R. Palme Dutt

A Note on the Falsification of Engels’ Preface to Marx’s “Class Struggles in France”

Source: Labour Monthly, Vol. 15, December 1933, No. 12, pp. 771-777, (3,778 words).
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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A marked copy of the Weekly People, organ of the American Socialist Labour Party, for September 9th, 1933, has reached the LABOUR MONTHLY office, containing an eight-column article entitled “More Falsifications,” criticising the LABOUR MONTHLY editorial notes for March, 1933, on “Marxism After Fifty Years,” with reference to the question of the falsification of Engels’ Preface of 1895 to Marx’s “Class Struggles in France.” As this question is of importance for all Marxists, and as the reference in the March LABOUR MONTHLY was given without further details, solely because the facts were assumed to be well-known, it is evidently now necessary to show the fuller details in order that there shall be no excuse for misunderstanding.

In the March LABOUR MONTHLY Notes, since reprinted as a pamphlet,1 reference was made to the well-known falsification of Engels’ Preface by the German Social Democratic leadership; to the use of this falsification as the Bible of Bernstein, the revisionists and all reformists and corrupters of Marxism, in order to maintain an anti-Marxist and anti-revolutionary line and present Engels as having in his old age repudiated the Marxist line on violent revolution and armed insurrection and having adopted instead the legalist line of electoral conquest of the state; to the fury of Engels at this distortion of his views, as already revealed in his comments on the Vorwärts extracts; and finally to the fact that this falsified version of Engels’ views “up to 1924 was still in full circulation, also in England and America, as the ‘repudiation’ of Bolshevik methods by Engels.” Only in 1924 the suppressed passages, which had all the time been in the possession of the German Social Democratic leadership and known to them, and which fully vindicated Engels’ revolutionary line with specific reference to the armed struggle, were finally published thanks to the Marx-Engels Institute of Moscow (in the Marx-Engels Archiv Moscow, 1924). Thereafter the controversy was settled in Marxist circles.

It is now evident, however, from this critic’s comments that the backwash of this controversy still goes on in some corners of the movement, and that the reservation “up to 1924” does not apply for all countries. The falsification is still actually being attempted to be passed on as good money in some quarters, where the facts have not yet reached.

It appears from these comments that the American S.L.P., who still claim to base themselves on Marxism (actually De-Leonism, existing only as a survival to-day, when the main body of revolutionary Marxists in America and England have long developed past the early stages of confusion and reached to Communism), in their effort to fight Communism, still in 1933 endeavour to base themselves on the falsified version of Engels’ Preface, repeating the old anti-revolutionary arguments of Bernstein and the revisionists; and not only that, but even now after the exposure, still attempt—what Bernstein, knowing the facts, more wisely did not attempt—to deny the facts of the falsification and to question the authenticity of the suppressed passages. This last attempt at escape will not avail.

To this it is necessary to make a reply on the essential points, as all readers may not be in possession of the facts.

The main gist of the critic’s arguments may be summarised, as fairly and objectively as possible (omitting the ornamental epithets of “lying” “unscrupulous,” etc.), as follows:—

(1) that Engels “was definitely opposed to the use of insurrectionary methods by the working class under modern conditions. Armed revolt and barricade battles were regarded by him as obsolete and foredoomed to disastrous failure. He condemned them as sheer lunacy”;

(2) that the alleged suppressed passages are of doubtful authenticity—“some bits of paper with writing alleged to be Engels’ on them, Riazanov” “had his leg badly pulled,” “Riazanov alleged these scraps of paper to be parts of Engels’ Preface that had been excised from the Engels’ manuscript by the wicked Social Democratic leaders,” on which the comment is “a silly story,” “mare’s nest”;

(3) that no excision or mutilation of any passages took place by the Social Democratic leadership. “The version appearing in the Neue Zeit is the Preface, the whole Preface and nothing but the Preface.” “We challenge you to produce a single copy of any edition of this writing of Engels that has been mutilated by the Social Democratic leadership” The story of the excision of passages and their subsequent discovery is a “fantastic story,” a “silly story,” a “mare’s nest”;

(4) that Engels agreed and wrote that “now the whole appears in the Neue Zeit,” and that his anger was directed only against the Vorwärts extracts and therefore has no longer relevance for the present issue;

(5) that the alleged suppressed passages, if authentic, are possibly “only an early draft of the Introduction later discarded” by Engels himself;

(6) that in any case the alleged suppressed passages make no difference to the supposed line of Engels of revision of the Marxist line of violent revolution and armed struggle. “Most of the alleged omissions . . . merely reiterate the position generally taken by Engels that barricade fighting under modern conditions is no longer a commendable means to carry on the revolutionary struggle of the working class; and only in one or two instances is there a very much qualified deviation from this standpoint; but that is neither here nor there and has nothing to do with the case.”

