Letters of Marx and Engels 1844

Letter from Engels to Marx

in Paris

Written: [Barmen, beginning of October 1844]
First Published: abridged in Die Neue Zeit, Bd. 2, No.44, Stuttgart, 1900-01 and in full in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Bd. 1, Stuttgart, 1913;
Transcribed: Ken Campbell;
HTML Markup: S. Ryan.

Dear Marx,

No doubt you are surprised, and justifiably so, not to have heard from me sooner; however I still cannot tell you even now anything about my return. I’ve been stuck here in Barmen for the past three weeks, amusing myself as best I can with few friends and many relations amongst whom, fortunately, there are half a dozen amiable women. Work is out of the question here, more especially since my sister [Marie] has become engaged to the London communist, Emil Blank, an acquaintance of Ewerbeck’s and, of course, the house is now in a hellish state of turmoil. Moreover, it’s clear to me that considerable obstacles will continue to be placed in the way of my return to Paris, and that I may well have to spend six months or a whole year hanging about in Germany; I shall, of course, do everything I can to avoid this, but you have no idea what petty considerations and superstitious fears I have to contend with.

I spent three days in Cologne and marvelled at the tremendous propaganda we had put out there. Our people are very active, but the lack of adequate backing is greatly felt. Failing a few publications in which the principles are logically and historically developed out of past ways of thinking and past history, and as their necessary continuation, the whole thing will remain rather hazy and most people will be groping in the dark. Later I was in Duesseldorf, where we also have some able fellows. The ones I like best, by the way, are my Elberfelders, in whom a humane way of thinking has truly become second nature; these fellows have really begun to revolutionise their family lives and lecture their elders whenever these try to come the aristocrat over the servants or workmen – and that’s saying a great deal in patriarchal Elberfeld. But besides this particular group there’s another in Elberfeld which is also very good, though somewhat more muddled. In Barmen the police inspector is a communist. The day before yesterday I was called on by a former schoolfellow, a grammar school teacher [1] , who’s been thoroughly bitten although he’s had no contact whatever with communists. If we could bring direct influence to bear on the people, we’d soon get the upper hand, but such a thing is virtually impossible, especially since we writers have to keep quiet if we’re not to be nabbed. Otherwise it’s safe enough here, no one bothers much about us so long as we keep quiet, and it seems to me that Hess’ fears are little more than phantoms. I’ve not been molested at all here so far, although the public prosecutor once insistently questioned one of our people about me, but up till now I haven’t had wind of anything else.

According to the paper here, Bernays [2] has been charged by the government here and taken to court in Paris. Let me know whether this is true, and also how the pamphlet [3] is getting on; presumably it’s finished by now. Nothing has been heard of the Bauers here, nobody knows anything about them. On the other hand, every one is still scrambling to get hold of the Jahrbücher. [4] My article on Carlyle [5] has, absurdly enough, earned me a tremendous reputation among the ‘mass’, whereas only very few have read the one on Economy. [6] That’s natural enough.

In Elberfeld, too, the clerical gentry have been preaching against us, at least Krummacher has; for the present they confine themselves to the atheism of the young, but I hope this will soon be followed by a philippic against communism. Last summer the whole of Elberfeld talked of nothing but these godless fellows. By and large, the movement here is remarkable. Since I was here last [7] , the Wupper valley has made greater progress in every respect than in the preceding fifty years. Social manners have become more civilised, participation in politics, in the opposition is widespread, industry has made enormous progress, new districts have been added to the towns, entire woods have been grubbed up, and the level of civilisation throughout the region is indeed above rather than below that in Germany as a whole, whereas only four years ago it was far lower. In other words this promises to be first-rate soil for our principle, and if only we can get our wild, hot-blooded dyers and bleachers on the move, the Wupper valley will surprise you yet. As it is, the workers had already reached the final stage of the old civilisation a few years ago, and the rapid increase in crime, robbery and murder is their way of protesting against the old social organisation. At night the streets are very unsafe, the bourgeoisie is beaten, stabbed and robbed; and, if the proletarians here develop according to the same laws as in England, they will soon realise that this way of protesting as individuals and with violence against the social order is useless, and they will protest, through communism, in their general capacity as human beings. If only one could show these fellows the way! But that’s impossible.

My brother [Hermann] is at present a soldier in Cologne and, so long as he remains above suspicion, will provide a good address to which letters for Hess, etc., may be sent. At the moment I myself am not sure of his exact address and cannot therefore let you have it.

Since writing the above I have been in Elberfeld, where I once again came across several communists I had never heard of before. Turn where you will, go where you may, you’ll stumble on a communist. A very impassioned communist, a cartoonist and aspiring historical painter by the name of Seel will be going to Paris in two months’ time. I’ll direct him to you; the fellow’s enthusiasm and his painting and love of music will appeal to you, and he may very well come in useful as a cartoonist. It’s possible, but not very probable, that I may be there myself by then.

