Marx-Engels Correspondence 1894

Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge


Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence and Marx & Engels on the Irish Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971, p. 356-57;
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.

November 10, 1894


The movement over here still resembles the American movement, save that it is somewhat ahead of you. The mass instinct that the workers must form a party of their own against the two official parties is getting stronger and stronger; this was more apparent than ever in the municipal elections on 1 November. But all kinds of old traditional memories and a lack of people capable of transforming this instinct into conscious action that will embrace the entire country tends to keep the workers in this preliminary stage which is marked by haziness of thought — and local isolation of action.


Anglo-Saxon sectarianism prevails in the labour movement, too. The Social-Democratic Federation, just like your German Socialist Labour Party [365], has managed to transform our theory into the rigid dogma of an orthodox sect; it is narrow-mindedly exclusive and thanks to Hyndman has a thoroughly rotten tradition in international politics, which is shaken from time to time, to be sure, but which has not been broken with as yet. The Independent Labour Party is extremely indefinite in its tactics, and its leader, Keir Hardie, is a super-cunning Scot, whose demagogic tricks are not to be trusted for a minute. Although he is a poor devil of a Scottish coal miner, he has founded a big weekly, The Labour Leader [366], which could not have been established without considerable money, and he is getting this money from Tory or Liberal-Unionist, that is, anti-Gladstone and anti-Home Rule sources. There can be no doubt about this, and his notorious literary connections in London as well as direct reports and his political attitude confirm it. Consequently, owing to desertions by Irish and radical voters [367], he may very easily lose his seat in Parliament at the 1895 general elections and that would be a stroke of good luck — the man is the greatest obstacle at present. He appears in Parliament only on demagogic occasions, in order to cut a figure with phrases about the unemployed — without getting anything done — or to address imbecilities to the Queen [A] on the occasion of the birth of a prince, which is infinitely banal and cheap in this country, and so forth. Otherwise there are very good elements both in the Social-Democratic Federation and in the Independent Labour Party, especially in the provinces, but they are scattered; yet they have at least managed to foil all the efforts of the leaders to incite the two organisations against each other.


John Burns [1] stands pretty much alone politically; he is being viciously attacked both by Hyndman [2] and by Keir Hardie [3] and acts as if he despaired of the political organisation of the workers and set his hopes solely on the trade unions. To be sure, he has had bad experiences with the former and might starve if the Engineers Union did not pay him his Parliamentary salary. He is vain and has allowed the Liberals, that is, the ‘social wing’ of the radicals, to lead him a bit too much by the nose. He attaches altogether too much importance to the numerous individual concessions that he has forced through, but with all that he is the only really honest fellow in the whole movement, that is, among the leaders, and he has a thoroughly proletarian instinct which will, I believe, guide him more correctly at the decisive moment than cunning and selfish calculation will the others.


On the Continent success is developing the appetite for more success, and catching the peasant, in the literal sense of the word, is becoming the fashion. First the French in Nantes declare through Lafargue not only (what I had written to them) that it is not our business to hasten by direct interference of our own the ruin of the small peasant which capitalism is seeing to for us, but they also add that we must directly protect the small peasant against taxation, usurers and landlords. But we cannot co-operate in this, first because it is stupid and second because it is impossible. Next, however, Vollmar comes along in Frankfort and wants to bribe the peasantry as a whole, though the peasant he has to do with in Upper Bavaria is not the debt-laden poor peasant of the Rhineland but the middle and even the big peasant, who exploits his men and women farm servants and sells cattle and grain in masses. And that cannot be done without giving up the whole principle. We can only win the mountain peasants and the big peasants of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, if we sacrifice their ploughmen and day labourers to them, and if we do that we lose more than we gain politically. The Frankfort Party Congress did not take a decision on this question and that is to the good in so far as the matter will now be thoroughly studied; the people who were there knew far too little about the peasantry and the conditions on the land, which vary so fundamentally in different provinces, to have been able to do anything but take decisions in the air. But there has got to be a resolution on the question some time all the same.


The war in China has given the death-blow to the old China. Isolation has become impossible; the introduction of railways, steam-engines, electricity and modern large-scale industry has become a necessity, if only for reasons of military defence. But with it the old economic system of small peasant agriculture, where the family also made its industrial products itself, falls to pieces too, and with it the whole old social system which made relatively dense population possible. Millions will be turned out and forced to emigrate; and these millions will find their way even to Europe, and en masse. But as soon as Chinese competition sets in on a mass scale, it will rapidly bring things to a head in your country and over here, and thus the conquest of China by capitalism will at the same time furnish the impulse for the overthrow of capitalism in Europe and America...



A. Victoria. — Ed.

365. The Social-Democratic Federation — an English socialist organisation founded in August 1884, on the basis of the Democratic Federation. It united heterogeneous socialist elements, mainly intellectuals. The Federation was for a long time led by reformists, with Hyndman at the head, who followed an opportunist and sectarian policy. The group of revolutionary Marxists in the Federation (Eleanor Marx-Aveling, Edward Aveling, Tom Mann and others) opposed Hyndman’s line and fought for the establishment of close links with the mass working-class movement. After the split in the autumn of 1884 and the formation in December 1884 by the Left-wingers of an independent organisation — the Socialist League — the opportunists became more influential in the Federation. Under the influence of the revolutionary-minded masses, however, revolutionary elements kept forming in the Federation and dissatisfaction with the opportunistic leadership grew.

The Socialist Labour Party of America was founded in 1876. Most of its members were immigrants (chiefly Germans) who had little contacts with the native American workers. As its programme the party proclaimed the struggle for socialism, but, owing to the sectarian policy of its leadership, which ignored work in the American proletariat’s mass organisations, it did not become a genuinely revolutionary Marxist party.

366. The Labour Leader — an English monthly founded in 1887 as Miner. From 1889, under its new name, it appeared as the organ of the Scottish Labour Party, and in 1893 it became the organ of the Independent Labour Party. James Keir Hardie was its editor up to 1904.

367. General Parliamentary elections were held in England from July 12 to 29, 1895, and were won by the Conservatives with a majority of more than 150 seats. Many candidates of the Independent Labour Party, including Keir Hardie, were blackballed.

1. John Elliot Burns (1858-1943) — English politician and statesman, in 1880s a leader of trade unions, took part in many strikes, including big London dockers’ strike in 1889, was member of English Social-Democratic Federation, but soon withdrew from it. In 1892 was elected to Parliament, where he opposed workers’ interests and advocated collaboration with capitalists.

2. Henry Meyers Hyndman (1842-1921) — English socialist, founder and leader of Democratic Federation (reorganised in 1884 into Social-Democratic Federation), pursued opportunist and sectarian policy in labour movement, later one of the leaders of British Socialist Party, from which he was expelled for supporting imperialist war.

3. James Keir Hardie (1856-1915) — leader of English labour movement, reformist, founder and leader of Workers Party of Scotland (1888) and Independent Labour Party (1893), leader of Labour Party.