Ernest Belfort Bax

Reminiscences and Reflexions of a mid and late Victorian

Chapter II
Men And Movements Of The Early Eighties

In the Summer of 1880 I received a call to Berlin to act as assistant correspondent to the late Dr. Carl Abel, who was at that time engaged as chief correspondent of the Standard. I well remember how the room in Dr. Abel’s residence which served as office overlooked the study of the late Professor Droysen, and how from my desk the Professor was to be seen inditing his historical works. Bamberger, the celebrated National-Liberal member of the Reichstag, lived in a house standing in its own garden, also nearly in front of us, while the well-known friend of Heine, Fanny Lewald, resided not far off. In the November of this year 1880 I went to report the festivities connected with the restoration of Cologne Cathedral. Although the completion of the twin spire was undoubtedly carried out as ably as possible in accordance with the original plan, I, for my part, quite share William Morris’s regrets for the unfinished condition, with the quaint “mediaeval crane” still remaining where it was left by the members of the old guild of masons in the sixteenth century.

Old Gallenga, the well-known writer on the staff of The Times, was also in Cologne reporting the proceedings. An amusing incident occurred in connexion with Gallenga. I was sitting next to him one day at luncheon in our hotel, and on the other side was a pompous Prussian. As, after the meal, we were rising from the table, our pompous Prussian addressed Gallenga, asking whether he were not the correspondent of The Times. Gallenga, somewhat taken aback, admitted that he was. “Then, sir, are you aware that you have grossly insulted the whole German nation?” Gallenga replied that he was not conscious of having committed any indiscretion of the kind. “Do you not know then, sir,” retorted the pompous Prussian, “that you described the assembly at the celebration as wearing shabby overcoats?” As Gallenga told me afterwards, all that he had said was that the brilliant uniforms of the military made a striking contrast with the overcoats of the civilians, and that the contrast gave the latter almost a shabby appearance.

An interesting personality I met in Berlin at that time was the late Edward von Hartmann, the author of a book which had an enormous run in its day and was translated into all the important European languages, Die Philosophie des Unbewussten (The Philosophy of the Unconscious), Hartmann was lame and could not get out much. I was frequently at his house and had many a discussion on philosophical questions with him. Especially I remember talking over the possibility of a corporate social consciousness being in the womb of time and evolution. This idea was new to him, and he seemed rather at a loss as to his attitude towards it. He was a good amateur vocalist and used to sing the baritone parts in Wagner, especially Wie oft in Meeres tiefstem Schlund from the Fliegender Holländer. My friendship with Von Hartmann at this time has always been a pleasant memory with me, and I only regret that after leaving Berlin I never saw him again. He died early in 1914.

