Statement to the German Workers Educational Society in London (November 1868)

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The reason for Marx’s statement to the German Workers’ Educational Society in London was the Society’s attitude towards the Lassallean Berlin Congress of 1868 and towards the workers’ organisation founded by Bebel and Liebknecht at the Nuremberg Congress. On November 23, 1868 Marx wrote to Engels: “Imported from Paris and Germany, the Lassalleans, who are in secret contact with Schweitzer, took advantage of the absence of Lessner because of his wile’s illness to obtain a vote of confidence in Schweitzer against the Nuremberg people”. Subsequently, Marx supported Lessner in his struggle against the Lassallean elements in the Society. The German Workers’ Educational Society in London was founded in 1840 by German worker refugees, members of the League of the Just. After the founding of the Communist League in 1847, representatives of its local communities played the leading role in the Society, which had branches in various working-class districts in London. In 1847 Marx and in 1849-50 Engels took an active part in the Society’s work, but in September 1850 they temporarily withdrew because the Willich-Schapper sectarian-adventurist group had increased its influence in the Society. In the late 1850s when Marx’s followers (Georg Eccarius, Friedrich Lessner, Karl Schapper, who had renounced his sectarian views, and others) prevailed again, Marx and Engels resumed their activities in the Educational Society. When the International Working Men’s Association was established, the Society became its German section in London. Many, of its members — Eccarius, Kaub, Lessner, Lochner, Bolleter and others — were on the General (Central) Council of the International and played a prominent role in its activity. The Society existed until 1918, when it was closed by the British Government.

November 23, 1868 1 Modena Villas, Maitland Park, Haverstock Hill, London[edit source]

To Mr G. Speyer, Secretary of the German Workers’ Educational Society

Dear friend,

I have been informed that the Society has decided to issue a circular letter to the German workers, the theme of which is said to be the “mass unification of the German workers of South and North in consequence of the Berlin Congress of September 26”.[1]

In these circumstances I am obliged to announce my resignation from the Workers’ Society.

Such a letter is obviously intended as, or implies, a public alignment of the London German Workers’ Educational Society for Schweitzer and his organisation and against the organisation of the Nuremberg Congress, [2] which embraces most of South Germany and various parts of North Germany. As I am known in Germany as a member of the Society, in fact its oldest member, I would be held responsible for this step in spite of all possible assurances to the contrary.

You must, however, realise that I cannot accept such responsibility.

Firstly: During the disputes between the Nuremberg organisation, represented by Liebknecht, Bebel, etc., and the Berlin organisation, represented by Schweitzer, both parties have contacted me in writing. I have replied that as the Secretary of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association for Germany I have to maintain an impartial position. I have advised both parties, if they cannot and will not amalgamate with each other, to look for ways and means of working for the common goal peacefully side by side.

Secondly: In reply to a letter from Herr von Schweitzer to me, I have set out for him in detail the reasons why I can neither approve the manner in which the Berlin Congress was managed nor the statutes adopted by it.[3]

Thirdly: The Nuremberg Congress has affiliated itself directly to the International Working Men’s Association. The Hamburg Congress — of which the Berlin Congress was a continuation — has only indirectly affiliated itself by a statement of sympathy, owing to the obstacles placed in its path by the Prussian legislation. In spite of these obstacles, however, the newly formed Democratic Workers’ Association of Berlin, [4] which belongs to the Nuremberg organisation, has publicly and officially affiliated itself to the International Working Men’s Association.

I repeat that in these circumstances the decision of the Society leaves me no other choice than to announce my resignation from it. I trust you will be so kind as to convey these lines of mine to the Society.

Yours sincerely,
Karl Marx

  1. On September 26, 1868, a General Congress of German Workers took place in Berlin, convened by Schweitzer and Fritzsche, as Reichstag deputies, by consent of the Hamburg general congress of the General Association of German Workers. The congress was attended by 206 delegates representing over 142,000 workers, mainly from the towns of North Germany The workers’ associations affiliated to the Nuremberg organisation headed by Bebel and Liebknecht, were denied representation at this congress. The Berlin congress set up several trade unions on the pattern of the sectarian Lassallean organisation. These unions formed a general union headed by Schweitzer which was completely subordinate to the General Association of German Workers.

    Marx severely criticised Schweitzer for the organisation of the congress, which led to a split among workers’ trade unions in Germany, and for the Rules it adopted (see Der Social-Demokrat, September 25, 1868) which rail counter to the aims and character of the trade union movement (see Engels’ letter to Marx of October 22, 1868).
  2. Marx refers to the Nuremberg Congress of the Union of German Workers’ Associations headed by Bebel.
  3. Marx means his letter of October 13, 1868 in reply to Schweitzer’s letters of September 15 and October 8, 1868.
  4. The Democratic Workers’ Association (Demokratischer Arbeiterverein) was founded in October 1868 as a result of the split in the Berlin Workers’ Association. Wilhelm Eichhoff, who was in constant contact with Marx and was the General Council’s Berlin correspondent, played a great part in establishing the Democratic Association. On his proposal, the newly, formed Association joined the Nuremberg organisation of workers’ associations headed by Bebel and Liebknecht and adopted its programme, which was based on the principles of the International. It maintained ties with the Berlin Section of the International, and almost all its members were also members of the International. To emphasise its proletarian character, two workers — Wilcke and Kämmerer — were elected its Presidents.

    The Democratic Workers’ Association actively opposed the Lassalleans. Wilhelm Liebknecht used to speak at its meetings In 1869 it joined the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party set up at the Eisenach Congress.