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Arne Swabeck

Uphold Our Revolutionary Classics!

(March 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 10 (Whole No. 106), 5 March 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

When young comrades, who are too much impressed with their own importance, express it in supercilious scorn for the revolutionary classics, it is time to issue a serious warning. There is only one short step from such an attitude into either the camp of the useless petty boulrgeois intelligentsia or else into the foul pollution of the most abominable revisionism. This latter is precisely what happened to one of our young comrades in an article entitled Honor Bolshevik Leaders and appearing over his signature in Young Spartacus, No. 2. He stepped with both feet into that foul pollution.

It is said in that article:

“Rosa, in her inaugural address, again investigated the new problems brought forth by the conditions of the war and post-war period. She re-examined the teachings of Marx and Engels on the questions of armed insurrection, guerilla warfare, force and violence and concluded that history had once again placed on the agenda the tactic advocated by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto in 1847–8, but later proclaimed by Engels as outlived. (Emphasis ours – A.S.)

In criticizing Rosa Luxemburg Lenin once quoted two simple lines from a Russian proverb: “It sometimes happens to eagles that they descend lower than chickens but chickens never succeed In mounting as high as eagles”, and he added, “she was and remains an eagle”. In its reversed form this would apply to our young comrade. The outrageous statement emphasized above looks too much like the attempt of a chicken to mount even higher than the eagle.

In ascribing these views to Engels our young comrade cites in parenthesis, evidently as his proof, the introduction to The Class Struggles in France by Marx. Perhaps he was unaware of the fact that long ago evidence has been unearthed of how this introduction, when appearing n print by the Berlin Vorwaerts, was miserably garbled by the German social democrats of the revisionist school, notably by Bernstein. The extent of this garbling became clear when Ryazanov discovered the original Engels manuscript, of which he has since produced photostats, showing the important deletions which had been made. Some of the results of his findings Ryazanov published in Unter dem Banner des Marxismus (Vol. 1 No. 1, German edition). In English these findings were reproduced by Trachtenberg in the Workers Monthly for November 1925.

What Engels himself thought of the printing of the introduction and of the garbled version becomes quite clear in his letters to Kautsky (then still fighting revisionism). First in his letter of March 25, 1895, he says:

“My text has suffered some because of the scruples of our Berlin friends, due to timidity over the anti-socialist laws which, under the circumstances, I had to consider.”

Again in his letter to Kautsky dated April 1, 1895, Engels said:

“To my astonishment I saw today printed in the Vorwaerts, without previous knowledge, an extract from my introduction so dressed up that I appear as a peaceful worshiper of legality quand-meme (in spite of all). The more pleased I am that now the whole appears in the Neue Zeit, so that this shameful impression is obliterated. I shall tell Liebknecht very definitely what I think of this, and also those, whoever they may be, that gave him the opportunity to distort my meaning.”

Engels spoke in a similar vein, of the “mean joke” played on him, in his letter to Paul Lafargue, dated April 5, 1895. [1]

It is perfectly true that Engels, in this introduction, draws a sharp distinction between the conditions of 1848 and those of 1895. This is as it should be. And it is particularly in this respect that the deleted parts assume their enormous significance, we shall quote only one.

In drawing the sharp distinctions of difference in the two periods Engels says:

“Does this mean that the street battles will play no part in the future? Not at all. It simply means that conditions have become far more unfavorable for the civilian fighters since 1848, and far more favorable for the military forces. Street battles in the future may be successful only if this unfavorable situation can be neutralized by other factors. Such fights will therefore be far less usual in the earlier stages of a great revolution, than in its further course, and will have to be fought with greater resources of strength. Such battles will rather resort – as in the great French revolution, and as on September 4th and October 31st, 1870, in Paris – to open attack than to the defensive tactics of the barricades.”

Is there in this powerful testimony any evidence of Engels having proclaimed the tactics of the Communist Manifesto as outlived? None whatever. On the contrary, the letters quoted contain the wrath of the revolutionary teacher against the monstrous falsifiers.

Such accusations made against Engels become a blot upon the Communist movement which we must eradicate. With our modest means we must hold aloft the banner of Marxism and particularly so in the Left Opposition. We can well afford to be humble students endeavoring to learn from our great teachers. We must guard against this supercilious, know-it-all attitude which steps with both feet into the foul pollution of social reformism. Comrades guilty of such an attitude must be called to order sharply.

Footnote by ETOL

1. The actual date of the letter to Lafargue is April 3.

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