Marx Engels Correspondence 1884

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.

23 May 1884

... Actually I am rather glad that the Anti-Socialist Law [1] was left in force and not repealed. The liberal philistine would have won a great victory for the conservatives at the elections for he is prepared to go not only through fire and water but even through the deepest muck-pit to keep the Anti-Socialist Law in operation. And then a new and stricter law would have been the result. As it looks now it has been extended most likely for the last time, and if old Wilhelm should kick the bucket from his renal colic it will soon cease to exist in practice. That the German liberals [2] and the Centre [3] thoroughly disgraced themselves when the vote [4] was taken is also worth something, but still more Bismarck’s right to work. Ever since that muddlehead took hold of this there are prospects of our getting rid of wailers like Geiser. [5] Incidentally it takes a Bismarck to do such a stupid thing in face of a labour movement that cannot be held in check even with exceptional laws. In the meantime our people are quite justified in getting him more and more involved in this matter by pressing him for fulfilment. As soon as that fellow has committed himself a little more (which he is sure not to do so soon) the whole flimflam will resolve itself into Prussian police rule. Empty phrases will help him damned little as an election programme

The right to work was first advanced by Fourier, [6] but with him it is realised only in the phalanstery and therefore presupposes the adoption of the latter. The Fourierists – peace-loving philistines of the Démocratie pacifique, as their paper was called, disseminated that phrase precisely because it sounded innocuous. The Paris workers of 1848 – with their utter confusion in theoretical matters allowed this phrase to be palmed off on them because it looked so practical, so non-utopian, so readily realisable. The government put it into practice – in the only way capitalist society could put it into practice – by building nonsensical national workshops. In the same way the right to work was realised here in Lancashire during the cotton crisis of 1861-64 by building municipal workshops. And in Germany it is also put into operation by establishing starvation and flogging colonies for the workers, which are now arousing the enthusiasm of the philistines. Put forward as a separate demand the right to work cannot be realised in any other way. One demands that capitalist society should make that right effective but this society can do that only within the framework of its conditions of existence and if one demands the right to work in this society one demands it subject to these definite conditions; hence one demands national workshops, workhouses and colonies. But if the demand of the right to work is supposed to include indirectly the demand for the transformation of the capitalist mode of production, it is a cowardly regression in comparison with the present state of the movement, a concession to the Anti-Socialist Law, a phrase that can serve no other purpose than to confuse and muddle up the workers with regard to the aims they have to pursue and the sole conditions under which they can achieve their aims...


1. The Anti-Socialist Law (exceptional Law against the Socialists) was introduced by Bismarck and approved by the majority in the Reichstag on 21 October 1878 – Progress Publishers.

2. The Liberal Party (Freisinnige Partei) came into being in March 1884 as a result of the fusion of the Progressive Party (Fortschrittspartei) and the left wing of the National-Liberal Party. It represented the interests of the middle and lower middle class and opposed the policy of the Bismarck government – Progress Publishers.

3. The Centre – the party of the Roman Catholics in Germany, formed in 1870-71 by the amalgamation of the Catholic parties in the Parliament; the name is derived from the fact that the seats of the deputies were situated in the centre of the chamber. As a rule the party followed a middle course in the Reichstag manoeuvring between the parties supporting the government and the left-wing opposition. Under the banner of Catholicism the party united diverse social strata – Roman Catholic priests, landowners, bourgeois and a section of the peasants – chiefly in the western and south-western states of Germany, where it fanned separatist and anti-Prussian sentiments – Progress Publishers.

4. Engels is alluding to the fact that on 10 May 1884, a large group of Liberal deputies and approximately half the Centre Party in the Reichstag voted for the renewal of the Anti-Socialist Law despite their usual opposition to Bismarck’s government, thus showing their fear of the growing working-class and Social-Democratic movement – Progress Publishers.

5. Bruno Geiser (1846-1898) – German Social-Democrat, editor of journal Die Neue Welt, a leader of the party’s opportunist wing – Progress Publishers.

6. François Fourier (1772-1837) – great French utopian socialist – Progress Publishers.