Marx-Engels Correspondence 1891

Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge
In Hoboken


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.

October 24, 1891

... I can very well believe that the movement in the USA is again at a low ebb. Over there everything is liable to big ups and downs. But in each of the ups new ground is definitely gained and so one makes progress in the long run. Thus the powerful surge of the Knights of Labor [1] and of the strike movement of 1886 to 1888 despite all the set-backs has on the whole advanced our cause. There is now quite a different spirit among the masses. Still more ground will be gained next time. But the living standard of the native American worker is nevertheless considerably higher than even that of the English worker, and this alone is sufficient to relegate him to a back seat for some time. Besides there is the competition of the emigrants and some other reasons. When the time is ripe things will move there with enormous speed and energy, but it may take a little while till that point is reached. Miracles don’t happen anywhere. Add to this moreover the unfortunate business with the supercilious Germans who want to play the schoolmaster and at the same time the commander and who have thus made the natives dislike learning even the best things from them...

Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus [2] will be published here in a translation prepared by Aveling and edited by me (in Sonnenschein’s Social Series). In face of this authorised translation the American pirate edition [3] with its miserable English will be rather innocuous. It is moreover not even complete, whatever they found too difficult they have left out...


Despite the famine in Russia the danger of war is becoming greater. The Russians want to exploit the new French alliance rapidly and thoroughly, and although I am convinced that Russian diplomacy does not want a war, and the famine would make it look ridiculous, nevertheless military and pan-Slav tendencies (now supported by the very strong industrial bourgeoisie in the interest of extended markets) may get the upper hand and it is equally likely that some stupidity may be perpetrated in Vienna, Berlin or Paris which will cause war to break out. Bebel and I have been in correspondence on this point and we are of the opinion that if the Russians start war against us, German Socialists must go for the Russians and their allies, whoever they may be, a l'outrance [in a fight to the death]. If Germany is crushed, then we shall be too, while in the most favourable case the struggle will be such a violent one that Germany will only be able to maintain herself by revolutionary means, so that very possibly we shall be forced to come into power and play the part of 1793. Bebel has made a speech about this in Berlin which has aroused a lot of attention in the French press. I shall try to make this clear to the French in their own language, which is not easy. But although I think it would be a great misfortune if it came to war and if this brought us prematurely into power, still one has got to be armed for this eventuality and I am glad that here I have Bebel, who is by far the most capable of our people, on my side.


Notes provided by the Moscow Editor and the MIA.

1. The Order of the Knights of Labor, which was founded by American workers in Philadelphia in 1869, was a secret society up to 1878. The Order consisted mainly of unskilled workers, including many Negroes, and had as its aim the creation of cooperative societies and the organisation of mutual aid. But the leadership of the Order was in fact against the participation of the workers in the political struggle and advocated class collaboration. In 1886 it opposed a nation-wide strike and forbade its members to take part in it, the rank and file however disregarded these injunctions. Owing to the opportunist policy pursued by the leaders the influence of the organisation decreased and it disintegrated towards the end of the 1890s.

2. Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific [MIA].

3. Engels refers to a translation by de Leon and Vogt which was published by the Socialist Workers Party of America.