A few copies of Vorwarts! [8] arrive here and I have seen to it that others place orders as well; ask the dispatch department to send specimen copies to the following in Elberfeld: Richard Roth, Captain Wilhelm Blank junior, F. W. Strijeker, Meyer, a Bavarian publican in the Funkenstrasse (a communist beerhouse), all to be sent through Baedeker, the communist bookseller, and under sealed cover. Once the fellows see that copies are coming in, they, too, will place orders. Also to W. Mueller, M.D., in Duesseldorf; and, if you like, to d’Ester, M.D., Loellchen, [9] the publican, your brother-in-law[10], etc., in Cologne. All of them, of course, through the booksellers and under sealed cover.

See to it that the material you’ve collected is soon launched into the world.[11] It’s high time, heaven knows! I too shall settle down to work and make a start this very day. The Teutons are all still very muddled about the practicability of communism; to dispose of this absurdity I intend to write a short pamphlet showing that communism has already been put into practice and describing in popular terms how this is at present being done in England and America. [12] The thing will take me three days or so, and should prove very enlightening for these fellows. I’ve already observed this when talking to people here.

Down to work, then, and quickly into print! Convey my greetings to Ewerbeck, Bakunin, Guerrier and the rest, not forgetting your wife, and write very soon to tell me all the news. If this letter reaches you safely and unopened, send your reply under sealed cover to F. W. Struecker and Co., Elberfeld, with the address written in as commercial a hand as possible; otherwise, to any of the other addresses I gave Ewerbeck. I shall be curious to know whether the postal sleuth-hounds are deceived by the ladylike appearance of this letter.

Goodbye for the present, dear Karl, and write very soon. I have not been able to recapture the mood of cheerfulness and goodwill I experienced during the ten days I spent with you. I have not as yet had any real opportunity of doing anything about the establishment we are to establish. [13]


BACKGROUND: This is the earliest extant letter of Engels to Marx, written soon after Engels’ return to Germany from England. On his way back to Germany, at the end of August 1844, he stopped in Paris, where he met Marx. During the days they spent together they discovered that their theoretical views coincided, and they immediately began their first joint work, directed against the Young Hegelians. Engels finished his part before leaving Paris, while Marx continued to write his. At first, they intended to call the book A Critique of Critical Criticism. Against Bruno Bauer and Co. But while it was being printed, Marx added The Holy Family to the title.

This meeting of Marx and Engels in Paris marked the beginning of their friendship, joint scientific work and revolutionary struggle.

The extant original of this letter bears no date. The approximate time of its writing was determined on the basis of Engels’ letter to Marx of November 19 1844.

This letter was printed in English in full for the first time in: Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondences, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1955.

1. Gustav Wurm.

2. Karl Bernays, one of the editors of the German newspaper Vorwärts!, published in Paris, was sued by the French authorities in September 1844 at the request of the Prussian Government for not having paid the caution-money required for the publication of a political newspaper. The real reason, however, was the article ‘Attentat auf den König von Prüssen’, published in Vorwärts!, No. 62, 3 August 1844. On 13 December 1844 Bernays was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and a fine.

3. K. Marx and F. Engels, The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism.

4. Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher

5. F. Engels, ‘The Condition of England. Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle.’

6. F. Engels, ‘Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy’.

7. Engels left Germany in November 1842 and lived for nearly two years in England, working in the office of a Manchester cotton-mill of which the father was co-proprietor.

8. In July 1844, Marx began to contribute to the newspaper Vorwarts!, which prior to that – from early 1844 to the summer of the same year – reflected the moderate liberalism of its publisher, the German businessman H. Boernstein, and its editor A. Bornstedt. However, when Karl Bernays, a friend of Marx, became its editor in the summer of 1844, the newspaper assumed a democratic character. By contributing to the newspaper, Marx began to influence its policy and in September became one of its editors. Other contributors were Engels, Heine, Herwegh, Ewerbeck and Bakunin. Under Marx’s influence, the newspaper came to express communist views and attacked Prussian absolutism and moderate German liberalism. At the behest of the Prussian Government, the Guizot ministry took repressive measures against its editors and contributors in January 1845, when publication ceased.

9. J. A. Loellgen

10. Edgar von Westphalen.

11. Engels is referring to Kritik der Politik und National-ökonomie, a work which Marx planned to write. Marx began to study political economy at the end of 1843 and by spring 1844 he set himself the task of writing a criticism of bourgeois political economy from the standpoint of materialism and communism. The draft "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844", written at that time, have reached us incomplete. Work on The Holy Family forced Marx to temporarily interrupt his study of political economy until December 1844. In February 1845, just before his expulsion from Paris, he signed a contract for his Kritik der Politik und National-ökonomie with the publisher Leske. In Brussels, Marx continued to study the works of English, French, German, Italian and other economists and added several more notebooks of excerpts to those compiled in Paris, although his original plan for the book was not carried out.

12. F. Engels, ‘Description of Recently Founded Communist Colonies Still in Existence’ was published in the Deutsches Burgerbuch fur 1845 and not in pamphlet form.

13. This seems to refer to some literary plan.