Marx Engels Correspondence 1892

Friedrich Engels to Paul Lafargue
At Le Perreux

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

25 February 1893

My dear Lafargue

How time passes! Old Harney [1] has reminded me this morning that yesterday was the anniversary of the February revolution. ‘Long Live the Republic!’ Lord, we have so many other anniversaries to celebrate now that one forgets these semi-bourgeois occasions. And to think that in five years it will be a half century since that one took place. At the time we were all enthusiasm for the republic – with a small r; since it has been written with a capital R, it seems worthless, save as an almost obsolete historical stage.

Your speech was very good and I regret only one thing: that it was not delivered two months ago. But better late than never. It doesn’t surprise me that the Chamber and the press found it ill-timed; if we were to wait upon their placet we should never open our mouths. As for the Radical Socialists ŕ la Millerand & Co, [2] it is absolutely essential that the alliance with them should be based on the fact that our party is a separate party, and that they recognise that. Which in no way rules out joint action in the forthcoming elections, provided that the distribution of seats to be jointly contested is made in accordance with the actual state of the respective forces; those gentlemen are in the habit of claiming the lion’s share.

Do not let the fact that your speeches do not create as much stir as formerly discourage you. Look at our people in Germany: they were booed for years on end, and now the 36 dominate the Reichstag. Bebel writes saying: if we were 80 or a hundred (out of 400 members), the Reichstag would become an impossibility. There is not a debate, no matter what the subject, in which we do not intervene and we are listened to by all the parties. The debate on the socialist organisation of the future lasted five days, and Bebel’s speech was wanted in three and a half million copies. Now they are having the whole debate published in pamphlets at five sous, and the effect, already tremendous, will be doubled!

You are absolutely right to make preparations for the elections. We ought to capture at least 20 seats. You have the immense advantage of knowing, from the municipal elections, [3] the minimum extent of your strength in each locality; for I am sure that, since last May, you have appreciably increased it. That will help you greatly in apportioning candidatures between yourselves and the Radical Socialists. But possibly you would prefer to put up your candidates wherever you stand a chance, with the proviso to withdraw them, if necessary, in favour of the Radicals, for the second ballot, in the event of the latter having polled more votes.

The most important thing in the elections is to establish once and for all that it is our party which represents socialism in France, and that all the other more or less socialist factions – Broussists, Allemanists, [4] and pure or impure Blanquists – have been able to play a part beside us only by virtue of the temporary dissensions, incidental to the more or less infantile phase of the proletarian movement; but that now the stage of infantile disorders is over, and the French proletariat has reached full consciousness of its historic role. Should we win 20 seats, all the others combined will not have as many, since they are more likely to lose some than to gain any. In which case things will go forward. In the meantime, nurse your re-election: I have a feeling that your absences from the Chamber have not contributed any too much to ensure it.

Panama is not finished, not by a long chalk. [5] And it is a disgrace that the trouble and honour of making disclosures should be left to the Royalists and their dubious allies. They could not have a better battle-cry than ‘Down with the robbers’, and if the great mass of the stupid countryside takes their part against the Republicans, it is to the cowardice of the Radical Republicans that they will owe this triumph. You say that the republic is not in danger, that the deputies have returned from the recess with this certainty; well, then, they should strike for all they are worth and not let themselves be confused with the robbers by their silence. You are quite right: the political ineptitude of the whole bourgeoisie defies the imagination.

The only country where the bourgeoisie still has a little common sense is England. Here the formation of the Independent Labour Party [6] (though still in embryo) and its conduct in the Lancashire and Yorkshire elections have put a match to the government’s backside; it is stirring itself, doing things unheard-of for a Liberal Government. [7] The Registration Bill 1) unifies the suffrage for all parliamentary, municipal, etc, elections, 2) adds at least 20 to 30 per cent to the working-class vote, 3) removes the cost of election expenses from the candidates’ shoulders and places it on those of the government. The payment of an honorarium to MPs is promised for the next session; and there are also a whole number of juridical and economic measures for the benefit of workers. Finally, the Liberals recognise that, to make sure of governing at the present time, there is nothing for it but to increase the political power of the working class who will naturally kick them out afterwards. The Tories, on the other hand, are behaving at the moment with unbounded stupidity. But once Home Rule is on the Statute Book, they will realise that there is nothing for it but to enter the lists to gain power, and to that end there remains but one means: to win the working-class vote by political or economic concessions; thus Liberals and Conservatives cannot help extending the power of the working class, and hastening the time which will eliminate both the one and the other.

Amongst the workers here, things are going well. They begin to realise their strength more and more, and that there is only one way of using it, namely, by forming an independent party.

At the same time international feeling gains ground. In short, things are going well everywhere.

In Germany the dissolution of the Reichstag is still a possibility; but it becomes less and less likely; everyone, apart from us, is afraid of it. We should win 50 to 60 seats.

On 26 March there will be an international conference at Brussels which is to make preparations for the Zurich Congress. Shall you go to it? [8]

Good riddance to your taenia, and look after your bowels; I was going to make an Irish bull by saying: they are the sinews of war!

Ever yours
F Engels


1. George Julian Harney (1817-1897) – prominent figure in English labour movement, one of left-wing leaders of Chartist movement, founder of Society of Fraternal Democrats, editor of The Northern Star, Red Republican (weekly) and other Chartist journals – Progress Publishers.

2. Alexandre Étienne Millerand (1859-1943) – French politician and statesman, in 1880s petty-bourgeois radical, in 1890s joined socialists and became leader of opportunist trend in French socialist movement, entered reactionary bourgeois government in 1899 – Progress Publishers.

3. Paul Brousse (1854-1912) – French petit-bourgeois socialist, participated in Paris Commune, after its suppression lived in emigration, joined anarchists. On his return to France at the beginning of 1880s joined Workers Party where he vehemently opposed the Marxist trend, an ideologist and leader of Possibilists, an opportunist trend in French socialism. Jean Allemane (1843-1935) – French petit-bourgeois socialist, member of Paris Commune, after its suppression was sentenced to penal servitude, amnestied in 1880, a Possibilist in 1880s, in 1890 headed Workers Social-Revolutionary Party of a semi-anarchist trend which broke from Possibilists, later withdrew from active political life – Progress Publishers.

4. In 1892, a scandal arose when French monarchists accused a number of French cabinet ministers and over 500 parliamentary deputies of taking bribes in order to conceal the grave financial condition of the Panama Canal Company – MIA.

5. Engels refers to the municipal elections held on 1 and 8 May 1892, when the Socialists received 160 000 votes and captured 27 municipalities – Progress Publishers.

6. The Independent Labour Party, a reformist organisation which was formed at a conference at Bradford in January 1893, was headed by Keir Hardie – Progress Publishers.

7. At the House of Commons session on 20 February 1893, a First Reading was given to two Bills dealing with modifications of the electoral law. The government proposed in these Bills that as far as possible inequalities hindering the free expression of the elector’s views should be abolished. Among other things it contemplated the abolition of all property qualifications; the introduction of returning officers, nominated and paid by municipal councils, to be responsible for drawing up the electoral register; and the establishment of a single register of voters for all elections (parliamentary, municipal, etc) – Progress Publishers.

8. Ferroul represented the National Council of the French Workers Party at the Brussels Conference – Progress Publishers.