Marx-Engels Correspondence 1890

Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge
In Hoboken


Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence;
Publisher: International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Translated: Donna Torr;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 2000;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

February 8, 1890

In my opinion we hardly lose anything worth counting by the going-over of the official Socialists there to the Nationalists. [Followers of Edward Bellamy, U.S.] If the whole German Socialist Labour Party went to pieces as a result it would be a gain, but we can hardly expect anything so good as that. The really serviceable elements will come together again in the end all the same, and the sooner the waste matter has separated itself the sooner this will happen; when the moment comes in which events themselves drive the American proletariat forward there will be enough fitted by their superior theoretical insight and experience to take the part of leaders, and then you will find that your years of work have not been wasted.

The movement there, just like the one here and in the mining districts of Germany now as well, cannot be made by preaching alone. Facts must hammer the thing into people's heads, but then it will go quickly too, quickest, of course, where there is already an organised and theoretically educated section of the proletariat at hand, as in Germany. The miners are ours to-day potentially and necessarily: in the Ruhr district the process is proceeding rapidly, Aix la Chapelle and the Saar basin will follow, then Saxony, then Lower Silesia, finally the Polish bargemen of Upper Silesia. With the position of our party in Germany all that was needed in order to call the irresistible movement into being was the impulse arising from the miners' own conditions of life.

Here it is going in a similar way. The movement, which I now consider irrepressible, arose from the dockers' strike, purely out of the absolute necessity of defence. But here too the ground had been so far prepared by various forms of agitation during the last eight years that the people without being Socialists themselves still only wanted to have Socialists as their leaders. Now, without noticing it themselves, they are coming on to the right theoretical track, they drift into it, and the movement is so strong that I think it will survive the inevitable blunders and their consequences and the friction between the various trade unions and leaders without serious damage. ...

I think it will be the same with you in America too. The Schleswig-Holsteiners [Anglo-Saxons] and their descendants in England and America are not to be converted by lecturing, this pig-headed and conceited lot have got to experience it on their own bodies. And this they are doing more and more every year, but they are born conservatives – just because America is so purely bourgeois, so entirely without a feudal past and therefore proud of its purely bourgeois organisation – and so they will only get quit of the old traditional mental rubbish by practical experience. Hence the trade unions, etc., are the thing to begin with if there is to be a mass movement, and every further step must be forced upon them by a defeat. But once the first step beyond the bourgeois point of view has been taken things will move quickly, like everything in America, where, driven by natural necessity, the growing speed of the movement sets some requisite fire going under the backsides of the Schleswig-Holstein Anglo-Saxons, who are usually so slow; and then too the foreign elements in the nation will assert themselves by greater mobility. I consider the decay of the specifically German party, with its absurd theoretical confusion, its corresponding arrogance and its Lassalleanism, a real piece of good fortune. Not until these separatists are out of the way will the fruits of your work come to light again. The Socialist Laws were a misfortune, not for Germany, but for America to which they consigned the last Knoten. I often used to marvel at the many Knoten faces one met with over there; these have died out in Germany but are flourishing over yonder.