Marx-Engels Correspondence 1889

Engels To Eduard Bernstein


Source: Marx Engels On Britain, Progress Publishers 1953;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

Eastbourne, August 22, 1889

In your next issue you ought to take up the dock labourers’ strike. It is a matter of paramount importance to us here. Hitherto the East End was bogged down in passive poverty. Lack of resistance on the part of those broken by starvation, of those who had given up all hope was its salient feature. Anyone who got into it was physically and morally lost. Then last year came the successful strike of the match girls. And now this gigantic strike of the lowest of the outcasts, the dock labourers — not of the steady, strong, experienced, comparatively well-paid and regularly employed ones, but of those whom chance has dumped on the docks, those who are always down on their luck, who have not managed to get along in any other trade, people who have become professional starvelings, a mass of broken-down humanity who are drifting toward total ruination, for whom one might inscribe on the gates of the docks the words of Dante: Lasciate ogni speranza voi che entrate! [1] And this host of utterly despondent men, who every morning when the dock gates open fight a regular battle among themselves to get the closest to the fellow who does the hiring, literally a battle waged in the competitive struggle among the much too numerous workers — this motley crowd thrown together by chance and changing daily in composition has managed to unite 40,000 strong, to maintain discipline and to strike fear into the hearts of the mighty dock companies. How glad I am to have lived to see this day! If this stratum can be organised, that is a fact of great import. However the strike may end — I am never sanguine beforehand in this regard — with the dock labourers the lowest stratum of East End workers enters the movement and then the upper strata must follow their example. The East End contains the greatest number of common labourers in England, of people whose work requires no skill or almost none. If these sections of the proletariat, which until now have been treated with contempt by the Trade Unions of the skilled workers, organise in London, this will serve as an example for the provinces.

Furthermore, for lack of organisation and because of the passive vegetative existence of the real workers in the East End, the gutter proletariat has had the main say there so far. It has behaved like and has been considered the typical representative of the million of starving East Enders. That will now cease. The huckster and those like him will be forced into the background, the East End worker will be able to develop his own type and make it count by means of organisation. This is of enormous value for the movement. Scenes like those which occurred during Hyndman’s procession through Pall Mall and Piccadilly will then become impossible and the rowdy who will want to provoke a riot will simply be knocked dead.

In brief, it is an event. You can tell the stunning effect this thing has had by the way even the dastardly Daily News handles it. It’s the same as the miners’ strike was for us: a new section enters the movement, a new corps of workers. And the bourgeois who only five years ago would have cursed and sworn must now applaud, albeit dejectedly, while and because his heart is palpitating with fear and trepidation. Hurrah!


1. Dante: “Leave, ye that enter in, all hope behind!”