Letter to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, May 5, 1846

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Karl Marx
Philippe Gigot
Written 5 May 1846


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Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 38 p. 38;
First published: in Die Gesellschaft, Jg. IV, H. 9, Berlin, 1927.
Collection(s): Die Gesellschaft

To Proudhon in Paris

The bulk of the letter was compiled by Marx, copied by Gigot and signed by Marx. Without the P.S. by Marx and the additions by Gigot and Engels, it was first published in English in: Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1955.

Brussels, 5 May 1846[edit source]

My dear Proudhon,

I have frequently had it in mind to write to you since my departure from Paris, but circumstances beyond my control have hitherto prevented me from doing so. Please believe me when I say that my silence was attributable solely to a great deal of work, the troubles attendant upon a change of domicile,[1] etc.

And now let us proceed in medias res [to the matter in hand] — jointly with two friends of mine, Frederick Engels and Philippe Gigot (both of whom are in Brussels), I have made arrangements with the German communists and socialists for a constant interchange of letters which will be devoted to discussing scientific questions, and to keeping an eye on popular writings, and the socialist propaganda that can be carried on in Germany by this means.[2] The chief aim of our correspondence, however, will be to put the German socialists in touch with the French and English socialists; to keep foreigners constantly informed of the socialist movements that occur in Germany and to inform the Germans in Germany of the progress of socialism in France and England. In this way differences of opinion can be brought to light and an exchange of ideas and impartial criticism can take place. It will be a step made by the social movement in its literary manifestation to rid itself of the barriers of nationality. And when the moment for action comes, it will clearly be much to everyone’s advantage to be acquainted with the state of affairs abroad as well as at home.

Our correspondence will embrace not only the communists in Germany, but also the German socialists in Paris and London.[3] Our relations with England have already been established. So far as France is concerned, we all of us believe that we could find no better correspondent than yourself. As you know, the English and Germans have hitherto estimated you more highly than have your own compatriots.

So it is, you see, simply a question of establishing a regular correspondence and ensuring that it has the means to keep abreast of the social movement in the different countries, and to acquire a rich and varied interest, such as could never be achieved by the work of one single person.

Should you be willing to accede to our proposal, the postage on letters sent to you as also on those that you send us will be defrayed here, collections made in Germany being intended to cover the cost of correspondence.

The address you will write to in this country is that of Mr Philippe Gigot, 8 rue de Bodenbrock. It is also he who will sign the letters from Brussels.

I need hardly add that the correspondence as a whole will call for the utmost secrecy on your part; our friends in Germany must act with the greatest circumspection if they are not to compromise themselves.

Let us have an early reply[4] and rest assured of the sincere friendship of

Yours most sincerely
Karl Marx

P.S. I must now denounce to you Mr Grün of Paris. The man is nothing more than a literary swindler, a species of charlatan, who seeks to traffic in modern ideas. He tries to conceal his ignorance with pompous and arrogant phrases but all he does is make himself ridiculous with his gibberish. Moreover this man is dangerous. He abuses the connection he has built up, thanks to his impertinence, with authors of renown in order to create a pedestal for himself and compromise them in the eyes of the German public. In his book on French socialists [Grün, Die soziale Bewegung in Frankreich und Belgien], has the audacity to describe himself as tutor (Privatdozent, a German academic title) to Proudhon, claims to have revealed to him the important axioms of German science and makes fun of his writings. Beware of this parasite. Later on I may perhaps have something more to say about this individual.

[From Gigot]

It is with pleasure that I take advantage of the opportunity offered by this letter to assure you how glad I am to enter into relations with a man as distinguished as yourself. Meanwhile, believe me,

Yours most sincerely
Philippe Gigot

[From Engels]

For my part, I can only hope, Mr Proudhon, that you will approve of the scheme we have just put to you and that you will be kind enough not to deny us your cooperation. Assuring you of the deep respect your writings have inspired in me, I remain,

Yours very sincerely
Frederick Engels

Proudhon's Reply

  1. Having left Paris Marx arrived in Brussels at the beginning of February. During his three-year stay there he lived mostly in the Hotel Bois Sauvage, where he and his family moved at the beginning of May 1846.
  2. A reference to the Communist Correspondence Committee formed by Marx and Engels at the beginning of 1846 in Brussels. Its aim was to prepare the ground for the creation of an international proletarian party. The Committee had no strictly defined composition. Besides the Belgian communist Philippe Gigot, Joseph Weydemeyer, Wilhelm Wolff, Edgar von Westphalen and others were equal members at various times. As a rule, the Committee discussed problems of communist propaganda, corresponded with the leaders of existing proletarian organisations (the League of the Just, Chartist organisations), tried to draw Proudhon, Cabet and other socialists into its work, and issued lithographed circulars. On the initiative of Marx and Engels, correspondence committees and groups connected with the Brussels Committee were set up in Silesia, Westphalia and the Rhine Province, Paris and London. These committees played an important role in the development of international proletarian contacts and the organisation of the Communist League in 1847.
  3. Marx has in mind members of the League of the Just in Paris and the German Workers’ Educational Society in London.

    The League of the Just — the first political organisation of German workers and artisans — was formed between 1836 and 1838 as a result of a split in the Outlaws’ League, which consisted of artisans led by petty-bourgeois democrats. The League of the Just, whose supreme body — the People’s Chamber — was in Paris, and from the autumn of 1846 in London, was connected with French secret conspiratorial societies and had groups in Germany, Switzerland and England. Besides Germans it included workers of other nationalities. The views of the League’s members showed the influence of various utopian socialist ideas, primarily those of Wilhelm Weitling.

    The German Workers’ Educational Society in London was founded in February 1840 by Kari Schapper, Joseph Moll and other members of the League of the Just, its aim being political education of workers and dissemination of socialist ideas among them. After the Communist League had been founded the leading role in the Society belonged to the League’s local communities. In 1847 and 1849-50 Marx and Engels took an active part in the Society’s work.
  4. In his reply to Marx of 17 May 1846 Proudhon refused to collaborate and declared that he was opposed to revolutionary methods of struggle and to communism (see MEGA2, Abt. III, Bd. 2, S. 205-07).