On Dr. Abel’s retirement in 1881 from the correspondentship of the Standard, I left Berlin and returned to England, where I fixed myself for the next few years, at Croydon. This period, that of the first half of the eighty decade, was an important turning-point in the intellectual and social life of England. It was in the Spring of 188t that Hyndman founded the “Democratic Federation,” which subsequently became the “Social Democratic Federation” and – in later years “The British Socialist Party.” The Bradlaugh struggle with the House of Commons was a prominent feature of these years. Charles Bradlaugh was still the bête noire of the British propertied classes, who had the idea that he was a desperate revolutionist, whose subversive teaching was calculated to place the institution of private property in jeopardy. This notion was not broken down until his great debate with Hyndman at St. James’s Hall on April 20, 1881, in which he appeared as the champion of the existing order of society and the bitter opponent of Socialism and of all reforms tending in the direction of Socialism. But it is singular to note that the change in public opinion as regards Bradlaugh was also symptomatic of a change in the attitude of British sentiment towards theological heterodoxy and disbelief in general. Bradlaugh, who was President of the “National Secular Society” and a militant Atheist lecturer, had for this reason alone hitherto been their special bogy, Now, on his coming down firmly on the side of the sanctity of the existing economic social order and of private property in the means of production, they willingly forgave, or at least condoned, his Atheism. But this matter of Bradlaugh was really, as already said, no more than a symptom of a change in the whole attitude of the British mind towards religion. The change had begun in the later sixties, and was marked by the growing popularity of the works of Darwin, Spencer, Lecky, and others, but it was only beginning, and, as pointed out in the last chapter, Evangelical dogma, church- and chapel-going, and all that that implies, continued to rule the roost with the vast majority of the middle-class population of these islands. During the seventies undoubtedly a further advance was made towards the breakdown of this obscurantism, but it was not till the early eighties that it can be said to have definitively and finally collapsed. To those of the younger generation it is to-day inconceivable what the social ostracism, backbiting, and persecution of unpopular opinion meant in the sixties, and even, though to a lesser degree, in the seventies, of the last century. Well, as we have said, this state of things seemed to break down fairly completely with more or less suddenness between the years 1880 and 1885. The taking of Charles Bradlaugh, in a manner, into the bosom of British Respectability about the close of this period was only one of the straws slowing the shift in the direction of the social current. Bradlaugh, it was true, had pronounced against Socialism, but he had not gone to the Canossa of “Respectability” in the matter of Atheism. In this respect British Respectability met him more than half way. For the rest, the capitalist classes of this country, had they had any sense, might have known years before that Bradlaugh’s views on social and economic questions were not dangerous to them, from his attitude towards the “International Association” and the Paris Commune. It is a fact worth noting before leaving the subject that the effective movement for freedom of thought and toleration of opinion in this country began almost exclusively from the literary and cultured side. Freethought among the masses, as represented by the National Secular Society, continued till the period in question to be regarded not merely as crude and coarse in its inception and expression, as indeed it very often was, but as socially disreputable. It was not till the early eighties and the prosecution of Foote for blasphemy that the better-educated middle classes began to have sense and justice enough to see the movement from below for freedom of thought, commonly known as Secularism, for what it was, namely, the plucky effort of men of the small middle and working classes to emancipate themselves, up to their lights, from the thraldom of an encumbering and galling superstition, fatal to all advance in knowledge and to all independent intellectual effort. Since the early eighties, social persecution in matters of opinion, whether theological or otherwise, has happily ceased to be a stumbling-block in the path of the intellectual and general progress of this country.

In 1882 I joined the Democratic Federation, rather more than a year after its foundation. But before entering upon the history of Socialism in England, the beginnings of which were identified with the organization in question, I may perhaps say a few words about some men whose acquaintance I made some little while before this. Hermann Jung was a working watchmaker by trade, and a French Swiss (Vaudois) by origin. He used to live and carry on his business in Charles Street, Clerkenwell, where I on several occasions had conversations with him. Jung was an extraordinary autodidact. He had lived in London for many years-indeed, since he was quite a young man. Speaking English, French, and German alike fluently, before long he came into close touch with political refugees of the ’48 movement, and made the acquaintance of Marx and his circle. He soon got to be one of Marx’s intimate disciples, and when the International Association was founded, in the Autumn of 1864, he took his place among the most enthusiastic spirits of the London section. He used to have much to tell of his relations with Marx, for whom he had the profoundest admiration. They finally quarrelled over the break-up of the old International. The reason of the difference was Jung’s disapproval of the arbitrary and, as he considered, unfair methods adopted by Marx and his friend Engels at the Hague Congress of 1872 to get rid of the disciples of Bakunin and other non-Marxian and anti-Marxian elements in the body. The Marxists, as is well known, succeeded in overriding all opposition and getting their motions carried, the most important of these being the transference of the General Council of the Association to New York. This meant, of course, as it was intended to mean, the death-blow of the old organization. The reasons given for the Marxists’ action by Friedrich Engels, who was probably its chief promoter, at the Zurich Congress of 1893, have been stated on a former page. The immediate result of the steps taken at the initiation of Marx and his friends was the split up of the International into three or four fragments, each claiming to represent the original body. Hermann Jung, although theoretically as strict a Marxist as ever, sympathized strongly with the opposition parties and with their determination to treat the resolutions of the Hague Congress, obtained by intrigue and unfair means, as he viewed the matter, as null and void. The fragments dragged on a precarious existence for a few years, but by the end of the decade of the seventies the old International had definitively ceased to exist.

I first made the acquaintance of Hermann Jung at one of the meetings of the London Dialectical Society, then held in Langham Hall, Great Portland Street. The lecturer was the late Mr. Leonard Montefiore, his subject being German Social Democracy. He treated the matter from the then conventional middle-class point of view as a somewhat foolish aberration of the masses, although he strongly denounced the anti-Socialist coercion laws, the enactment of which Bismarck had just succeeded in procuring. The treatment of the subject in the somewhat de haut en bas manner of the lecturer brought Jung, as soon as the lecture was concluded, to his feet in a fury. The result was one of the most effective and rousing speeches in defence of Socialism I have ever heard. There was no mistake about it. Hermann Jung was a born orator. When I knew him he seldom took part in public meetings, but in his younger days, when he was an active propagandist, he must have been extraordinarily effective and powerful.

