Marx-Engels Correspondence 1871

Karl Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann in Hanover, 4 February 1871

Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975) ), and Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann (Martin Lawrence, London, undated). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Dear Kugelmann

I am sorry to learn from your last letter that your state of health has again got worse. In the autumn and winter months mine was tolerable, although the cough which I contracted during my last stay in Hanover is still troubling me.

I had sent you the Daily News containing my letter. [1] It was obviously confiscated, like the other things I sent you. Today I am enclosing the cutting, as well as the first Address of the General Council. [2] The letter actually contains nothing but facts, but was effective precisely because of that.

You know my opinion of the middle-class heroes. Monsieur Jules Favre [3] (notorious from the days of the Provisional Government and Cavaignac) [4] & Co have however surpassed my expectations. First of all they allowed the ‘sabre orthodox’, the ‘crétin militaire’, as Blanqui rightly dubs Trochu, [5] to carry out his ‘plan’. This plan consisted simply in prolonging the passive resistance of Paris to the utmost limit, that is, to the starvation point, while confining the offensive to sham manoeuvres, to ‘des sorties platoniques’. What I am saying is not just ‘supposition’. I know the contents of a letter which Jules Favre himself wrote to Gambetta [6] and in which he complains that he and other members of the part of the government cowering in Paris sought in vain to spur Trochu on to serious offensive measures. Trochu always answered that that would give the upper hand to Parisian demagogy. Gambetta replied: ‘You have pronounced your own condemnation.’ Trochu considered it much more important to keep down the Reds in Paris with the help of his Breton bodyguard – which rendered him the same services that the Corsicans rendered Louis Bonaparte – than to defeat the Prussians. This is the real secret of the defeats not only at Paris but throughout France, where the bourgeoisie, in agreement with the majority of the local authorities, has acted on the same principle.

After Trochu’s plan had been carried out to its climax – to the point where Paris had to surrender or starve – Jules Favre & Co could simply follow the example of the commander of the fortress of Toul. He did not surrender. He merely explained to the Prussians that he was compelled through lack of food to abandon the defence and open the gates of the fortress. They were now free to act as they chose.

But Jules Favre is not content with signing a formal capitulation. [7] Having declared himself, his associates in the government, and Paris prisoners of war of the King of Prussia, he has the audacity to act in the name of the whole of France. What did he know of the situation in France outside Paris? Absolutely nothing except what Bismarck was gracious enough to tell him.

More. These Messieurs les prisonniers du roi de Prusse go further and declare that the part of the French government still free in Bordeaux has forfeited its authority and can act only in agreement with them – the prisoners of war of the Prussian king. Since they, as prisoners of war, can themselves act only at the dictate of their warlord, they thereby proclaimed the King of Prussia de facto the highest authority in France.

Even Louis Bonaparte, after he surrendered and was taken prisoner at Sedan, was not so shameless. To Bismarck’s proposals he replied that he could not enter upon negotiations because as a Prussian prisoner he had ceased to exercise any authority in France.

At the most J Favre could have accepted a conditional armistice for the whole of France, namely, with the proviso that the agreement should be sanctioned by the Bordeaux government, [8] which alone was entitled and competent to agree with the Prussians upon the clauses of such an armistice. That government, at any rate, would not have allowed the latter to exclude the eastern theatre of war from the armistice. They would not have allowed them to round off their line of occupation so advantageously for themselves.

Rendered insolent by the usurpatory pretensions of his prisoners of war, who as such continue to play the part of the French government, Bismarck is now quite impudently interfering in internal French affairs. He protests, noble soul, against Gambetta’s decree concerning the general elections to the Assemblée, because the decree, according to him, is prejudicial to the freedom of elections. Indeed! Gambetta should answer with a protest against the state of siege and other conditions prevailing in Germany, which annihilate the freedom of elections to the Reichstag.

I hope that Bismarck sticks to his conditions of peace. Four hundred million pounds sterling as war indemnity – half the English national debt! Even the French bourgeoisie will understand that. It will perhaps at last realise that by continuing the war they could at the worst only gain.

The mob, high class and low, judges by appearances, the façade, the immediate result. During the last twenty years it has, all over the world, apotheosised Louis Bonaparte. I have always exposed him, even at his apogee, as a mediocre scoundrel. That is also my opinion of the Junker Bismarck. Nevertheless, I do not consider Bismarck so stupid as he would be if his diplomacy were voluntary. The man is caught by the Russian Chancellery in a net which only a lion could tear through, and he is no lion.

