Marx-Engels Correspondence 1870

Engels to Marx
In London


Written: August 15, 1870;
Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence, International Publishers (1968);
Additional text from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers (1975);
Publisher: International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 1999.

August 15, 1870

Dear Moor

If one has been afflicted by an attack of severe stomach trouble for three days, like me, with slight fever from time to time, it’s no great pleasure at all, even when starting to feel better, to expatiate on Wilhelm’s [1] policy. But since you must get this stuff back, so be it.

How far Bracke, [2] certainly a very weak fellow, has allowed his national enthusiasm to run away with him I cannot tell and as I receive at most one issue of the Volksstaat [3] every fortnight I am also unable to judge the position of the Committee [4] in this regard except from Bonhorst’s [5] letter to Wilhelm, which on the whole is cool but betrays theoretical uncertainty. In contrast with this Liebknecht’s narrow-minded self-confidence based on dogmatism does indeed show off, very favourably as usual. ...

The position seems to me to be this: Germany has been driven by Badinguet [Napoleon III] into a war for her national existence. If Badinguet defeats her, Bonapartism will be strengthened for years to come and Germany broken for years, perhaps for generations. In that case there can be no more question of an independent German working-class movement either, the struggle to restore the national existence will absorb everything, and at best the German workers will be dragged in the wake of the French. If Germany wins, French Bonapartism will at any rate be smashed, the endless row about the establishment of German unity will at last be got rid of, the German workers will be able to organise themselves on a national scale quite different from that hitherto, and the French workers, whatever sort of government may succeed this one, are certain to have a freer field than under Bonapartism. The whole mass of the German people of every class have realised that this is first and foremost a question of national existence and have therefore at once flung themselves into It. That in these circumstances a German political party should preach total obstruction à la Wilhelm [Liebknecht] and place all sorts of secondary considerations before the main consideration, seems to me impossible.

Added to this is the fact that Badinguet would never have been able to conduct this war without the chauvinism of the mass of the French population: the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, the peasants and the imperialistic, Haussmannist building workers’ proletariat derived from the peasants, which Bonaparte created in the big towns. Until this chauvinism is knocked on the head, and that properly, peace between Germany and France is impossible. One might have expected that a proletarian revolution would have undertaken this work, but since the war is already there, nothing remains for the Germans but to do it themselves and quickly.

Now come the secondary considerations. For the fact that this war was ordered by Lehmann [Wilhelm I] Bismarck & Co., and must minister to their temporary glorification if they conduct it successfully, we have to thank the miserable state of the German bourgeoisie. It is certainly very unpleasant but cannot be altered. But to magnify anti-Bismarckism into the sole guiding principle on this account would be absurd. In the first place, Bismarck, as in 1866, is at present doing a bit of our work for us, in his own way and without meaning to, but all the same he is doing it. He is clearing the ground for us better than before. And then we are no longer at the year 1815. The South Germans are bound now to enter the Reichstag and this will develop a counterpoise to Prussianism. Then there are the national duties which will fall to Prussia and which, as you wrote, will from the outset forbid the Russian alliance. In general to try à là Liebknecht to set the clock back on all that has happened since 1866 is senseless. But we know our model South Germans. There is nothing to be done with these fools.

I think our people can:

(1) Join the national movement – you can see from Kugelmann’s letter how strong it is – in so far as and for so long as it is limited to the defence of Germany (which does not exclude an offensive, in certain circumstances, before peace is arrived at).

(2) At the same time emphasise the difference between German-national and dynastic-Prussian interests.

(3) Work against any annexation of Alsace and Lorraine – Bismarck is now revealing the intention of annexing them to Bavaria and Baden.

(4) As soon as a non-chauvinistic republican government is at the helm in Paris, work for an honourable peace with it.

(5) Constantly stress the unity of interest between the German and French workers, who did not approve of the war and are also not making war on each other.

(6) Russia, as in the International Address.

Wilhelm’s assertion that because Bismarck is a former accomplice of Badinguet’s the correct position is to remain neutral, is amusing. If that were the general opinion in Germany, we should soon have the Confederation of the Rhine again and the noble Wilhelm should just see what sort of a part he would play in that, and what would happen to the workers’ movement. A people that gets nothing but kicks and blows is indeed the right one to make a social revolution, and in Wilhelm’s beloved X-petty states moreover!...

How nice that the poor little fellow seeks to call me to account for something that was ‘supposed’ to have been printed in the Elberfelder Zeitung! [6] Poor creature!

...The debacle in France seems to be awful. Everything squandered, sold, swindled away. The chassepots are badly made and fail when brought into action, there are no more there, the old flintlocks have got to be hunted out again. Nevertheless a revolutionary government, if it comes soon, need not despair. But it must leave Paris to its fate and carry on the war from the South. There would then still be a possibility of its holding out until arms have been bought and new armies organised with which the enemy would be gradually forced back again to the frontier. This would really be the true end of the war, both countries reciprocally furnishing proof that they are unconquerable. But if this does not happen quickly the game is up. Moltke’s operations are a model – old Wilhelm seems to give him a perfectly free hand – and the four battalions are already joining the main army, while the French ones are not yet in existence.

If Badinguet is not out of Metz yet it may go badly with him. ...

Wilhelm [Liebknecht] has obviously calculated on a victory for Bonaparte simply in order to get his Bismarck defeated. You remember how he was always threatening him with the French. You, of course, are on Wilhelm’s side too!


1. Wilhelm Liebknecht – Progress Publishers.

2. Wilhelm Bracke (1842-1880) – German Social-Democrat, a founder (1869) and leader of Social-Democratic Workers Party (Eisenachers), close associate of Marx and Engels, fought against Lassalleanism, opposed (though not consistently enough) opportunistic elements in Social-Democratic Party – Progress Publishers.

3. Der Volksstaat – the central organ of the Social-Democratic Workers Party of Germany (the Eisenachers). It was published in Leipzig under Liebknecht’s editorship from 1869 to 1876 – Progress Publishers.

4. The Committee of the German Social-Democratic Workers Party in Brunswick – Progress Publishers.

5. Leonhard Bonhorst (1840-?) – German Social-Democrat, technician, member of Brunswick Committee of Social-Democratic Workers Party (Eisenachers) – Progress Publishers.

6. In a letter to Marx dated 13 August 1870, Liebknecht had written that Engels was showing ‘patriotic sentiments’ – Progress Publishers.