V. I.   Lenin

Preface to the Russian Translation of Letters by Johannes Becker, Joseph Dietzgen, Frederick Engels, Karl Marx, and Others to Friedrich Sorge and Others

Written: Written on April 6 (19), 1907
Published: Published in 1907 in the book Letters by Johannes Becker, Joseph Dietzgen, Frederick Engels, Karl Marx, and Others to Friedrich Sorge and Others. Published by P. G. Dauge, St. Petersburg. Signed: N. Lenin. Published according to the text in the book.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 12, pages 359-378.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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The collection of letters by Marx, Engels, Dietzgen, Becker and other leaders of the international working-class movement in the last century, here presented to the Russian public, is an indispensable complement to our advanced Marxist literature.

We shall not here dwell in detail on the importance of these letters for the history of socialism and for a comprehensive treatment of the activities of Marx and Engels. This aspect of the matter requires no explanation. We shall only remark that an understanding of the letters published calls for acquaintance with the principal works on the history of the International (see Jaeckh, The International, Russian translation in the Znaniye edition), and also the history of the German and the American working-class movements (see Franz Mehring, History of German Social-Democracy, and Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States), etc.

Nor do we intend here to attempt to give a general outline of the contents of this correspondence or an appreciation of the various historical periods to which it relates. Mehring has done this extremely well in his article, Der Sorgesche Briefwechsel (Neue Zeit, 25. Jahrg., Nr. 1 und 2),[1] which will probably be appended to the present translation by the publisher, or else will be issued as a separate Russian publication.

Of particular interest to Russian socialists in the present revolutionary period are the lessons which the militant proletariat must draw from an acquaintance with the intimate aspects of the activities of Marx and Engels in the   course of nearly thirty years (1867-95). It is, therefore, not surprising that the first attempts made in our Social-Democratic literature to acquaint readers with the letters from Marx and Engels to Sorge were also linked up with the “burning” issues of Social-Democratic tactics in the Russian revolution (Plekhanov’s Sovremennaya Zhizn and the Menshevik Otkliki[4]). And we intend to draw our readers’ attention particularly to an appreciation of those passages in the published correspondence that are specially important from the viewpoint of the present tasks of the workers’ party in Russia.

In their letters, Marx and Engels deal most frequently with the pressing problems of the British, American and German working-class movements. This is natural, because they were Germans who at that time lived in England and corresponded with their American comrade. Marx expressed himself much more frequently and in much greater detail on the French working-class movement, and particularly the Paris Commune, in the letters he wrote to the German Social-Democrat Kugelmann.[2]

It is highly instructive to compare what Marx and Engels said of the British, American and German working-class movements. Such comparison acquires all the greater importance when we remember that Germany on the one hand, and Britain and America on the other, represent different stages of capitalist development and different forms of domination of the bourgeoisie, as a class, over the entire political life of those countries. From the scientific point of view, we have here a sample of materialist dialectics, the ability to bring to the forefront and stress the various points, the various aspects of the problem, in application to the specific features of different political and economic conditions. From the point of view of the practical policy and tactics of the workers’ party, we have here a sample of the way in which the creators of the Communist Manifesto defined the tasks of the fighting proletariat in accordance with the different states of the national working-class movements in the different countries.

What Marx and Engels criticise most. sharply in British and American socialism is its isolation from the working-class movement. The burden of all their numerous comments on the Social-Democratic Federation in Britain and on the American socialists is the accusation that they have reduced Marxism to a dogma, to “rigid [starre] orthodoxy”, that they consider it “a credo and not a guide to action”,[5] that they are incapable of adapting themselves to the theoretically helpless, but living and powerful mass working-class movement that is marching alongside them. “Had we from 1864 to 1873 insisted on working together only with those who openly adopted our platform,” Engels exclaimed in his letter of January 27, 1887, “where should we be today?”[6] And in the preceding letter (December 28, 1886), he wrote, with reference to the influence of Henry George’s ideas on the American working class:

“A million or two of working men’s votes next November for a bona fide working men’s party is worth infinitely more at present than a hundred thousand votes for a doctrinally perfect platform.”

These are very interesting passages. There are Social Democrats in our country who have hastened to utilise them in defence of the idea of a “labour congress” or something in the nature of Larin’s “broad labour party”. Why not in defence of a “Left bloc”? we would ask these precipitate “utilisers” of Engels. The letters the quotations are taken from refer to a time when American workers voted at the elections for Henry George. Mrs. Wischnewetzky—an American woman married to a Russian and translator of Engels’s works—had asked him, as may be seen from Engels’s reply, to give a thorough criticism of Henry George. Engels wrote (December 28, 1886) that the time had not yet arrived for that, the main thing being that the workers’ party should begin to organise itself, even if not on an entirely pure programme. Later on, the workers would themselves come to understand what was amiss, “would learn from their own mistakes”, but “any thing that might delay or prevent that national consolidation of the workingmen’s party—on no matter what platform—I should consider a great mistake...”.[7]

It goes without saying that Engels had a perfect understanding, and frequently spoke, of the absurdity and reactionary   character of Henry George’s ideas, from the socialist point of view. The Sorge correspondence contains a most interesting letter from Karl Marx dated June 20, 1881, in which he characterised Henry George as an ideologist of the radical bourgeoisie. “Theoretically the man is utterly backward” (total arrière), wrote Marx.[8] Yet Engels was not afraid to join with this socialist reactionary in the elections, so long as there were people who could tell the masses of “the consequences of their own mistakes” (Engels, in the letter dated November 29, 1886).[9]

Regarding the Knights of Labour, an organisation of American workers existing at that time, Engels wrote in the same letter: “The weakest [literally: rottenest, faulste] side of the Knights of Labor. was their political neutrality.... The first great step, of importance for every country newly entering into the movement, is always the constitution of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is a distinct workers’ party.”[10]

It is obvious that from this nothing at all can be deduced in defence of a leap from Social-Democracy to a non-party labour congress, etc. But whoever would escape Engels’s accusation of reducing Marxism to a “dogma”, “orthodoxy”, “sectarianism”, etc., must conclude from it that a joint election campaign with radical “social-reactionaries” is sometimes permissible.

