Marx-Engels Correspondence 1886

Engels to Sorge

Source: Science and Society Volume II, Number 3, 1938;
Translated and Edited: by Leonard E. Mins.

London, April 29, 1886.

Dear Sorge:

Your letters of February 15th and 28th and March 8th, and postcard of March 21st received.

The manuscript [of Capital] contains largely the same things that Marx noted in his copy for the third edition. In other passages, which provide for more insertions from the French, I am not binding myself to these unconditionally, (1) because the work for the third edition was done much later, and hence is decisive for me, and (2) because, for a translation to be made in America, far away from him, Marx would rather a have had many a difficult passage correctly translated from the French simplification than incorrectly from the German, and this consideration now vanishes. Nevertheless, it has given me many very useful hints which will, in time, find application for the German edition too. As soon as I am through with it I shall return it to you by registered mail....

The Broadhouse-Hyndman translation of Capital is nothing but a farce. The first chapter was translated from the German, full of mistakes to the point of ridiculousness. Now it is being translated from the French — the mistakes are the same. At the present rate of speed the thing won’t be finished by 1900.

Thanks for the calendar. I had, it is true, not suspected that Douais is so terribly underrated as a great man. Let him take the consciousness of his greatness, together with all of its underrating, with him into the grave without having it lessened in a pastry mold. But he was the right man for America, and if he had remained an ordinary democrat, I would have wished him the best of luck. But, as it is, he got into the wrong pew. As for the purist who declaims against our style and punctuation: he knows neither German nor English, else he wouldn’t find Anglicisms where there aren’t any. The German he admires, which was drilled into us in school, with its horrible periodic structure and the verb at the very end — separated from the subject by ten miles of intervening matter — it took me thirty years to unlearn that German again. That bureaucratic schoolmaster’s German, for which Lessing doesn’t exist at all, is on the decline even in Germany. What would this good fellow say if he heard the deputies speaking in the Reichstag, who have abolished this horrible construction because they always got tangled up in it, and spoke like the Jews: “Als der Bismarck ist gekommen vor die Zwangswahl, hat er lieber den Papst gekusst auf den Hintern als die Revolution auf den Mund.” This advance was first introduced by little Lasker; it is the only good thing he did. If Mr. Purist comes to Germany with his schoolmaster’s German, they will tell him he talks American. “You know how petty the learned German philistine is” — he seems to be particularly so in America. German sentence structure together with its punctuation as taught in the schools forty or fifty years ago deserves only to be thrown on the scrap-heap, and that is happening to it in Germany at last.

I think I have already written you that an American lady, married to a Russian, has gotten it into her head to translate my old book. I looked over the translation, which required considerable work. But she wrote that publication was assured and it had to be done at once, and so I had to do it. Now it turns out that she turned the negotiations over to a Miss Foster, the secretary of a women’s rights society, and the latter committed the blunder of giving it to the Socialist Labor Party. I told the translator what I thought of this, but it was too late. Moreover, I am glad that the gentlemen over there do not translate anything of mine; it would turn out beautifully. Their German is enough, and then their English!

The gentlemen of the Volkszeitung must be satisfied. They have gained control of the whole movement among the Germans and their business must be flourishing. It is a matter of course that a man like Dietzgen is pushed to the rear there. Playing with the boycott and with little strikes is, of course, much more important than theoretical enlightenment. But with all that the cause is moving ahead mightily in America. A real mass movement exists among the English-speaking workers for the first time. That it proceeds gropingly at first, clumsy, unclear, unknowing, is unavoidable. All that will be cleared up; the movement will and must develop through its own mistakes. Theoretical ignorance is a characteristic of all young peoples, but so is practical rapidity of development, too. As in England, all the preaching is of no use in America until the actual necessity exists. And this is present in America now, and they are becoming conscious of it. The entrance of the masses of native-born workers into the movement in America is for me one of the greatest events of 1886. As for the Germans over there, let the sort flourishing now join the Americans gradually; they will still be somewhat ahead of them. And lastly, there still is a central core among the Germans over there which retains theoretical insight into the nature and the course of the whole movement, keeps the process of fermentation going, and finally rises to the top again.

