meantime.

Ever yours

F. Engels

  1. Anna Virginia Armaignac
  2. resume its course
  3. fanatics
  4. J. Burns, 'The Paris International Congress', The Labour Elector, 3 August 1889
  5. F. Engels, 'Possibilist Credentials'
  6. that's enough
  7. Edgar and Jean Longuet