Marx-Engels Correspondence 1884

Engels to August Bebel
In Berlin


Published: Gesamtausgabe, International Publishers, 1942;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

London, 11-12 December, 1884

About our proletarian masses I have never been deceived. This secure progress of their movement, confident of victory and for that very reason cheerful and humorous, is a model which cannot be surpassed. No European proletariat would have stood the test of the Socialist Law so brilliantly and have responded after six years of suppression with such a proof of increased strength and consolidated organisation; no nation would have achieved this organisation in the way it has been achieved without any conspiratorial humbug. And since I have seen the election manifestoes of Darmstadt and Hanover my fear that concessions might have become necessary in the new places (constituencies) has also vanished. If it was possible to speak in such a truly revolutionary and proletarian way in these two towns, then everything is won.

Our great advantage is that with us the industrial revolution is only just in full swing, while in France and England, so far as the main point is concerned, it is closed. There the division into town and country, industrial district and agricultural district is so far concluded that it only changes slowly. The great mass of the people grow up in the conditions in which they have later to live, are accustomed to them; even the fluctuations and crises have become something they take practically for granted. Added to this is the remembrance of the unsuccessful attempts of former movements. With us, on the other hand, everything is in full flow. Remnants of the old peasant industrial production for the satisfaction of personal needs are being supplanted by capitalistic domestic industry, while in other places capitalistic domestic industry is already succumbing in its turn to machinery. And the very nature of our industry, limping behind at the very end, makes the social upheaval all the more fundamental. As the great mass production articles, both mass commodities and articles of luxury, have already been appropriated by the French and English, all that remains for our export industry is chiefly small stuff, which, however, also runs into masses all the same, and is at first produced by domestic industry and only later, when the production is on a mass scale, by machines. Domestic industry (capitalistic) is introduced by this means into much wider regions and clears its way all the more thoroughly. If I except the East Elbe district of Prussia, that is to say East Prussia, Pomerania, Posen and the greater part of Brandenburg, and further Old Bavaria, there are few districts where the peasant has not been swept more and more into domestic industry. The region industrially revolutionised, therefore, becomes larger with us than anywhere else.

Furthermore. Since for the most part the worker in domestic industry carries on his little bit of agriculture, it becomes possible to depress wages in a fashion unequalled elsewhere. What formerly constituted the happiness of the small man, the combination of agriculture and industry, now becomes the most powerful means of capitalist exploitation. The potato patch, the cow, the little bit of agriculture make it possible for the labour power to be sold below its price; they oblige this to be so by tying the worker to his piece of land, which yet only partially supports him. Hence it becomes possible to put our industry on an export basis owing to the fact that the buyer is generally presented with the whole of the surplus value, while the capitalist's profit consists in a deduction from the normal wage. This is more or less the case with all rural domestic industry, but nowhere so much as with us.

Added to this is the fact that our industrial revolution, which was set in motion by the revolution of 1848 with its bourgeois progress (feeble though this was), was enormously speeded up (1) by getting rid of internal hindrances in 1866 to 1870, and (2) by the French milliards, which were ultimately to be invested capitalistically. So we achieved an industrial revolution which is more deep and thorough and spatially more extended and comprehensive than that of the other countries, and this with a perfectly fresh and intact proletariat, undemoralised by defeats and finally--thanks to Marx--with an insight into the causes of economic and political development and into the conditions of the impending revolution such as none of our predecessors possessed. But for that very reason it is our duty to be victorious.

As to pure democracy and its role in the future I do not share your opinion. Obviously it plays a far more subordinate part in Germany than in countries with an older industrial development. But that does not prevent the possibility, when the moment of revolution comes, of its acquiring a temporary importance as the most radical bourgeois party (it has already played itself off as such in Frankfort) and as the final sheet-anchor of the whole bourgeois and even feudal regime. At such a moment the whole reactionary mass falls in behind it and strengthens it; everything which used to be reactionary behaves as democratic. Thus between March and September 1848 the whole feudal-bureaucratic mass strengthened the liberals in order to hold down the revolutionary masses, and, once this was accomplished, in order, naturally, to kick out the liberals as well. Thus from May 1848 until Bonaparte's election in France in December, the purely republican party of the National, the weakest of all the parties, was in power, simply owing to the whole collective reaction organised behind it. This has happened in every revolution: the tamest party still remaining in any way capable of government comes to power with the others just because it is only in this party that the defeated see their last possibility of salvation. Now it cannot be expected that at the moment of crisis we shall already have the majority of the electorate and therefore of the nation behind us. The whole bourgeois class and the remnants of the feudal landowning class, a large section of the petty bourgeoisie and also of the rural population will then mass themselves around the most radical bourgeois party, which will then make the most extreme revolutionary gestures, and I consider it very possible that it will be represented in the provisional government and even temporarily form its majority. How, as a minority, one should not act in that case, was demonstrated by the social-democratic minority in the Paris revolution of February 1848. However, this is still an academic question at the moment.

Now of course the thing may take a different turn in Germany, and that for military reasons. As things are at present, an impulse from outside can scarcely come from anywhere but Russia. If it does not do so, if the impulse arises from Germany, then the revolution can only start from the army. From the military point of view an unarmed nation against an army of to-day is a purely vanishing quantity. In this case--if our twenty to twenty-five-year-old reserves which have no vote but are trained, came into action--pure democracy might be leapt over. But this question is still equally academic at present, although I, as a representative, so to speak, of the great general staff of the Party, am bound to take it into consideration. In any case our sole adversary on the day of the crisis and on the day after the crisis will be the whole collective reaction which will group itself around pure democracy, and this, I think, should not be lost sight of.

If you are bringing forward motions in the Reichstag, there is one which should not be forgotten. The state lands are mostly let out to big farmers; the smallest portion of them is sold to peasants, whose holdings are, however, so small that the new peasants have to resort to working as day labourers on the big farms. The demand should be made that the great demesnes which are not yet broken up should be let out to co-operative societies of agricultural labourers for joint farming. The Imperial Government has no state lands and will therefore no doubt find a pretext for shelving such a proposition put in the form of a motion. But I think this firebrand must be thrown among the agricultural day labourers. Which can indeed be done in one of the many debates on state socialism. This and this alone is the way to get hold of the agricultural workers this is the best method of drawing their attention to the fact that later on it is to he their task to cultivate the great estates of our present gracious gentlemen for the common account. And this will give friend Bismarck, who demands positive proposals from you, enough for some time.