Marx-Engels Correspondence 1872

Letter from Engels to Theodore Cuno


Written: January 24, 1872;
Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence, International Publishers (1968);
Additional text from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers (1975);
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 1999.

January 24, 1872

Dear Cuno

I have just received your letter through Becker [2] and gather from its contents that those blasted Mardocheans [3] intercepted my detailed letter to you dated 16 December. This is the more annoying since it contained all the necessary information on the Bakuninist intrigues and you would have been apprised of everything a whole month earlier; and also since, in view of the fact that you are a foreigner and liable to deportation, I asked you in that letter that you should rather try to be somewhat more cautious in your public agitation so that you can remain there and keep your job, which meanwhile unfortunately went to blazes...

Becker writes he will let you know about Bakunin’s intrigues. However I shall not rely on that and am telling you briefly the most necessary information.

Bakunin, who up till 1868 had intrigued against the International, joined it after he had made a fiasco at the Berne Peace Conference and at once began to conspire within it against the General Council. Bakunin has a peculiar theory of his own, a medley of Proudhonism and communism, the chief point of which is in the first place that he does not regard capital, and therefore the class contradiction between capitalists and wage earners which has arisen through social development, as the main evil to be abolished--instead he regards the state as the main evil. While the great mass of the Social-Democratic workers hold our view that state power is nothing more than the organisation with which the ruling classes, landlords and capitalists have provided themselves in order to protect their social prerogatives, Bakunin maintains that it is the state which has created capital, that the capitalist has his capital only by favour of the state. As, therefore, the state is the chief evil, it is above all the state which must be done away with and then capitalism will go to hell of itself. We, on the contrary say: do away with capital, the appropriation of the whole means of production in the hands of the few, and the state will fall away of itself. The difference is an essential one. Without a previous social revolution the abolition of the state is nonsense; the abolition of capital is in itself the social revolution and involves a change in the whole method of production. Further, however, as for Bakunin the state is the main evil, nothing must be done which can maintain the existence of any state, whether it be a republic, a monarchy or whatever it may be. Hence therefore complete abstention from all politics. To perpetrate a political action, and especially to take part in an election, would be a betrayal of principle. The thing to do is to conduct propaganda, abuse the state, organise, and when all the workers are won over, i.e., the majority, depose the authorities, abolish the state and replace it by the organisation of the International. This great act, with which the millennium begins, is called social liquidation.

All this sounds extremely radical, and is so simple that it can be learnt by heart in five minutes ; that is why this theory of Bakunin's has also speedily found favour in Spain and Italy, among young lawyers, doctors and other doctrinaires.

But the mass of the workers will never allow themselves to be persuaded that the public affairs of their country are not also their own affairs; they are by nature political and whoever tries to make out to them that they should leave politics alone will in the end get left in the lurch. To preach that the workers should in all circumstances abstain from politics is to drive them into the arms of the priests or the bourgeois republicans.

Now as, according to Bakunin, the International is not to be formed for political struggle but in order that it may at once replace the old state organisation as soon as social liquidation takes place, it follows that it must come as near as possible to the Bakunist ideal of the society of the future. In this society there will above all be no authority, for authority = state = an absolute evil. (How these people propose to run a factory, work a railway or steer a ship without having in the last resort one deciding will, without a unified direction, they do not indeed tell us.) The authority of the majority over the minority also ceases. Every individual and every community is autonomous, but as to how a society, even of only two people, is possible unless each gives up some of his autonomy, Bakunin again remains silent. The International, then, must also be reorganised according to this model. Every section, and in every section every individual, is autonomous. To hell with the Basle resolutions, which bestowed upon the General Council a pernicious authority demoralising even to itself!

Even if this authority is voluntarily bestowed it must cease simply because it is authority.

Here you have in brief the main points of the swindle.

... But who are the originators of the Basle resolutions? Well, Mr Bakunin himself and his associates!

