Marx-Engels Correspondence 1889

Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge
In Hoboken


Written: December 7, 1889;
Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence and Marx & Engels on the Irish Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971, p. 351;
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 7, 1889

Dear Sorge

Letters of 8 and 29 October received. Thanks.

Things won’t turn out so well that the Socialist Labor Party [1] will go into liquidation. Rosenberg [2] has a lot of heirs besides Schewitsch, [3] and the conceited doctrinaire Germans over there certainly have no desire to give up the position they have arrogated to themselves to teach the ‘immature’ Americans. Otherwise they would be nobodies.


Here in England one can see that it is impossible simply to drill a theory in an abstract dogmatic way into a great nation, even if one has the best of theories, developed out of their own conditions of life, and even if the tutors are relatively better than the S.L.P. [Socialist Labour Party of North America.] The movement has now got going at last and I believe for good. But it is not directly Socialist, and those English who have understood our theory best remain outside it: Hyndman because he is incurably jealous and intriguing, Bax because he is only a bookworm. Formally the movement is at the moment a trade union movement, but utterly different from that of the old trade unions, the skilled labourers, the aristocracy of labour.

The people are throwing themselves into the job in quite a different way, are leading far more colossal masses into the fight, are shaking society much more deeply, are putting forward much more far-reaching demands: eight-hour day, general federation of all organisations, complete solidarity. Thanks to Tussy [Eleanor Marx Aveling] women’s branches have been formed for the first time – in the Gas Workers and General Labourers’ Union. Moreover, the people only regard their immediate demands themselves as provisional, although they themselves do not know as yet what final aim they are working for. But this dim idea is strongly enough rooted to make them choose only openly declared Socialists as their leaders. Like everyone else they will have to learn by their own experiences and the consequences of their own mistakes. But as, unlike the old trade unions, they greet every suggestion of an identity of interest between capital and labour with scorn and ridicule this will not take very long.

I hope the next general election will be deferred for another three years — 1. So that during the period of the greatest war danger Gladstone, the lackey of the Russians, should not be at the head of affairs; this might already be a sufficient reason for the Tsar [Alexander III] to provoke a war. 2. So that the anti-Conservative majority becomes so large that real Home Rule for Ireland becomes a necessity, otherwise Gladstone will cheat the Irish again, and this obstacle — the Irish question — will not be cleared away. 3. However, so that the labour movement may develop further and perhaps mature more rapidly as a result of the set-back caused by the business recession which will certainly follow the present period of prosperity. The next parliament may then comprise 20 to 40 labour deputies, and moreover of a very different kind from the Potters, Cremers and Co.

The most repulsive thing here is the bourgeois “respectability” which has grown deep into the bones of the workers. The division of society into a scale of innumerable degrees, each recognised without question, each with its own pride but also its native respect for its “betters” and “superiors,” is so old and firmly established that the bourgeois still find it pretty easy to get their bait accepted. I am not at all sure, for instance, that John Burns is not secretly prouder of his popularity with Cardinal Manning, the Lord Mayor and the bourgeoisie in general than of his popularity with his own class. And Champion — an ex-lieutenant — has intrigued for years with bourgeois and especially with conservative elements, preached Socialism at the parsons’ Church Congress, etc. Even Tom Mann, whom I regard as the finest of them, is fond of mentioning that he will be lunching with the Lord Mayor. If one compares this with the French, one can see what a revolution is good for after all. However, it will not help the bourgeoisie much if they do succeed in enticing some of the leaders into their toils. The movement has been far enough strengthened for this sort of thing to be overcome.


Notes provided by the Moscow Editor.

1. The Socialist Labour Party of North America came into being at the Unity Congress at Philadelphia in 1876, as a result of the merging of the American Sections of the First International, the Social-Democratic Workers Party and other socialist organisations in the USA. Most of the members of the party had emigrated to the United States comparatively recently, chiefly from Germany, and had little contact with the native American workers. The party declared that its aim was the fight for socialism, it did not however become a truly revolutionary Marxist mass party, because its sectarian leadership failed to realise the necessity of working in the mass organisations of the American proletariat.

2. Wilhelm Ludwig Rosenberg (1850-?) — German journalist, until 1889 Secretary of National Committee of Socialist Labor Party in the USA.

3. Sergei Schewitsch — editor of New-Yorker Volkszeitung.