Marx-Engels Correspondence 1883

Engels to Philipp Van Patten[1]
In New York


Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence;
Publisher: International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Additional text from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975;
Translated: Donna Torr;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 2000;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

[Note: This is a response from a communication from Phillipp van Patten, the Secretary of the Central Labour Union in New York.]

London, April 18, 1883


My statement in reply to your inquiry of 2 April as to Karl Marx’s position with regard to the Anarchists in general and Johann Most [2] in particular shall be short and clear.

Since 1845 Marx and I have held the view that one of the ultimate results of the future proletarian revolution will be the gradual dissolution of the political organisation known by the name of state. The main object of this organisation has always been to secure, by armed force, the economic oppression of the labouring majority by the minority which alone possesses wealth. With the disappearance of an exclusively wealth-possessing minority there also disappears the necessity for the power of armed oppression, or state power. At the same time, however, it was always our view that in order to attain this and the other far more important aims of the future social revolution, the working class must first take possession of the organised political power of the state and by its aid crush the resistance of the capitalist class and organise society anew. This is to be found already in The Communist Manifesto of 1847, Chapter II, conclusion.

The anarchists put the thing upside down. They declare that the proletarian revolution must begin by doing away with the political organisation of the state. But after its victory the sole organisation which the proletariat finds already in existence is precisely the state. This state may require very considerable alterations before it can fulfil its new functions. But to destroy it at such a moment would be to destroy the only organism by means of which the victorious proletariat can assert its newly-conquered power, hold down its capitalist adversaries and carry out that economic revolution of society without which the whole victory must end in a new defeat and in a mass slaughter of the workers similar to those after the Paris Commune.

Does it require my express assurance that Marx opposed this anarchist nonsense from the first day it was put forward in its present form by Bakunin? The whole internal history of the International Workingmen's Association is evidence of this. From 1867 onwards the anarchists were trying, by the most infamous methods, to conquer the leadership of the International; the main hindrance in their way was Marx. The five-year struggle ended, at the Hague Congress of September 1872, with the expulsion of the anarchists from the International; and the man who did most to achieve this expulsion was Marx. Our old friend, F. A. Sorge, in Hoboken, who was present as a delegate, can give you further details if you wish. And now for Johann Most.

If anyone asserts that Most, since he became an anarchist, has had any relations with Marx whatever or has received any kind of assistance from Marx, he has either been deceived or is deliberately lying. After the publication of the first number of the London Freiheit, Most did not visit Marx or me more than once, or at most twice. Equally little did we visit him--we did not even meet him by chance anywhere or at any time. In the end we did not even subscribe to his paper any more, because "there was really nothing" in it. We had the same contempt for his anarchism and his anarchistic tactics as for the people from whom he had learnt both.

While he was still in Germany Most published a "popular" account of Marx's Capital. Marx was asked to look through it for a second edition. I did this work in common with Marx. We found that it was impossible to do more than expunge Most's very worst blunders unless we were to rewrite the whole thing from beginning to end. Marx also allowed his corrections to be included only on the express condition that his name should never be brought into any connection even with this corrected edition of Johann Most's compilation.

. . .

You are perfectly at liberty to publish this letter in the Voice of the People, if you like to do so.



Notes provided by the Moscow Editor.

1. Phillip van Patten, the Secretary of the Central Labour Union in New York, informed Engels that during a meeting in honour of Marx, Joseph Most and his friends asserted that close relations had existed between Marx and Most, that Most had popularised Capital in Germany and that the propaganda he conducted was approved by Marx. Van Patten continues: ‘We have a very high opinion of the capacities and the activity of Kart Marx, but we cannot believe that he was in sympathy with the anarchistic and disorganising methods of Most and I should like to hear your opinion as to the attitude of Karl Marx on the question of anarchism versus social-democracy.’ Phillip van Patten (1852-1918) — American bourgeois, joined socialist movement, in 1876, became National Secretary of USA Workers Party, and in 1877 of Socialist Workers Party, in 1883 deserted his post and became government official.

2. Johann Most (1846-1906) — German anarchist, in 1860s joined working-class movement, emigrated to England after promulgation of Anti-Socialist Law (1878), in 1880 expelled from Social Democratic party for anarchist views, emigrated to America where he continued to advocate anarchism.