When these gentlemen saw at the Basle Congress that their plan to remove the General Council to Geneva, that is, to get it into their hands, would not succeed, they followed a different tack. They founded the Alliance de la Démocratie Socialiste, an international Society within the big International, on a pretext which you will now encounter again in the Bakuninist Italian press, for instance, in the Proletario and Gazzettino Rosa: for the hot-blooded Latin races, it is claimed, a more outspoken programme is necessary than for the cool, slow-moving Northerners. This little scheme came to naught because of the resistance of the General Council, which of course could not tolerate any separate international organisation within the International. It has since reappeared in various shapes and forms in connection with the efforts of Bakunin and his crew to substitute the Bakunin programme for that of the International. On the other hand it was precisely Bakunin’s empty boastful phrases that were always seized upon by the reactionaries, from Jules Favre [4] and Bismarck to Mazzini, whenever it was a question of attacking the International. Hence the necessity of my statement of 5 December against Mazzini and Bakunin, which was also published in the Gazzettino Rosa.

The nucleus of the Bakunin crowd consists of a few dozen people in the Jura whose whole following amounts to scarcely 200 workers. Their vanguard is made up of young lawyers, doctors and journalists in Italy who everywhere now pretend to act as spokesmen of the Italian workers; a few of them are in Barcelona and Madrid and every now and then you will find one – hardly ever a worker – in Lyons or Brussels; in London there is a single specimen, Robin. [5]

The conference, [6] convoked under the pressure of circumstances in lieu of the congress that had become impossible, served them as a pretext; and since most of the French refugees in Switzerland went over to their side because they (being Proudhonists) found some kindred views among them and for personal reasons, they sallied forth on their campaign. They counted, and not without reason, on malcontent minorities and misunderstood geniuses, who may of course be found everywhere in the International.

At present their fighting strength is as follows:

1) Bakunin himself – the Napoleon of this campaign.

2) The 200 Jurassians and the 40-50 members of the French Section (refugees in Geneva).

3) In Brussels Hins, [7] editor of the Liberté, who however does not come out openly for them.

4) Here, the remnants of the French Section of 1871, [8] which we have never recognised and which has already split into three parts which are fighting with one another. Then there are about 20 Lassalleans of the type of Herr von Schweitzer, [9] who had all been expelled from the German Section (because of their proposal to withdraw from the International en masse) and who, being advocates of extreme centralisation and rigid organisation, fit to a T into the league of Anarchists and autonomists.

5) In Spain, a few personal friends and adherents of Bakunin, who have strongly influenced the workers, particularly in Barcelona, at least theoretically. The Spaniards, on the other hand, are very keen on organisation and quick to notice any lack of it in others. How far Bakunin can count on success there will not be seen until the Spanish Congress in April, and as workers will predominate there I have no grounds for anxiety.

6) Lastly, in Italy, the Turin, Bologna and Girgenti Sections have, as far as I know, declared in favour of convening the congress ahead of time.

The Bakuninist press claims that 20 Italian sections had joined; I don’t know them. At any rate, almost everywhere the leadership is in the hands of friends and adherents of Bakunin, and they are raising a terrific hubbub. But a closer examination will most likely disclose that their following is not numerous, for in the long run the bulk of the Italian workers are still Mazzinists and will remain so as long as the International is identified there with abstention from politics.

At any rate, in Italy, for the time being, it is the Bakuninist crowd that has the main say in the International. The General Council has no intention of complaining on that score; the Italians have the right to commit all the absurdities they choose and the General Council will counteract them only by way of peaceful debate. These people also have the right to declare for a congress in the Jurassian sense, although it is certainly exceedingly strange that sections which have only just affiliated and cannot be posted on anything should in such a matter at once take sides, especially before they have heard both parties to the dispute! I have told the Turin members the unvarnished truth about this matter and shall do the same with the other sections which have made similar declarations. For every such declaration of affiliation is indirectly an approval of the false accusations and lies made against the General Council in the Circular. [10] Incidentally, the General Council will shortly issue a circular [11] of its own about this matter. If you can prevent the Milanese from making a similar declaration until the circular appears you will be fulfilling all our desires.

