Frederick Engels Correspondence 1889

Engels To Laura Lafargue
At Le Perreux

London, 11 June 1889

Written: in English;
First published: in F. Engels, P. et L. Lafargue, Correspondance, t. II, Paris, 1956;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

My dear Laura,

At last, I can find a few minutes for a quiet chat with you. And first of all let me thank you for your charming invitation to Le Perreux for the Congress. But I am afraid I shall have as yet to delay accepting it. There are two things which I avoid visiting on principle, and only go to on compulsion: congresses and exhibitions. The din and throng of your ‘world’s fair’, to speak the slang of the respectable Britisher, is anything but an attraction for me, and from the Congress I must keep away in any case; that would launch me in a new agitation campaign, and I should come back here with a load of tasks, for the benefit of a variety of nationalities, that would keep me busy for a couple of years. Those things one cannot decline at a congress, and yet I must, if the 3rd volume is to see the light of day. For more than 3 months I have not been able to look at it, and it is too late now to begin before the holidays I intend taking; nor am I sure that my congress troubles are quite over. So if I do not come over to Le Perreux this year, aufgeschoben ist nicht aufgehoben, but this summer I shall take a little rest in a quiet seaside place and try to put myself in condition again to be able to smoke a cigar which I have not done for more than two months, about a gramme of tobacco every other day being as much as I can stand — but I sleep again, and a moderate drink does no longer affect me unpleasantly.

Here is a bit of news for Paul; Sam Moore gives us tonight a parting dinner, he sails on Saturday for the Niger, where, at Asába, in the interior of Africa, he will be Chief Justice of the Territories of the Royal Niger Company, Chartered and Limited, with six months’ leave to Europe every other year, good pay, and the expectation of returning in 8 years or so an independent man. It was chiefly in honour of Paul that he consented to become Lord Chief Justice of the Niger Niggers, the very cream of Nigrition Niger Nigerdom. We are all very sorry to lose him, but he has been looking out for something of the sort for more than a year and this is an excellent place. He owes his appointment not only to his legal qualifications, but very much, also, to his being an accomplished geologist and botanist and ex-volunteer officer — all qualities very valuable in a new country. He will have a botanical garden, and make a meteorological station; his judicial duties will mainly consist in punishing German smugglers of Bismarck’s potato spirit and of arms and ammunition. The climate is far better than its reputation, and his medical examination was highly satisfactory, the doctor telling him he would have a better chance than young men who kill themselves — out of pure ennui — with whisky and black harems. Thus when the 3rd volume comes out, a portion, at least, of it will be translated in Africa as I shall send him the advance sheets.

To return to our beloved congress. I consider these congresses to be unavoidable evils in the movement; people will insist on playing at congresses, and though they have their useful demonstrative side, and do good in bringing people of different countries together, it is doubtful whether le jeu vaut la chandelle when there are serious differences. But the persistent efforts of the Possibilists and Hyndmanites to sneak into the leadership of a new International, by means of their congresses, made a struggle unavoidable for us, and here is the only point in which I agree with Brousse: that it is the old split in the International over again, which now drives people into two opposite camps. On one side the disciples of Bakunin, with a different flag but with all the old equipment and tactics, a set of intriguers and humbugs who try to ‘boss’ the working class movement for their own private ends; on the other side the real working-class movement. And it was this, and this alone that made me take the matter up in such good earnest. Debates about details of legislation do not interest me to such a degree. But the position reconquered upon the Anarchists after 1873 was now attacked by their successors, and so I had no choice. Now we have been victorious, we have proved to the world that almost all Socialists in Europe are ‘Marxists’ (they will be mad they gave us that name!) and they are left alone in the cold with Hyndman to console them. And now I hope my services are no longer required.

As they have nobody to come to them, they fall back upon non-Socialist or half-Socialist Trades Unions and thus their congress will have a quite distinct character from ours. That makes the question of fusion a secondary one; two such congresses may sit side by side, without scandal.

My dear Laura, I was going to write a lot more, but I cannot see hardly, it is so foggy, and thus I had to interrupt for brighter intervals, until now it is post-time. So I can but enclose the cheque £10. — about which Paul writes.

As to money for Congress, the Germans ought to do something — if I can, will write to Paul about that tomorrow.

Ever yours

F. Engels