Marx-Engels Correspondence 1879

Friedrich Engels to August Bebel in Leipzig, 14 November 1879

Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

... And this brings me to the Report. [1] Although the beginning is very good and the treatment of the protective tariff debate – in these circumstances – is skilful the concessions made to the German philistines in the third part are unwelcome. Why that wholly superfluous passage about the ‘civil war’, why that kowtowing to ‘public opinion’ which in Germany will always be that of the beer-house philistine? Why here the total obliteration of the class character of the movement? Why give the Anarchists this ground for rejoicing? And all these concessions moreover are wholly useless. The German philistine is cowardice incarnate; he respects only those who inspire him with fear. But anyone who wants to get into his good graces he considers one of his own kind and respects him no more than his own kind, namely not at all. And now that the beer-house philistine’s ‘storm’ of indignation, called public opinion, has, as is generally admitted, subsided again and since heavy taxation has in any case knocked the spirit out of these people, why these honeyed speeches? If you only knew how they sound abroad! It is quite a good thing that Party organs must be edited by people who are in the thick of the Party and the struggle. But if you had been only six months abroad you would think quite differently of this entirely unnecessary self-debasement of the Party deputies before the philistines. The storm that broke over the heads of the French Socialists after the Commune was after all something quite different from the outcry raised in Germany on account of the Nobiling [2] affair. And how much more proud and dignified was the bearing of the French! Where do you find among them such weakness, such paying of compliments to one’s opponents? They kept silent when they could not speak freely; they let the philistines scream as much as they liked knowing that their time would surely come again; and now it has come...

As for the rest I only want to remark about Auer’s [3] insinuations that we here underestimate neither the difficulties with which the Party has to contend in Germany nor the significance of the successes achieved nevertheless and the quite exemplary conduct up to now of the Party masses. It naturally goes without saying that every victory gained in Germany gladdens our hearts as much as one gained elsewhere, and even more so because from the very beginning the development of the German Party was associated with our theoretical statements. But for that very reason we must be particularly interested to see that the practical conduct of the German Party and especially the public utterances of the Party leadership should be in harmony with the general theory. Our criticism is certainly not pleasant for some people. But it surely must be of greater value to the Party and its leadership than all uncritical compliments to have abroad a few people who, unbiased by confusing local conditions and details of the struggle, measure happenings and utterances from time to time by the theoretical propositions valid for all modern proletarian movements, and who convey to it the impression its actions create outside Germany.

Yours in friendship
F Engels


1. Engels refers to the ‘Rechenschaftsbericht der sozialdemokratischen Mitglieder des deutschen Reichstages’ (’the Report of the Social-Democratic Members of the German Reichstag’), published in Der Sozialdemokrat of 12, 19 and 26 October 1879 – Progress Publishers.

2. The allusion is to the attempts on the life of William I by Max Hödel on 11 May, and the anarchist Nobiling on 2 June 1878, which provided Bismarck with a convenient opportunity for introducing the Anti-Socialist Law – Progress Publishers.

3. Ignaz Auer (1846-1907) – German Social-Democrat, a leader of the Social-Democratic Party, was repeatedly elected deputy to Reichstag, later a reformist – Progress Publishers.