Friedrich Engels 1892

Socialism in Germany

Written: main text in October 1891, introduction and conclusion to the German translation in January 1892;
First published: in Almanach du Parti Ouvrier pour 1892, Lille, 1891 (without introduction and conclusion), and in full in Die Neue Zeit, Vol. 1, No. 19, 1891-1892, signed: Fr. Engels;
Printed: main text according to Almanach du Parti Ouvrier pour 1892, checked with Die Neue Zeit; introduction and conclusion according to Die Neue Zeit;
Translated: from the French and German;
Transcribed: by Daniel Gaido.

The following is the translation of an article which I wrote in French at the request of our Parisian friends for the Almanach du Parti Ouvrier pour 1892. I owe it to the French as well as the German socialists to publish it in German. To the French, because it must be known in Germany how openly it is possible to discuss with them the circumstances in which German socialists would undoubtedly take part in a war, even against France, and how free these Frenchmen are from the chauvinism and vengefulness which all the bourgeois parties, from the monarchists to the radicals, display in all their glory. To the Germans, because they are entitled to hear from me at first hand what I have been telling the French about them.

It goes without saying-but let me make it quite clear once again- that in this article I speak purely in my own name and not in the name of the German party. The only ones entitled to do this are the elected bodies, representatives and delegates of this party. And, in addition, the international position which I have attained after fifty years’ work prevents me from acting as the representative of any particular national socialist party as opposed to another, although it does not prevent me from recalling that I am a German and being proud of the position which our German workers were the first to win for themselves through struggle.


German socialism made its appearance well before 1848. At that time there were two independent tendencies. Firstly, a workers’ movement, a branch of French working-class communism, a movement which, as one of its phases, produced the utopian communism of Weitling. Secondly, a theoretical movement, emerging from the collapse of the Hegelian philosophy; this movement, from its origins, was dominated by the name of Marx. The Communist Manifesto of January 1848 marks the fusion of these two tendencies, a fusion made complete and irrevocable in the furnace of revolution, in which everyone, workers and philosophers alike, shared equally the personal cost.

After the defeat of the European revolution in 1849, socialism was reduced in Germany to a secret existence. It was not until 1862 that Lassalle, a fellow student of Marx, again raised the socialist banner. But it was no longer the bold socialism of the Manifesto; what Lassalle demanded in the interest of the working class was cooperative production assisted by state credit; a reproduction of the programme of the Parisian workers affiliated before 1848 to the National of Marrast, of the programme proposed by the pure republicans, as the alternative to Louis Blanc’s Organisation of Labour. Lassallean socialism was, as we can see, very moderate. Nevertheless, its appearance on the scene marks the starting point of the second phase of socialism in Germany; for Lassalle’s talent, spirit and indomitable energy succeeded in creating a workers’ movement to which everything that had roused the German proletariat over the last ten years was attached by links positive or negative, amicable or hostile.

Could, then, pure Lassalleanism on its own fulfil the socialist aspirations of the nation that had produced the Manifesto? It proved impossible. Therefore, thanks mainly to the efforts of Liebknecht and Bebel, a workers’ party was soon formed which loudly proclaimed the principles of 1848. Then, in 1867, three years after the death of Lassalle, Marx’s Capital appeared. The decline of Lassalleanism as such dates from this day. Increasingly the theories of Capital became the common property of all the German socialists, Lassalleans and others. More than once entire groups of Lassalleans went over en masse, drums beating and banners flying, to Bebel’s and Liebknecht’s new party, called the Eisenach party. As this party continued to grow in strength, there was soon all-out hostility between the Lassalleans and their rivals; they fought with cudgels precisely at the moment when there was no longer any real difference between the combatants, when the principles, arguments, and even the methods of the struggle of one side were in all essentials identical with those of the other.