But what is more interesting, of course, is to dwell not so much on these American-Russian parallels (we had to refer to them so as to reply to our opponents), as on the fundamental features of the British and American working-class movements. These features are: the absence of any big, nation-wide, democratic tasks facing the proletariat; the proletariat’s complete subordination to bourgeois politics; the sectarian isolation of groups, of mere handfuls of socialists, from the proletariat; not the slightest socialist success among the working masses at the elections, etc. Whoever forgets these fundamental conditions and sets out to draw broad conclusions from “American-Russian parallels”, displays the greatest superficiality.

If Engels laid so much stress on the workers’ economic organisations in these conditions, it was because the most firmly established democratic systems were under discussion,   and these confronted the proletariat with purely socialist tasks.

Engels stressed the importance of an independent workers’ party, even with a poor programme, because he was speaking of countries where there had formerly been not even a hint of the workers’ political independence and where, in politics, the workers mostly dragged along behind the bourgeoisie, and still do.

It would be making mock of Marx’s historical method to attempt to apply conclusions drawn from such arguments to countries or historical situations where the proletariat has formed its party prior to the liberal bourgeoisie forming theirs, where the tradition of voting for bourgeois politicians is absolutely unknown to the proletariat, and where the immediate tasks are not socialist but bourgeois-democratic.

Our idea will become even clearer to the reader if we compare Engels’s opinions on the British and American movements with his opinions on the German movement.

Such opinions, of the greatest interest, abound in the published correspondence too. And running like a scarlet thread through all these opinions is something vastly different—a warning against the “Right wing” of the workers’ party, a merciless (sometimes—as with Marx in 1877-79—a furious) war against opportunism in Social-Democracy.

Let us first corroborate this by quoting from the letters, and then proceed to an appraisal of this fact.

First of all, we must here note the opinions expressed by Marx on Höchberg and Co. In his article Der Sorgesche Briefwechsel, Franz Mehring attempts to tone down Marx’s attacks—as well as Engels’s later attacks—against the opportunists and, in our opinion, rather overdoes it. As regards Höchberg and Co., in particular, Mehring insists on his view that Marx’s judgement of Lassalle and the Lassalleans was wrong. But, we repeat, what interests us here is not an historical assessment of whether Marx’s attacks against particular socialists were correct or exaggerated, but Marx’s assessment in principle, of definite trends in socialism in general.

While complaining about the German Social-Democrats’ compromises with the Lassalleans and Dühring (letter of October 19, 1877), Marx also condemns the compromise   "with a whole gang of half-mature students and super-wise diploma’d doctors [in German “doctor” is an academic degree corresponding to our “candidate” or “university graduate, class I”], who want to give socialism a ’higher, idealistic’ orientation, that is to say, to replace its materialistic basis (which demands serious objective study from anyone who tries to use it) by modern mythology with its goddesses of Justice, Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Dr. Höchberg, who publishes the Zukunft, is a representative of this tendency, and has ’bought his day’ into the Party—with the ’noblest’ intentions, I assume, but I do not give a damn for ’intentions’. Anything more miserable than his programme of the Zukunft has seldom seen the light of day with more ’modest presumption’.” (Letter No. 70.)[11]

In another letter, written almost two years later (September 19, 1879), Marx rebutted the gossip that Engels and he stood behind J. Most, and gave Sorge a detailed account of his attitude towards the opportunists in the German Social-Democratic Party. Zukunft was run by Höchberg, Schramm and Eduard Bernstein. Marx and Engels refused to have anything to do with such a publication, and when the question was raised of establishing a new Party organ with the participation of this same Höchberg and with his financial assistance, Marx and Engels first demanded the acceptance of their nominee, Hirsch, as editor-in-chief, to exercise control over this “mixture of doctors, students and Katheder-Socialists”[12] and then addressed a circular letter directly to Bebel, Liebknecht and other leaders of the Social-Democratic Party, warning them that they would openly combat “such a vulgarisation [Verluderung—an even stronger word in German] of Party and theory”, if the Höchberg, Schramm and Bernstein trend did not change.

