Marx-Engels Correspondence 1851

Friedrich Engels to Karl Marx in London, 11 December 1851

Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Dear Marx

Herewith I am returning to you Reinhardt’s [1] letter as well as Pieper’s, [2] which I had held back for a while on account of the Cologne happenings.

It seems that the grand expedition of the 700 vagabonds to Paris which was announced with so much noise by the newspapers has not materialised. Furthermore little Louis Blanc, [3] according to his renewed groans of pain voiced in today’s Daily News, is for the time being in safety, even if allegedly not in London. The first jeremiad was divine in comparison with today’s. The French people – noble pride – indomitable courage – eternal love of liberty – honour to the courage of the unfortunate – thereupon the little fellow executes a half-turn to the right and preaches trust and union of the people and the bourgeoisie. See Proudhon, Appeal to the Bourgeoisie, page 2. [4] And the arguments he advances! If the insurgents were beaten it was because they were not the ‘true people'; the ‘true people’ cannot be beaten; and if the ‘true people’ did not fight it was because it did not want to fight for the National Assembly. One could of course reply that the ‘true people’, once victorious, would itself have been dictator, but having been taken by surprise it did not think of that, and after all, it has been fooled so often!

This is the old vulgar logic of the democrats, which gains ground every time the revolutionary party suffers defeat. The fact of the matter is, in my opinion, that the proletariat did not fight this time in a mass because it was fully aware of its own debility and impotence and it acquiesced with fatalistic resignation in a new cycle of republic, empire, restoration and a new revolution until it is able to gather new strength during a few years of wretchedness under a rule of maximum order. I do not say that this is how things will shape themselves, but this seems to me to have been the instinctive basic outlook that prevailed among the people of Paris on Tuesday [5] and Wednesday and after the restoration of the secret ballot and the subsequent retreat of the bourgeoisie on Friday. It is nonsense to say that this was no opportunity for the people. If the proletariat wants to wait until its own question is posed by the government, until a collision occurs in which the conflict will assume sharper and more definite forms than in June 1848, it will have to wait a long while. The last time the issue between proletariat and bourgeoisie was fairly plainly raised, was in connection with the 1850 election law, and the people preferred not to fight then. This and the perpetual pointing to 1852 in itself was proof of indolence, proof which, except in the case of a commercial crisis, was sufficient for us to make a pretty bad forecast also for 1852. Since the abolition of universal suffrage and since the ousting of the proletariat from the official stage it is really a bit too much to expect the official parties to put the issue in a way that will suit the proletariat. And how did the matter stand in February? [6] The people at that time kept just as much aloof from events as now. And it cannot be denied in the least that when the revolutionary party in a revolutionary development allows affairs to take decisive turns without any say of its own or, if it does take part, without however emerging victorious, one may be fairly certain that for some time it is to be considered as done for. Witness the insurrections after Thermidor and after 1830, [7] and the gentlemen who now so loudly proclaim that the ‘true people’ is biding its time run the risk of gradually landing in the same boat as the powerless Jacobins of 1795-99 and the Republicans of 1831-39 and of making themselves utterly ridiculous.

Nor can it be denied that the effect of the restoration of the secret ballot on the bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie and, finally, also on many proletarians (all the reports suggest that) has cast a peculiar light on the courage and insight of the Parisians. To many it obviously never occurred to think how silly the question posed by Louis Napoleon was and what guarantees there were that the vote would be recorded correctly; but most of them must have seen through this humbug and nevertheless persuaded themselves that everything was now all right merely in order to have a pretext for not fighting.

