Marx Engels Correspondence 1882

Friedrich Engels to Eduard Bernstein
In Zurich

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

20 October 1882

Dear Mr Bernstein

I have long been wanting to write to you about French affairs but have only now found time to do it. The good part about it is that now I can kill two birds with one stone.

1. St-Étienne: In spite of the well-meant advice of the Belgians the inevitable has happened, the irreconcilable elements have separated. [1] And that’s good. In the beginning, when the parti ouvrier was founded, all elements had to be admitted who accepted the programme, if they did so with secret reservations that was bound to show later on. We here were never mistaken about Malon and Brousse. [2] Both of them had been trained in the school of Bakuninist intrigues. Malon was even an accomplice of Bakunin’s in setting up the secret ‘Alliance’ (he was one of the 17 founder members). But after all they had to be given a chance to show whether they had shed the Bakuninist practice together with the Bakuninist theory. The course of events has shown that they adopted the programme (and adulterated it – Malon introduced several changes that made it worse) with the secret intention of disrupting it. What had been begun at Rheims and Paris was finished at St-Étienne. The programme has been shorn of its proletarian class character. The communist preamble of 1880 has been replaced by the Rules of the International of 1866, which had to be framed so broadly just because the French Proudhonists were so backward, and it was all the same necessary not to exclude them. The positive demands of the programme have been abolished as every locality is given the right to draw up a special programme for any special purpose any time it chooses. The so-called St-Étienne party is not only no workers’ party but no party whatever because in actual fact it has no programme. At most it is a Malon – Brousse party. The strongest objection which the two were able to make against the old programme was that it repelled more people than it attracted. This has now been remedied: neither Proudhonists nor Radicals have any longer any ground to remain outside, and if Malon & Co had their way the ‘revolutionary hash’, which Vollmar [3] complains about, would be the official pronouncement of the French proletariat.

In all Latin countries (and perhaps also elsewhere) great laxity has always prevailed with regard to credentials for Congressional seats. Many of them could hardly stand the light of day. So long as this was not overdone and as long as only matters of secondary importance were involved little damage resulted. But only the Bakuninists made this practice the rule (first in the Jura), they made a regular business out of the fraudulent procurement of seats and sought in that way to get to the top. The same thing has happened now in St-Étienne. In general all the old Bakuninist tactics, which justify any means – lies, calumniation, secret cliquishness – dominated the preparations for the Congress. That is the only trade in which Brousse is proficient. People forget that practices which may be successful in small sections and in a small area such as the Jura, are when applied to a real workers’ party of a big country bound to destroy those who apply such methods and stratagems. The sham victory at St-Étienne will not last long and the end of Malon and Brousse will certainly come soon.

It seems that every workers’ party of a big country can develop only through internal struggle, which accords with the laws of dialectical development in general. The German party became what it is in the struggle between the Eisenachers and Lassalleans where fighting played a major role. Unity became possible only when the bunch of scoundrels that had been deliberately trained by Lassalle to be his tools had outlived their day, and even then it was brought about by us much too hastily. In France the people who, although they have sacrificed the Bakuninist theory, continue to employ Bakuninist means of struggle, and who at the same time want to sacrifice the class character of the movement to further their special ends, must also first outlive their usefulness before unity is possible again. To preach unity under such circumstances would be sheer folly. Moral sermons avail nothing against infantile disorders, which are after all unavoidable under present-day circumstances.

By the way, the Roanne people too stand in need of constant and severe criticism. They are too often carried away by revolutionary phrases and an impotent urge for action...


1. The French Workers Party split into two factions at the St-Étienne Congress on 25 September 1882. The minority led by Guesde and Lafargue walked out and held its own congress at Roanne. The opportunist majority headed by Malon and Brousse formed a separate party, the so-called Possibilists. The party acquired this name because its leaders, who were opposed to revolutionary struggle, declared that they were only trying to achieve what was possible – Progress Publishers.

2. Paul Brousse (1854-1912) – French petit-bourgeois socialist, participated in Paris Commune, after its suppression lived in emigration, joined anarchists. On his return to France at the beginning of 1880s joined Workers Party where he vehemently opposed the Marxist trend, an ideologist and leader of Possibilists. Benôit Malon (1841-1893) – French socialist, member of First International and of Paris Commune, after its defeat took refuge in Italy and then in Switzerland where he drew close to anarchists, an ideologist and leader of Possibilists – Progress Publishers.

3. Georg Heinrich Vollmar (1850-1922) – German social democrat, a leader of opportunist wing of German Social Democracy, was repeatedly elected to Reichstag and Bavarian Landtag. In early 1890s one of ideologists of reformism and revisionism – Progress Publishers.