Marx-Engels Correspondence 1884

Engels to August Bebel
In Borsdorf near Leipzig


Published: Gesamtausgabe, International Publishers, 1942;
Additional text from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

London, 18 January, 1884

Here too industry has taken on a different character. The ten-year cycle seems to have been broken down now that, since 1870, American and German competition have been putting an end to English monopoly in the world market. In the main branches of industry a depressed state of business has prevailed since 1868, while production has been slowly increasing, and now we seem both here and in America to be standing on the verge of a new crisis which in England has not been preceded by a period of prosperity. That is the secret of the sudden — though it has been slowly preparing for three years — but the present sudden emergence of a socialist movement here. So far the organised workers — trade unions — remain quite remote from it, the movement is proceeding among "educated" elements sprung from the bourgeoisie, who here and there seek contact with the masses and in places find it. These people are of very varying moral and intellectual value and it will take some time before they sort themselves out and the thing becomes clarified. But that it will all go entirely to sleep again is hardly likely.

Many thanks for your book, Die Frau. [1] I have read it with great interest, it contains much valuable material. Especially lucid and fine is what you say about the development of industry in Germany. I have also done some research on this subject recently, and if I had time I would write something about it for the Sozialdemokrat. [2] How strange that the philistines don’t understand that ‘the vagabond trouble’ they so lament is the necessary consequence of the rise of large-scale industry under the conditions obtaining in German agriculture and handicraft, and that the development of large-scale industry in Germany — because she arrives late everywhere — is bound to take place under the continuous pressure of adverse market conditions. For the Germans are able to compete only as a result of low wages, reduced to starvation level, and an ever increasing exploitation of the cottage industry which serves as a background to their factory production. The transformation of the handicrafts into cottage industry and the gradual transformation of the cottage industry, in so far as this is profitable, into factory and machine industry — that is the course taken in Germany. The only really big industry we have up to now is iron. The hand-loom still predominates in the textile industry, thanks to the starvation wages and the fact that the weavers have potato plots.


Henry George with his nationalisation of the land [3] is likely to play a meteoric role, because this point here is of importance traditionally, and also actually on account of the vast extent of big landed property. But in the long run attention will not be concentrated on this point alone in the foremost industrial country in the world. Henry George, moreover, is a genuine bourgeois and his plan of defraying all governmental expenditures out of rent of land is only a repetition of the plan of the Ricardo school, that is purely bourgeois.


Notes provided by the Moscow Editor.

1. Engels is referring to the second illegal edition of Bebel’s book Die Frau und der Sozialismus (Woman and Socialism) which was published by Schabelitz of Zurich and printed in Dietz’s printing works at Stuttgart. The book came out in 1883 under the title Die Frau in der Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft (Woman in the Past, Present and Future) Bebel Archive.

2. Der Sozialdemokrat — the central organ of the German Socialist Workers Party, founded in Zurich in September 1879. After the repeal of the Anti-Socialist Law in 1890 the paper ceased to appear and the Vorwärts again became the central organ of the party.

3. The American economist Henry George came to England in 1882 and 1884 to conduct a propaganda campaign for his land nationalisation. For an evaluation of his theory see Marx’s letter to Sorge of 20 June 1881. Henry George (1839-1897) — American publicist, bourgeois economist, advocated bourgeois nationalisation of land as means to solve all social contradictions in capitalist society.