At this point the presence in the Reichstag of deputies from the two socialist factions imposed on them the necessity of joint action. When confronted with bourgeois deputies, the ridiculous nature of this traditional hostility was obvious. The situation became intolerable. Then in 1875 the two factions merged. Since then the brother-enemies have continued to form a family united in harmony. If there was the slightest chance of a split, Bismarck himself undertook to eliminate it when, in 1878, he placed German socialism beyond the pale of the law with his notorious exceptional law. The hammer blows of shared persecution completed the work of forging Lassalleans and Eisenachers into a homogeneous mass. Today, whilst the socialist party publishes an official edition of Lassalle’s works, it is removing from its programme, with the aid of the former Lassalleans, the last remaining traces of Lassalleanism as such.

Need I recount in detail the vicissitudes, the struggles, the setbacks and the triumphs which have accompanied the career of the German party? Represented by two deputies and one hundred thousand votes from 1866, when universal suffrage opened up to it the doors of the Reichstag, today it has 35 deputies and a million-and-a-half voters, a figure which none of the other parties reached in the elections of 1890. Eleven years passed as an outlaw and in a state of siege have resulted in a quadrupling of its strength, to make it the strongest party in Germany. In 1867 the bourgeois deputies were able to regard their socialist colleagues as strange creatures that had arrived from another planet; today, whether they like it or not, they have to regard them as the avant-garde of the power to come. The socialist party which overthrew Bismarck, the party which after eleven years of struggle has broken the Anti-Socialist Law; the socialist party, which like a rising tide overflows all the dikes, invading towns and countryside, even in the most reactionary Vendees – this party today has reached the point where it is possible to determine the date when it will come to power almost by mathematical calculation .

The number of socialist votes was:

In 1871 101,927

In 1874 351,670

In 1877 493,447

In 1884 549,990

In 1887 763,128

In 1890 1,427,298

Since the last elections the government has done its best to push the mass of people towards socialism; it has prosecuted associations and strikes; it has upheld, even m the present scarcity, import tariffs which make the bread and meat of the poor more expensive in order to benefit the big landowners. So at the elections in 1895 we can count on two and a half million votes at least, which will increase by 1900 to three and a half to four million out of ten million registered voters,” a figure which will appear curiously “fin de siècle “ to our bourgeois.

Facing this compact and steadily growing mass of socialists there are only the divided bourgeois parties. In 1890 the conservatives (two factions combined) received 1,377,417 votes; the national liberals 1,177,807; the progressists (radicals) 1,159,915; the Catholics 1,342,113. There we have a situation in which one solid party able to muster two and a half million votes will be strong enough to force any government to capitulate.

But the votes of the electors are far from constituting the main strength of German socialism. In our country you do not become a voter until the age of twenty-five, but at twenty you are a soldier. Moreover, since it is precisely the younger generation which provides the party with most of its recruits, it follows that the German army is becoming more and more infected with socialism. Today we have one soldier in five, in a few years’ time we shall have one in three, by 1900 the army, hitherto the most outstandingly Prussian element in Germany, will have a socialist majority. That is coming about as if by fate. The Berlin government can see it happening just as clearly as we can, but it is powerless. The army is slipping away from it.

How many times have the bourgeois called on us to renounce the use of revolutionary means for ever, to remain within the law, now that the exceptional law has been dropped and one law has been re-established for all, including the socialists? Unfortunately we are not in a position to oblige messieurs les bourgeois. Be that as it may, for the time being it is not we who are being destroyed by legality. It is working so well for us that we would be mad to spurn it as long as the situation lasts. It remains to be seen whether it will be the bourgeois and their government who will be the first to turn their back on the law in order to crush us by violence. That is what we shall be waiting for. You shoot first, messieurs les bourgeois.

No doubt they will be the first ones to fire. One fine day the German bourgeois and their government, tired of standing with their arms folded, witnessing the ever increasing advances of socialism, will resort to illegality and violence. To what avail? With force it is possible to crush a small sect, at least in a restricted space but there is no force in the world which can wipe out a party of two million men spread out over the entire surface-area of a large empire. Counter-revolutionary violence will be able to slow down the victory of socialism by a few years; but only in order to make it all the more complete when it comes.