This was the period in the German Social-Democratic Party which Mehring described in his History as “A Year of Confusion” ("Ein Jahr der Verwirrung”). After the Anti-Socialist Law, the Party did not at once find the right path, first swinging over to the anarchism of Most and the opportunism of Höchberg and Co. “These people,” Marx wrote of the latter, “nonentities in theory and useless in practice, want to draw the teeth of socialism (which they have fixed up in accordance with the university recipes) and particularly   of the Social-Democratic Party, to enlighten the workers or, as they put it, to imbue them with ’elements of education’ from their confused half-knowledge, and above all to make the Party respectable in the eyes of the petty bourgeoisie. They are just wretched counter revolutionary windbags.”[13]

The result of Marx’s “furious” attack was that the opportunists retreated and—made themselves scarce. In a letter dated November 19, 1879, Marx announced that Höchberg had been removed from the editorial committee and that all the influential leaders of the Party—Bebel, Liebknecht, Bracke, etc.[14]—had repudiated his ideas. Sozial-Demokrat, the Social-Democratic Party organ, began to appear under the editorship of Vollmar, who at that time belonged to the revolutionary wing of the Party. A year later (November 5, 1880), Marx related that he and Engels constantly fought the “miserable” way in which Sozial-Demokrat was being conducted, and often expressed their opinion sharply (“wobei’s oft scharf hergeht”). Liebknecht visited Marx in 1880 and promised that there would be an “improvement” in all respects.[15]

Peace was restored, and the war never came out into the open. Höchberg withdrew, and Bernstein became a revolutionary Social-Democrat—at least until the death of Engels in 1895.

On June 20, 1882, Engels wrote to Sorge and spoke of this struggle as being a thing of the past: “In general, things in Germany are going splendidly. It is true that the literary gentlemen in the Party tried to cause a reactionary

swing, but they failed miserably. The abuse to which the Social-Democratic workers are being everywhere subjected has made them still more revolutionary than they were three years ago.... These people [the Party literary people] wanted at all costs to beg and secure the repeal of the Anti-Socialist Law by mildness and meekness, fawning and humility, because it has made short shrift of their literary earnings. As soon as the law is repealed ... the split will apparently become an open one, and the Vierecks and Höchbergs will form a separate Right wing, where they can, from time to time, be treated with, until they finally land on their backsides. We announced this immediately   after the adoption of the Anti-Socialist Law, when Höchberg and Schramm published in the Yearbook what was a most infamous judgement of the work of the Party and demanded more cultivated [“jebildetes” instead of gebildetes—Engels is alluding to the Berlin accent of the German writers], refined and elegant behaviour of the Party.”[16]

This forecast of Bernsteinism, made in 1882, was strikingly confirmed in 1898 and subsequent years.

And after that, and particularly after Marx’s death, Engels, it may be said without exaggeration, was untiring in his efforts to straighten out what was being distorted by the German opportunists.

The end of 1884. The “petty-bourgeois prejudices” of the German Social-Democratic Reichstag deputies, who had voted for the steamship subsidy ("Dampfersubvention”, see Mehring’s History), were condemned. Engels informed Sorge that he had to correspond a great deal on this subject (letter of December 31, 1884).[17]

1885. Giving his opinion of the whole affair of the “Dampfersubvention”, Engels wrote (June 3) that “it almost came to a split”. The “philistinism” of the Social-Democratic deputies was “colossal”. “A petty-bourgeois socialist parliamentary group is inevitable in a country like Germany,” said Engels.[18]

1887. Engels replied to Sorge, who had written to him, that the Party was disgracing itself by electing such deputies as Viereck (a Social-Democrat of the Höchberg type). Engels excused himself, saying that there was nothing to be done, the workers’ Party could not find good deputies for the Reichstag. “The gentlemen of the Right wing know that they are being tolerated only because of the Anti-Socialist Law, and that they will be thrown out of the Party the very day the Party again secures freedom of action.” And, in general, it was preferable that “the Party should be better than its parliamentary heroes, than the other way round” (March 3, 1887). Liebknecht is a conciliator—Engels complained—he always uses phrases to gloss over differences. But when it comes to a split, he will be with us at the decisive moment.[19]

1889. Two international Social-Democratic congresses in Paris. The opportunists (headed by the French Possibilists[20])   split away from the revolutionary Social-Democrats. Engels (who was then sixty-eight years old) flung himself into the fight with the ardour of youth. A number of letters (from January 12 to July 20, 1889) were devoted to the fight against the opportunists. Not only they, but. also the Germans—Liebknecht, Bebel and others—were flagellated for their conciliatory attitude.

The Possibilists had sold themselves to the French Government, Engels wrote on January 12, 1889. And he accused the members of the British Social-Democratic Federation (S.D.F.) of having allied themselves with the Possibilists.[21] “The writing and running about in connection with this damned congress leave me no time for anything else” (May 11, 1889). The Possibilists are busy, but our people are asleep, Engels wrote angrily. Now even Auer and Schippel are demanding that we attend the Possibilist congress. But “at last” this opened Liebknecht’s eyes. Engels, together with Bernstein, wrote pamphlets (they were signed by Bernstein but Engels called them “our pamphlets”) against the opportunists.[22]

“With the exception of the S.D.F., the Possibilists have not a single socialist organisation on their side in the whole of Europe. [June 8, 1889.] They are consequently falling back on the non-socialist trade unions” (this for the information of those who advocate a broad labour party, a labour congress, etc., in our country!). “From America they will get one Knight of Labor.” The adversary was the same as in the fight against the Bakuninists[23]: “only with this difference that the banner of the anarchists has been replaced by the banner of the Possibilists: the selling of principles to the bourgeoisie for small-scale concessions, especially in return for well-paid jobs for the leaders (on the city councils, labour exchanges, etc.).” Brousse (the leader of the Possibilists) and Hyndman (the leader of the S.D.F. which had joined with the Possibilists) attacked “authoritarian Marxism” and wanted to form the “nucleus of a new International”.

