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Engels To Friedrich Adolph Sorge[103]
In Hoboken

London, 31 December 1892

Dear Sorge,

Just a line or two before the year ends. Your letters of 18 November and 16 December received—many thanks. Did you get the parcel of books I posted to you in September, containing the Condition of the Working Class, new edition, and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, translated by Aveling with an introduction by me? If not I shall send you another parcel by registered mail.

Here, in old Europe, things are proceeding at a somewhat livelier pace than in your 'youthful' country which still can't quite extricate itself from the hobbledehoy stage. It is remarkable, though perfectly natural, that in so young a country, which has never known feudalism and has from the outset grown up upon a bourgeois basis, bourgeois prejudices should be so firmly entrenched even in the working class. Indeed it is precisely his opposition to a mother country still garbed in feudalism that leads the American working man to suppose the traditional bourgeois economic system he has inherited to be by its nature something immutably superior and progressive, a non plus ultra. Just as in New England, where puritanism, precisely because it is the raison d'être of the whole colony, has become a traditional heirloom and all but indistinguishable from local patriotism. However much the Americans may twist and turn, they cannot simply discount, as if it were a bill, what is beyond doubt a tremendous future, but will have to wait until it falls due; and precisely because that future is so great, their present must be largely taken up with preparations for it, a task which, as in any young country, is chiefly of a material nature and calls for a degree of conservative thinking, a clinging to traditions connected with the founding of the new nationality. The Anglo-Saxon race—those damned Schleswig-Holsteiners as Marx always called them—is in any case slow in the uptake, a trait its history both in Europe and in America (economic success and, on the whole, peaceful political evolution) has tended to foster. Here momentous events alone can be of any avail and if, in addition to the transfer—now almost complete—of state-owned lands into private hands, industry were to expand under a somewhat less hare-brained tariff policy and foreign markets be conquered, things might also go well for you people. In this country, too, the class struggles were more violent during the period of growth of large-scale industry and petered out precisely at the time of Britain's undisputed industrial domination in the world; similarly in Germany the growth of large-scale industry since 1850 has coincided with the rise of the socialist movement, and in America things are not likely to turn out any differently. It is the revolutionising of all time-honoured conditions by the growth of industry which likewise revolutionises men's minds.

Furthermore, the Americans have long provided the European world with proof of the fact that the bourgeois republic is the republic of capitalist businessmen in which politics is merely a business transaction like any other—something which the ruling bourgeois politicians in France have long known and practiced on the quiet, and whose truth is at last being brought home to the French on a national scale by the Panama scandal.[60] Not that the constitutional monarchies can preen them selves on their virtue, for each has its own little Panama; England, the building society scandals of which one, 'the Liberator', has conscientiously 'liberated ' vast numbers of small depositors of savings amounting to some £8 million[104]; Germany, the Baare scandals and Lowe's 'Jewish rifles'[105] (which prove that the Prussian officer is, now as always, a thief, but in a very, very small way—the one thing that is modest about him); Italy, the Banca Romana, already an approximation of Panama, which has bought some 150 deputies and senators[106] and concerning which, so I am told, documents are shortly to be published in Switzerland; Schlüter should keep an eye out for anything about the Banca Romana that appears in the press. And in Holy Russia the Russian Prince Meshchersky waxes indignant over the indifference with which the Panama revelations are received in Russia, the only explanation for this being, he says, that Russian virtue has been corrupted by the example of the French, and that 'we ourselves have more than one Panama here at home'.

However, the Panama affair is the beginning of the end of the bourgeois republic and may soon place us in so me very responsible positions. The whole of the opportunist[87] and the better part of the Radical gang[86] are compromised up to the hilt; the government is seeking to hush things up but that is no longer possible, for documentary evidence is in the hands of people who wish to overturn those now in power: 1. The Orleans, 2. the former minister Constans, now out of the running because of revelations about his scandalous past, 3. Rochefort and the Boulangists,[6] 4. Cornelius Herz who, being himself deeply involved in all manner of frauds, has plainly taken refuge in London merely in order to buy his way out by compromising his fellows. All these people have more than enough evidence against this thieving crew, but are holding back, firstly and more generally, so as not to expend all their powder at one go and, secondly, in order to give the government and the courts of law time to become hopelessly compromised. This is all grist to our mill; enough information gradually leaks out not only to keep the pot on the boil and run the dirigeants[leaders] increasingly onto the rocks, but also to allow time for the scandal and the revelations to do their work in the remotest parts of the country before the inevitable dissolution of the Chamber and the general elections which, however, ought not to come too soon.