Poor Hermann Jung came to a sad end. Among the numerous persons who, claiming to be political refugees, always found a welcome in his workshop, was a French criminal who, while Jung was bending over his bench, struck him a blow on the head with some sharp instrument which killed him at once. The object was robbery, but his assailant, although he fled from the house, did not succeed in escaping, being caught red-handed, and in due course tried and executed.

Another man with whom I became acquainted through Jung was the then Socialist and subsequent Anarchist, Johannes Most. At the time I first met him, at the end of the seventies, he had quarrelled with the leaders of the Social Democratic party in Germany, and was editing a paper of his own, Die Freiheit, in a street off Tottenham Court Road. Most was rather an insignificant-looking man, but with a fund of unmistakble energy in him. His Socialism had been much influenced by the writings of Eugen Dühring, Professor of Political Economy in the Berlin University, a man now almost forgotten, but who at that time aspired to play a role as a theorist of Socialism in competition with Marx, and who had a considerable vogue for a few years among a section of the German Social Democrats, especially in Berlin. His fame now rests upon the polemical treatise of Friedrich Engels directed against him, in which his pretensions were effectually and finally disposed of.

Most became notorious in England through his prosecution, after the slaying of the Czar Alexander 11 by the 1Nihilists in March 1881. In his article in the Freiheit, Most not only justified the “removal” of Alexander II in particular, or Czars in general, but advocated a similar treatment for the heads of all States “from St. Petersburg to Washington” inclusive. The Liberal English Government of the time, with the late Sir William Harcourt as Home Secretary, probably influenced from Berlin by the German authorities, of whom Bismarck was then the head, undertook a prosecution. Most, as is well known, was sentenced to eighteen months’ imprisonment with hard labour. His treatment in prison seems to have been vindictive and scandalous. This took place immediately after my return from Berlin in the Spring of 1881, and the last time I ever saw Most was in the clock at Bow Street during the police court proceedings before the trial at the Old Bailey. He subsequently went to America, where he became more than ever Anarchist and Terrorist in his views, and published a paper in this sense which again brought him into trouble, this time with the American governing powers. In 1907 he died in New York.

Another well-known though very different figure to whom I was introduced by Hermann Jung; was Prince Kropotkin, whose picturesque and benevolent-looking head has since become familiar in many English social circles. At that time he had only just come over to England, and, indeed, had not very long escaped from Russia. He arrived, however, immediately from Geneva, where he had for some time been editing his paper, Le Revolté. His theoretical Anarchism furnished a fertile subject of controversy between us on more than one occasion. I well remember a long walk I had with him one day in the early summer of 1882 from Croydon to Leatherhead, during which he expounded his views on the Social Revolution and had much to say against Marx and other leaders of the main Social Democratic movement. Prince Kropotkin subsequently obtained distinction in this country for the exceptionally able popular articles on the results of up-to-date science which he wrote in the Nineteenth Century and elsewhere. He still, I believe, retains in its essentials his old standpoint in social and political matters, which he has endeavoured to illustrate in more than one book published since then. His industry and accuracy in collecting facts are undeniable, and especially in his work Mutual Aid there are some just and useful aperçus, but I fail to see that they point in the direction of the theory of Social Anarchism I understand him still to hold. Kropotkin always struck me, when I conversed with him, as having a lingering belief in the individualist-introspective ethics of the ordinary bourgeois Puritanism – with the idea of individual self-immolation through asceticism, in its various modes, as having an intrinsic value in itself. As regards Economics, he insisted on the theory that concentration in industrial processes was only a passing phase in industrial evolution, which had reached its greatest intensity during the period in which steam was the main motive-power in production, but that the full development of the era of electricity would show a return, in a large measure, to the old small industry of individual production, owing to the fact that, unlike steam-power, electricity can be split up without losing its efficiency. It is now more than thirty-five years ago since Prince Kropotkin expounded this, to me, novel doctrine, in the course of our peregrinations among the Surrey hills. The subsequent history of Industrial Progress has certainly falsified the prognostications suggested by the theory. The answer to it, indeed, is obvious, even assuming the scientific basis of Kropotkin’s view to have been adequate, or indeed sustainable at all in the present day, as to which I am not competent to judge. The concentration of manufacturing processes, with the division of labour involved therein, began long before the steam era – before, indeed, any motricity other than that more or less immediately produced and controlled by the hand of the workman was so much as thought of. Yet, notwithstanding this, the concentration of production under one roof and one direction progressively and steadily made headway from the second half of the sixteenth century onward in ever more branches of industry, little by little supplanting the old individual craftsmanship. The introduction of complex machinery on a large scale, and still more of steam-motricity at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, certainly accelerated the complete domination of the centralizing process in all branches of production, thereby inaugurating what we call the “Great Industry” of the industrial revolution. But steam-driven machinery most assuredly did not create the tendency by which the principle of concentration, with its correlative division of labour, has progressively superseded the individual handicraft industry from the close of the Middle Ages onward. Hence, I say, even assuming the accuracy of Kropotkin’s forecast as to the possibilities inherent in the application of electricity to industrial processes, by which in certain departments of production (for it could, of course, only apply to certain departments) a return to the methods of the small industry might take place, yet the same cause-the greater effectiveness of combined and organized over isolated labour-which originally gave rise to the supplanting of handicraft methods by concentration of production under one roof, with division of its processes, must continue to operate in realizing the same tendency, just as it did before the introduction of steam and modern machinery.

