Letter to Ludwig Kugelmann, February 23, 1865

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To Ludwig Kugelmann in Hanover

London, 23 February 1865 1 Modena Villas, Maitland Park, Haverstock Hill[edit source]

Dear Friend,

Yesterday I received your letter, which I found most interesting, and will now reply to the various points.

First of all, I shall briefly describe my attitude towards Lassalle. Whilst he was pursuing his agitation, our relations were suspended, 1. on account of his bombastic self-adulation, which he managed to combine with the most shameless plagiarism of writings by myself and others; 2. because I condemned his political tactics; 3. because, even before he began his agitation, I had fully explained and ‘proved’ to him here in London that direct socialist intervention by a ‘Prussian state’ was an absurdity. In his letters to me (from 1848 to 1863), as well as when we met personally, he had always declared himself a supporter of the party I represent. As soon as he had become convinced in London (at the end of 1862) that he could not play his game with me, he resolved to set himself up as ‘workers’ dictator’ against me and the old party. In spite of all that, I acknowledged his merits as an agitator, although towards the end of his brief career even that agitation appeared to me in an increasingly dubious light. His sudden death, our friendship of old, the grief-stricken letters from Countess Hatzfeldt, my indignation at the cowardly impudence of the bourgeois papers towards the man they had feared so much while he was alive, all these things induced me to publish a short statement attacking that wretch Blind but not dealing with the substance of Lassalle’s doings (Hatzfeldt sent the statement to the Nordstern). For the same reasons, and in the hope of being able to drive out those elements whom I thought dangerous, Engels and I promised to contribute to the Social-Demokrat (it has published a translation of the ‘Address’, and, at its request, I wrote an article about Proudhon when the latter died) and allowed our names to be put out as contributors, after Schweitzer had sent us a satisfactory programme of its editorial board. We had a further guarantee in W. Liebknecht being an unofficial member of the editorial board. In the meantime, it soon became clear — the proof of this came into our possession — that Lassalle had in fact betrayed the party. He had entered into a formal contract with Bismarck (with no guarantees of any kind in his hands, of course). At the end of September 1864, he was to go to Hamburg and there (together with the crazy Schramm and the Prussian police spy Marr) ‘force’ Bismarck to incorporate Schleswig-Holstein, i.e. to proclaim such in the name of the ‘workers’, etc., in return for which Bismarck promised universal suffrage and a few spurious socialist measures. It is a pity that Lassalle was unable to play this farce through to its conclusion! It would have made him appear deuced foolish and an utter gull! And it would have put paid to all such attempts for ever!

Lassalle got on the wrong path because he was, like Mr Miquel, a ‘realistic politician’, only on a larger scale and with grander aims! (By-the-bye, I had long ago seen through Miquel sufficiently to explain his conduct to myself by the fact that the National Association offered a splendid excuse for a petty Hanoverian lawyer to make himself heard beyond his own four walls, in Germany at large, and then to exploit the enhanced ‘reality’ of his own self retrospectively in his native Hanover, playing the ‘Hanoverian’ Mirabeau under ‘Prussian’ protection, furthermore.) Just as Miquel and his present friends eagerly seized hold of the ‘New Era’ inaugurated by the Prussian Prince Regent in order to national-associate and to fasten on to the ‘Prussian leadership’, just as in general they cultivated their ‘pride of citizenship’ under Prussian protection so Lassalle wanted to play the Marquis Posa of the proletariat to the Philipp II of the Uckermark, with Bismarck as intermediary between himself and the Prussian monarchy. He was merely imitating the gentlemen of the National Association. But, if the latter were invoking Prussian ‘reaction’ in the interests of the middle class, he was shaking hands with Bismarck in the interests of the proletariat. Those gentlemen had more justification than Lassalle, inasmuch as the bourgeois is accustomed to regard the interest he perceives immediately in front of his nose as ‘reality’, and as this class has, in fact, compromised everywhere, even with feudalism, whereas the working class must in the nature of things be genuinely ‘revolutionary’.

For a histrionically vain character like Lassalle (who was not, however, to be bribed with such paltry things as office, mayoralties, etc.), it was a most seductive thought that he, Ferdinand Lassalle, might perform a deed for the direct benefit of the proletariat! He was, in fact, too ignorant of the real economic conditions required for such a deed to be critically self-consistent! The German workers, on the other hand, had ‘demoralised’ too far in consequence of the despicable ‘realistic politics’ with which the German bourgeoisie had tolerated the reaction of 1849-1859 and watched the people’s minds being stultified, for them not to hail such a mountebank of a saviour who was promising to help them reach the promised land with one bound!