That things have very nearly got to the point at which our chaps in France will be the only possible rulers of the state is evident. But it mustn't happen too quickly, our people in France being by no means ripe for leadership. As things are now, it is absolutely impossible to say what intermediate stages there will be in the meantime. The old Republican parties are compromised down to the last man, while the Royalists and Clericals, having sold Panama lottery tickets[100] on a vast scale, have identified themselves with that affair—if that idiot Boulanger hadn't shot himself, he would now be cock of the walk. I should be curious to know whether the old unconscious logic of French history will again assert itself on this occasion. There are going to be a great many surprises. If only during the interval in which the air is being cleared, some general or other doesn't seize power and foment a war; that is the only danger.

In Germany the party's undeviating, irresistible advance proceeds at a steady pace. Everywhere small successes provide proof of progress. If the Army Bill[76] is adopted more or less as it stands, there'll be a new floodtide of malcontents coming to join our ranks. If the bill is thrown out, there'll be a dissolution, a general election, and we shall get at least fifty seats in the Reichstag which, in a conflict, might often give us the deciding vote. At all events the struggle, while it may, perhaps, also break out in France, can only be fought to a finish in Germany. But it's a good thing that Volume II I [of Capital] is now at last to be completed—not that I can say when that will be. Times are growing unsettled and the wind is rising.

A very Happy New Year from myself and Mrs Kautsky to you and your wife,[Katharina Sorge]

F. Engels

First published in: Briefe und Auszüge aus Briefen von Joh. Phil. Becker, Jos.
Dietzgen, Friedrich Engels, Karl Marx u. A. an F. A. Sorge und Andere
, Stuttgart, 1906
Printed according to the original
Published in English in full for the first time
MECW V50, pp73-76


[103] A fragment of this letter was first published in English in: The Labour Monthly, L., 1934, No. 10.

[60] The Panama affair—a shady transaction connected with the bribery of French statesmen, government officials and the press by the Panama Canal joint-stock company set up in France in 1880 at the at the initiative of Ferdinand de Lesseps for building a canal across of the isthmus of Panama. In December 1888 the company declared its insolvency which caused the ruin of small-time shareholders and numerous bankruptcies. This scandal compelled the French authorities to start an investigation. On 19 November 1892 the Monarchists tabled three questions on the Panama crash in the Chamber of Deputies which on 21 November elected a Commission of Inquiry of 33 with M. Henri Brisson, a Radical, as chairman. The Commission obtained irrefutable evidence implicating a number of high-ranking officials, e.g., the former French premier CL. de Freycinet and others who had been bribed by the Lesseps company which wanted to conceal its true financial situation and embezzlements. French justice hushed up the affair by going no further than condemning F. Lesseps and a number of his cat's-paws (see Note 157↓). 'Panama' became a byword for major dealings in which government officials were implicated.

[157] On 11 February 1893 the British newspaper The Daily News published the article of its Paris correspondent Emily Crawford: 'The Sentence on the Panama Directors. Sympathy for Mr. de Lesseps'.

The French government had to bring to trial some of the men implicated in the Panama scandal (see Note 60↑). On 9 February 1893, the court found Ferdinand-Marie Lesseps, the 88-year-old head of the company, guilty, and his son Charle s Lesseps, together with the other defendants, Fontacem Cottu and Fiffel. F. Lesseps and Ch. Lesseps were sentenced to 5 years in prison and a fine of 3,000 francs each, while the other defendants received 2 years in jail and fines. However, on 15 June 1893 the Court of Cassation reversed the sentence and acquitted the defendants of all the charges. Yet Ch. Lesseps had to remain in custody pending the payment of the fine imposed on him.