For example, Bismarck’s demand that France should hand over her twenty best ships and Pondicherry in India! Such an idea could not emanate from a really Prussian diplomat. He would know that a Prussian Pondicherry would be nothing but a Prussian hostage in English hands; that England, if she wanted to, could seize the twenty warships before they enter the Baltic Sea and that such demands could only have the object, absurd from the Prussian point of view, of making John Bull distrustful before the Prussians are out of the French wood.

But Russia is interested precisely in such a result, in order to secure still more firmly Prussia’s allegiance. In fact these demands have given rise to a complete change of feeling even in the peace-loving English middle class. Everybody is now calling for war. This provocative act and this danger to its interests are making even the bourgeois mad. It is more than probable that, thanks to the Prussian ‘wisdom’, Gladstone and Co will be kicked out of office and supplanted by a ministry declaring war against Prussia.

On the other hand things look pretty bad in Russia. Since Wilhelm became an Emperor, the old Muscovite, anti-German party, with the heir to the throne at its head, has again won the upper hand completely. And it is supported by the sentiments of the people. Gorchakov’s subtle policy is incomprehensible to them. It is therefore probable that the tsar will either have to change his foreign policy altogether, or be obliged to kick the bucket, like his predecessors Alexander I, Paul and Peter III.

With a simultaneous convulsion in the politics of England and Russia, where would Prussia be, at a moment when its northern and south-eastern frontiers are left defenceless against invasion and Germany’s defensive strength is exhausted? Not to forget that since the outbreak of war Prussia-Germany has sent 1,500,000 men to France, of whom only about 700,000 are still on their legs.

Despite all appearance to the contrary, Prussia’s position is anything but pleasant.

If France holds out, uses the armistice to reorganise her army and finally gives the war a really revolutionary character – and the artful Bismarck is doing his best to this end – the new German, Borussian [9] Empire may still get a quite unexpected thrashing as its baptism.

My best compliments to the Countess and Fränzchen.


À propos: You wrote me once about a book by Haxthausen [10] on Westphalian (I think) conditions of landownership. I should be glad if you would send it to me.

Be so good as to forward the enclosure to Dr Jacoby [11] (Königsberg) but stamp it by way of precaution.

Get your wife to write on the enclosed letter the address of Dr Johann Jacoby, Königsberg.

Jennychen has just asked me to send her greetings to ‘Trautchen, Fränzchen and Wenzelchen’, which I hereby do. [12]


1. Karl Marx to the Editor of the Daily News, 16 January 1871 – Progress Publishers.

2. The reference is to the First Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association on the Franco-Prussian War (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1973), pp. 190-94) – Progress Publishers.

3. Jules Favre (1809-1880) – French lawyer and politician, in late 1850s became a leader of the bourgeois-republican opposition, Minister of Foreign Affairs (1870-71), hangman of Paris Commune and inspirer of struggle against International – Progress Publishers.

4. Louis Eugène Cavaignac (1802-1857) – French general and politician, bourgeois republican, War Minister May-June 1848, responsible for bloody suppression of June insurrection of Paris workers, vested with dictatorial powers June-December 1848 – Progress Publishers.

5. Louis-Jules Trochu (1815-1896) – French general and politician, Orleanist, head of Government of National Defence, Commander-in-Chief of Paris armed forces (September 1870 – January 1871), treacherously sabotaged defence of the city, deputy of National Assembly – Progress Publishers.

6. Léon Michel Gambetta (1838-1882) – French statesman, bourgeois republican, member of Government of National Defence (1870-71), organiser of military resistance to Prussia in provinces – Progress Publishers.

7. The reference is to the Convention on Armistice and the Capitulation of Paris signed by Bismarck and Favre on 28 January 1871. By signing this document the French bourgeoisie betrayed the national interests of France in order to suppress the revolutionary movement in the country – Progress Publishers.

8. Part of the Government of National Defence, which was formed in Paris on 4 September 1870, was sent to Tours to organise the resistance against the German invasion and to maintain relations with foreign countries. This part, headed by Gambetta from 9 October 1870, moved to Bordeaux on 6 December 1870 – Progress Publishers.

9. Borussia: old name for Prussia, frequently used in an ironical sense to indicate the feudal landlord nature of Prussia – Progress Publishers.

10. August von Haxthausen (1792-1866) – German economist; in his book On the Agrarian Structure of Russia, he was the first to acquaint Western Europe with the Russian village commune – Progress Publishers.

11. Johann Jacoby (1805-1877) – German radical. ‘One of the very rare German bourgeois democrats who, after the lessons of 1870-71, went over not to chauvinism or German liberalism but to socialism.’ (Lenin)

12. Enclosed with this letter was the following cutting from the Daily News, containing a letter from Marx, dated 16 January 1871, and published under the heading ‘Freedom of the Press and of Speech in Germany’ – Progress Publishers. [Available on the MIA at < >.] *** insert URL for letter above ***