Marx-Engels Correspondence 1891

Engels to August Bebel
In Berlin


Published: Gesamtausgabe, International Publishers, 1942;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

London, 29 September, 1891

You are right; if it comes to war we must demand the general arming of the people. But in conjunction with the already existing organisation or that specially prepared in case of war. Enlistment, therefore, of the hitherto untrained in supplementary reserves and Landsturm and above all immediate emergency training besides arming and organisation into fixed cadres.

The proclamation to the French will have to come out rather differently in form. The Russian diplomats are not so stupid as to provoke a war in face of the whole of Europe. On the contrary, things will be so operated that either France appears as the provoking party or – one of the Triple Alliance countries. Russia always has dozens of casus belli [occasions for war] of this kind to hand; the special answer to be given depends on the pretext for war put forward. In any case we must declare that since 1871 we have always been ready for a peaceful understanding with France, that as soon as our Party comes to power it will be unable to exercise that power unless Alsace-Lorraine freely determines its own future, but that if war is forced upon us, and moreover a war in alliance with Russia, we must regard this as an attack on our existence and defend ourselves by every method, utilising all positions at our disposal and therefore Metz and Strasbourg also.

As to the conduct of the war itself, two aspects are immediately decisive: Russia is weak in attack but strong in defensive man-power. A stab in the heart is impossible. France is strong in attack but rendered incapable of attack, innocuous, after a few defeats. I do not give much either for Austrians as generals or for Italians as soldiers, so our army will have to lead and sustain the main push. The war will have to begin with the holding back of the Russians but the defeat of the French. When the French offensive has been rendered innocuous things may get as far as the conquest of Poland up to the Dvina and Dnieper, but hardly before. This must be carried out by revolutionary methods and if necessary by giving up a piece of Prussian Poland and the whole of Galicia to the Poland to be established. If this goes well revolution will doubtless follow in France. At the same time we must press for at least Metz and Lorraine to be offered as a peace offering to France.

Probably, however, it will not go so well. The French will not allow themselves to be so easily defeated, their army is very good and better armed than ours, and what we achieve in the way of generalship does not look as if very much would come of it either. That the French have learnt how to mobilise has been shown this summer. And also that they have enough officers for their first field army – which is stronger than ours. Our superiority in officers will only be proved with the troops brought up later into the line. Moreover the direct line between Berlin and Paris is strongly defended by fortifications on both sides. In short, in the most favourable case it will probably turn out a fluctuating war which will be carried on with constant drawing in of fresh reinforcements by both sides until one party is exhausted, or until the active intervention of England, who, by simply blockading corn imports can, under the then existing conditions, starve out whichever party she decides against, Germany or France, and force it to make peace. In the meantime what happens on the Russian frontier mainly depends on the way the Austrians conduct the war and is therefore incalculable.

So much seems certain to me: if we are beaten, every barrier to chauvinism and a war of revenge in Europe will be thrown down for years hence. If we are victorious our Party will come into power. The victory of Germany is therefore the victory of the revolution, and if it comes to war we must not only desire victory but further it by every means....

What should have been categorically stated [by Bernstein] was that if France formally represents the revolution in relation to Germany, Germany, through its workers' Party, stands materially at the head of the revolution, and this is bound to come to light in the war – in which we, and with us the revolution, will either be crushed or else come to power.