About this time I began seriously to study Marx’s great work Das Kapital, and towards the end of 1881 I wrote a short monograph on the subject of Marx and his work in a monthly review called Modern Thought, now long since defunct. This notice, although by no means faultless as regards its accuracy, pleased Marx and Engels. Marx himself, being at the time too ill to write, sent me his thanks and many appreciative messages in a letter written by his daughter Eleanor. The great founder of the theoretic basis of modern scientific socialist economy lived for more than a year after this incident, but he was away for his health during a considerable portion of the time, and I never met him. The circumstance of the article referred to, however, led to an invitation a short time after Marx’s death in March 1883 from Friedrich Engels to visit him, a visit which began an acquaintance and friendship lasting till his own death in 1895.

Friedrich Engels I consider to be one of the most remarkable men of his time – a man of encyclopaedic reading and of considerable up-to-date knowledge in all branches of science – anything that Engels had to say or to write always had its points and was worth consideration, even in subjects of which he was not complete master, as he was of Political Economy. But Engels had his limitations intellectually. For one thing he was somewhat hide-bound to the shibboleths of the old dogmatic materialism. He, like Marx, had sprung from the left wing of the old Hegelian school, of which Ludwig Feuerbach was the most popular literary exponent. This school, while retaining the Hegelian Logic or Dialectic, strenuously repudiated Metaphysics and all interest in the problem of Metaphysics. The reaction against the Idealism of the main current of German philosophy, as the latter existed to well-nigh the end of the earlier half of the nineteenth century, led, as might have been expected, to the assertion of a somewhat crude and dogmatic materialism. This was very noticeable in Marx and Engels. In their case, it received a special colouring from their economic and historical studies. Its best known result was the so-called “Materialist theory of history.” This meant the reduction of all the changes in the development of human society to economic terms. It meant, that is, that all political, moral, aesthetic, religious, intellectual evolution is to be regarded as the reflex merely of economic change, by which is understood change in the mode of the production of wealth or of the distribution of wealth in other words, of the manner in which the material modes of existence of the community are determined.