The funniest thing is that the same people in Turin who declare in favour of the Jurassians and therefore reproach us here with authoritarianism, now suddenly demand that the General Council should take such authoritarian measures against the rival Federazione Operaia [12] of Turin as it had never taken before, should excommunicate Beghelli [13] of the Ficcanaso, who does not even belong to the International, etc. And all that before we have even heard what the Federazione Operaia has to say!

Last Monday [14] I sent you the Révolution Sociale [15] containing the Jura Circular, one issue of the Geneva Égalité (unfortunately I have no copies left of the issue containing the answer of the Geneva Comité Fédéral, which represents twenty times as many workers as the Jura people do) and one Volksstaat which will show you what the people in Germany think about the case. The Saxon Regional Meeting – 120 delegates from 60 localities – declared unanimously for the General Council.

The Belgian Congress (25-26 December) demands a revision of the Rules, but at the regular congress (in September). From France we are every day receiving statements expressing consent. Of course, none of these intrigues find any support here in England. And the General Council will certainly not call an extraordinary congress just to please a few intriguers and busy-bodies. So long as these gentlemen keep within legal bounds the General Council will gladly let them have their way. This coalition of the most diverse elements will soon fall apart; but as soon as they start anything against the Rules or the Congress resolutions the General Council will do its duty.

If one considers that these people have launched their conspiracy precisely at the moment when a general hue and cry is being raised against the International, one cannot help thinking that the international sleuths must have a hand in the game. And so it is. In Béziers the Geneva Bakuninists have picked the chief superintendent of police as their correspondent! Two prominent Bakuninists, Albert Richard [16] from Lyons and Blanc, [17] were here and told a worker named Scholl, also from Lyons, with whom they got in touch, that the only way to overthrow Thiers [18] was to restore Bonaparte to the throne; and for this very reason they were travelling about on Bonaparte money to conduct propaganda among the refugees in favour of a Bonapartist restoration! That is what these gentlemen call abstaining from politics! In Berlin the Neue Sozial-Demokrat, subsidised by Bismarck, pipes the same tune. How far the Russian police is involved in this I shall leave for the present undecided, but Bakunin was deeply embroiled in the Nechayev [19] affair (he denies it, of course, but we have the original Russian reports here and since Marx and I understand Russian he cannot put anything over on us). Nechayev is either a Russian agent provocateur or anyhow acted as if he were. There are moreover all kinds of suspicious characters among Bakunin’s Russian friends.

I am very sorry you lost your position. I had expressly written to you asking you to avoid anything that might lead to that, stating that your presence in Milan was much more important for the International than the small effect one could produce by public utterances, and that one can also accomplish much on the quiet, etc. If I can be of assistance to you by getting you translations, etc, I shall do so with the greatest of pleasure. But please tell me from which languages and into which languages you can translate and how I can be useful to you.

So those police swine have also intercepted my photograph. I am enclosing another one for you and would ask you to send me two of yours, one of which is to serve the purpose of inducing Miss Marx to let you have a photograph of her father (she is the only one who still has a couple of good ones left).

I would also ask you to be on your guard when dealing with any of the people connected with Bakunin. It is a characteristic feature of all sects to stick together and intrigue. You can be sure that any information you give them will immediately be passed on to Bakunin. It is one of his fundamental principles that keeping promises and the like are merely bourgeois prejudices, which a true revolutionary must treat with disdain when it benefits the cause. In Russia he says this openly, in Western Europe it is an esoteric doctrine.

Write to me as soon as possible. It would be very good if we could induce the Milan Section not to join in the chorus of the other Italian sections.

Fraternal greetings

F Engels


1. Friedrich Theodor Cuno (1847-1934) – leader of German and international working-class movement, socialist, active member of First International, in 1872 emigrated to USA, later one of founders of Knights of Labour – Progress Publishers.