All the above was said with the reservation that Germany will be able to pursue its economic and political development in peace. A war would change all that. And war is liable to break out at any moment.

Everyone knows what war means today. It would be Russia and France on one side; Germany, Austria and perhaps Italy on the other. Socialists in all these countries, conscripted whether they like it or not, will be forced to do battle against one another: what will the German socialist party do in such a case? The German empire is a monarchy with semi-feudal institutions, but dominated ultimately by the economic interests of the bourgeoisie. Thanks to Bismarck this empire has committed some grave blunders. Its domestic policy, a policy of harassment and meanness based on the police, unworthy of the government of a great nation, has earned it the scorn of all the bourgeois liberal countries; its foreign policy has excited the distrust, if not the hatred, of all its neighbours. With the violent annexation of Alsace-Lorraine the German government rendered any reconciliation with France impossible for a long time to come; without gaining any real advantage itself it has made Russia the arbiter of Europe. This is so evident that the day after Sedan the General Council of the International was able to predict the situation in Europe as it is today. In its address of September 9, 1870 it said: “Do the Teuton patriots really believe that liberty and peace will be guaranteed to Germany by forcing France into the arms of Russia? If the fortune of her arms, the arrogance of success, and dynastic intrigue lead Germany to a dismemberment of France, there will then only remain two courses open to her. She must at all risks become the avowed tool of Russian aggrandisement, or, after some short respite, make again ready for another ‘defensive’ war, not one of those new-fangled ‘localised’ wars but a war of races, a war with the combined Slavonian and Roman races.”

There is no doubt: in relation to this German empire, the French republic as it is now represents revolution, the bourgeois revolution, to be sure, but still revolution. But the instant this republic places itself under the orders of the Russian tsar it is a different matter entirely. Russian tsarism is the enemy of all the Western nations, even of the bourgeois of these nations. By invading Germany, the tsarist hordes would be bringing slavery instead of liberty, destruction instead of development, degradation instead of progress. Arm in arm with Russia, France cannot bring a single liberating idea to Germany; the French general who spoke to the Germans about the republic would make Europe and America laugh. It would mean the abdication of France’s revolutionary role b ; it would mean permitting Bismarck’s empire to pose as the representative of Western progress against the barbarism of the East.

But behind official Germany there is the German socialist party, the party to which belongs the future, the imminent future of the country. The moment this party comes to power it will neither be able to exercise it nor to retain it without making good the injustices committed by its predecessors towards the other nationalities. It will have to prepare for the restoration of Poland, so shamefully betrayed today by the French bourgeoisie; it will have to appeal to northern Schleswig and to Alsace-Lorraine freely to decide their own political future. All these questions will thus be resolved effortlessly, and in the near future, if Germany is left to itself. Between a socialist France and a socialist Germany there can be no Alsace-Lorraine question; the case will be settled in the twinkling of an eye. It is a matter, then, of waiting another ten years or so. The French, English and German proletariat is still awaiting deliverance; could not the patriots of Alsace-Lorraine wait? Is there any reason to devastate a continent and to subjugate it, ultimately, to the tsarist knout? Is the game worth the candle?

In the event of war first Germany, then France would be the main battleground; these two countries in particular will pay the cost in devastation. And there is more. This war will be distinguished from the outset by a series of betrayals between allies unequalled in the annals of diplomatic betrayal to date; France or Germany, or both, will be the main victims. It is therefore almost certain that neither of these countries will provoke an open conflict in view of the risks they would be running. But Russia, protected by its geographical position and by its economic situation against the more disastrous consequences of a series of defeats-official Russia alone could find it in its interests to unleash such a terrible war; it is Russia who will be pressing for war. In any case, given the present political situation, the odds are ten to one that at the first sound of cannon on the Vistula the French armies will march on the Rhine.

Then Germany will be fighting for its very existence. If victorious it will find nothing to annex.