It is evident from the line of this critic’s argument that he is not acquainted with the previous controversy on this question or the significance of Riazanov’s publication of the suppressed extracts. The existence of suppressed passages in the Engels’ Preface was already long ago known to all Marxists, on the authority of Kautsky himself, ever since the Kautsky-Bernstein controversy, when Kautsky directly referred to their existence, explained that they had been suppressed owing to the pressure of the German Social Democratic leadership and not by the wish of Engels, that their tenor completely defeated Bernstein’s argument, and challenged Bernstein (in whose possession the original manuscript was) to publish the complete text. With this challenge Bernstein did not comply. The new achievement of Riazanov in 1924 was not the demonstration of the existence of the suppressed passages, which was already long known to all competent Marxists, but the success for the first time to get hold of them, photograph them and publish them to the world.

Kautsky’s statement is contained in his article “Bernstein and Dialectics” in the Neue Zeit XVII. 2 (1899). Answering Bernstein’s attempt to base his revisionist case on Engels’ Preface, Kautsky replies that, if the real revolutionary line of Engels is not made fully clear in this Preface:


“trägt nicht er daran Schuld, sondern Deutsche Freunde, die in ihn drangen den Schluss, weil zu revolutionär, wegzulassen.”

Kautsky continues by a challenge to Bernstein to publish the full text:—

“Bernstein has possession of the manuscripts left by our Master. If he should be able to find the manuscript of the Preface WITH THE SUPPRESSED CONCLUSION (“mit dem gestrichenen Schlusse”), then I call upon him to publish this conclusion which Englels left out ONLY OUT OF CONSIDERATION FOR EXTERIOR CIRCUMSTANCES AND NOT THROUGH INNER CONVICTION. This will clearly show how little basis Bernstein has to cite Engels in his support.”

“Bernstein besitzt die nachgelassenen Manuskripte unseres Meisters. Solite sich darunter auch das Manuskript der Vorrede mit dem gestrichenen Schlusse befinden, dann fordere ich ihn auf diesen Schluss zu veröffentlichen, den Engels nur aus äusserlichen Rücksichten, nicht aus inneren Bedenken fortliess. Er wird deutlich beweisen wie wenig Bernstein Ursache hat sich auf Engels zu berufen.” (K. Kautsky, Bernstein and die Dialektik. Die Neue Zeit, XVII, 2, pp.46-7.)

Bernstein did not meet this challenge. He let the manuscript lie. Finally it was handed over by him with the other manuscripts of Marx and Engels in his possession to the Social Democratic Party archives. It was there that Riazanov in 1924 was able to find it and to publish for the first time the correct text. The correct text revealed that it was not merely a question of a “conclusion,” as Kautsky had remembered, but a whole series of passages in the concluding section which had been omitted under the pressure of the Social Democratic Party leadership and against Engels’ “inner conviction.”

The essential facts are thus clear.

First, the correct text of Engels’ Preface as he wrote it has never been published before 1924. The text published in the Neue Zeit in 1895, and in all subsequent reprints and translations for thirty years (including the S.L.P. text), is, according to the admission of the Social Democratic Party leadership themselves, a mutilated text, with certain passages omitted for reasons of censorship as “too revolutionary.”

Second, the omission of these passages took place under pressure of the Social Democratic Party leadership, and not by the wish of Engels. “The fault does not lie with Engels, but with German friends,” according to Kautsky’s explicit statement. Engels only under pressure accepted these omissions in the printed version under the conditions of the Anti-Socialist Law, and against his “inner conviction.” There was no question on the part of any one at the time but that Engels considered these passages a vital part of his integral text. The only question was that these passages were in the opinion of the leadership considered too dangerous to include in the printed version under the conditions of the Anti-Socialist Law and the discussions pending.

Third, the omitted passages published for the first time by Riazanov in 1924 from the original manuscript of Engels in the German Social Democratic Party archive are the authentic passages omitted from the original printed version by the party leadership as “too revolutionary.” This fact is undisputed, and has not been contested by Kautsky, Bernstein and the Social Democratic Party leadership. It has been left to the geniuses of the present American S.L.P. leadership, by the light of their own inner inspiration, without contact with the facts, to “doubt” the authenticity of these passages, which have been accepted by all Marxist scholars.

To come now to the charge of “falsification” against the German Social Democratic Party leadership, and the anger of Engels against the falsification of his views, expressed in his comments on the misleading Vorwärts extracts.

It is essential to understand wherein the charge of falsification consists.

The original publication of the incomplete version, with passages omitted under the pressure of the party leadership and against Engels’ own conviction, was nevertheless accepted by Engels as inevitable under the conditions of the moment and in view of the fears of the party leadership. As Engels himself stated in his letter to Kautsky of March 25th, his text had “suffered” owing to the “timidity” of “our Berlin friends”:

“My text has suffered somewhat because of the scruples of our Berlin friends, due to timidity over the anti-Socialist laws, which under the circumstances I had to consider.”

