Marx Engels Correspondence 1892

Friedrich Engels to August Bebel
In Berlin

Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

8 March 1892

... I am very glad that the disturbances in Berlin have blown over and that our people have so firmly kept out of them. There was always the possibility that some shooting might occur, and that would have served as a sufficient reason to cause us all sorts of trouble. If shooting had taken place in Berlin the National-Liberals might have gladly voted the elementary-school law and finally turn against us the sporadic fits of anger of certain people. The one reactionary mass which is gradually coming into being is from our point of view at present undesirable; as long as we are unable to participate actively in the making of history it is not in our interest that historical development should cease and to that end the brawls between the bourgeois parties come in useful. In this respect the present regime is priceless, for it helps to create this situation. If, however, shooting starts too early, that is before the old parties are tightly locked in combat with one another, they will be induced to come to terms and form a united front against us. That is as certain as twice two is four. If this happens when we are twice as strong as now, it won’t do us any harm. And even if it were to happen now, the personal regime would surely see to it that squabbles start again among our opponents. But it is best to be on the safe side. At present things are going so well that we can only hope that nothing will interfere with their further progress.

As regards unemployment, it is indeed possible that this will become worse next year. Protectionism has had exactly the same consequences as Free Trade, namely to glut individual national markets – and in fact it has done so almost everywhere – except that it is so far not as bad here as in your parts. But even here, where since 1867 we have experienced two or three lingering minor crises, it seems that an acute crisis is in the offing. The colossal cotton harvests of the last two or three years, reaching over nine million bales per year, have brought down prices to as low a level as during the worst period of the 1846 crisis and are, moreover, exerting an enormous pressure on industry so that the manufacturers here must over-produce because the American planters have produced too much. In doing so they constantly lose money, because, as a result of the falling prices of raw material, their products that are being made from expensive cotton depreciate before they reach the market. This is also the cause of the cries of distress uttered by the German and Alsatian spinners; but this is passed over in silence in the Imperial Diet. Other branches of industry too are no longer in a particularly good state; railway revenues and the export of industrial commodities have been certainly declining during the past 15 months, so that next winter things may become rather difficult here as well. An improvement in the continental protectionist states can hardly be expected, trade agreements may bring some temporary relief, but their effect will be counterbalanced within a year. If next winter a similar row, on a larger scale, begins in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, and is re-echoed from London and New York it can become serious. In that case it is good that at least Paris and London have town councillors who know only too well their dependence on the workers’ votes, and who will therefore not be inclined to offer serious resistance to demands that can be put into operation immediately, such as employment on public works, short working hours, wages in accordance with trade-union demands – since they realise this is the best and only way of saving the masses from worse socialist – really socialist – heresies. We will then see whether the town councillors in Vienna and Berlin, elected on the basis of a system of class voting and of electoral qualification, will have to follow them willy-nilly...