Marx-Engels Correspondence 1880

Engels to J.P. Becker
In Geneva


Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence;
Publisher: International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Translated: Donna Torr;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 1999;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

London, April 1, 1880

Here things are just as they were in 1850 again. The Workers' Assoc. is splitting up into all sorts of parties--Most here, Rackow there--and we have trouble enough in preventing ourselves from being dragged into the whirl. It is all a storm in a teacup, which may in some ways have a very good influence on those who take part in it by contributing to their further education, but so far as the course of the world is concerned it is more or less indifferent whether a hundred German workers here declare themselves for one side or the other. If they could exercise any influence on the English--but there is absolutely no question of that. Most, in his confused anxiety to do something, can neither keep quiet nor accomplish anything whatever; the people in Germany simply will not see that because Most has been expelled from the country the moment for revolution is now here. Freiheit, by main force, is to become the most revolutionary paper in the world, but this is not achieved by just repeating the word revolution in every line. Fortunately it does not much matter what is in the paper or not. The same is true of the Zurich organ, which one day preaches revolution and the next declares that a revolution by force would be the greatest misfortune, which is afraid on the one hand of being outdone by Most's big words and on the other that the workers may take its own big words seriously. So it is a choice between the empty shrieking of Freiheit and the narrow philistinism of the Sozial Demokrat.

I am afraid our friends in Germany are mistaken about the kind of organisation which should be maintained under present conditions. I have nothing against the fact that the chief members of Parliament are taking the lead in the absence of any other leadership. But they can neither demand nor enforce the strict obedience which the old Party leadership--elected for this purpose--could insist upon. Least of all in the present circumstances, without a press, without mass meetings. The looser the organisation is now in appearance the stronger it will be in reality. But instead of this the old system is to be maintained, final decisions are in the hands of the party leadership (although there is no congress to correct it or if necessary to dismiss it), and anybody who attacks one of them is a heretic. And with it all the best of them know themselves that there are all sorts of incapable and in other ways not quite sound people among them, and they must surely be very limited if they do not realise that it is not they who have the command of their organ but Hochberg, thanks to his money-bags, and with him his fellow-philistines Schramm and Bernstein. In my opinion the old Party, together with its former organisation, has come to an end. If, as is to be expected, the European movement soon gets going again, the great mass of the German proletariat will enter it and then the 500,000 men of the year 1878 will join the trained and educated kernel of this mass; but then too the old "strict organisation" handed down by Lassallean tradition will become a brake which might hold back a cart but cannot be applied to an avalanche.

Moreover these people are doing nothing but things well-calculated to break up the Party. First the Party is supposed constantly to provide for the old agitators and editors, thanks to which it gets saddled with a whole crowd of papers with nothing whatever in them beyond what can be read in every bourgeois gossip rag. And the workers are expected to cooperate with this indefinitely! Secondly, they come out in the Reichstag and the Saxon Landtag in such a tame way, for the most part, that they discredit themselves and the Party before the whole world, making "positive proposals" to the existing government as to how to do things better in small questions of detail, etc. And the workers, who have been declared outside the law, who are delivered over bound hand and foot to the caprices of the police, are expected to regard this as proper representation! Thirdly, the philistine petty-bourgeois tone of the Sozial Demokrat, which they sanction. In every letter they tell us not on any account to believe reports of any division or differences of opinion having broken out in the Party, but everybody who comes from Germany assures one that the people are completely bewildered by this behaviour on the part of their leaders and by no means in agreement with it. Indeed, considering the character of our workers, which has so splendidly maintained itself, anything else would be impossible. It is the peculiar characteristic of the German movement that all the mistakes of the leadership are invariably made good again by the masses, and so it will no doubt be this time too.