“Mein Text hat einiges gelitten unter Umsturzvorlagen—furcht samlichen Bedenken unserer Berliner Freunde, denen ich unter den Umstanden wohl Rechnung tragen musste.” (Letter of Engels to Kautsky, March 25th, 1895, quoted in Kautsky Der Weg zur Macht.)

This was not yet in itself “falsification,” but only “timidity,” as Engels termed it. It may be perfectly necessary under certain conditions for a revolutionary party leadership to issue the printed version of a document in an incomplete form, whilst transmitting the correct entire lead to their followers through other means, verbally, through illegal documents, in practice, etc. On the practical question of what was advisable to print under the conditions of the moment, Engels was not in a position to fight the decision of the leadership on the spot, even though he protested against their “timidity.” Nevertheless, such temporary incomplete printing, for special temporary police and political reasons, is not yet “falsification,” provided that the leadership, who know the complete document, (1) faithfully maintain in the spirit and in the letter the revolutionary line of the complete document; (2) oppose any signs of their followers being misled into drawing false conclusions on the basis of the incomplete document; (3) actively fight any attempt to exploit the incomplete document in order to present a false anti-revolutionary line on its basis; (4) as soon as circumstances permit, make available the full document. It is by all these tests that the German Social Democratic leadership broke down, and thereby passed from “timidity” to “falsification.”

Falsification arose, first, when the Social Democratic leadership printed misleading extracts from the Preface in the Vorwärts in such a way as to present Engels’ line as its exact opposite, as a line of “defence of tactics of peacefulness at any price and avoidance of violence,” as Engels scornfully described it (letter to Lafargue of April 3rd). This was the first act of falsification.

Falsification arose, second, when Bernstein, possessing the complete text, deliberately used the mutilated text in order to build on it a complete theory of the “revision” of the revolutionary Marxist line to pacifist bourgeois-democratic legalism, although knowing that the full text proved the opposite; and, when challenged by Kautsky to publish the suppressed passages, which Kautsky declared would prove the opposite, took no steps to do so, but continued to argue on the basis of the admittedly mutilated text. This was the second and far heavier stage of falsification, whose effects vitally assisted to promote the widespread corruption of theory and practice of social democracy throughout the world.

Falsification arose, third, when, after the passing away of the original conditions which had been held to justify and make necessary the temporary omissions, the Social Democratic leadership continued to publish the mutilated text, even in the 1920 edition, when the revolution had removed any possible plea of police reasons for not publishing the full text in their possession, and the only reason for continued mutilation was laid bear as deliberate falsification in order to distort Marxism. This was the final and culminating stage of falsification.

Engels lived to see the first stage of falsification of his whole line, as revealed in the Vorwärts article. He did not live to see the second and third stages of far more complete falsification. But he expressed his fury already against the first stage which he did see. From this it is easy to deduce what his fury would have been against the far heavier subsequent stages of falsification, whose shamelessness far outstripped the Vorwärts article. Engels’ anger at the falsification of his line in the Vorwärts article is legitimate evidence of his attitude to this entire falsification.

What was the basis of Engels’ anger over the Vorwärts article? Was it simply anger at the journalistic impropriety of publishing extracts beforehand without his permission? No; as he makes clear, his anger was over the falsification of his line on the vital question of legalism and violent revolution, the “shameful impression,” as Engels calls it in his letter to Kautsky of April 1st, that he is “made to appear a pacific worshipper of legality at any price.” When in the course of this letter he declares his satisfaction “that the whole now appears in the Neue Zeit” (the different translation of this that I gave in the March LABOUR MONTHLY is based on a variant reading of the text as given in the Unter dem Banner des Marxismus,” I, p.162; this does not, however, agree with the text as given in Kautsky’s “Weg zur Macht,” which must be accepted as correct, and I accordingly accept the version “the more pleased I am that now the whole appears in the Neue Zeit”) it is obvious that he is only referring to the relatively complete text due to appear in the Neue Zeit as against the extracts in the Vorwärts. That he is not thereby at all guaranteeing the textual exactness of the version in the Neue Zeit as a correct reproduction of his manuscript is clear beyond dispute (1) from Engels’ own statement a week earlier in his letter of March 25th, with direct reference to the printed proof in his hands, that “my text has suffered somewhat because of the scruples of our Berlin friends”; (2) from Kautsky’s statement that “German friends compelled the omission of the conclusion as too revolutionary,” and challenge to Bernstein to publish the suppressed conclusion as existing in Engels’ original manuscript in the possession of Bernstein.