[104] Engels refers to a scandal that broke out in 1892 over the bankruptcy of the building society 'Liberator' and its affiliated banks and building societies. It was stated that upwards of seven million sterling had been invested in these unde rtakings, chiefly by the working and poorer trades classes.

[105] L. Baare, a German industrialist and director of the Bochum Steel Company, was taken to court for tax evasion and other machinations. The issue of rifles (nearly half a million) supplied to the German army by the Jewish firm Löwe & Co. was on the Reichstag agenda in 1892. That same year Hermann Ahlwardt's anti-Semitic pamphlet Neue Enthüllungen. Judenflingen came off the press in Dresden. It accused Isidor Löwe, an arms manufacturer, of supplying faulty rifles to the German army. The owners of the firm sued the author for libel. In December 1892 Ahlwardt was found guilty on libel charges and sentenced to five months in prison.

[106] Engels means flagrant abuses in the activity of the Banca Romana which came to light during debates held in the Italian Parliament in December 1892-January 1893. Implicated in these shady dealings were statesmen, MPs, lawyers, journalists and private individuals. The scandalous affair came to be known as Panamino, a hint at the Panama Company fraud. The debates were sparked off by a statement of one of the deputies, Napoleone Colajanni. Engels responded by the article 'The Italian Panama' (see present edition, Vol. 27, pp. 356-60) published in the newspaper Vorwärts in February 1893. For more detail about the Panama sobriquet, see Note 60↑.

[87] Opportunists—a party of moderate bourgeois Republicans which emerged after the 1881 split in the Republican Party and the formation of the left-wing Radical Party with Georges Clemenceau as its head (see Note 86↓). This name was introduced in 1877 by the journalist Henri Rochefort who coined it from the words of L. Gambetta, the leader of the 'Moderates', that reforms should be implemented 'at an opportune time' (en temps opportun).

[86] Radicals—in the 1880s-1890s, a parliamentary group in France that used to belong to the party of moderate Republicans (the 'Opportunists'). The Radicals relied chiefly on the petty bourgeoisie and, to some extent, on the middle bourgeoisie; they supported certain bourgeois-democratic demands like a unicameral parliament, separation of the Church from the state, a progressive income tax, limitation of the working day and other social issues. The Radicals were led by G. Clemenceau. Officially the group became known as the Republican Radical and Radical-Socialist Party (Parti républicain radical et radical-socialiste), formed in 1901.

[6] Boulangism—a movement that emerged in France in the mid-1880s; named so after its leader, General Georges Boulanger, the War Minister in 1886-87. This movement expressed the views of reactionary chauvinism. Appealing to the injured national pride of the French in connection with the loss of Alsace-Lorraine in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the Boulangists succeeded for some time in enlisting significant popular support in their cause and in influencing the army rank and file. Capitalising on popular discontent with the domestic policies of the bourgeois Republicans, the Boulangists were preparing a coup d'etat to restore the monarchy in France. Yet the Boulangist movement suffered a fiasco due to steps taken by the Republican government with the backing of progressive forces, and its leaders fled from France.

[100] In 1888 the Panama Canal Company (see Note 60↑), assisted by the bribed Chamber deputies and acting in circumvention of the French laws forbidding lotteries, gained permission to issue lottery-loan bonds.

[76] An allusion to the draft law tabled in the Reichstag on 23 November 1892 by the War Minister Werd and the General Staff Chief Waldersee providing for an increase in the numerical strength of the German armed forces within the next seven years. The mean annual strength of this army was fixed at 492,068; it was proposed to introduce a two-year term of service in the Infantry, which could increase the war machine's throughput by 30 per cent. The planned increase in the strength of the land forces exceeded all the previous increments, as of 1874, combined. It was planned to compensate the significant growth in the war expenditures by raising taxes on consumer goods. This elicited widespread discontent among the popular masses and with some bourgeois political parties as well. On 6 May 1893 the Reichstag majority rejected the draft bill of the government. The same day the Kaiser dissolved the Reichstag two years ahead of time. After a new election, in June 1893, a similar draft law was endorsed by the Reichstag.

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