The second great event of 1886 is the formation of a workers party in the French Chamber by Basly and Camelinat, two handpicked “worker” deputies nominated and elected by the Radicals, who, contrary to all the regulations, did not become servants of their Radical masters, but spoke as workers. The Decazeville strike brought the split between them and the Radicals to a head — five other deputies joined them. The Radicals had to come out in the open with their policy towards the workers, and, as the government exists only with the Radicals’ support, that was dreadful, for they were justifiably held accountable by the workers for each of the government’s acts. In short, the Radicals: Clemenceau and all the others, behaved wretchedly; and then there took place what no preacher had succeeded in accomplishing up to then: the French workers’ defection from the Radicals. And the second result was: the union of all the socialist fractions for joint action. Only the miserable Possibilists kept apart, and consequently they are falling asunder more and more every day. The government helped this new departure tremendously by its blunders. For it wants to float a loan of 90,000,000 francs and needs high finance for this purpose, but the latter is also a stockholder in Decazeville and refuses to lend the money unless the government breaks the strike. Hence the arrest of Duc and Roche. The workers’ reply is: Roche’s candidacy in Paris for next Sunday (elections to the Chamber) and Due’s (Quercy’s) candidacy for the Municipal Council, where he is certain of election. In brief, a splendid movement is merrily under way in France again, and the best thing about it is that our people, Guesde, Lafargue, Deville, are the theoretical leaders.

The reaction upon Germany did not fail to make its appearance. The revolutionary speech and action of the Frenchmen made the whining of Geiser, Viereck, Auer and Co. appear more feeble than ever, and thus only Bebel and Liebknecht spoke in the Last debate on the Socialist Law, both of them very good. With this debate we can show our faces in respectable society again, which was by no means the case with all of them. In general it is good for the Germans to have their leadership disputed somewhat, especially since they have elected so many philistine elements (which was unavoidable, to be sure). In Germany everything becomes philistine in quiet periods; the spur of French competition then becomes absolutely necessary, nor will it be lacking. French socialism has suddenly grown from a sect into a party, and only now and only thereby is the mass affiliation of the workers possible, for the latter are sick and tired of sectarianism, and that was the secret of their following the extremist bourgeois party, the Radicals. Next Sunday will show considerable progress in the elections, though it is scarcely to be expected that Roche will win.

I think the printing of the English translation of Capital, Volume I, will begin in two to three weeks. I am far from through with revision, but 300 pages are ready for the printer and another hundred almost ready. Another thing. A Mr. J. T. McEnnis interviewed me a few days ago under the pretext of getting advice on labor legislation for, the State of Missouri. I soon discovered that newspaper business was behind it, and he confessed that he was working for the leading democratic paper of St. Louis, but gave me his word of honor that he would submit, every word to me in advance for revision. The man was sent to me by the Russian Stepniak. Nearly two weeks have passed, and I am afraid he did not keep his promise. I have forgotten the name of the St. Louis paper. Therefore, if anything is printed regarding the interview, please have the enclosed statement printed in the Sozialist, Volkszeitung, and anywhere else you think necessary. If the man does come and keep his promise, I shall of course, let you know at once, and you can then tear up the statement. Here the movement is not progressing at all, luckily enough. Hyndman and Co. are political careerists who spoil everything, while the anarchists are making rapid progress in the Socialist League. Morris and Bax — one as an emotional socialist and the other as a chaser after philosophical paradoxes — are wholly under their control for the present and must now undergo this experience in corpere vili. You will note from the Commonweal that Aveling, largely thanks to Tussy’s energy, no longer shares the responsibility for this swindle, and that is good. And these muddleheads want to lead the British working class! Fortunately the latter wants to have absolutely nothing to do with them.

Best regards,

F. Engels