Letter to Natalie Liebknecht, December 2, 1891

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To Natalie Liebknecht in Berlin

London, December 2, 1891[edit source]

Dear Mrs Liebknecht,

Please accept my sincere thanks for your kind good wishes on yet another birthday; they have, for the present at any rate, been pretty well granted, as I’m in the happy state of being physically fit and mentally alert and I trust this will so continue. We spent an exceedingly cheerful day and good wishes poured in from all sides; even Mr and Mrs Motteler paid us a visit while we were sitting down to our morning glass of beer. In the evening, however, we went to Tussy’s where the Bernsteins were also present, and by doing so we frustrated a serenade which had been planned for me by the choir of the Workers’ Society. As I did not hear about this until Saturday morning, I was unfortunately not able to warn the gentlemen sooner. All in all I was not sorry that it turned out as it did; I have a deep-rooted aversion to such demonstrations which are impossible to get out of if one’s occupation is that of agitator, popular speaker or member of parliament. However I have been lucky enough to avoid them up till now and intend to do so in future.

Nothing particularly new; Tussy has the not entirely undeserved reputation of being the leader of the Union of Gasworkers and General Labourers, and was away to agitate eight days in Northern Ireland the week before last. These gasworkers are fine fellows, their Union by far the most progressive; they are so good at “legal” agitation that eighteen months ago in Leeds they won two real battles — first against the police and then against the police and dragoons — forcing the municipality, which owns the gasworks, to capitulate.[1] As an old soldier, I can certify that I find no fault either in the strategic or tactical dispositions of Will Thorne, the General Secretary of the Union, who was in command in these battles. — I could not find the slightest fault either in his strategic or in his tactical dispositions.

For the rest, we are leading a somewhat quieter life than at the time when the Sozialdemokrat was functioning. Apart from the Avelings and Bernsteins, we see only few people; the Mottelers seldom go out, the Mendelsons are busy with their Polish club on Sunday evenings and, since March of this year, Pumps and her family have been living in Ryde on the Isle of Wight where her husband runs an agency business. I go down to see them occasionally and in July spent a month there, accompanied by Schorlemmer just at the time when the French fleet was in. So far as one can judge from their external appearance, their ironclads, which are of the latest design, are far superior to those of the British. Pumps leads a delightful existence in a little house some 20 minutes’ walk from the town and right out in the country, which is obviously an enormous advantage so far as the children are concerned. She is very fond of the life down there and if, as we hope, her husband does well, they will all benefit from having exchanged the air of London for that of the sea. The Isle of Wight is very pretty, indeed beautiful in parts; you can sail right round it in a steamer in seven hours, a very nice trip during which the tyro runs the risk of being seasick for about 2½ hours.

Will you please give Liebknecht the enclosed notes and convey to him, as well as to your son[2], my sincere thanks for their good wishes. I trust that Berlin will continue to please you and that your health will permit you to enjoy the amenities of the ‘imperial capital’ in all its aspects. Meanwhile perhaps you will remember kindly

Yours sincerely,

F. Engels

Louise also sends her best wishes to you, Liebknecht and family.

  1. The gasworks owners in Leeds demanded that workers should be hired for a term of four months and not be entitled to strike during that period. They also demanded that the volume of work done during an 8-hour shift be 25 per cent greater than it was when the working day was longer. These conditions were tantamount to the destruction of the gasworkers’ trade union in Leeds and the abolition of the 8-hour working day. They caused a storm of indignation among the workers and were rejected by them. Early in July 1890 clashes occurred between the strikers and strike-breakers, who were supported by troops. The staunch resistance of the strikers forced the strike-breakers and the troops to retreat, and the bosses were compelled to waive their conditions.
  2. Theodor Liebknecht