According to the old theory, the dominant factor in the life of any age or people was always its speculative or religious beliefs. This theory may now be fairly regarded as exploded. It is to the everlasting credit of Marx and Engels to have pointed out the importance of the material or economic basis of society in moulding and influencing that society’s life and destinies. But what the Marxian school fails to recognize is that this one factor, important and even fundamental though it be, is not by itself necessarily the sole determining cause in social evolution. Moral, intellectual, and other non-material factors also play their part, and it may be quite as important a part, in determining the current of human affairs. In one age and under one set of circumstances, the economic factor may play the leading role; in another age and under another set of circumstances, a religious, moral, or political belief or conviction may occupy the leading place and economic conditions a comparatively secondary one. In one or two articles written quite at the end of his life and published after his death, Engels himself would seem to have to some extent recognized the inadequacy of what is regarded as the orthodox Marxist position. But Engels, as I knew him, held to the theory in all its one-sidedness. Speaking generally, Engels showed a tendency to regard all other studies and departments of knowledge, so to say, as appendices of his own special department, i.e. Political Economy. I have often noticed this when conversing with him. I suppose we must regard it as the necessary drawback of the specialist, this tendency to regard everything else as subordinate to his specialism. For instance, if you spoke with Engels on some purely philosophical or psychological problem, he could only envisage it as the expression of some social antagonism, or as the point of view of some special economic class, at some special moment of its development-it might be the decaying feudal class, or the rising capitalist class, or what not. He could not, it seemed, see that the problem had an intrinsic quality, meaning, and interest of its own and in itself. The whole historical course of speculative thought was to be interpreted economically as the varying expression of class aspiration or antagonism. I remember one day, when discussing with him the materialist doctrine of history, challenging him to deduce the appearance, in the Roman Empire of the second century, of the Gnostic sects, and the success of many of them for a time among the populations of the larger cities of the Mediterranean basin, from the economic conditions of the Roman world at the time. He admitted he could not do this, but suggested that by tracing the matter further back you might arrive at some economic explanation of what he granted was an interesting side-problem of history. What he meant by this retrospective interpretation I am unable to say, for the conversation was interrupted by the arrival of visitors and was not resumed.

Marx and Engels, as is well known, were always recognized as a sort of court of ultimate appeal by the Social Democratic party, in spite of the fact that on one occasion, that of the negotiations with the Lassalleans before the Erfurt Congress, their views were overridden by the actual leaders of the party in Germany, Bebel and Liebknecht. But this was quite exceptional, and I believe, indeed, the only case of such a thing occurring. As a general rule, Marx and Engels were final arbiters in questions of party policy. After Marx’s death this role became naturally concentrated in the person of Engels. Though prepared to give due weight to the practical exigencies of the situation on all occasions, the old colleague and survivor of Marx till the last held to the view that the social revolution could not be inaugurated otherwise than by the methods of forcible insurrection – least of all in Germany. I have more than once heard him say that as soon as one man in three, i.e. one-third, of the German army actually in service could be relied on by the party leaders, revolutionary action ought to be taken. Engels would certainly not have recognized the Socialism (?) of Scheidemann, Südekum, Noske, and the rest of the present “Revisionist” crew constituting the actual majority of the party representation in the Reichstag as anything else than reaction in its worst form.

The earlier career of Engels was interesting in many ways. Born at Barmen, in Rhenish Prussia, in 1820, after completing his studies at the University of Berlin he was sent over to England to Manchester, to look after a cotton-spinning business in which his father, who was a man of some means, had a share. It was here that his interest in Social problems received its most powerful stimulus, from the conditions in the housing and life of the labouring class which he found prevailing there. His investigations resulted in the production of his first work, Die Lage der arbeitenden Klassen in England (The Position of the Working Classes in England). From this residence in Manchester, dating from when he was quite a young man, Engels acquired a thorough acquaintance with English life, manners, and thought. He had some interesting experiences to relate concerning English society and ways during the first half of the nineteenth century – the time, as he was wont to express it, before salad oil appeared on English dinner-tables. He related to me how, smoking at that time being regarded as more or less “bad form” in society, he was on one occasion requested by the master of the house where he was dining, who, notwithstanding the shocked proprieties of his daughters, was addicted to his pipe after dinner, to join him for the purpose of a tranquil smoke in the kitchen! – and this was a well-to-do Manchester manufacturer who lived in a good house! Again, he had reminiscences of port and sherry as the only wine drunk by or known to the average Englishman. This fact was humorously illustrated by the contemporary translation into English of the opening line of Leporello’s drinking song in Don Giovanni as “Come, let us be merry with port and with sherry” the idea of being merry with any other wine, save perhaps with the rare and costly exception of champagne, being inconceivable to the English mind of the period. He had a story also of how he, wearing a beard, at that time regarded as a great eccentricity, being worn by few Englishmen, when he went out for a stroll on Sunday morning would meet occasionally a fellow bearded man, who would greet him with something like a religious fervour, and perhaps anon another. These bearded eccentricities were the surviving followers of the notorious Johanna Southcott, who affirmed that she would be delivered of a supernatural being, Shiloh, on the 19th of October 1814, but who died of dropsy a few days after instead. Her followers, who were said to have originally numbered one hundred thousand, did not become extinct before the middle of the nineteenth century. They regarded the wearing of the beard as a sign of the elect. As illustrating the universality of church- and chapel-going on a Sunday in the England of the forties and fifties of the last century, Engels told of a conversation which took place at the house of one of his Manchester acquaintances during a midday dinner (they did not call it luncheon in those days in middle-class circles) to which he was invited one Sunday. The talk, as was then inevitable, turned on the morning’s preachers, and Engels, on being asked what “place of worship” he attended, replied that he always took a walk in the country on Sunday morning, that being, he found, the best way of spending the early hours of his leisure day. On hearing this, his host addressed him with the remark, “You seem to hold peculiar religious views, Mr. Engels – somewhat Socinian, I think!” The observation is amusingly significant of the notions prevalent at that period, when “somewhat Socinian” was about the extreme limit of theological heterodoxy conceivable to the respectable middle-class mind. The notion of the devout Atheist Engels being “somewhat Socinian” is also very funny.

