Marx-Engels Correspondence 1875

Friedrich Engels to August Bebel in Leipzig, 12 October 1875

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

Dear Bebel

Your letter fully confirms our view that the unification was precipitate on our part and bears within itself the germ of future disunion. It would be well if this disunion could be postponed until after the next Reichstag elections... [1]

The programme [2] as it is now, consists of three parts:

1) Of Lassallean propositions and slogans, the adoption of which remains a disgrace to our Party. When two factions want to agree on a joint programme they include the points on which they concur and do not touch upon those they are unable to agree. True, Lassallean state assistance was in the Eisenach programme, but as one of many transitional measures and, according to all I have heard, it would almost certainly have been thrown overboard, on Bracke’s [3] motion, at this year’s Congress had it not been for the unification. Now it figures as the sole and infallible panacea for all social ailments. It was an immense moral defeat for our Party to allow the ‘iron law of wages’ and other Lassallean phrases to be foisted upon it. It became converted to the Lassallean creed. That simply cannot be argued away. This part of the programme is the Caudine yoke [4] under which our Party crawled to the greater glory of the holy Lassalle.

2) Of democratic demands which have been drawn up wholly in the spirit and style of the People’s Party. [5]

3) Of demands made on the ‘present-day state’ (it is not clear on whom the other ‘demands’ are made), which are very confused and illogical.

4) Of general principles, mostly borrowed from the Communist Manifesto and the Rules of the International, but which have been so re-edited that they contain either utterly false propositions or pure nonsense, as Marx has shown in detail in the essay known to you. [6]

The whole thing is untidy, confused, disconnected, illogical and discreditable. If the bourgeois press possessed a single person of critical mind, he would have taken this programme apart phrase by phrase, investigated the real content of each phrase, demonstrated its nonsense with the utmost clarity, revealed its contradictions and economic howlers (for instance, that the instruments of labour are today ‘the monopoly of the capitalist class’, as if there were no owners of land; the talk about ‘the freeing of labour’ instead of the freeing of the working class, for labour itself is much too free nowadays!) and made our whole Party look frightfully ridiculous. Instead of that the asinine bourgeois papers took this programme quite seriously, read into it what it does not contain and interpreted it communistically. The workers seem to be doing the same. It is this circumstance alone that made it possible for Marx and me not to dissociate ourselves publicly from such a programme. So long as our opponents and likewise the workers view this programme as embodying our intentions we can afford to keep quiet about it.

If you are satisfied with the result achieved in the question of personal composition we must have greatly reduced our demands. Two of ours and three Lassalleans! So here too ours are not allies enjoying equal rights but the vanquished, who are outvoted from the very start. The activities of the Committee, [7] as far as we know them, are also not edifying: 1) Decision not to include in the list of Party literature two works on Lassalleanism by Bracke and B Becker; [8] if this decision has been revoked it is not due either to the Committee or to Liebknecht; 2) Instructions to Vahlteich [9] forbidding him to accept the post of correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung offered him by Sonnemann. [10] Sonnemann himself had told this to Marx, who met him when he passed through Frankfurt. What surprises me even more than the arrogance of the Committee and the readiness with which Vahlteich submitted instead of letting them go whistle is the enormous stupidity of this decision. The Committee should rather have seen to it that a paper like the Frankfurter Zeitung is served everywhere only by our people...

You are quite right when you say that the whole thing is an educational experiment which even under those circumstances promises to be very successful. The unification as such will be a great success if it lasts two years. But it undoubtedly was to be had much more cheaply.


1. Engels alludes to the elections that were to take place in January 1877. The German Socialist Workers Party received approximately half a million votes in these elections and twelve of its candidates were elected to the Reichstag – Progress Publishers.

2. The programme of the Socialist Workers Party of Germany adopted at the Gotha Unity Congress in May 1875 – Progress Publishers.

3. 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.

4. In 321BC when a Roman army was defeated by the Samnites in the Caudine Forks it was compelled to pass under the yoke, which was considered one of the greatest humiliations that could be imposed – Progress Publishers.

5. The National-Liberal Party – the party of the German, and especially the Prussian, bourgeoisie, came into being in the autumn of 1866 following the split of the Progressive Party. The principal aim of the National-Liberals was the unification of Germany under Prussian leadership. The German People’s Party formed in 1865 consisted of petty-bourgeois democrats and to some extent of bourgeois democrats, mainly from the South German states. The People’s Party, as distinct from the National-Liberals, was opposed to the hegemony of Prussia in Germany and advocated the creation of a ‘Greater Germany’ which was to include both Prussia and Austria. It favoured the establishment of a federal German state and was against the creation of a united, centralised democratic republic – Progress Publishers.

6. Engels refers to the Critique of the Gotha Programme – Progress Publishers.

7. The reference is to the Executive of the Socialist Workers Party of Germany – Progress Publishers.

8. Bracke had informed Engels in a letter written between 28 June and 7 July 1875, that the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party had decided to remove two anti-Lassallean works – W Bracke, Der Lassalle’sche Vorschlag (Lassalle’s Proposal, Braunschweig, 1873), and B Becker, Geschichte der Arbeiter-Agitation Ferdinand Lassalles (History of Ferdinand Lassalle’s Agitation Among the Workers, Braunschweig, 1874), which had both been printed in Bracke’s publishing house – from its list of party literature. After Bracke’s vigorous protests the decision was reversed. Bernhard Becker (1826-1882) – German publicist, Chairman of General Association of German Workers (1864-65) after Lassalle’s death, later joined the Eisenachers – Progress Publishers.

9. Karl Julius Vahlteich (1839-1915) – German right-wing Social-Democrat, shoemaker, one of founders and first Secretary of General Association of German Workers, later member of Eisenachers’ party, moved to USA where he took an active part in working-class movement – Progress Publishers.

10. Leopold Sonnemann (1831-1909) – German democrat, founder and editor of Frankfurter Zeitung – Progress Publishers.