Marx Engels Correspondence 1886

Friedrich Engels to Laura Lafargue
In Paris

Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

2 October 1886

... I am afraid Paul exaggerates the significance of the Paris verdict [1] in so far as it is a symptom of the accessibility of the industrial bourgeoisie for socialist ideas. The struggle between usurer and industrial capitalist is one within the bourgeoisie itself, and though no doubt a certain number of petty bourgeois will be driven over to us by the certainty of their impending expropriation de la part des boursiers, [2] yet we can never hope to get the mass of them over to our side. Moreover, this is not desirable, as they bring their narrow class prejudices along with them. In Germany we have too many of them, and it is they who form the dead weight which trammels the march of the party. It will ever be the lot of the petty bourgeois – as a mass – to float undecidedly between the two great classes, one part to be crushed by the centralisation of capital, the other by the victory of the proletariat. On the decisive day, they will as usual be tottering, wavering and helpless, se laisseront faire, [3] and that is all we want. Even if they come round to our views they will say: of course communism is the ultimate solution, but it is far off, maybe 100 years before it can be realised – in other words: we do not mean to work for its realisation neither in our, nor in our children’s lifetime. Such is our experience in Germany.

Otherwise the verdict is a grand victory and marks a decided step in advance. The bourgeoisie, from the moment it is faced by a conscious and organised proletariat, becomes entangled in hopeless contradictions between its liberal and democratic general tendencies here, and the repressive necessities of its defensive struggle against the proletariat there. A cowardly bourgeoisie, like the German and Russian, sacrifices its general class tendencies to the momentary advantages of brutal repression. But a bourgeoisie with a revolutionary history of its own, such as the English and particularly the French, cannot do that so easily. Hence that struggle, within the bourgeoisie itself, which in spite of occasional fits of violence and oppression, on the whole drives it forward – see the various electoral reforms of Gladstone in England, and the advance of radicalism in France. This verdict is a new étape. [4] And so the bourgeoisie, in doing its own work, is doing ours... .


1. Engels refers to the acquittal of Guesde, Lafargue and Susini by the Assize Court jury on 24 September 1886, when they appealed against the verdict of the previous sitting of the court which had imposed sentences of from four to six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 100 francs for alleged incitement to pillage. The charge was based on speeches they had made at a meeting held at Chateau d'Eau on 3 June 1886. In his letter to Engels of 30 September 1886, Paul Lafargue wrote that the acquittal showed to a certain extent that the bourgeoisie was ready for some of the socialist theories – Progress Publishers.

2. By the money-bags – Progress Publishers.

3. They will not interfere – Progress Publishers

4. Stage – Progress Publishers.