“You can have no idea of the naïveté of the Germans. It has cost me tremendous effort to explain even to Bebel what it all really meant” (June 8, 1889).[24] And when the two congresses met, when the revolutionary Social-Democrats   outnumbered the Possibilists (who had united with the trade-unionists, the S.D.F., a section of the Austrians, etc.), Engels was jubilant (July 17, 1889).[25] He was glad that the conciliatory plans and proposals of Liebknecht and others had failed (July 20, 1889). “It serves our sentimental conciliatory brethren right that, for all their amicableness, they received a good kick in their tenderest spot. This may cure them for some time.”[26]

...Mehring was right when he said (Der Sorgesche Briefwechsel) that Marx and Engels did not have much idea of good manners”: “If they did not think long over every blow they dealt, neither did they whimper over every blow they received.” “If they think their needle pricks can pierce my old, thick and well-tanned hide, they are mistaken,”[27] Engels once wrote. And they assumed that others possessed the imperviousness they had themselves acquired, Mehring said of Marx and Engels.

1893. The chastisement of the Fabians, which suggests itself when passing judgement on the Bernsteinians (for did not Bernstein “evolve” his opportunism in England making use of the experience of the Fabians?). “The Fabians here in London are a band of careerists who have understanding enough to realise the inevitability of the social revolution, but who could not possibly entrust this gigantic task to the raw proletariat alone, and are therefore kind enough to set themselves at the head. Fear of the revolution is their fundamental principle. They are the ’educated’ par excellence. Their socialism is municipal socialism; not the nation but the community is to become the owner of the means of production, at any rate for the time being. This socialism of theirs is then presented as an extreme but inevitable consequence of bourgeois liberalism; hence their tactics, not of decisively opposing the Liberals as adversaries but of pushing them on towards socialist conclusions and therefore of intriguing with them, of permeating liberalism with socialism—not of putting up socialist candidates against the Liberals but of fastening them on to the Liberals, forcing them upon the Liberals, or swindling them into taking them. They do not of course realise that in doling this they are either lied to and themselves deceived or else are lying about socialism.

“With great industry they have published, amid all sorts of rubbish, some good propagandist writing as well, this in fact being the best the English have produced in this field. But as soon as they get on to their specific tactics of hushing up the class struggle, it all turns putrid. Hence their fanatical hatred of Marx and all of us—because of the class struggle.

“These people have of course many bourgeois followers and therefore money....”[28]

How the Classics Estimated Intellectualist Opportunism in Social-Democracy

1894. The Peasant Question. “On the Continent,” Engels wrote on November 10, 1894, “success is developing the appetite for more success, and catching the peasant, in the literal sense of the word, is becoming the fashion. First the French, in Nantes, declare through Lafargue not only ... that it is not our business to hasten ... the ruin of the small peasants, which capitalism is seeing to for us, but they add that we must directly protect the small peasant against taxation, usury, and landlords. But we cannot co-operate in this, first because it is stupid and second because it is impossible. Next, however, Vollmar comes along in Frankfort and wants to bribe the peasantry as a whole, though the peasant he has to deal with in Upper Bavaria is not the debt-ridden small peasant of the Rhineland, but the middle and even the big peasant, who exploits male and female farmhands, and sells cattle and grain in quantity. And that cannot be done without giving up the whole principle.”[29]

1894, December 4. "...The Bavarians, who have become very, very opportunistic and have almost turned into an ordinary people’s party (that is to say, the majority of leaders and many of those who have recently joined the Party), voted in the Bavarian Diet for the budget as a whole; and Vollmar in particular has started an agitation among the peasants with the object of winning the Upper Bavarian big peasants—people who own 25 to 80 acres of land (10 to 30 hectares) and who therefore cannot manage without wage labourers—instead of winning their farmhands.”[30]

We thus see that for more than ten years Marx and Engels systematically and unswervingly fought opportunism in the German Social-Democratic Party, and attacked intellectualist philistinism and the petty-bourgeois outlook in socialism. This is an extremely important fact. The general public know that German Social-Democracy is regarded as a model of Marxist proletarian policy and tactics, but they do not know what constant warfare the founders of Marxism had to wage against the “Right wing” (Engels’s expression) of that Party. And it is no accident that soon after Engels’s death this concealed war became an open one. This was an inevitable result of the decades of historical development of German Social-Democracy.

And now we very clearly perceive the two lines of Engels’s (and Marx’s) recommendations, directions, corrections, threats and exhortations. The most insistent of their appeals to the British and American socialists was to merge with the working-class movement and eradicate the narrow and hidebound sectarian spirit from their organisations. They were most insistent in teaching the German Social-Democrats to beware of succumbing to philistinism, “parliamentary idiocy” (Marx’s expression in the letter of September 19, 1879),[31] and petty-bourgeois intellectualist opportunism.

Is it not typical that our Social-Democratic gossips should have begun cackling about the recommendations of the first kind while remaining silent, holding their tongues, about the second? Is not such one-sidedness in appraising the letters of Marx and Engels the best indication of a certain Russian Social-Democratic ... “one-sidedness”?

At the present moment, when the international working-class movement is displaying symptoms of profound ferment and vacillation, when the extremes of opportunism, “parliamentary idiocy” and philistine reformism have evoked the other extremes of revolutionary syndicalism—the general line of Marx’s and Engels’s “corrections” to British and American and to German socialism acquires exceptional importance.

