Marx-Engels Correspondence 1879

Friedrich Engels to Johann Philipp Becker in Geneva, 1 July 1879 [1]

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

... It is quite understandable that Liebknecht’s untimely meekness in the Reichstag [2] should have created a very unfavourable impression in Latin Europe as well as among Germans everywhere. And we expressed this immediately in our letter. The old comfortable way of leisurely agitation with an occasional six weeks’ to six months’ term in jail has come to an end in Germany once and for all. No matter how the present state of affairs may end, the new movement begins on a more or less revolutionary basis and must therefore be much more resolute in character than the first period of the movement, now past. The phrase about the peaceable attainment of the goal will either be no longer necessary or it will not be taken seriously any longer. By making this phrase impossible and thrusting the movement in the revolutionary direction Bismarck has rendered us a great service, outweighing the bit of damage occasioned by his interference with agitation.

On the other hand, as a result of the tame speech in the Reichstag the knights of the revolutionary phrase are again on their high horses and seek to disorganise the Party by cliquism and intrigues. The Workers Association here is the hub of all these machinations... [3]


1. Johann Philipp Becker (1809-1886) – prominent figure in German and international working-class movement, brush-maker, in 1830s and 1840s took part in democratic movement in Germany and Switzerland, was active in 1848-49 revolution, after defeat of Baden-Palatinate insurrection fled from Germany, in 1860s one of outstanding figures in First International, attended all its congresses, editor of Verbote, friend and close associate of Marx and Engels – Progress Publishers.

2. Engels is alluding to the speech which Liebknecht made in the Reichstag on 17 March 1879, when a minor state of siege was imposed on Berlin and environs. In the course of the speech Liebknecht said that the Socialist Workers Party would keep within the limits of the Anti-Socialist Law since it intended to attain its aim by reforms, adding that a ‘violent’ revolution was an absurdity. The speech reflected the uncertainty with which some of the German Social-Democratic leaders approached tactical questions in the first months following the introduction of the Anti-Socialist Law. The Anti-Socialist Law (Exceptional Law against the Socialists) was introduced by Bismarck and approved by the majority in the Reichstag on 21 October 1878. The law banned all organisations of the Socialist Workers Party of Germany and all working-class mass organisations as well as the socialist and workers’ press. But during the period the Anti-Socialist Law was in force the party, with the help of Marx and Engels, was able to overcome opportunist and leftist trends within its ranks, and succeeded in strengthening and extending its influence among the masses by combining underground work with a wide use of the legal opportunities. The growing workers’ movement compelled the government to repeal the Exceptional Law on 1 October 1890 – Progress Publishers.

3. The reference is to the London German Workers Educational Association founded in February 1840 by Schapper, Moll and other members of the League of the Just. When the First International was formed the Association became its German section – Progress Publishers.