How History Is Written

Dished Up to Order by Stalin’sSavants
on Frederick Engels Anniversary


Written: Late 1935.
First Published: New Militant, Vol. 1 No. 42, 12 November 1935, p. 3
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive ( 2018. Creative Commons (Share & Attribute).

A considerable portion of the Pravda for August 5 is devoted to the fortieth anniversary of the death of Engels. Poor Engels! Assuredly he is undeserving of this mockery. Engels was not only a man of genius but also the soul of scrupulousness. In literary work as well as in practical affairs he could not bear sloppiness, inaccuracy, and inexactitude. He checked every comma (in the literal sense of the term) of Marx’s posthumous work, and carried on a correspondence on the subject of secondary orthographic errors. Then why does the central organ of the Moscow bureaucracy come down upon the great thinker and writer with this flood of articles in which side by side with the tendentious and, so to say, standard lies one meets at every step with the lie that is unpremeditated, born out of ignorance, heedlessness and irresponsibility?

The leading article, reads: “The reverberations of the shots on the barricades of the bourgeois revolutions had hardly subsided ... when Marx and Engels were already pointing to the majestic figure of the proletariat, this gravedigger ...” and so forth and so on. What sort of “bourgeois revolutions” are made mention of here? During the barricades in the year, 1830, Marx and Engels were still kids and incapable of pointing out the “majestic figure of the proletariat.” Consequently the statement must relate only to the revolutions of 1848. But the Condition of the Working Class in England, the genial work of young Engels, appeared as early as 1845. Finally, Marx and Engels did not at all await the reverberation of 1848 to proclaim to the world the doctrine of scientific socialism. The Communist Manifesto – and may the editors of the Pravda be apprised of this – appeared not after the “last shots had sounded” but prior to the time the first bullets hummed of the revolutions of 1848. But what does a functionary fulfilling the duties of a publicist care about the chronology of revolutions, or the ideological development of Marx and Engels to boot? Not for nothing did Bismarck say, “Give me a journalist and I’ll make a good functionary out of him; but there is no making a good journalist even out of a dozen functionaries.”

Stalinist Sharpshooters

Quoting, from the obituary in the Neue Zeit (1895), the sentence to the effect that with the death of Engels “Marx finally died too,” the leading article unexpectedly appends the following: “the leaders of the social democracy who had slid down into the swamp of reformism and opportunism made haste to inter together with the remains of Engels the revolutionary teachings of Marxism.” This is indeed sharp shooting: aim a finger at the sky and hit the bull’s eye! Revisionism appeared only in 1897, the name itself came still later, the weekly Neue Zeit was not the organ of revisionism but of the struggle against revisionism. The above quoted sentence did not at all imply that revolutionary Marxism was being buried together with Engels. To ascribe to the Neue Zeit of 1895 such a notion is tantamount to being an utter ignoramus in the history of Marxism. In reality, the thought expressed in the Neue Zeit was to the effect that with Engels’ death there also died that part of Marx’s living personality which had continued to exist in Engels. In these words there is beautifully expressed the well nigh Indivisible creative collaboration of Marx and Engels. But the functionary fulfilling the duties of a publicist opines that he best expresses his belated hostility to revisionism when he provides a stupid and pettifogging interpretation of a clever and correct thought. And this, at the moment when the entire policy of the Communist International is being directed into channels of reformism!

The Institute of Confusion

The Marx, Engels and Lenin Institute publishes in the self-same issue a letter from Engels to Kautsky which subjects to criticism the Lassallean formula of “the single reactionary mass of the ruling classes.” The aim of this publication is quite clear: the Institute for the falsification of Marxism and Leninism seeks by means of this quotation to provide a prop for the policy of coalition with the “democratic” bourgeoisie. It is unnecessary to dwell here on the political fraud: toil and moil as the Messrs, functionaries may, they will not succeed in transforming Engels into the theoretician of conciliationism with the bourgeoisie. But at any rate, these gentlemen have forgotten to explain to us how the negation of the “single reactionary mass of the ruling classes” is reconcilable with the immortal aphorism of Stalin on the subject of fascism and social democracy. But here is the remarkable part: publishing the letter in its own solemn name, the Institute in a brief introduction commits, in the course of eight lines, two, if not three gross mistakes.

Says the learned Institute:

“In this letter Engels subjects to criticism the draft of the Erfurt program in which Kautsky, despite the instructions of Marx and Engels, was smuggling in the Lassallean thesis of the single reactionary mass.”

Learned Nonsense

There could have been no instructions from Marx to Kautsky for the reason that Marx had died some eight years prior to the drafting of the Erfurt program; the only letter that Marx did write to Kautsky (in 1881) says absolutely nothing concerning the question that interests us. As regards Engels, in his letter to Kautsky he actually did subject to merciless criticism the phrase on the “single reactionary mass.” But he did not at all ascribe it to Kautsky; he knew that this phrase was inserted by someone (obviously Wilhelm Liebknecht) into Kautsky’s original draft, which had been approved in essence by Engels. Engels’ critical letter was intended to supply Kautsky with support against Liebknecht, and especially against the old Lassalleans. “Ordinary” mortals have the privilege of not knowing this. But the learned Institute of Marx, Engels and Lenin?! ...