It is noteworthy that Friedrich Engels, notwithstanding his long residence in England and acquaintance with the English people, never in himself became completely anglicized. He always retained to the last his German individuality. It is singular too that Engels, with all his versatility and literary capacity, never produced any great independent literary work. His writings mainly consisted of articles, with occasional longer essays, the most important of which have been collected and published in German under the auspices of Bernstein, Kautzky, and Mehring. His independent publications during his lifetime were mostly of the nature of expanded brochures. Such was The Position of the Working Classes in England. His greatest literary achievement was undoubtedly his work against Dühring. But here again we have no more than an expanded polemical essay. This is much to be regretted. Had Engels undertaken to embody his wide knowledge and often extremely keen intellectual insight in a substantive and systematic form, he would undoubtedly have produced something of real and permanent value for the Socialist thought not merely of the present time but of the future. As it is, the form which his writings took suggests a danger of their more or less falling into oblivion within a generation or two from the time of his death.

Like other men of considerable intellectual capacity, Friedrich Engels had very markedly the proverbial “defects of his qualities.” Together with his friend Marx, and like other Socialist leaders I could name, he was a thoroughly bad judge of men. Moreover, he was absurdly jealous of any one he did not know himself entering into any close personal relations of friendship with Marx. An apt illustration of this is afforded by the case of my friend H.M. Hyndman. Hyndman had become acquainted with Marx, and the acquaintanceship had ripened into a cordial friendship. It would appear (I take Engels’ own version of the matter as the basis of my remarks) as though Engels had no sooner perceived that Hyndman had made an impression on Marx, than he sought to undermine the friendly relations between the two men. The pretext, for I am afraid we must regard it only as a pretext, was found in the fact that Hyndman early in 1882 had published a little book entitled England for All, in which he put, in a popular and very brief form, the main economic positions of modern Socialism, derived of course from Marx, but without mentioning their source by name. In this it should be understood Hyndman did not pretend to claim them for his own, but admitted that he was indebted for them to an eminent foreign Economist. His reason for not referring directly to Marx at that moment was, I understand, that the intimation of their having been made if not “in Germany,” at least by a Jew of German birth, might prejudice their reception, new and unfamiliar as they were, in this country of insular prejudices. Be this as it may, the omission of Marx’s name afforded the excuse for Engels to persuade Marx that Hyndman’s friendship covered a designing intent to suck Marx’s brains and obtain the credit in English-speaking countries for the results of Marx’s work. Marx at first excused Hyndman to Engels on the ground that the book was written specially for certain London Radical clubs and he believed was not in general circulation. Thereupon Engels orders the brochure from his bookseller, and a few days after proceeds triumphantly to Maitland Park, holding it aloft and shaking it as he advances to meet Marx. Marx yielded to Engels’ blandishments. Result, a “coolness” which practically ended the relations between Marx and Hyndman.

