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Engels To Karl Kautsky[98]
In Stuttgart

London, 11 February 1891

Dear Kautsky,

Many thanks for your two letters.[165] I return herewith those of Bebel and Schippel.

The boycott imposed upon me by the Berliners has not yet been lifted; there's been no sign of a letter and it's obvious they haven't yet made up their minds. By contrast, the Hamburger Echo published a leading article that was very fair,[166] considering that the chaps are still strongly tainted with Lassalleanism and actually swear by the system of acquired rights.[167] From this, and from the Frankfurter Zeitung, I also gathered that the onslaught of the opposition press was already at its height, if not actually abating. Once they have survived that—and so far as I could see, it has so far been very mild—the chaps will recover from their initial alarm. By contrast, Adler's Berlin correspondent (A. Braun?) has actually thanked me for publishing the thing.[161] A few more such voices and the opposition will languish.

It became evident to me that the document had been deliberately suppressed and concealed from Bebel in May/June 1875 the moment he informed me that the date of his release from prison had been 1 April; indeed, I have written to him[153] saying that he was bound to have seen it unless 'something untoward' had happened. In due course I shall, if necessary, request him to reply to this point. For a long time the document was held by Liebknecht from whose clutches Bracke had some difficulty in retrieving it; Liebknecht wished to keep it entirely to himself in order to use it for the final version of the programme. How, needs no saying.

Send me Lafargue's article[168] by registered book post as a ms.; I'll smooth things out all right. Come to that, his article on Padlewski{a} was quite good and very useful, considering the way the Vorwärts misrepresents French politics. All in all, Wilhelm{b} would seem to be out of luck in this respect. He is always praising the French Republic to the skies while Guesde, the correspondent whom he himself appointed, is for ever tearing it to pieces.[149]

The parliamentary group's pronouncement,[162] heralded by Schippel, is a matter of complete indifference to me. Should they wish, I am prepared to confirm that I am not in the habit of asking their permission. Whether or not they approve of the fact of publication is all one to me. Nor do I begrudge them the right to express their disapproval of this and that. Unless the affair turns out in such a way as absolutely to compel me to take it up, it would not occur to me to reply. So we shall wait and see.

I shall not write to Bebel about it, for in the first place he himself must first let me know what view of the matter he has finally arrived at and, in the second, every resolution is signed by everybody in the parliamentary group whether or not they voted for it. By the way, Bebel is wrong in thinking I would allow myself to become embroiled in acrimonious dispute. For that to happen, they would first have to provoke me with falsehoods, etc., which I could not overlook. On the contrary, I am positively steeped in a spirit of conciliation, having after all no cause for anger, and am only too anxious to build that bridge—pontoon bridge, trestle bridge, iron, stone or even golden bridge—across the potential abyss or gulf which Bebel thought he saw yawning in the distance.

Odd! Schippel now writes of the many old Lassalleans who pride themselves on their Lassalleanism—yet when they were over here,[169] it was unanimously agreed that there were no Lassalleans left in Germany! Indeed, this was the main reason for my abandoning many of my reservations. And then Bebel also chimes in, saying that a large number of the best comrades are seriously offended. If [so],{c} they ought to have [described]{c} things to me as they really were.

Come to that, if you cannot now, 15 years later, speak your mind about Lassalle's theoretical balderdash and his prophetic mission, when if ever will you be able to?

However, the party as such, the Executive, the parliamentary group and tutti quanti{d} are exempted by the Anti-Socialist Law[15] from all blame save that of having accepted such a programme (and there is no getting round this). So long as that law was in force there could be no question of any revision; no sooner was it suspended than revision was included in the agenda. So what more do they want?

It is also imperative that the chaps should at long last throw off the habit of handling the party officials—their servants—with kid gloves and kow-towing to them as infallible bureaucrats, instead of confronting them critically.


You will no doubt have heard that Aveling is standing for Northampton in place of Bradlaugh.{e} The invitation came from the local BRANCHES OF THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC FEDERATION[29] and from the GASWORKERS. He went down there and his tub-thumping met with great applause. He was assured of 900-1,000 votes. But he hadn't got the deposit for the election expenses and, when offered this by a TORY agent, indignantly refused it. Thus he was not nominated, but from now on will stand as labour candidate for Northampton.

First published in full in:
Aus der Frühzeit des Marxismus. Engels Briefwechsel mit Kautsky, Prag, 1935
Printed aecording to the original
Published in English for the first time


{a} P. Lafargue, 'Der Schuß Padlewsky's', Die Neue Zeit, 9.Jg. 1890/91, l.Bd.,Nr. 19 (see also this volume, pp. 108, 123).

{b} Wilhelm Liebknech

{c} Manuscript damaged.