Further on we read: “The instructions of Engels to the leaders of the German social-democracy were not executed when the final text of the program was accepted” (our emphasis). The style itself is noteworthy: the “instructions” of the head of the department were not “executed” by an underling. But Engels was not the one and indivisible “leader.” He issued “instructions” to nobody. He was merely a genial thinker and he gave theoretical and political advice to different parties. Nobody was duty bound to “execute.” This sentence, so remarkable stylistically, is all the worse for being false in essence. The formula of the “single mass” was deleted from the text of the Erfurt program, and Engels in his correspondence expressed his complete satisfaction on this score. What a deal of lying in eight lines for a learned institution!

Defaming Plekhanov

In the third article devoted to Engels’ attitude to the Russian revolution we are informed that in a letter to the Emancipation of Labor Group, Engels warned against a mechanistic and doctrinarian understanding of Marxism. And the sage Pravda, remarks in this connection: “Alas! The outstanding members of the Group gleaned little boon (!) from this warning of Engels; two decades later they turned out in the camp of the Mensheviks ...” But what happened in the course of these two decades? Plekhanov’s splendid and victorious struggle against philosophical idealism, against historic subjectivism and the economic superstition of the Narodniki; the entire work of the Emancipation of Labor Group unprecedented in courage and staunchness, – the work upon which was directly nurtured the. oldest generation of the Russian Marxists, including Lenin himself – all this is a “trifle” to the ignorant and bombastic Pravda. But Lenin, indeed, was enthralled by Plekhanov, he was, to use his own expression, “in love” with Plekhanov, nor did he forget the latter’s great Marxist services even during the periods of irreconcilable struggle with him. Why, even Engels himself after the letter to Zasulich in 1883 had the opportunity over a period of some 12 years to observe directly the activity of the Emancipation of Labor Group, and he referred with extreme praise to the work of Plekhanov. Generally speaking, the old man was quite chary of praise. But the functionary who has been able to understand neither Engels nor Lenin nor Plekhanov sets upon the activity of the Emancipation of Labor Group the seal of his severe verdict: “little boon”. One is impelled to say that only harm can come from such bureaucratic insects in literature.

Flame Belching Bureaucrats

One could cull another dozen of similar pearls, for each author contributed his bit to the public treasure chest of ignorance. But the reader must be fed up to his neck already We shall only add a few words on the score of the bureaucratic pathos. The leading article speaks of “the chapters of Das Kapital and the Anti-Duehring flaming with revolutionary passion and hatred to the exploiters, and icy in their wondrous philosophic profundity” ... It is impossible to write more choicely. A philosophic profundity which turns into an iceberg at the same time that the flames of hatred flare. It is clear that at the mere sight of Das Kapital the editors of the Pravda get fever and chills. Further on, mention is made of the “immmortal and destructive (?) lines on the Gotha Program” and of the “flame belching pamphlet” on the Paris Commune. In short, the flame belching functionaries-in-waiting write in a wondrous manner: the reader breaks out in a rash of burns and blisters.

Zaslavsky: Bootlicker in Chief

But the palm of primacy indubitably goes to D. Zaslavsky. In the literary sense he is immeasurably more literate than the rest, and in regards to flame belching pathos he can give anybody cards and spades. Zaslavsky concludes his article with the following words: “It was not by accident that the remarkable and well worth studying friendship between Marx and Engels found its counterpart in the remarkable kinship, the great friendship between Lenin and Stalin.” An immortal Russian satirist has made a remark bearing upon such a case. Said he: “After this, the son of a gun squats on his haunches and waits to be petted.”

Marx and Engels were bound together by forty years of titanic mental labor. The most informed and penetrating students of Marxism, like Ryazanov, have been unable – for it is unthinkable in general – to conclusively establish the line of demarcation between their creative work. As regards Lenin and ... Stalin we want to be shown not a line of demarcation, but a line of contiguity. In the titanic mental labor of Lenin, Stalin occupied the post of an ordinary “activist” side by side with a score of others. As regards “friendship”, enough to recall Lenin’s Testament and his letter written on his death bed in which he broke off all personal and comradely relations with Stalin. But why pick on ... D. Zaslavsky? He is the same scribbler who in 1917 hounded Lenin in the bourgeois chauvinist press as the paid agent of the German Kaiser. In a whole series of articles Lenin never made reference to Zaslavsky otherwise than as a “scoundrel.” Only after the NEP and after the first pogrom of the Left Opposition was this individual able to enter the employ of the Soviet bureaucracy. At any rate, he remains true to himself in one thing: he calumniated Lenin while the latter was alive and he continues to calumniate him after he is dead. Such gentlemen are capable of proposing, say, for the 18th Anniversary of October to rename a dozen volumes of Lenin as the Collected Works of Stalin, in accordance with the same method by which a city like Tzaritsin is renamed Stalingrad: a single decree – and the matter is in the bag.

But let the lackeys sweat as they will, they will not attain their goal: we will stand in defense of Marx and Engels and Lenin against all the Institutes and all the Zaslavskys.

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Last updated on: 6 February 2018