In countries where there are no Social-Democratic workers’ parties, no Social-Democratic members of parliament, and no systematic and steadfast Social-Democratic policy either   at elections or in the press, etc.—in such countries, Marx and Engels taught the socialists to rid themselves at all cost of narrow sectarianism, and to join with the working-class movement so as to shake up the proletariat politically. For in the last thirty years of the nineteenth century the proletariat displayed almost no political independence either in Britain or America. In these countries—where bourgeois-democratic historical tasks were almost entirely non-existent—the political arena was completely held by a triumphant and self-satisfied bourgeoisie, unequalled anywhere in the world in the art of deceiving, corrupting and bribing the workers.

To think that these recommendations, made by Marx and Engels to the British and American working-class movements, can be simply and directly applied to Russian conditions is to use Marxism not in order to achieve clarity on its method, not in order to study the concrete historical features of the working-class movement in definite countries, but in order to pay off petty, factional, and intellectualist scores.

On the other hand, in a country where the bourgeois-democratic revolution was still unconsummated, where “military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms” (Marx’s expression in his Critique of the Gotha Programme)[32] prevailed, and still does; where the proletariat had long ago been drawn into politics and was pursuing a Social-Democratic policy—in such a country what Marx and Engels most of all feared was parliamentary vulgarisation and philistine derogation of the tasks and scope of the working-class movement.

It is all the more our duty to emphasise and give prominence to this side of Marxism, in the period of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia, because in our country a vast, “brilliant” and rich liberal-bourgeois press is vociferously trumpeting to the proletariat the “exemplary” loyalty, parliamentary legality, the modesty and moderation of the neighbouring German working-class movement.

This mercenary lie of the bourgeois betrayers of the Russian revolution is not due to accident or to the personal depravity of certain past or future ministers in the Cadet   camp. It stems from the profound economic interests of the Russian liberal landlords and liberal bourgeois. And in combating this lie, this “stupefying of the masses” ("Massenverdummung”—Engels’s expression in his letter, of November 29, 1886),[33] the letters of Marx and Engels should serve as an indispensable weapon for all Russian socialists.

The mercenary lie of the liberal bourgeois holds up to the people the exemplary “modesty” of the German Social-Democrats. The leaders of these Social-Democrats, the founders of the theory of Marxism, tell us:

“The revolutionary language and action of the French have made the hypocrisy of Viereck and Co. [the opportunist Social-Democrats in the German Reichstag Social-Democratic group] sound quite feeble” (this was said in reference to the formation of a labour group in the French Chamber and to the Decazeville strike, which split the French Radicals from the French proletariat[34]). “Only Liebknecht and Bebel spoke in the last Socialist debate and both of th6m spoke well. We can with this debate once more show our selves in decent society, which was by no means the case with all of them. In general it is a good thing that the Germans’ leadership of the international socialist movement, particularly after they sent so many philistines to the Reichstag (which, it is true, was unavoidable), is being challenged. In Germany everything becomes philistine in peaceful times; and therefore the sting of French competition is absolutely necessary....” (Letter of April 29, 1886.)[35]

These are the lessons to be learnt most thoroughly by the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, which is predominantly under the ideological influence of German Social-Democracy.

These lessons are taught us not by any particular passage in the correspondence of the greatest men of the nineteenth century but by the whole spirit and substance of their comradely and frank criticism of the international experience of the proletariat, a criticism to which diplomacy and petty considerations were alien.

How far all the letters of Marx and Engels were indeed imbued with this spirit may also be seen from the following relatively specific but extremely typical passages.[36]

In 1889 a young and fresh movement of untrained and unskilled labourers (gasworkers, dockers, etc..) arose in Britain, a movement marked by a new and revolutionary spirit. Engels was delighted with it. He referred exultingly to the part played by Tussy, Marx’s daughter, who conducted agitation among these workers. "... The most repulsive thing here,” he says, writing from London on December 7, 1889, “is the bourgeois ’respectability’ which has grown deep into the bones of the workers. The division of society into innumerable strata, each recognised without question, each with its own pride but also its inborn respect for its ’betters’ and ’superiors’, is so old and firmly established that the bourgeois still find it fairly easy to get their bait accepted. I am not at all sure, for instance, that John Burns is not secretly prouder of his popularity with Cardinal Manning, the Lord Mayor, and the bourgeoisie in general than of his popularity with his own class. And Champion— an ex-lieutenant—intrigued years ago with bourgeois and especially with conservative elements, preached socialism at the parsons’ Church Congress, etc. And even Tom Mann, whom I regard as the best of the lot, is fond of mentioning that he will be lunching with the Lord Mayor. If one compares this with the French, one realises what a revolution is good for after all.”[37]

No comment is needed.

Another example. In 1891 there was danger of a European war. Engels corresponded on the subject with Bebel, and they agreed that in the event of Russia attacking Germany, the German socialists must desperately fight the Russians and any allies of the Russians. “If Germany is crushed, then we shall be too, while at best the struggle will be such a violent one that Germany will only be able to maintain herself by revolutionary means, so that very possibly we shall be forced to take the helm and stage a 1793.” (Letter of October 24, 1891.)[38]

Let this be noted by those opportunists who shouted from the house-tops that “Jacobin” prospects for the Russian workers’ party in 1905 were un-Social-Democratic! Engels squarely suggested to Bebel the possibility of the Social Democrats having to participate in a provisional government.

