Marx Engels Correspondence 1883

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.

27 February [1 March] 1883

... We belong to the German party scarcely more than to the French, American or Russian party and can consider ourselves as little bound by the German programme as by the minimum programme. We lay stress upon this special status of ours as representatives of international socialism. But it also forbids us to belong to any particular national party until we return to Germany and take a direct part in the struggle there. It would be pointless now...

We have always done our utmost to combat the petty-bourgeois and philistine mentality within the party, because this mentality, developed since the time of the Thirty Years’ War, has infected all classes in Germany and become a hereditary German evil, sister to servility and submissiveness and to all the hereditary German vices. This is what has made us ridiculous and contemptible abroad. It is the main cause of the slackness and the weakness of character which predominate among us; it reigns on the throne as often as in the cobbler’s lodging. Only since a modern proletariat has been formed in Germany has a class developed there which is hardly affected at all by this hereditary German malady, a class which has demonstrated that it possesses clear insight, energy, humour, tenacity in struggle. And ought we not to fight against every attempt artificially to inculcate the old hereditary poison of philistine slackness and philistine narrow-mindedness in this healthy class, the only healthy class in Germany? But in their fright right after the criminal attempts [1] and the Anti-Socialist Law, the leaders exhibited so much anxiety which merely proved that they had lived much too long among philistines and were influenced by the views of the philistines. They intended at that time that the party should seem to be philistine if not actually become philistine. All this has now fortunately been overcome, but the philistine elements, which were drawn into the party shortly before the Anti-Socialist Law and prevail particularly among college graduates and undergraduates who did not get as far as the examinations, are still there and have to be carefully watched...


1. The allusion is to the attempts on the life of William I by Max Hödel on 11 May and the anarchist Nobiling on 2 June 1878, which provided Bismarck with a convenient opportunity for introducing the Anti-Socialist Law. The Anti-Socialist Law (exceptional Law against the Socialists) was approved by the majority in the Reichstag on 21 October 1878 – Progress Publishers.