According to Reinhardt’s letter and the new revelations coming in daily about the infamies perpetrated by the soldiers and particularly about their excesses on the boulevards against any and all civilians, no matter who they were: workers or bourgeois, reds or Bonapartists; according to the accumulating reports about local insurrections even in the most remote corners where no one suspected resistance; and according to the letter of a French ex-deputy and merchant in yesterday’s Daily News, the Appeal to the People seems to be taking a turn that must be unpleasant to Bonaparte. The mass of the bourgeoisie in Paris really does not seem to relish this new regime with its imposition of transportation laws. Military terror is developing too rapidly and is too brazen. Two-thirds of France is in a state of siege. I believe that after all this the mass of the bourgeoisie will not vote at all, that this whole farce of a vote will end in nothing, because in all localities where the outcome is doubtful, where Louis Napoleon’s opponents will go to the polls in masses the gendarmes will start brawls with the voters so that the whole election there will be quashed. Then Louis Napoleon will declare France to be non compos mentis [8] and proclaim the army the only saviour of society. Then this whole dirty business will become perfectly clear, with Louis Napoleon stuck in the midst of it. But it is precisely during this election that the matter could take a very ugly turn if at that time serious resistance against an established government were still to be expected. That fellow is sure to receive a million votes from the officials and soldiers. Half a million Bonapartists, if not more, are also in the country. Half a million timid townsmen, if not more, will also cast their ballots for him. Add half a million stupid peasants and allow a million for mistakes in the count and you already have three and a half million. Even the old Napoleon did not receive more than that in an empire that embraced the whole left bank of the Rhine and Belgium, that is, a population of thirty-two million for certain. Why should he not be satisfied with that as a start? And if he got that many, with perhaps one million against him, he would soon capture the bourgeoisie. But perhaps he will not get the two and a half million and perhaps he cannot wangle it to be credited with an extra million votes by way of mistakes in addition, although this would be expecting too much of the honesty of the French officials. At any rate, a great deal depends on the measures he will be compelled to take meanwhile. Incidentally, who can prevent the officials from stuffing the ballot-boxes with several hundred yes-votes before the registration of the votes begins? There is no press any more – nobody to check up.

At any rate it is bad for Krapülinski [9] that the stocks are falling again, and for Louis Blanc that he must now recognise England as a free country.

In a few months the Reds must get another opportunity to prove their mettle, perhaps already during the voting. But if then they temporise again, I give them up; even the nicest commercial crisis will then get them nothing but a good beating that will definitely remove them from the scene for a couple of years. What good is this rabble if it has forgotten how to fight?

Is Pieper in London again? I wanted to give him a commission regarding books to be executed in Frankfurt and I do not know whether he still is in Brighton.

The worst thing is that you will now encounter difficulties with Löwenthal. [10] It would have been good if the contract had already been concluded.

Liverpool Market – quiet at yesterday’s prices; Manchester Market – firm. Some overtrading going on to the Levant. German buyers continue keeping out of the Market.



1. Richard Reinhardt (1826-1898) – German poet, emigrant in Paris, secretary to Heinrich Heine, friend of Marx’s family, subsequently engaged in commerce – Progress Publishers.

2. Wilhelm Pieper (1826-?) – German philologist and journalist, member of Communist League, London emigrant, in 1850s closely associated with Marx and Engels – Progress Publishers.

3. Louis Blanc (1811-1882) – French petty-bourgeois socialist, historian, member of Provisional Government and Chairman of Luxemburg Committee (1848), advocated conciliation with bourgeoisie, in August 1848 emigrated to England, a leader of petty-bourgeois émigrés in London – Progress Publishers.

4. This refers to Proudhon’s introduction, entitled ‘Ŕ la Bourgeoisie’ (’to the Bourgeoisie’), to his work Idée générale de la révolution au XIX sičcle (The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century) – Progress Publishers.

5. That is, 2 December 1851 – Progress Publishers.

6. That is, February 1848 – Progress Publishers.

7. Engels is referring to the uprisings of the workers in Paris on 1 April (12 Germinal according to the republican calendar) and 20-23 May 1795 (1-4 Prairial) against the reactionary regime of the Thermidorians set up in 1794, and the proletarian risings in Lyons in 1831 and 1834 after the July revolution in France in 1830 – Progress Publishers.

8. Non compos mentis – not in control of the mind; insane – MIA.

9. Krapülinski – hero of Heine’s poem ‘Zwei Ritter’ (Two Knights), a Polish nobleman who squandered his fortune; the name Krapülinski is derived from the French word crapule – intemperance, gluttony, and also loafer, riff-raff. Engels applies the name here to Louis Bonaparte.

10. Löwenthal – German publisher during 1840s and 1850s – Progress Publishers.