Holding such views on the tasks of Social-Democratic workers’ parties, Marx and Engels naturally possessed the most fervent faith in a Russian revolution and its great world significance. We see this ardent expectation of a revolution in Russia, in this correspondence, over a period of nearly twenty years.

Take Marx’s letter of September 27, 1877. He is quite enthusiastic about the Eastern crisis[39]: “Russia has long been standing on the threshold of an upheaval, all the elements of it are prepared.... The gallant Turks have hastened the explosion by years with the thrashing they have inflicted.... The upheaval will begin secundum artem [according to the rules of the art] with some playing at constitutionalism, et puis il y aura un beau tapage [and then there will be a fine row]. If Mother Nature is not particularly unfavourable towards us, we shall yet live to see the fun!”[40] (Marx was then fifty-nine years old).

Mother Nature did not—and could not very well—permit Marx to live “to see the fun”. But he foretold the “playing at constitutionalism”, and it is as though his words were written yesterday in relation to the First and Second Russian Dumas. And we know that the warning to the people against “playing at constitutionalism” was the “living soul” of the boycott tactics so detested by the liberals and opportunists....

Or take Marx’s letter of November 5, 1880. He was delighted with the success of Capital in Russia, and took the part of the members of the Narodnaya Volya organisation against the newly-arisen General Redistribution group.[41] Marx correctly perceived the anarchistic elements in their views. Not knowing and having then no opportunity of knowing the future evolution of the General-Redistribution Narodniks into Social-Democrats, Marx attacked them with all his trenchant sarcasm:

“These gentlemen are against all political-revolutionary action. Russia is to make a somersault into the anarchist-communist-atheist millennium! Meanwhile, they are preparing for this leap with the most tedious doctrinairism, whose so-called principes courent la rue depuis le feu Bakounine.”[42]

We can gather from this how Marx would have appreciated the significance for Russia of 1905 and the succeeding   years of Social-Democracy’s “political-revolutionary action”.[3]

There is a letter by Engels dated April 6, 1887: “On the other hand, it seems as if a crisis is impending in Russia. The recent attentates rather upset the apple-cart....” A letter of April 9, 1887, says the same thing.... “The army is full of discontented, conspiring officers. [Engels at that time was impressed by the revolutionary struggle of the Narodnaya Volya organisation; he set his hopes on the officers, and did not yet see the revolutionary spirit of the Russian soldiers and sailors, which was manifested so magnificently eighteen years later ....] I do not think things will last another year; and once it [the revolution] breaks out [losgeht] in Russia, then hurrah!”[43]

A letter of April 23, 1887: “In Germany there is persecution after persecution [of socialists]. It looks as if Bismarck wants to have everything ready, so that the moment the revolution breaks out [losgeschlagen werden] in Russia, which is now only a question of months, Germany could immediately follow her example.”[44]

The months proved to be very, very long ones. No doubt, philistines will be found who, knitting their brows and wrinkling their foreheads, will sternly condemn Engels’s “revolutionism”, or will indulgently laugh at the old utopias of the old revolutionary exile.

Yes, Marx and Engels made many and frequent mistakes in determining the proximity of revolution, in their hopes in the victory of revolution (e.g., in 1848 in Germany), in their faith in the imminence of a German “republic” (“to die for the republic”, wrote Engels of that period, recalling his sentiments as a participant in the military campaign for a Reich constitution in 1848-49[45]). They were mistaken in 1871 when they were engaged in “raising revolt in Southern France, for which they [Becker writes “we”, referring to himself and his closest friends: letter No. 14 of July 21,   1871] sacrificed and risked all that was humanly possible...”. The same letter says: “If we had had more means in March and April we would have roused the whole of Southern France and would have saved the Commune in Paris” (p. 29). But such errors—the errors of the giants of revolutionary thought, who sought to raise, and did raise, the proletariat of the whole world above the level of petty, commonplace and trivial tasks—are a thousand times more noble and magnificent and historically more valuable and true than the trite wisdom of official liberalism, which lauds, shouts, appeals and holds forth about the vanity of revolutionary vanities, the futility of the revolutionary struggle and the charms of counter-revolutionary “constitutional” fantasies....

The Russian working class will win their freedom and give an impetus to Europe by their revolutionary action, full though it be of errors—and let the philistines pride themselves on the infallibility of their revolutionary inaction.

April, 6, 1907


[1] “The Sorge Correspondence”, Neue Zeit, 25th year, Nos. 1 and 2.—Ed.

[2] See Letters of Karl Marx to Dr. Kugelmann, Russian translation edited by N. Lenin, with a foreword by the editor. St. Petersburg, 1907. (See pp. 104-12 of this volume.—Ed.)—Lenin

[3] Incidentally, if my memory does not deceive me, Plekhanov or V. I. Zasulich told me in 1900-03 about the existence of a letter from Engels to Plekhanov concerning Our Differences and the character of the impending revolution in Russia. It would be interesting to know exactly whether there was such a letter, whether it still exists, and whether the time has come to publish it.[46]Lenin

[4] Sovremennaya Zhizn (Contemporary Life)—a Menshevik journal published in Moscow from April 1906to March 1907.

Otkliki (Comments)—Menshevik symposia published in St. Petersburg in 1906 and 1907; three of them appeared.

[5] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 469.

[6] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 476-77.

[7] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 474-75.

[8] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 415.

[9] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 471.