Another instance of Engels’ womanish prejudice against a man to whom he had taken a dislike, based on preposterously inadequate grounds, is afforded by his attitude towards that excellent Socialist, Adolphe Smith. The origin of this antipathy, as stated by Engels himself, almost passes belief in its absurdity. Adolphe Smith, as is well known, took part in the Commune. On his arrival in London, after his escape from Paris early in June 1871, he started a series of lectures in defence of the Commune, and, as was only to be expected – considering the attitude of the Press and the ferocity of the hatred worked up among the British bourgeoisie against the Commune and all who defended it – these lectures, although exciting some interest at first, soon ceased to pay their way, and had to be discontinued, with a loss to Smith, a comparatively poor man, of time and money. Among the known sympathizers with the cause to whom an announcement of the lectures was sent were Marx and Engels, who duly attended them on more than one occasion. Engels himself admitted Smith’s defence of the Commune to have been satisfactory. But it so happened that shortly after the cessation of the lectures Smith was one of the signatories to a protest against the somewhat high-handed action of the Marxian party on the central committee of the International. This protest, in which there were certain, what we should call now Anarchistic elements, involved, contained expressions which Smith in his maturer years has allowed were crude and ill-conceived. He also admits his having signed the manifesto at all to have been dictated by youthful enthusiasm, genuine but not overwise. Now, Adolphe Smith’s participation in the document in question was a thing Engels never forgave the unfortunate Smith. It rankled in his mind for a quarter of a century, until the day of his death. But this was not all. On the basis of his resentment Engels built up the following preposterous hypothesis, which he retailed as fact. Smith, as we have seen, had sent himself and Marx a syllabus of his lectures requesting their attendance and recommendation to friends. The lectures proved a financial failure. Smith, according to Engels, regarded their failure as being due to lack of interest shown by himself, Marx, and their friends in the enterprise. Thereupon, vowing vengeance in his wrath, the malignant Smith, as Engels declared, drew up and circulated the wicked manifesto attacking the Marxian policy! Hinc illae lacrymae! Such was the absurdly malevolent construction Engels chose to put upon two utterly disconnected facts. Any one who knows Adolphe Smith must recognize, of course, how entirely impossible is the assumption of Engels and how utterly inconsistent it is with the character of the man in question. Adolphe Smith, it should be observed, is one whose record for unostentatious and ungrudging work for the Socialist movement has been exceeded by few. Other men have got at least a certain amount of kudos and public recognition for their work. Adolphe Smith’s work has been mostly of a kind unrecognized by the general public. So bitter was Engels’ animosity, that on one occasion towards the end of his life, when Smith had been persuaded by some mutual friends to join them in a call on Engels, the latter could not restrain himself in his own house from the most ill-mannered conduct towards the man he so bitterly and unreasonably hated.

Another instance on the other side of Engels’ utter incapacity to judge men was his vehement championship of Dr. Edward Aveling, the husband (in free marriage) of Eleanor, the daughter of his friend Marx. No amount of evidence of Aveling’s delinquencies in money matters, or of the untrustworthiness and complete unreliability of his character generally as a man, would induce Engels to cease placing his trust in him. What was worse, he was continually trying to foist him as a leader upon the English Socialist and Labour movement. His sincerity in this, as in the rest of his actions, is undoubted, but is one more illustration of the very serious defects of his qualities in this, in many respects, great man.

In giving the foregoing incidents tending to show the unpleasant sides of Friedrich Engels, I am not actuated by any mere love of scandal, but by the fact that the incidents narrated have not been without influence on the International Socialist movement. Engels’ fierce dislike of Hyndman, for instance, did not end with his achievement of causing a breach between Hyndman and Marx, but continued to work its evil influence after Marx’s death in exciting a distrust and prejudice against Hyndman among the best of the “old guard” of the German Social Democratic party, such as Liebknecht, Bebel, Singer, Kautzky, and others; and although the ill-feeling was got over in some cases, notably that of old Liebknecht, who subsequently became on very friendly terms with Hyndman, yet for a long time it distinctly caused a certain strain in the relations between the old German party of twenty or thirty years ago and the only English party really representing Marxian Socialism, i.e. the Social Democratic Federation.

Similarly with Adolphe Smith. Although, owing to the relative positions of the two men in English Socialism, its effect was not so obvious in his case, it nevertheless give rise to most unjust suspicions against one of the worthiest and most disinterested members of the English party. Yet again, Engels’ exaltation of Aveling and his representing of him as a leading figure in the British Socialist party, which he never was, often gave occasion, in its turn, to an entirely false estimate on the Continent of the situation in the British movement. These things being so, I hold it well that the above unpleasant facts, although in themselves of a purely personal nature, should be placed on record for the benefit of the future historian, when he may come to deal with the international side of Socialism as it stood during the last two decades of the nineteenth century.


Last updated on 28.3.2004