{d} all the rest

{e} See this volume, pp. 120, 123-24 and 126-27.

[98] Part of this letter was first published in the journal Die Gesellschaft, No. 5, 1932.

[165] This refers to Kautsky's letters of 6 and 9 February 1891, in which he informed Engels of reactions in Social-Democratic circles to the publication of Critique of the Gotha Programme in Neue Zeit and of Bebel and Liebknecht's attempt to prevent the publication.

[166] The article in question, headlined 'Zur Kritik des sozialdemokratischen Programms' (Hamburger Echo, No. 33, 8 February 1891), noted the importance of Marx's programmatic letter, published by Engels, for the working out of German Social-Democracy's new programme.

[167] Engels' mention of the system of acquired rights is an allusion to Lassalle's work of the same title, Das System der erworbenen Rechte. Eine Versöhnung des positiven Rechts und der Rechtsphilosophie. In zwei Theilen. Leipzig, 1861. For an assessment of this work see present edition, Vol. 41, pp. 330-31.

[161] On 6 February 1891, the Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung, No. 6, reported from Berlin, in the column 'Deutschland', that a document of great theoretical and practical importance, Marx's critique of the programme adopted by the German party at its 1875 Gotha Congress, had been published by Engels in Germany. Speaking of the service rendered by Engels, the author of the report, Adolf Braun, pointed out: 'The time has come to formulate the theoretical foundations of our party with full clarity and uncompromisingly, so the present publication is very timely indeed.'

[153] The Editors are not in possession of the original of this letter.

[168] This article by Paul Lafargue, intended for Neue Zeit, did not appear in it. In his letter to Engels of 6 February Kautsky characterised it as slipshod and containing serious mistakes, and asked what he should do with it. The article was published later in La Revue socialiste, t. XVI, No. 93, 1892, under the title 'La théorie de la valeur et de la plus-value de Marx et les économistes bourgeois'. For Engels' assessment of it see this volume, pp. 140-42.

[149] In his 'Briefe aus Frankreich' ('Letters from France'), published in Vorwärts, Nos 23 and 25 on 28 and 30 January 1891, Jules Guesde exposed the policy of the moderate bourgeois republicans (the 'opportunists') led by Jean Antoine Constans, Pierre Maurice Rouvier and others. He showed that it aimed at suppressing the working-class movement in the country and compromised the republic.

[162] On 13 February 1891 Vorwärts (No. 37) carried a leading article, 'Der Marx'sche Programm-Brief, written by Wilhelm Liebknecht, in which the Reichstag Social-Democratic group expressed disagreement with the assessment of the Gotha programme and Lassalle's role given in Marx's Critique.

[169] This refers to August Bebel's, Wilhelm Liebknecht's and Paul Singer's stay in London, from 27 November to early December 1890, as Engels' guests on the occasion of his seventieth birthday (sec also Note 90↓).

[90] The meeting took place at Edward and Eleanor Avelings' house in London on 1 December 1890. It was attended by German Social-Democratic leaders Wilhelm Liebknecht, August Bebel and Paul Singer and British socialist and labour leaders Robert Cunninghame-Graham, John Burns, Bill Thorne, Ben Cooper, Maxwell and Morrison Davidson, as well as by Engels and the Avelings. Cunninghame-Graham published an account of the meeting, 'Eight Hours "Blokes" in Council', in People's Press, No. 40, saying that 'the object of our meeting was to combine the attack against surplus value, to endeavour to bring about friendly relations between the sweated of all nations, and to push on the general eight hours day by legislative action...'.

[15] This refers to the item 'Tell Tale Straws' in Justice, No. 337, 28 June 1890.

[29] The Social Democratic Federation, set up in August 1884, consisted of English socialists of different orientations, mostly intellectuals. For a long time the leadership of the Federation was in the hands of reformists led by Hyndman, an opportunist sectarian. In opposition to them, the revolutionary Marxists within the Federation (Eleanor Marx-Aveling, Edward Aveling, Tom Mann and others) worked for close ties with the revolutionary labour movement. In the autumn of 1884 — following a split and the establishment by the Left wing of an independent organisation, the Socialist League (see Note 49↓) — the opportunists' influence in the Federation increased. However, revolutionary elements, discontented with the opportunist leadership, continued to form within the Federation, under the impact of the masses.

[49] The Socialist League was an organisation set up in December 1884 by a group of English socialists who had withdrawn from the Social Democratic Federation on account of its leaders' opportunist policies. The founders of the League included Eleanor Marx-Aveling, Edward Aveling, Ernest Belfort Bax, William Morris and others. In its early years the League took an active part in the labour movement. However, anarchist elements soon gained the upper hand in the League, forcing many of its organisers, among them the Avelings, to resign. In the early nineties the League disintegrated.

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