So, to take up the thread where I left off above! Hardly had the Social-Demokrat been established when it became clear that the old Hatzfeldt woman was planning to execute Lassalle’s ‘testament’ posthumously. She had contact with Bismarck through Wagener (of the Kreuz-Zeitung). She placed the ‘Workers’ Association’ (Gen. German), the Social-Demokrat, etc., at Bismarck’s disposal. The annexation of Schleswig-Holstein was to be proclaimed in the Social-Demokrat, Bismarck to be generally acknowledged as patron, etc. The whole of this fine plan was frustrated because we had Liebknecht in Berlin and on the editorial board of the Social-Demokrat. Although Engels and I disliked the editorial board of the paper, its lick-spittling cult of Lassalle, its occasional flirting with Bismarck, etc., it was, of course, more important publicly to stay with the paper for the time being in order to thwart the intrigues of the old Hatzfeldt woman and prevent the workers’ party from being totally compromised. We therefore put on bonne mine à mauvais jeu [put brave face on it] although privatim we were constantly writing to the Social-Demokrat telling them that they should stand up to Bismarck just as much as to the men of Progress. We even tolerated that affected fop, Bernhard Becker, who is taking the importance bequeathed to him in Lassalle’s testament quite seriously, intriguing against the International Workingmen’s Association.

In the meantime, Mr Schweitzer’s articles in the Social-Demokrat were becoming more and more Bismarckian. I had earlier written to him to say that, although the men of Progress can be intimidated over the ‘Combination question’, the Prussian government would never under any circumstances concede the complete abolition of the Combination Laws because that would entail breaching the bureaucratic system, giving freedom of thought and expression to the workers, tearing up the Rules Governing Servants, abolishing flogging and birching by the aristocracy in rural areas, etc., etc., which Bismarck could never allow, it being altogether incompatible with the Prussian bureaucratic state. I added that, if the Chamber were to repudiate the Combination Laws, the government would resort to empty phrases (such as e.g. that the social question requires ‘profounder’ steps to be taken, etc.) in order to preserve them. All this has come to pass. And what did Mr von Schweitzer do? He wrote an article in support of Bismarck and is reserving all his heroism for such infiniment petits as Schulze, Faucher, etc.

I believe that Schweitzer, etc., mean it sincerely, but they are ‘realistic politicians’. They wish to take due account of the existing state of affairs and not leave this privilege of ‘realistic politics’ to Messrs Miquel et Comp. alone. (The latter seem to wish to reserve the right of intermixture with the Prussian government.) They know that the workers’ papers and the workers’ movement in Prussia (and hence in the rest of Germany) only exist par la grâce de la police. They thus want to take the circumstances as they are, not to irritate the government, etc., quite as our ‘republican’ realistic politicians want to ‘put up with’ a Hohenzollern emperor. As I am not a ‘realistic politician’, however, I found it necessary together with Engels to serve notice on the Social-Demokrat in a public statement (which you will probably soon see in one paper or other).

You will see at the same time why there is nothing I can do in Prussia at the moment. The government there has flatly refused to restore my Prussian citizenship. I should only be permitted to agitate there in a manner agreeable to Mr von Bismarck.

I prefer my agitation here through the ‘International Association’ a 100 times. The effect on the English proletariat is direct and of the greatest importance. We are now stirring the general suffrage question here, which is, naturally, of quite different significance here than in Prussia.

As a whole, the progress made by this ‘Association’ has exceeded all expectations here, in Paris, in Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. Only in Germany, of course, I am opposed by Lassalle’s successors who 1. are stupidly afraid of forfeiting their own importance; 2. are aware of my avowed opposition to what the Germans call ‘realistic politics’. (It is this sort of ‘reality’ that puts Germany so far behind all civilised countries.)

Since any person who takes out a card at 1 shilling can become a member of the Association; since the French have chosen this form of individual membership (ditto the Belgians) because the law prohibits them from joining us as an ‘association'; and since the situation is similar in Germany, I have now resolved to ask my friends here and in Germany to form small societies, regardless of how many members there may be in each locality, each member of which will acquire an English card of membership. Since the English society is public, there is no obstacle to this procedure even in France. I should appreciate it if you, too, would get in touch with London in this way in your neighbourhood.

My thanks to you for your prescription. Oddly enough this vile disease had broken out once more 3 days before it arrived. So, the prescription was most timely.

In a few days I shall send you another 24 Addresses. I have just been interrupted in my writing by a friend, and, as I very much want to send off this letter, I shall take up the other points in your letter next time.

K. M.