To the East as well as to the West it will only find provinces speaking foreign tongues; it has enough of those already. Beaten, crushed between the French hammer and the Russian anvil it will have to cede Old Prussia and the Polish provinces to Russia, Schleswig to Denmark, and the entire left bank of the Rhine to France. Even if France refused to accept, its ally would impose this conquest on it; what Russia needs more than anything else is a cause of permanent enmity between France and Germany. Reconcile these two great countries and that is the end of Russian supremacy in Europe. Dismembered in this way, Germany would be unable to play its part in Europe’s civilising mission; reduced to the role imposed on it by Napoleon after Tilsit it could not live except by . preparing for a new war of national rehabilitation. But in the meanwhile it would be the humble tool of the Tsar, who would not fail to make use of it against France.

What will become of the German socialist party in such circumstances? It goes without saying that neither the Tsar no: the French bourgeois republicans nor the German government itself would let pass such a good opportunity to crush the sole party which, for them, constitutes the enemy. We have seen how Thiers and Bismarck extended their hands to each other over the rums of the Paris Commune; we would then see the Tsar, Constans, Caprivi (or their successors) embracing one another over the corpse of German socialism.

But the German socialist party, thanks to the efforts and the unceasing sacrifices of more than thirty years, has attained a position that none of the other socialist parties in Europe occupies: a position which guarantees it political power in a short while. Socialist Germany occupies in the international working-class movement the most advanced, the most honourable and the most responsible outpost; it is its duty to defend this outpost against all.

Now, if the victory of the Russians over Germany means the crushing of socialism in this country, what will be the duty of the German socialists with regard to this eventuality? Should they passively endure the events that are threatening them with extinction, abandon the post they have conquered and for which they are answerable to the world proletariat without putting up a fight? Obviously not. In the interest of the European revolution, they are obliged to defend all the positions that have been won, not to capitulate to the enemy from without any more than to the enemy within; and they cannot accomplish that except by fighting Russia and its allies, whoever they may be, to the bitter end. If the French republic placed itself at the service of His Majesty the Tsar, Autocrat of all the Russias, the German socialists would fight it with regret, but they would fight it all the same. The French republic may represent vis-à-vis the German empire the bourgeois revolution. But vis-à-vis the republic of the Constanses, the Rouviers and even the Clemenceaus, especially vis-à-vis the republic that is working for the Russian Tsar, German socialism represents the proletarian revolution.

A war in which Russians and Frenchmen invaded Germany would be, for Germany, a war to the death, in which, in order to ensure its national existence, it would have to resort to the most revolutionary means. The present government, certainly, would not unleash revolution, unless it were forced to. But there is a strong party which would force it to, or if necessary replace it: the socialist party.

We have not forgotten the marvellous example which France gave us in 1793. The centenary of 1793 is approaching. If the Tsar’s thirst for conquest and the chauvinist impatience of the French bourgeoisie stop the victorious but peaceful march of the German socialists, the latter are ready, you may be sure, to prove that the German proletarians of today are not unworthy of the French sans-culottes of a hundred years ago, and that 1893 will equal 1793. And then the soldiers of Constans, on setting foot on German soil, will be greeted with the song:

What, would foreign hordes
Lay down the law in our homes?

Let us sum up. Peace ensures the victory of the German socialist party in some ten years’ time; war offers it either victory m two or three years, or complete ruin, at least for the next fifteen to twenty years. In this position the German socialists would have to be mad to prefer the all-or-nothing of war to the certain victory which peace offers them. There is more. No socialist, of whatever country, can desire victory by war, either by the present German government or by the French bourgeois republic; even less by the Tsar, which would be tantamount to the subjugation of Europe. That is why socialists everywhere demand that peace be maintained. But if war is to break out nonetheless, one thing is certain. This war, in which fifteen to twenty million armed men would slaughter one another and devastate Europe as It has never been devastated before this war would either lead to the immediate triumph of socialism, or it would lead to such an upheaval in the old order of things, it would leave behind it everywhere such a heap of ruins, that the old capitalist society would become more impossible than ever, and the social revolution, set back by ten or fifteen years, would only be all the more radical and more rapidly implemented.

