The International Workingmen's Association

The “President of Mankind”

Written: by Marx on April 8, 1865;
First published: Rheinische Zeitung, No. 102, second supplement, April 12, 1865 and the Berliner Reform, No. 88, supplement, April 13, 1865;
Translated: by Barrie Selman;
Transcribed: by, April 1996.

On my return from Holland to London No. 39 of the Social-Demokrat presents me with an asafoetida cake baked by the hand of Herr Bernhard Becker, mainly consisting of Vogtian crumbs of slander. The legally documented refutation of Vogt's lying fairy-tales may be found in my work Herr Vogt, London, 1860. But this time, quite contrary to his custom, Herr Bernhard Becker, the "President of Mankind", does not merely content himself with plagiarism. For the first time in his life he attempts to come up with something of his own as well.

"In fact," says the "President of Mankind", "through Dronke Marx pawned for 1,000 Tlr. a manuscript which was redeemed by the Prussian police inspector, Stieber, who was in London spying among the refugees."

And three times during the course of his personal presidential address, our Bernhard Becker returns to this "fact" with ever increasing merriment.

On page 124 of my Herr Vogt I state in a footnote:

"I myself had made the acquaintance of Bangya in London in 1850, together with his friend at the time, the present General Turr. His underhand dealings with parties of every complexion, Orleanists, Bonapartists, etc., and his association with policemen of every 'nationality' made me suspect him, but he dispelled my suspicions quite simply by showing me a document in Kossuth's own hand in which he (who had formerly been provisional chief commissioner of the police in Komorn under Klapka) was appointed chief commissioner of the police in partibus. As a secret chief of police in the service of the revolution he naturally had to keep in 'touch' with police in the service of the governments. In the course of the summer of 1852 I discovered that he had appropriated a manuscript I had asked him to convey to a bookseller in Berlin and steered it into the hands of a German government. After I had written to a Hungarian" (Szemere) "in Paris describing this incident and a number of other striking peculiarities of the man's, and after the Bangya mystery had been completely cleared up thanks to the intervention of a third person well-informed in the matter, I sent an open denunciation, signed by myself, to the New Yorker Criminal-Zeitung early in 1853."

The "President of Mankind" has obviously not read the detailed denunciation of Bangya (at that time still resident in London) published by me 13 years ago in the New Yorker Criminal-Zeitung. Otherwise he would probably have made his fiction fit the facts somewhat better. So he surrenders himself entirely to the play of his fair fantasy, and what was closer to it than the pleasant association of ideas between London and pawning? But I vouch for the fact that Bernhard Becker has never pawned his manuscripts.

The "President of Mankind" deigns to add:

"that on the foundation of the Vienna Botschafter, the semi-official organ of the Austrian government, Marx sought to win me" (just the same Bernhard Becker) "over as a correspondent for the same by concealing the semi-official character of the nascent journal, which, he said, had been sent to him, emphasising on the contrary that I should deliver out and out red articles."

Herr Bernhard Becker, who at that time was not yet "President of Mankind", was also possessed by the unfailing habit of scribbling "quite colourless articles" in the London Hermann, surprised me one fine evening (I had previously chanced to see him once or twice only) with a visit in person to my house, shortly before quietly sneaking away -- for good reasons -- from London. He pitiably bemoaned his ill-fortune to me and asked if I could obtain correspondences for him to help him out of his bitter distress. I replied that a few days before Herr Kolatschek had announced the foundation of a new, allegedly "very liberal" Vienna newspaper to Herr S. Borkheim, a political refugee and merchant in the City, sending him some sample issues and requesting him to recruit a London correspondent. At the earnest entreaty of Bernhard Becker I promised to take up the matter on his behalf with Herr Borkheim, who is always willing to oblige refugees. Bernhard Becker also wrote, as far as I remember, one or more sample articles for Vienna. And his unsuccessful attempt to become the correspondent of the Botschafter proves my alliance with the Austrian government! Herr Bernhard Becker obviously believes that because Countess Hatzfeldt has given him a post, the Lard God has also given him the intelligence necessary for it!

"Liebknecht," continues Bernhard Becker, "is now systematically working on Countess Hatzfeldt, to whom Marx, too, sends telegrams and letters in order to turn her against the Association."

