Works of Marx and Engels 1846
Source: MECW Volume 38, p. 81-86;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Bd. 1, Stuttgart, 1913.
There is little to be said about the Straubinger business here. The main thing is that the various differences I have had to thrash out with the lads hitherto are now settled: Grün’s chief follower and disciple, Papa Eisermann, has been chucked out, the rest, so far as their influence over the great majority is concerned, have been completely routed, and I have carried through a unanimous resolution against them.
Briefly this is what happened:
The Proudhonian association scheme was discussed on three evenings. At the beginning I had nearly the whole clique against me and at the end only Eisermann and the three other Grünians. The main thing was to prove the necessity for revolution by force and in general to reject as anti-proletarian, petty-bourgeois, and Straubingerian Grün’s true socialism, which had drawn new strength from the Proudhonian panacea. In the end I became infuriated by my opponents’ endless repetition of the same arguments and really pitched into the Straubingers, which aroused great indignation among the Grünians but succeeded in eliciting from the worthy Eisermann an open attack on communism. Whereupon I lashed him so mercilessly with my tongue that he never showed his face again.
I now made use of the lever – the attack on communism – provided by, Eisermann, the more so since Grün never ceased his intrigues, going from workshop to workshop, summoning the people to come to him on Sundays, etc., etc., and, on the Sunday’ following the above-mentioned session, was himself so abysmally stupid as to attack communism in the presence of 8-10 Straubingers. I therefore declared that, before I took part in any further discussion, the question of whether or not we were meeting here as communists must be put to the vote. If the former were the case, we must see to it that attacks on communism such as those made by Eisermann never recur; if the latter, and if they were simply a random collection of individuals who had met to discuss a random selection of subjects, I would not give a fig for them, nor would I ever return. This aroused much horror among the Grünians who, they said, foregathered here for ‘the good of mankind’, for their own enlightenment, men of progress and not biased system-mongers, etc., etc., the description ‘a random collection’ being in no way applicable to such respectable company. Moreover, they first wanted to know what communism really was (these curs, who for years have called themselves communists and only deserted out of fear of Grün and Eisermann, these two last having used communism as a pretext for worming their way in among them!). Of course I did not allow myself to be caught by their amiable request to tell them, ignorant as they were, in 2 or 3 words what communism was. I gave them a highly simple definition which went as far as and no further than the foregoing points at issue, which, by positing community of goods, ruled out, not only peacefulness, tenderness and consideration for the bourgeoisie and/or the Straubinger fraternity, but also and finally the Proudhonian joint-stock society along with its retention of individual property and all that this involves; a definition which, furthermore, contained nothing that could give rise either to divagations or to any circumvention of the proposed vote. I therefore defined the aims of communists as follows: 1. to ensure that the interests of the proletariat prevail, as opposed to those of the bourgeoisie; 2. to do so by abolishing private property and replacing same with community of goods; 3. to recognise no means of attaining these aims other than democratic revolution by force.
Two evenings were spent discussing this. During the second, the best of the 3 Grünians, sensing the mood of the majority, came over to me unreservedly. The other two kept contradicting each other without being aware of the fact. Several chaps, who had never spoken before, suddenly opened their traps and declared themselves unequivocally for me. Up till then Junge had been the only one to do so. Some of these homines novi [new men], although trembling with fear lest they dry up, spoke quite nicely and all in all seem to have quite a sound intellect. In short, when it was put to the vote, the meeting was declared to be communist in accordance with the above definition by 13 votes to 2, the latter being those of the pair who had remained true to Grün – one of whom subsequently declared himself exceedingly eager to be converted.
Thus a clean sweep has at last been made and we can now begin, so far as is possible, to do something with these fellows. Grün, who was easily able to extricate himself from his financial predicament because the principal creditors were those same Grünians, his principal followers, has gone down a great deal in the opinion of the majority and of some of his followers and, despite all his intrigues and experiments (e. g. attending the Barričre meetings wearing a cap, etc., etc.), has been a resounding failure with his Proudhonian society. Had I not been there, our friend Ewerbeck would have fallen for it. La tęte baissée [with his eyes shut].
One could hardly help but admire Grün’s stratagem! Doubting his chaps’ intelligence, he tells them his stories over and over again until they can rattle them off from memory. After every session-nothing was easier, of course, than to reduce such an opposition to silence-the whole defeated gang went scuttling off to Grim, told him what I had said-naturally all of it distorted-, and had their armoury renewed. When next they opened their traps, one could always tell from the first couple of words exactly what the whole sentence would be. In view of this tale-bearing, I was careful not to provide the fellows with anything general which might assist Mr Grün in further embellishing his true socialism; nevertheless, writing not long ago in the Kölner on the occasion of the Geneva Revolution, the cur exploited and variously distorted sundry things I had said to the Straubingers, whereas here in Paris he had drummed the opposite into them. He is now engaged in political economy, the worthy man.