* * *

That, then, was the article from the French workers’ calendar. It was written in the late summer, when the heads of the French bourgeoisie were still flushed with the champagne-induced inebriation of Kronstadt, and the great manoeuvres on the battle area of 1814 between the Seine and the Marne had brought patriotic enthusiasm to a head. At that time France the France that expresses itself in the big press and the parliamentary majority was indeed ripe for more or less unlimited stupidity in the service of Russia, and the eventuality of war moved into the foreground as a possibility. And in order, should it become a reality, to prevent any last minute misunderstanding between the French and German socialists, I considered it necessary to make it clear to the former what in my opinion the necessary attitude of the latter should be with regard to such a war.

But then a powerful check was imposed on the Russian war-monger. First came the news of harvest failure at home, with every reason to expect a famine. Then came the failure of the Paris loan, signifying the final collapse of Russian state credit. The four hundred million marks were, it was said, oversubscribed many times; but when the Paris bankers sought to palm off the bonds onto the public, all their attempts failed ; the esteemed subscribers had to dispose of their good securities in order to cover these bad ones and to such an extent that the other large European stock exchanges were also forced down by these mass sales; the new “Russians” sank several per cent below their issue price in short, there was such a crisis that the Russian government had to take back a hundred and sixty millions worth of bonds and only received cover for two hundred and forty instead of four hundred million. At this the proclamation of a further Russian attempt to get credit this time for all of eight hundred million marks-which had been gaily crowed out to the world, fell through miserably. And at the same time it also became plain that French capital has no “patriotism” at all, but it does have -however much it may beat the drum in the press a salutory fear of war.

Since then the failure of the harvest has indeed developed into a famine, and such a famine as we in Western Europe have not seen on this scale for a long time, such as rarely occurs even in India, the typical country for such calamities, indeed such as barely ever reached this height in the holy Russia of earlier times, when there were still no railways. How does this come about? How can it be explained?

Very simply. The Russian famine is not the result of a mere failure of the harvest, it is a part of the tremendous social revolution which Russia has been undergoing since the Crimean War; it is simply the transformation of the chronic sufferings linked with this revolution into acute sufferings brought about by this bad harvest.

Old Russia went irrevocably to its grave the day when Tsar Nicholas, despairing of himself and of old Russia, took poison. On its ruins the Russia of the bourgeoisie is being built. The beginnings of a bourgeoisie were already present at that time. Partly bankers and import merchants – mostly Germans and German Russians or their descendants – partly Russians who had risen through domestic trading, but particularly schnapps peddlers and army suppliers who had grown rich at the expense of the state and people, and also a few manufacturers. From now on this bourgeoisie, particularly the industrial bourgeoisie, was literally cultivated by means of massive government aid, by subsidies, premiums, and protective tariffs that were gradually raised to the utmost. The immeasurable Russian Empire was supposed to become a production area sufficient unto itself, which could dispense with imports from abroad entirely or almost entirely. And it is to ensure not only that the domestic market should continually grow, but also that the products of warmer climes should be produced inside the country itself, that there is this steady striving for conquests in the Balkan peninsula and in Asia, with Constantinople and British India respectively as the ultimate goals. This is the secret, the economic basis of the drive for expansion that is so rife among the Russian bourgeoisie, the branch that leads south-west being called Pan-Slavism.

However, the serfdom of the peasants was absolutely inconsistent with such industrial plans. It fell in 1861. But how! The Prussian abolition of servitude and statute labour carried out slowly between 1810 and 1851 was taken as a model; but everything was to be settled in a few years. Consequently, in order to break the resistance of the big landowners and “serf” -owners, concessions had to be made to them which were quite different from those granted by the Prussian state and its corrupt officials to the gracious landlords of their day. And as for corruptibility, the Prussian bureaucrat was nothing but a babe-in-arms compared with the Russian tschinownik. Thus it was that in the partition of the land the nobility received the lion’s share, and as a rule the land made fertile by the labour of many generations of peasants, while the peasants received only the minimum necessary for subsistence, and even this was generally allotted to them in poor wasteland. Common forest and common grazing went to the landlord; if the peasant wished to use them and without them he could not exist he had to pay the landlord for it.