[10] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 470. The Knights of Labour—The Noble Order of the Knights of Labour was an American working-class organisation founded in Philadelphia in 1869 by Uriah Smith Stephens, a tailor. Until   1881 the Knights of Labour was a secret organisation which united craft unions of various categories of skilled and unskilled workers irrespective of nationality. In 1874 non-workers were admitted to the organisation on the condition that their number did not exceed a quarter of the total membership (it was forbidden to accept lawyers, bankers, persons living entirely or partly from the production or sale of spirituous liquors, professional gamblers and stock market speculators). In 1884 the organisation had 70,000 members and by 1886 the number had increased to 700,000. The chief purpose of the Order was the education of workers and the defence of their interests through workers’ solidarity. The leadership of the Order constrained their members to refrain from the political struggle; they opposed the formation of a workers’ party, opposed the day-by-day economic struggle against the factory owners, but favoured collaboration with the employers and the settlement of disputes by arbitration and peaceful agreements. Even in the eighties, when the working-class movement had acquired strength and many strikes ended in victory for the workers, the leaders of the Knights of Labour retained their old position. They considered co-operation to be the one means of fighting all the evils of capitalism.

In 1886 the leaders of the Knights of Labour opposed the nation wide general strike of workers for the eight-hour day and although many rank-and-file members of the Order participated in the strike the leadership succeeded in breaking it by forbidding participation. The contradictions between the majority of the membership and the opportunist leaders grew more acute; after 1886 the Knights of Labour began to lose its influence among the masses and by the end of the nineties had ceased to exist.

Despite the treacherous policy of its leaders, the Noble Order of the Knights of Labour, especially in the early period of its existence, played an important role in the working-class movement of the U.S.A.

[11] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 375-76.

[12] Katheder-Socialists or Katheder-reformers—representatives of a trend in bourgeois political economy in the 1870s and 1880s who, under the guise of socialism, advocated bourgeois-liberal reformism from university chairs (Katheder in German). The fear aroused among the exploiting classes by the spread of Marxism and the growth of the working-class movement, as well as the efforts of bourgeois ideologists to find fresh means of keeping the working people in subjugation, brought Katheder-Socialism into being.

The Katheder-Socialists, among whom were Adolf Wagner, Gustav Schmoller, Lorenz Brentano, and Werner Sombart, asserted that the bourgeois state is above classes; that it can reconcile mutually hostile classes, and that it can gradually introduce “socialism”, without affecting the interests of the capitalists, while giving every possible consideration to the demands of the working   people. They suggested the legalisation of police-regulated wage-labour and the revival of the medieval guilds. Marx and Engels exposed Katheder-Socialism, showing how essentially reactionary it was. Lenin called the Katheder-Socialists the bedbugs of “police bourgeois university science” who hated Marx’s revolutionary teachings. In Russia the views of the Katheder-Socialists were disseminated by the “legal Marxists”.

[13] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 396.

[14] Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen an F. A. Sorge, Stuttgart, 1921, S. 164-65.

[15] Ibid., S. 169.

[16] Ibid., S. 183-84.

Yearbook of Social Science and Social Politics—published in Zurich in 1879 by the German reformist Social-Democrat K. Höchberg.

[17] There was a difference of opinion among the Social-Democratic deputies to the German Reichstag on the question of the steamship subsidies. At the end of 1884 Chancellor Bismarck demanded, in the interests of the German policy of colonial expansion, that the Reichstag institute a subsidy for shipping companies to organise regular shipping lines to East Asia, Australia and Africa. The Left wing of the Social-Democratic group, beaded by Bebel and Liebknecht, rejected the steamship subsidy, but the Right wing—Auer, Dietz and others, who constituted the majority—spoke in favour of granting the shipping companies a subsidy even before the official debates in the Reichstag. During the Reichstag discussion in March 1885, the Right wing of the Social-Democratic group voted in favour of opening shipping lines to East Asia and Australia; they based their agreement with Bismarck’s plan on the acceptance of some of their conditions, in particular the demand that the new ships should be built in German shipyards. It was only when the Reichstag rejected this demand that the whole Social-Democratic group voted against the government plan. The conduct of the majority of tile group was sharply criticised in the newspaper Sozial-Demokrat and by Social-Democratic organisations. The differences were so sharp that almost caused a split in the party and Engels subjected the opportunist position of the Right wing of the Social-Democratic group to scathing criticism. (See Marx and Engels, Briefe an Bebel, S. 384, 392; Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen an F. A. Sorge, S. 203; Marx and Engels, Briefe überDas Kapital”, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1953, 5. 294.)

[18] Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen an F. A. Sorge, 5. 203-04.

[19] Ibid., S. 256.

[20] Possibilists (Brousse, Benoit Malon, and others)—a petty—bourgeois trend in tile French socialist movement that distracted workers from revolutionary methods of struggle. In 1882, after the split in the French Workers’ Party at the Sainte Etienne Congress, the Possibilists organised the Workers’ Social-Revolutionary Party; they rejected the revolutionary programme and revolutionary tactics of the proletariat, ignored the socialist aims of the working-class movement and proposed limiting the workers’ struggle to the “possible”—hence the name of the party. The Possibilists were influential mainly in the economically more backward regions of France and among the less developed sections of the working class.

[21] Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen an F. A. Sorge, S. 307.

[22] Ibid., S. 311.