Herr Bernhard Becker imagines that I take the importance he acquired by bequest quite as "systematically" seriously as he does himself! My letters to Countess Hatzfeldt after the death of Lassalle consisted of a message of condolence, of answers to various questions put to me on account of the planned Lassalle brochure and of discussions on a refutation against a libeller of Lassalle that I had been requested to, and subsequently did, undertake. So as to avoid misunderstandings, however, I thought it very much to the point to remind the Countess in a letter of December 22, 1864 that I did not agree with Lassalle's politics. That concluded our correspondence, in which not a syllable was uttered about the Association. The Countess had requested me among other things to let her know by return whether the release of certain portraits for the planned brochure seemed appropriate to me. I replied by telegraph: No! This single telegram is put into the plural by Herr Bernhard Becker, who is no less eminent a grammarian than he is poet and thinker.

He relates that I also took part in a campaign directed against him at a later date. The sole step on my part in this all-important affair was this: I had heard from Berlin that Bernhard Becker was being persecuted from a certain quarter because he was not willing to allow the Social-Demokrat and the Association to be misused in order to agitate for the incorporation of Schleswig-Holstein into Prussia. At the same time I had been asked to bring this "intrigue" to the notice of Herr Klings in Solingen, over whom a certain degree of influence was attributed to me on account of some earlier contacts, and Herr Philipp Becker in Geneva, in order to give them due warning. I did both things, the former through a Barmen friend, the latter through my friend Schily in Paris, who was labouring, as I was, under the delusion that something human had happened to the "President of Mankind" and that he had actually behaved decently for once. He now naturally distorts the facts of the matter into the exact opposite -- being a dialectician.

The "President of Mankind" is, however, not only an eminent writer, thinker, grammarian and dialectician. He is a pathologist of the first water, to boot. My eighteen-month-old carbuncle complaint, which happened to last six months after Lassalle's death, this blood-red disease he explains as due to "pale envy at Lassalle's greatness".

"But," he emphatically adds, "he did not dare to oppose Lassalle in public because he knew full well that Lassalle would have struck him stone dead, like he did Bastiat-Schulze, with his giant's club."

Now precisely in this his last work on "Bastiat-Schulze" Lassalle praises my Critique of Political Economy, Berlin, 1859, to the skies, calling it "epoch-making", a "masterpiece", and placing it in line with the works of A. Smith and Ricardo. From this, Herr Bernhard Becker, with that capacity for thought, peculiar to himself, concludes that Lassalle might strike me dead, as he did Bastiat-Schulze. Incidentally Lassalle had quite different ideas of what I "dare". When I wrote to him on an occasion which this is not the place to discuss, saying that Engels and I would, for reasons which I enumerated, be forced to make a public attack on him, he replied at length in a letter Iying here before me at this moment, first setting out his objections and then concluding in the terms:

"Consider all this before you speak out loud and publicly. Dissension and breach between us would be a deplorable event for our particular party, which is not a big one as it is!"

Herr Bernhard Becker sees a complete contradiction in the fact that I wished to have nothing to do with an obscure international association in which he, Bernhard Becker, is supposed to have figured, while on the contrary participating with great keenness in the International Association formed last September by the leaders of the London trade unions.

Herr Bernhard Becker's gift for discrimination obviously provides support for his power of reasoning. His association, he boasts, comprised all of "400 men" in its heyday, while our Association shows so little modesty that it already numbers 10,000 members in England alone. It is, in fact, impermissible that anything of this sort should take place behind the back as it were of the "President of Mankind".

All in all, and with particular respect to Herr Bernhard Becker's abundance of abilities only briefly suggested by me, one finds that he is hardly justified in his complaints that people have sought to impose too much at once on a man like him; that people have not only forced on him the job of exercising autocratic power as his main field, but also the lesser office of "buying eggs and butter for the house", "on the side".

 It would seem, however, that a better domestic order could be achieved by re-arranging his dual functions. May his main task in future be the "buying of eggs and butter for the house", and, conversely, let him preside over mankind solely "on the side".

London, April 8, 1865


BACKGROUND: Marx wrote this article in reply to Bernhard Becker, President of the Lassallean General Association of German Workers, who spoke at a meeting of the Association's Hamburg branch on March 22 1865. His speech, published in Der Social-Demokrat, No. 39, on March 26, slandered the International Working Men's Association and also Marx, Engels and Liebknecht. On March 27 1865, Becker was stigmatized by Liebknecht at the meeting of the Association's Berlin branch. THe rank-and-file members of this organization, greatly discontented with Becker, resolved to expel him and recommend other organizations to follow suit. Similar meetings were held in many other branches. In June 1865, Becker was compelled provisionally to delegate his presidential powers to his deputy Fritzsche and he completely renounced them the following November. Marx wrote this article on his return from Holland, where he had a rest at his uncle's, Lion Philips, at Zalt-Bommel from March 19 to April 8 1865. (From the Collected Works.)