Marx-Engels Correspondence 1889

Engels to Victor Adler
In Vienna


Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence;
Publisher: International Publishers (1968);
Additional text from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975;
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Translated: Donna Torr;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 2000;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

London, December 4, 1889

I recommended you to revise Avenel's Cloots for the following reasons:

In my opinion (and that of Marx) the book contains the first specific and correct account, based on a study of the archives, of the critical Period of the French Revolution, namely from 10 August to 9 Thermidor.

Cloots and the Commune of Paris were for the propagandist war as the only means of salvation, whereas the Committee of Public Safety behaved like regular statesmen, were frightened of the European coalition and tried to get peace by dividing the allied powers. Danton wanted peace with England, that is with Fox and the English opposition, who hoped to come into power at the elections; Robespierre intrigued with Austria and Prussia at Basle in the hope of coming to an understanding with them. Both united against the Commune in order above all to overthrow the people who wanted the propagandist war and the republicanisation of Europe. They succeeded. The Commune (Hébert, Cloots, etc.) was beheaded. But from that time onwards agreement became impossible between those who wanted to conclude peace only with England and those who wanted to conclude it only with the German powers. The English elections turned in favour of Pitt, Fox was shut out of the government for years, this ruined Danton's position, Robespierre was victorious and beheaded him. But – and Avenel has not sufficiently stressed this – while the reign of terror was now intensified to a pitch of insanity, because it was necessary in order to keep Robespierre in power under the existing internal conditions, it was rendered entirely superfluous by the victory of Fleurus on 24 June, 1794, which freed not only the frontiers but Belgium, and indirectly delivered over the left bank of the Rhine to France. Thus Robespierre also became superfluous and fell on July 27.

The whole French Revolution is dominated by the War of Coalition, all its pulsations depend upon it. If the allied army penetrates into France – predominant activity of the vagus nerves, violent heartbeat, revolutionary crisis. If it is driven back – predominance of the sympathetic nerves, the heartbeat becomes slower, the reactionary elements again push themselves into the foreground; the plebeians, the beginning of the later proletariat, whose energy alone has saved the revolution, are brought to reason and order.

The tragedy is that the party supporting war to the bitter end, war for the emancipation of the nations, is proved in the right, and that the Republic gets the better of all Europe, but only after that party itself has long been beheaded; while in place of the propagandist war comes the Peace of Basle and the bourgeois orgy of the Directory.

The book must be completely revised and shortened – the rhetoric cut out, the facts taken from the ordinary histories supplemented and clearly emphasised. Cloots, meanwhile, can be put quite into the background, the most important things from the Lundis révolut can be inserted and we may get a work on the revolution such as has never existed up till now.


An explanation of how the battle of Fleurus put an end to the reign of terror was published in the (first) Rheinische Zeitung in 1842 by KF Koppen in an excellent criticism of H Leo’s Geschichte der französischen Revolution [History of the French Revolution].

Best regards to your wife and Louise Kautsky