To ensure, however, that both landed nobility and peasants were ruined as quickly as possible, the nobility was given the capitalised redemption sum in state bonds from the government in a lump sum, while the peasants had to pay the redemption price in long-term instalments. As was only to be expected, the nobility for the most part squandered the money received immediately, while the peasant, facing what was, for someone in his position, enormous payments, was suddenly hurled out of a subsistence economy into a money economy.

The Russian peasant, who previously had hardly had to make any money payments excepting relatively low taxes, is now supposed not only to live off the smaller and poorer plot allotted to him and, after the abolition of the free wood and free grazing on common land, feed his livestock through the winter and improve his plot but also to pay increased taxes as well as the annual redemption instalment, and in cash too. He was thus placed in a position in which he could neither live nor die. On top of this there was the competition of the newly developed large-scale industry, which deprived him of the market for his domestic industry domestic industry was the main source of money for countless Russian peasants or, where this was not yet quite the case, delivered up this domestic industry to the mercy of the merchant, i.e. the middleman, the Saxon entrepreneur or the English SWEATERS, thus turning the peasants engaged in domestic industry into nothing less than the slaves of capital. In short, anyone curious to know how the Russian peasants have been abused over the last thirty years need only look up the chapter on the “Creation of the Home Market” (Chapter 24, Section 5) in the first volume of Marx’s Capital.

The ravages wrought among the peasants by the transition from a subsistence economy to a money economy this chief means of producing the home market for industrial capital are depicted in a classic manner by Boisguillebert and Vauban from the example of France under Louis XIV. But what occurred then is child’s play compared with what is happening in Russia. Firstly the scale is three or four times larger, and secondly the revolutionisation of the conditions of production, in whose service this transition is being forced on the peasants, is infinitely more thorough-going. The French peasant was slowly dragged into the sphere of manufacture, the Russian peasant is being swept overnight into the tornado of large-scale industry. If manufacture felled peasants with the flint-lock, large-scale industry is carrying out the job with a repeating-rifle.

This was the position when the failure of the harvest in 1891 exposed at a stroke the entire upheaval and its consequences, which had been quietly taking place for years but had remained invisible to the European philistine. This position was such that the first bad harvest was bound to turn into a national crisis. And now there is a crisis that will not be mastered for years to come. In the face of a famine like this every government is powerless, but particularly the Russian, which expressly trains its officials in thieving. Since 1861 the old communist customs and institutions of the Russian peasants have partly been undermined by economic developments, partly destroyed systematically by the government. The old communist community has disintegrated, or is in the process of so doing, but at the very moment when the individual peasant is being placed on his own feet, the ground is removed from under them. Is it any wonder that last autumn winter .com was sown in extremely few districts? And where it was sown the weather ruined most of it. Is it any wonder that the main instrument of the peasant, the beast of burden, first had nothing to eat itself and then, for this irrefutable reason, was eaten by the peasant himself? Is it any wonder that the peasant is leaving house and home and fleeing to the cities, vainly looking for work but unfailingly bringing typhoid with him?

In a word: here we have before us not an isolated famine but an immense crisis prepared by a prolonged, quiet economic revolution and merely rendered acute by the failure of the harvest. This acute crisis, however, is assuming in its turn a chronic form and threatens to stay for years. Economically it is accelerating the dissolution of the old communist peasant community, the enrichment of the village usurers (the kulaki) and their transformation into big landowners, and the transfer of the landed property of the nobility and the peasants into the hands of the new bourgeoisie.

For Europe it means peace for the time being. Russian warmongering is paralysed for a good many years to come. Instead of millions of soldiers falling on the battlefields, millions of Russian peasants are dying of starvation. But its effects as far as Russian despotism is concerned remain to be seen.