Letter to the Committee of the Social-Democratic Workers' Party, August-September 1870
Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 22
Members of the Brunswick Committee had asked Marx to elucidate for them the position of the German working class with regard to the Franco-Prussian War. Marx took this opportunity to express his views, especially since the editors of the Volksstaat (including Liebknecht), though regarding matters on the whole from an internationalist point of view, had in the beginning given a one-sided evaluation of the war and had to a certain extent ignored the necessity of bringing about the unification of Germany. The text of the letter was worked out by Marx and Engels jointly and sent to Germany over Marx’s signature. Only part of the letter has been preserved, namely those passages that were incorporated in the Manifesto on the War issued as a leaflet on 5 September 1870, by the Committee of the Social-Democratic Workers Party – Progress Publishers.
... The military camarilla, the professors, burghers and pot-house politicians claim that this is the means whereby Germany can be forever protected against war with France. Just the opposite. It is the best means of turning this war into a European institution. It is indeed the surest way of perpetuating military despotism in the rejuvenated Germany as essential to retaining possession of a western Poland – of Alsace and Lorraine. It is an infallible means of turning the coming peace into a mere armistice until France has recovered sufficiently to demand back her lost territories. It is the most infallible method of ruining both Germany and France by internecine strife.
The knaves and the fools who discovered these guarantees of eternal peace ought to know from Prussian history, and from the drastic treatment laid down by Napoleon in the Peace Treaties of Tilsit that such violent measures of pacifying a viable people produce an effect exactly opposite to that intended. Compare France, even after the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, with Prussia after the Tilsit Peace!
If, as long as the old political conditions obtained, French chauvinism had a certain material justification in the fact that since 1815 a few lost battles meant that the capital, Paris, and with it France, were at the mercy of the invader, what new nourishment will chauvinism not imbibe when the boundary line will run along the Vosges in the East and at Metz in the North?
That the Lorrainers and Alsatians desire the blessings of German government even the... Teuton does not dare to maintain. It is the principle of Pan-Germanism and of ‘secure’ frontiers that is being proclaimed, which, if it were practised by the Eastern side, would lead to fine results for Germany and Europe.
Anyone who has not been entirely overawed by the din and noise of the moment and has no interest in overawing the German people must realise that the War of 1870 will necessarily lead to a war between Germany and Russia just as the War of 1866 led to the War of 1870.
I say necessarily, inevitably, except in the improbable event of a prior outbreak of a revolution in Russia.
If this improbable case does not eventuate the war between Germany and Russia must already now be treated as an accomplished fact.
It depends entirely upon the present conduct of the German victors whether this war is going to be useful or harmful.
If they take Alsace and Lorraine France and Russia will make war upon Germany. Needless to point to the baneful consequences.
If they conclude an honourable peace with France that war will liberate Europe from the Muscovite dictatorship, will dissolve Prussia in Germany, allow the western part of the Continent to develop in peace and finally will help the Russian social revolution – the elements of which need only such an impetus from without for their development – to erupt, from which the Russian people too will benefit.
But I am afraid the knaves and the fools will continue their mad game unhindered unless the masses of the German working class raise their voice...
The present war ushers in a new era in world history by the proof which Germany has given that even with the exclusion of German Austria she is capable of going her own way independently of the other countries. That she finds her unity at first in the Prussian barracks is a punishment she has amply merited. But even under these circumstances one result has been immediately achieved. Such trifling matters as for instance the conflict between the National-Liberal North Germans and the People’s Party South Germans will no longer uselessly obstruct the way. Relations will develop on a grand scale and become simpler. If the German working class does not then play the historical role it is entitled to it will be its own fault. This war has shifted the centre of gravity of the working-class movement on the Continent from France to Germany. This places greater responsibility upon the German working class...
- The annexation of Alsace-Lorraine planned by Prussia – Progress Publishers.
- Treaties of Tilsit – peace treaties signed on 7 and 9 July 1807, between Napoleonic France, and Russia and Prussia, members of the fourth anti-French coalition, which had been defeated in the war. The peace terms imposed on Prussia were extremely severe and deprived her of a considerable part of her territory. The treaty, therefore, caused great dissatisfaction among the German population, and thus prepared the soil for the liberation movement against Napoleon’s rule – Progress Publishers.
- Note by Engels: ‘the most rabid’ – Progress Publishers.
- The National-Liberal Party – the party of the German, and especially the Prussian, bourgeoisie, came into being in the autumn of 1866 following the split of the Progressive Party. The principal aim of the National-Liberals was the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. The German People’s Party formed in 1865 consisted of petty-bourgeois democrats and to some extent of bourgeois democrats, mainly from the South German states. The People’s Party, as distinct from the National-Liberals, was opposed to the hegemony of Prussia in Germany and advocated the creation of a ‘Greater Germany’ which was to include both Prussia and Austria. It favoured the establishment of a federal German state and was against the creation of a united, centralised democratic republic – Progress Publishers.