The basis of Engels’ anger over the Vorwärts article is even more clearly demonstrated in the letter to Lafargue of April 3rd. What he objects to is precisely the attempt to draw universal general conclusions about the “avoidance of violence” from the special, temporary recommendations given by him for the German movement at a certain historical moment to exploit legalist methods and avoid provocation to a bloodbath planned by the bourgeoisie—tactics “purely and solely for present-day Germany,” but which “taken as a whole cannot be followed” in other countries and “in Germany can become inapplicable to-morrow.”

“X. has played me a dirty trick. He has taken from my Preface to Marx’s articles on France, 1848-50, everything that he considered useful for the defence of tactics of peacefulness at any price and avoidance of violence, which he is for some time now loving to preach, especially at the present moment when exceptional laws are being prepared in Berlin; whereas I recommend such tactics purely and solely for present-day Germany, and then only with essential reservations. In France, Belgium, Italy and Austria, these tactics, taken as a whole, cannot be followed, and in Germany they can become inapplicable to-morrow”. (italics in the original—Engels to Lafargue, April 3rd, 1895, printed by Lafargue in Le Socialiste, 24th November, 1900).

The special tactics recommended in the Preface are thus “purely and solely for present-day Germany.” In other countries “these tactics, taken as a whole, cannot be followed.” Even in Germany “they can become inapplicable to-morrow.” Thus Engels issued the most emphatic warning against any attempt to draw any general conclusion, applicable to other countries or other times, on the question of violent revolution from the special legality tactics contained in this Preface. Yet this, against which Engels expressed his anger and his warning, is exactly what the Revisionists and distorters of Marxism have ever since done in every country in the world on the basis of this Preface. This complete falsification of Engels’ line would have been smashed and made impossible from the outset, had the suppressed passages, which the “German friends” against Engels’ wish held back from publication as “too revolutionary;” been at any rate published as soon as the temporary diplomatic reasons for with holding them were passed, and above all as soon as the controversy had begun, when Kautsky challenged Bernstein to publish them. From this point the continued suppression, above all when Engels was no longer alive to defend his views against calumny, became criminal falsification of a basic document of Marxism.

Finally, the last question remains. Do the suppressed passages, or do they not, throw a decisive light on the line of Engels in this Preface on the question of violent revolution and armed insurrection, destroying once and for all the myths and legends which Bernstein and all his successors have endeavoured to build up on the basis of the distorted Preface, the myth that Marx and Engels in their later years abandoned the line of violent revolution and armed struggle as obsolete, the myth that Engels, in the phrase of this S.L.P. disciple of Bernstein, “was definitely opposed to the use of insurrectionary methods by the working class under modern conditions. Armed revolt and barricade battles were regarded by him as obsolete and foredoomed to disastrous failure. He condemned them as sheer lunacy?”

On this question also there can be no doubt of the answer. Six passages, in all of the original manuscript were struck out by the “German friends” as “too revolutionary.” All these refer to future decisive struggles outside legal forms, and for which the legal massing of forces is only preparatory. Two refer specifically to “future street struggles” and the conditions of their success. It is sufficient to quote the most important. This follows after the well-known passage on the rebuilding of the modern capitals with wide, straight streets and its significance:

“The newly built quarters of the large cities, erected since 1848, have been laid out in long, straight, wide streets, as if made for the effective use of the cannon and rifles. The revolutionary would be mad who would of himself select the new working class districts of the north and east of Berlin for barricade struggle.”

But immediately after this Engels continues, as if anticipating the misuse that might be made of this passage by defeatists and legalists, and just these following sentences were struck out by the “German friends” as “too revolutionary”:

“Does this mean that in the future the street struggle has no role to play? Not at all. It only means that the conditions since 1848 are far more unfavourable for the insurrectionaries, far more favourable for the military. Accordingly, a street struggle can only be victorious, if this unfavourable nature of the situation is compensated for by other factors. Therefore it will more seldom come in the beginning of a great revolution than in its later developments, and must be undertaken with greater forces. These, however, will then probably, as in the great French Revolution, on September 4th and on October 31st in Paris, prefer the method of open attack to the passive barricade tactics.”

The exact correctness of every feature of this estimate was shown in the October Revolution. It is obvious that this passage completely smashes all the distortions of Bernstein and his followers, and proclaims once more, in 1895, in this final utterance of Engels a few months before his death, the Marxist line of armed insurrection and civil war in the decisive revolutionary struggle, the line carried on by Lenin and by the Communist International, and denied only by those who have abandoned Marxism.

The facts concerning Engels’ line in this Preface, and the suppression and eventual falsification by the Social Democratic leadership, are so clear that no one honestly facing the facts has any longer any excuse to fail to recognise the truth.

R. P. Dutt.



1. Marxism After Fifty Years: by R. Palme Dutt. Labour Monthly Pamphlet Series No. 1., 2d. each; 1 doz., 1/6; 50 copies, 6/3 (7/- post free).