Marx-Engels Correspondence 1870

Karl Marx to Ludwig Kugelmann in Hanover, 13 December 1870

Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975), and Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann (Martin Lawrence, London, undated). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Dear Kugelmann

The explanation for my long silence is the fact that during this war, which has caused most of the foreign correspondents of the General Council to go to France, I have had to conduct practically the entire international correspondence, which is no trifle. Besides, with the ‘postal freedom’ now prevailing in Germany and particularly in the North German Confederation, and most ‘particularly’ in Hanover, it is dangerous – not for me, it is true, but for my German correspondents – if I write them my opinion on the war, and what else can one write about at the present moment?

For example, you ask me for our first Address on the war. I had sent it to you. It has obviously been confiscated. I am enclosing in this letter the two Addresses [1] issued as a pamphlet as well as Professor Beesly’s article [2] in the Fortnightly Review and today’s Daily News. Since this paper has a Prussian tinge, the things will probably get through. Professor Beesly is a Comtist and as such obliged to think up all sorts of crotchets, but otherwise he is a very capable and brave man. He is professor of history at London University.

It seems that Germany has not only captured Bonaparte, his generals and his army but that the whole of imperialism, with all its infirmities, has likewise been acclimatised in the land of the oak and the linden tree.

As to the German bourgeois, I am not at all surprised by his intoxication with conquest. First of all, rapacity is the vital principle of every bourgeoisie and to take foreign provinces is after all ‘taking’. The German middle classes moreover have most dutifully accepted so many kicks from their sovereigns, particularly the Hohenzollerns, that it must be a real pleasure to them when those kicks are administered for a change to a foreigner.

In any case this war has freed us from the ‘middle-class republicans’. It has put a horrible end to that crew. And that is an important result. It has given our professors the best opportunity of discrediting themselves in the eyes of the whole world for being servile pedants. The conditions which result from the war will be the best propaganda of our principles.

Here in England public opinion at the outbreak of war was ultra-Prussian; it has now turned into the opposite. In the cafés chantants, for example, German singers with their Wi-Wa-Wacht on the Rhine have been hissed off the floor while French singers with the Marseillaise have been accompanied in chorus. Apart from the decided sympathy of the popular masses for the Republic, from the vexation of the respectability at the alliance between Prussia and Russia, now clear as daylight, and from the shameless tone of Prussian diplomacy since Prussia’s military successes, the manner in which the war has been conducted – the requisitioning system, the burning down of villages, the shooting of francs-tireurs, the taking of hostages and similar acts reminiscent of the Thirty Years’ War – has aroused universal indignation in this country. Of course, the English have done the same in India, Jamaica, etc, but the French are neither Hindus, nor Chinese, nor Negroes, and the Prussians are not heaven-born Englishmen! It is a truly Hohenzollern idea that a people commits a crime in continuing to defend itself once its regular army has ceased to exist. In fact, the war of the Prussian people against Napoleon I was a real thorn in the side of good old Frederick William III, as one can see from Professor Pertz’s historical account of Gneisenau, [3] who transformed the war of francs-tireurs into a system through his Landsturm Ordnung. [4] The fact that the people fought on their own initiative and independently of orders from the highest quarters gave Frederick William III no peace.

However, the last word has not yet been spoken. The war in France can still take a very ‘unpleasant’ turn. The resistance put up by the Loire Army [5] was ‘beyond’ calculation, and the present scattering of the Prussian forces right and left is merely intended to instil fear, but in fact its only result is to call forth the defensive power at every point and weaken the offensive power. The threatened bombardment of Paris is likewise nothing but a trick. By all the rules of the theory of probability, it can have no serious effect on the city of Paris itself. If a few outworks are shot to pieces and a breach is made, what good is that when the besieged outnumber the besiegers? And if the besieged fought exceptionally well in the sorties when the enemy defended himself behind entrenchments, how much better will they fight when the roles are reversed?

To starve Paris out is the only real way. But if that is dragged out long enough to allow armies to be formed and a people’s war to develop in the provinces, nothing will be gained thereby except a shifting of the centre of gravity. Moreover, even after the surrender of Paris, which cannot be occupied and kept tranquil by a mere handful, would keep a large part of the invaders out of action.

But however the war may end, it has given the French proletariat practice in arms, and that is the best guarantee of the future.

The shameless tone which Russia and Prussia adopt towards England may have wholly unexpected and unpleasant results for them. The matter stands like this: by the Paris Peace Treaty of 1856 England disarmed herself. England is a sea power and can counterpose to the great Continental military powers only the weapon of naval warfare. The certain method is temporarily to destroy or bring to a standstill the overseas trade of the continental powers. This mainly depends on operating the principle of seizing enemy goods in neutral vessels. This maritime right (as well as other similar rights) was surrendered by England in the so-called Declaration attached to the Paris Treaty. Clarendon did this at the secret order of the Russian Palmerston. [6] The Declaration, however, is not an integral part of the treaty itself and has never been legally ratified in England. The Russian and Prussian gentlemen are reckoning without their host if they imagine that the influence of the Queen, who is Prussianised from family interest, and the bourgeois weak-mindedness of a Gladstone, would at a decisive moment keep John Bull from throwing this self-created ‘charming obstacle’ overboard. And he can always strangle Russian-German sea trade in a few weeks. We shall then have an opportunity of studying the long faces of the Petersburg and Berlin diplomats, and the still longer faces of the ‘power patriots’. Qui vivra verra. [7]

My best compliments to Madame la Comtesse and Fränzchen.


À propos. Can you let me have Windthorst’s various Reichstag Speeches? [8]


1. The reference is to the First and the Second Address of the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association on the Franco-Prussian War (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Volume 2 (Moscow, 1973), pp 190-201) – Progress Publishers. [First Address and Second Address.]

2. ES Beesly, ‘The International Working Men’s Association’. Edward Spencer Beesly (1831-1915) – English historian and political figure, bourgeois radical, positivist, professor at London University, known for his defence of First International and Paris Commune in the English press in 1870-71 – Progress Publishers.

3. Georg Heinrich Pertz, Das Leben des Feldmarschalls Grafen Neithardt von Gneisenau (The Life of Field-Marshal Count Neithardt von Gneisenau) – Progress Publishers.

4. Landsturm-Ordnung – ordinance on the landsturm of 21 April 1813, which was drawn up by Gneisenau, was designed to draw the whole population into the fight against the enemy and called upon the men to use all and every means to harass the intruder. Engels describes the ordinance in his article ‘Prussian Francs-Tireurs’ first published in The Pall-Mall Gazette of 9 December 1870 – Progress Publishers.

5. The Loire Army, which was formed on 15 November 1870 and placed under the command of General d'Aurelle de Paladines, fought in the Orleans district. Although it consisted of heterogeneous elements and most of its units were insufficiently trained, the army with the support of the local population was able to inflict several defeats on the Prussian troops – Progress Publishers.

6. Henry Temple, Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865) – British statesman and diplomat against whom Marx wrote a series of articles in the New York Tribune, later published in England as Political Flysheets – Progress Publishers.

7. He who lives will see – Progress Publishers.

8. Ludwig Windthorst (1812-1891) – leader of the Catholic Centre in the German Reichstag, led the opposition against Bismarck – Progress Publishers.