You’ll have seen Proudhon’s book advertised. I shall get hold of it one of these days; it costs 15 fr. so it’s too expensive to buy.
The above-mentioned audience, before whom the performance took place, consists of approx. 20 cabinet-makers, who otherwise foregather only at the Barričre and then with all and sundry, having no really closed association of their own, save for a choral club, though some also belong to the rump of the League of the Just. If we could assemble openly we would soon have over 100 chaps from the cabinet-makers alone. I know only a few of the tailors-who also attend the cabinet-makers’ meeting. Nowhere in Paris have I been able to find out anything at all about blacksmiths and tanners. Not a soul knows anything about them.
Not long ago Kriege, as one of the just, laid his report before the ‘Halle’ (central authority). Of course I read the missive; but since this constituted a breach of the oath, for which the penalty is death by dagger, rope or poison, you must nowhere record same in writing. The letter proves, just as did his riposte to our attack, that he had benefited greatly from the latter and that he was now more concerned with the things of this world. He gave a long account of their difficulties. The first instalment of this American Straubingers’ story concerned their misfortunes – evidently Kriege was at the helm and his management of the money side was big-hearted to say the least, the Tribun was given away, not sold, the funds consisted in charitable gifts, in short, by trying to re-enact Chapters III-VI of the Acts of the Apostles not even omitting Ananias and Sapphira, they finally found themselves up to their eyes in debt. The second period, in which Kriege became simply the ‘registrar’, other chaps having apparently taken over the financial side, was that of recovery. Instead of appealing to the fulness of men’s hearts, they now appealed to their lightly tripping feet and to their ± uncommunist side generally, discovering to their surprise that all the money they needed could be raised by organising balls, picnics, etc., etc., and that human frailty could be exploited for the benefit of communism. Pecuniarily speaking, they were now thoroughly flush. Among the ‘obstacles’ they had to overcome, the doughty Tecklenburger also counts the manifold calumnies and aspersions they, amongst others, had had to endure ‘and this recently at the hands of the “communist” philosophers in Brussels’. For the rest he indulges in some trivial prattle against the colonies, recommends ‘Brother Weitling’ to them (i. e. to his most inveterate foes), but for the most part remains fairly down-to-earth, if also somewhat unctuous, and only from time to time is there a little sighing about brotherliness, etc.
Do you get the Réforme there? If you don’t read it, let me know and I will send you accounts of anything special that appears in it. For the past four days it has been picking on the National for refusing to express unconditional approval of a petition for electoral reform which is circulating here. This, the Réforme maintains, was entirely due to its partiality for Thiers. Not long ago it was rumoured here that Bastide and Thomas had resigned from the National, leaving only Marrast, and that the latter had allied himself with Thiers. This was denied by the National. However, changes have been made in its editorial department, but I am not aware of the details; for the past year it is known to have been particularly well-disposed towards Thiers; now the Réforme is pointing out how greatly it has compromised itself by this partiality.
Moreover, it is only opposition to the Réforme, which has of late led the National to commit follies such as denying, purely out of malice, and until it could do so no longer, etc., the story, first told by the Réforme, of the Portuguese counter-revolution.’ The Réforme is now at great pains to carry on a polemic no less brilliant than that of the National, but without success.
Having got to this point in my letter, I once again went to the Straubingers, where the following transpired: Grün, too impotent to harm me in any way, is now having me denounced at the Barričre. Eisermann is attacking communism at the public Barričre meeting at which, owing to the presence of informers, no one, of course, can answer him back without incurring the risk of being thrown out; Junge answered him furiously (but yesterday we warned him against this). Thereupon Eisermann declared Junge to be the mouthpiece of a third person (myself, of course), who had suddenly irrupted amongst the people like a bomb, and he himself well knew how they were primed for the Barričre discussions, etc., etc. In short, what all his chatter amounted to was an out-and-out denunciation to the police; for four weeks ago the landlord in whose house the affair happened said: il y a toujours des mouchards parmi vous [There are always informers among you], and once, at that time, the police inspector also turned up. He accused Junge in so many words of being a ‘revolutionary’. Mr Grün was present throughout and prompted Eisermann on what to say. This was the dirtiest trick of all. According to the facts as I know them, I hold Grün fully responsible for everything Eisermann says. There’s absolutely nothing to be done about it. That numskull Eisermann cannot be attacked at the Barričre because this would elicit yet another denunciation of the weekly meeting; Grün is too cowardly to do anything himself and in his own name. The only thing that can be done is to have it explained to the people at the Barričre that communism wasn’t discussed because that might have exposed the whole meeting to danger from the police.
It’s high time I heard from you.