Marx-Engels Correspondence 1892

Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge


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.

December 31, 1892

Dear Sorge

A few lines before the year ends. I have received your letters of 18 November and 16 December. Many thanks. Did you get the parcel of books that I mailed you in September containing Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse [1], new edition, and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, [2] translated by Aveling with an introduction by me? If not I'll send you another parcel registered.


Here in old Europe things are rather more lively than in your “youthful” country, which still refuses to get quite out of its hobbledehoy stage. It is remarkable, but quite natural, that in such a young country, which has never known feudalism and has grown up on a bourgeois basis from the first, bourgeois prejudices should also be so strongly rooted in the working class. Out of his very opposition to the mother country — which is still clothed in its feudal disguise — the American worker also imagines that the bourgeois regime as traditionally inherited is something progressive and superior by nature and for all time, a non plus ultra [not to be surpassed]. Just as in New England, Puritanism, the reason for the whole colony's existence, has become precisely on this account a traditional inheritance, almost inseparable from local patriotism. The Americans can strain and struggle as much as they like, but they cannot realise their future — colossally great as it is — all at once like a bill of exchange; they must wait for the date on which it becomes due; and just because their future is so great their present must mainly occupy itself with preparatory work for the future, and this work, as in every young country, is of a predominantly material nature and determines a certain backwardness of thought, a clinging to traditions connected with the foundation of the new nationality. The Anglo-Saxon race — those damned Schleswig-Holsteiners, as Marx always called them—is slow-witted anyhow and their history both in Europe and America (economic success and predominantly peaceful political development) has encouraged this still more. Only great events can be of use here and if added to the more or less completed transition of the national property in land into private ownership, there comes the expansion of industry under a less crazy tariff policy and the conquest of foreign markets, then it may go well with you too. The class-struggles here in England too were more violent during the period in which large scale industry was developing and were enfeebled just in the period of England's unquestioned industrial domination of the world. In Germany, too, the development of large-scale industry since 1850 coincides with the rise of the Socialist movement, and it will be no different, probably, with America. It is the revolutionising of all traditional relations through industry as it develops which also revolutionises people's minds.

For the rest, Americans have for some time been providing the European world with the proof that a bourgeois republic is a republic of capitalist business men in which politics are only a business deal, like any other; and the French, whose ruling bourgeois politicians have long known this and practised it in secret, are now at last also learning this truth on a national scale through the Panama scandal. In order, however, that the constitutional monarchies should not be able to give themselves virtuous airs, every one of them has his little Panama: England the scandal of the building-societies, one of which, the Liberator, has thoroughly "liberated" a mass of small depositors from some £8,000,000 of their savings; Germany the Baare scandals and Löwe Jüdenflinten (which have proved that the Prussian officer steals as he always did, but very, very little—the one thing he is modest about), Italy the Banca Romana, which already approaches the Panama scale, about 150 deputies and senators having been bought up; I am informed that documents about this will shortly be published in Switzerland-Schlüter should look out for everything which appears in the papers about the Banca Romana. And in holy Russia the old Russian Prince Meshchersky is indignant at the indifference with which the Panama revelations are received in Russia and can only explain it to himself by the fact that Russian virtue has been corrupted by French examples, and "we ourselves have more than one Panama at home."

But all the same the Panama business is the beginning of the end of the bourgeois republic and may soon bring us into very responsible positions. The whole of the opportunist and the majority of the radical gang are shamefully compromised, the government is trying to hush it up but that is no longer possible; the documents containing the evidence are in the hands of people who want to overthrow the present rulers: (1) the Orleanists; (2) the fallen minister Constans, whose career has been ended by revelations about his scandalous past; (3) Rochefort and the Boulangists; (4) Cornelius Herz who, himself deeply involved in every sort of fraud, has obviously only fled to London in order to buy himself out by getting the others into a hole. All these have more than enough evidence against the gang of thieves, but are holding back, first in order not to use up all their ammunition at once, and secondly in order to give both the government and the courts time to compromise themselves beyond any hope of salvation. This can only suit us well; enough stuff is coming to light by degrees to keep up the excitement and compromise the dirigeants more and more while it also gives time for the scandal and the revelations to make their effect felt in the most remote corner of the country before the inevitable dissolution of the chamber and new elections, which however ought not to come too soon. It is clear that this business brings the moment considerably nearer when our people will become the only possible leaders of the state in France. Only things ought not to move too quickly, our people in France are not ripe for power by a long way. But as things are at present it is absolutely impossible to say what intermediate stages will fill this gap. The old Republican parties are compromised to the last man, the Royalists and Clericals dealt in the Panama lottery bonds on a mass scale and identified themselves with them—if that ass Boulanger had not shot himself he would now be master of the situation. I am eager to know if the old unconscious logic of French history will assert itself again this time too. There will be plenty of surprises. If only some general or other does not swing himself to the top during the interval of clarification and start war—that is the one danger.

In Germany the steady irresistible progress of the Party goes quietly on. Small successes in every hole and corner, which prove the advance. If the essential part of the military Bill is accepted, new masses of the discontented will stream to us; if it is rejected there will be dissolution and new elections in which we shall get at least fifty seats in the Reichstag, which in cases of conflict may often give us the decisive vote. In any case the struggle, even if, as is possible, it also breaks out in France, can only be fought out in Germany. But it is good that the third volume [of Capital] will now at last be finished — when? Indeed I cannot yet say; the times are becoming disturbed and the waves are beginning to rise high.


Notes provided by the MIA.

1. Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England.

2. Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.