Marx-Engels Correspondence 1882

Engels to Marx
In Ventnor


Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence;
Publisher: International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Translated: Donna Torr;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 2000;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

London, December 16, 1882

The point about the almost total disappearance of serfdom--legally or actually--in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries is the most important to me, because formerly you expressed a divergent opinion on this. In the East Elbe region the colonisation proves that the German peasants were free; in Schleswig-Holstein Maurer admits that at that time "all" the peasants had regained their freedom (perhaps rather later than the fourteenth century). He also admits that in South Germany it was just at this period that the bondsmen were best treated. In Lower Saxony more or less the same (e.g., the new Meier [tenant farmers] who were in fact copyholders). He is only opposed to Kindlinger's view that serfdom first arose in the sixteenth century. But that it was newly reinforced after that, and appeared in a second edition, seems to me indubitable. Meitzen gives the dates at which serfs begin to be mentioned again in East Prussia, Brandenburg, Silesia: the middle of the sixteenth century; Hanssen gives the same for Schleswig-Holstein. When Maurer calls this a milder form of serfdom he is right in comparison with the ninth and eleventh centuries, when the old Germanic slavery still continued, and right too with regard to the legal powers which the lord also had then and later--according to the law books of the thirteenth century--over his serfs. But compared with the actual position of the peasants in the thirteenth, the fourteenth and, in North Germany, the fifteenth centuries, the new serfdom was anything but an alleviation. Especially after the Thirty Years' War! It is also significant that while in the Middle Ages the degrees of servitude and serfdom are innumerable, so that the Mirror of Saxony gives up any attempt to speak of egen lüde recht [rights over owned people--i.e., bondsmen] this becomes remarkably simple after the Thirty Years' War.