2. Johann Philipp Becker (1809-1886) – prominent figure in German and international working-class movement, brush-maker, in 1830s and 1840s took part in democratic movement in Germany and Switzerland, was active in 1848-49 revolution, after defeat of Baden-Palatinate insurrection fled from Germany, in 1860s one of outstanding figures in First International, attended all its congresses, editor of Verbote, friend and close associate of Marx and Engels – Progress Publishers.

3. An allusion to the police – Progress Publishers.

4. Jules Favre (1809-1880) – French lawyer and politician, in late 1850s became a leader of the bourgeois-republican opposition, Minister of Foreign Affairs (1870-71), hangman of Paris Commune and inspirer of struggle against International – Progress Publishers.

5. Paul Robin (1837-?) – French teacher, Bakuninist, a leader of Social-Democratic Alliance, member of General Council of International (1870-71) – Progress Publishers.

6. Engels is referring to the Conference of the First International that took place in London in 1871 – Progress Publishers.

7. Eugène Hins (1839-1923) – an organiser of Belgian Sections of First International, member of Belgian Federal Council, Proudhonist, later Bakuninist – Progress Publishers.

8. The French Section of 1871 was formed by a group of French émigrés in London in September 1871. Its leadership established close contacts with the Bakuninists in Switzerland, and, acting in agreement with them, attacked the organisational principles of the International – Progress Publishers.

9. Johann Baptist Schweitzer (1833-1875) – one of Lassallean leaders in Germany, editor of Sozial-Demokrat (1864-67), President of General Association of German Workers (1867-71), gave support to Bismarck’s policy of unification of Germany ‘from above’ under hegemony of Prussia, prevented German workers’ affiliation to First International, fought against Social-Democratic Workers Party, expelled from Association in 1872 after his connections with Prussian authorities were exposed – Progress Publishers.

10. A Congress of the Bakuninist Jura Federation held in Sonvillier on 12 November 1871, adopted the ‘Circular to all Federations of the International Working Men’s Association’, which was directed against the General Council and the London Conference of 1871. The Circular opposed anarchist dogmas to the decisions of the London Conference, made slanderous attacks on the General Council and called upon all federations to demand the immediate convocation of a congress to revise the Rules of the International and to censure the actions of the General Council – Progress Publishers.

11. Engels is referring to Les prétendues scissions dans l'Internationale (Sham Splits in the International) – Progress Publishers. [Available on the MIA at < >.]

12. Federazione Operaia (Workers Federation), set up in Turin in the autumn of 1871, was under the influence of the followers of Mazzini. The proletarian members left the Federation in January 1872 and formed a new society, called the Liberation of the Proletariat, which became a section of the International. Up to February 1872 the society was headed by Terzaghi, a secret police agent – Progress Publishers.

13. Giuseppe Beghelli (1847-1877) – Italian journalist, bourgeois democrat, participated in Garibaldi’s campaigns, editor of a number of republican newspapers – Progress Publishers.

14. 22 January 1872 – Progress Publishers.

15. La Révolution Sociale – a daily paper which came out in Geneva from October 1871 to January 1872, from November 1871 it was the official organ of the Bakuninist Jura Federation – Progress Publishers.

16. Albert Richard (1846-1925) – French journalist, one of leaders of Lyons Section of International, Bakuninist, Bonapartist after defeat of Paris Commune – Progress Publishers.

17. Gaspard Blanc – Progress Publishers.

18. Louis-Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877) – French historian and statesman, Prime Minister (1836, 1840), at the time of Second Republic deputy of Constituent and Legislative Assemblies, Orleanist, President of Republic (1871-73), executioner of Paris Commune – Progress Publishers.

19. Sergei Gennadyevich Nechayev (1847-1882) – Russian revolutionary, conspirator, during 1869-71 closely associated with Bakunin, founder of secret society Narodnaya Rasprava (People’s Revenge), extradited by Swiss authorities to Russia, died in Peter and Paul Fortress – Progress Publishers.