[23] Bakuninists—adherents of an anarchist trend hostile to Marxism. Named after its founder, Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876). The basic postulate of Bakuninism was the negation of the state as such, including the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Bakuninists held that the revolution was to take the form of immediate popular revolts directed by a secret revolutionary society, made up of “outstanding” individuals. The theory and the tactics of the Bakuninists were severely condemned by Marx and Engels. Lenin described Bakuninism as the world outlook “of the petty bourgeois who despairs of his salvation”. Bakuninism was one of the ideological sources of Narodism (see Note 22).

[24] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 486-87.

[25] Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen an F. A. Sorge, S. 316.

[26] Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen an F. A. Sorge, S. 319.

[27] Die Neue Zeit, 1907, 25. Jhrg., Erster Band, S. 13.

[28] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 537.

[29] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 557.

[30] Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen an F. A. Sorge, S. 415.

[31] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 397.

[32] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 33.

[33] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1935, p. 471.

[34] Decazeville strike—a strike of French coal-miners at Decazeville in January 4886 which was put down by government troops. Bourgeois members of the Chamber of Deputies, including Radicals, approved the government’s repressive measures. Working-class deputies left the Radical Party and formed an independent workers’ group in the Chamber.

[35] V. I. Lenin, On Britain, Moscow, 1959, p. 162.

[36] The remaining part of the “Introduction” (from the words “In 1889 a young, fresh movement...”) was published in the Bolshevik newspaper Nashe Ekho, No. 13, on April 8, 4907, with the following introductory paragraph:

“Correspondence between Marx and Engels and their friend and comrade-in-arms Sorge, who lives in America, is shortly to be published by P. Dauge. In view of the interest aroused by this publication we have taken the liberty of reprinting here that part of the introduction to the Russian translation of the book which deals with the attitude of Marx and Engels to the revolution they expected to take place in Russia. We shall begin with two typical passages by Engels on the significance of the French revolution and on the possible revolution in Germany.”

[37] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 491.

[38] Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen an F. A. Serge, S. 371.

[39] By “the Eastern crisis” Marx meant the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78.

[40] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 376.

[41] Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will) organisation—a secret political organisation of Narodnik terrorists which took shape in August 1879 following a split in the Zemlya i Volya (Land and Liberty) secret society. The organisation was headed by an Executive Committee which included among its members A. I. Zhelyabov, A. D. Mikhailov, M. F. Frolenko, N. A. Morozov, V. N. Figner, S. L. Perovskaya and A. A. Kvyatkovsky. The members of the Narodnaya Volya organisation continued to uphold utopian Narodnik socialism but at the same time entered the political struggle, considering the overthrow of the autocracy and the achievement of political liberty to be the most important tasks. Their programme envisaged “permanent popular representation” (i.e., parliament) established on tile basis of universal suffrage, the proclamation of democratic liberties, the transfer of the land to the   people and the elaboration of measures for the transfer of the factories to the workers. Narodnaya Volya”, wrote Lenin, “made a step forward by going over to the political struggle, but they did not succeed in linking it up with socialism.”

The Narodnaya Volya group conducted an heroic struggle against the autocracy, but it was based on the erroneous theory of “active” heroes and the “passive” mass; they expected to achieve the transformation of society without. the participation of the people, using only their own forces, by means of individual terror, and the intimidation and disorganisation of the government.

After March 1, 1881 (the assassination of Alexander II), the government crushed the Narodnaya Volya organisation by savage persecution, executions and acts of provocation. Repeated attempts were made to revive the Narodnaya Volya during the eighties, but all proved fruitless. In 1886, for example, a group was formed under the leadership of A. I. Ulyanov (brother of V. I. Lenin) and P. Y. Shevyrev, which adopted the traditions of the Narodnaya Volya. The group was uncovered after the unsuccessful attempt on the life of Alexander III in 1887, and its active members were executed.

Lenin criticised the erroneous utopian programme of the Narodnaya Volya but held in very high esteem the self-sacrificing struggle of its members against tsarism. He had a very high opinion of their technique of underground work and their strictly centralised organisation.

General Redistribution (G. V. Plekhanov, M. R. Popov, P. B. Axelrod, L. G. Deutsch, V. V. Stefanovich, V. I. Zasulich, 0. V. Aptekman, V. N. Ignatov, and later, A. P. Bulanov, and others)— an organisation that demanded in its programme the basic platform of the old Zemlya i Volya organisation, the equalitarian redistribution of all land among those who till it. Plekhanov, Deutsch, Zasulich, Stefanovich, and others went abroad in 1880 and there, as well as in Russia, issued the journal Chorny Peredel (General Redistribution) and the newspaper Zerno (Corn). Some of the General Redistribution group later went over to Marxism (Plekhanov, Axelrod, Zasulich, Deutsch, and Ignatov) and founded the first Russian Marxist organisation— the Emancipation of Labour group— in 1883; after March 1, 1881, the remainder of the group joined forces with the Narodnaya Volya.

[42] Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, p. 405.

The French passage reads: “principles have been hawked about the street ever since the time of the late Bakunin”.

[46] Engels wrote about the pamphlet “Our Differences” and about the forthcoming revolution in Russia in a letter to V. I. Zasulich dated April 23, 1885. The letter was first published in 1925 in the symposium “The Emancipation of Labour Group”, No. 3. (See Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1955, pp. 458-61.)

[43] Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen an F. A. Sorge, S. 260.

[44] Ibid., S. 262.

[45] Marx-Engels-Lenin, Zur deutschen Geschichte, Bd. II, 1. Halbband, Dietz Verlag, Berlin, 1954, S. 525.

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