Marx-Engels Correspondence 1891

Engels to August Bebel
In Berlin


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

London, 24-26 October, 1891

As I considered it necessary to tell the French the unvarnished truth about our position if it comes to war – a damned difficult task, certainly – I wrote a French article and sent it to Laura [Lafargue]. She writes to me to-day that both she and Paul [Lafargue] are quite enchanted with the article, that it is just what the French need, etc. If Guesde shares this opinion – he is still in Lille, where he is representing Lafargue with the electors – the article is to be published. It was originally written for the French Socialist Calendar but is possibly (I should say probably) too strong for the mishmash people who have to do with that, in which case it will be put in the Socialiste, which I hope you see. I say to the people: we have the almost absolute certainty of coming to power within ten years; we could neither seize power nor retain it without making good the crimes committed by our predecessors towards other nationalities and therefore (1) opening the way for the reconstitution of Poland, (2) putting the North Schleswig population and Alsace-Lorraine in a position freely to decide where they shall belong. Between a Socialist France and a ditto Germany an Alsace-Lorraine problem has no existence at all. Hence there is no reason whatever for a war on account of Alsace-Lorraine. If, however, the French bourgeoisie begin such a war nevertheless, and for this purpose place themselves in the service of the Russian tsar, who is also the enemy of the bourgeoisie of the whole of Western Europe, this will be the renunciation of France's revolutionary mission. We German Socialists, on the other hand, who if peace is preserved will come to power in ten years, have the duty of maintaining the position won by us in the van of the workers' movement, not only against the internal but against the external foe. If Russia is victorious we shall be crushed. Therefore if Russia begins war – Go for her! go for the Russians and their allies, whoever they may be. Then we have to see to it that the war is conducted by every revolutionary method and that things are made impossible for any government which refuses to adopt such methods; also at a given moment to take the lead ourselves. We have not yet forgotten the glorious example of the French in 1793 and, if we are driven to it, it may come about that we celebrate the centenary of 1793 by showing that the German workers of 1893 are not unworthy of the Sans culottes of those days and that if French soldiers cross our frontiers then they will be greeted with the cry:

Quoi ces cohortes étrangères
Feraient le loi dans nos foyers? [Marseillaise]

This is the general sequence of thought. As soon as the text is finally settled (I am of course expecting proposals for small alterations of detail) and the printing taken in hand I will translate the article into German and then we will see what can be done with it. I am not sure if your press conditions will allow of its being printed in Germany; perhaps if you make some reservations it can be all the same – this will be seen. My articles do not in any case tie the Party – very fortunate for us both, although Liebknecht imagines I regard it as unfortunate for myself, which never occurs to me.

According to the reports, you said that I had prophesied the collapse of bourgeois society in 1898. There is a slight error there somewhere. All I said was that we might possibly come to power by 1898. If this does not happen, the old bourgeois society might still vegetate on for a while, so long as a shove from outside does not bring the whole ramshackle old building crashing down. A rotten old casing like this can survive its inner essential death for a few decades, if the atmosphere is undisturbed. So I should be very cautious about prophesying such a thing. Our arrival at the possibility of power, on the other hand, is a pure calculation of probability according to mathematical laws.

For all that, I hope peace remains unbroken. In our present position we do not need to risk everything – -but war would force us to do so. And then in another ten years we shall be quite differently prepared. And for the following reason.

In order to take possession of and set in motion the means of production, we need people with technical training, and masses of them. These we have not got, and up till now we have even been rather glad that we have been largely spared the "educated" people. Now things are different. Now we are strong enough to stand any quantity of educated Quarcks and to digest them, and I foresee that in the next eight or ten years we shall recruit enough young technicians, doctors, lawyers and schoolmasters to enable us to have the factories and big estates administered on behalf of the nation by Party comrades. Then, therefore, our entry into power will be quite natural and will be settled up quickly – relatively, if, on the other hand, a war brings us to power prematurely, the technicians will be our chief enemies; they will deceive and betray us wherever they can and we shall have to use terror against them but shall get cheated all the same. It is what always happened, on a small scale, to the French revolutionaries; even in the ordinary administration they had to leave the subordinate posts, where real work is done, in the possession of old reactionaries who obstructed and paralysed everything. Therefore I hope and desire that our splendid and secure development, which is advancing with the calm and inevitability of a process of nature, may remain on its natural lines.