Marx-Engels Correspondence 1881

Engels To Eduard Bernstein


Source: Marx & Engels on the Irish Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971, pp. 329-330; Transcribed by Einde O’Callaghan.
Source: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

March 12, 1881

Now the newspaper can really encourage and cheer our people in Germany, which some of them very much need the so-called leaders, at least. I have again received a number of letters full of lamentations, which I have answered in the appropriate way. Viereck was also very low-spirited initially, but a couple of days in the free London air have been sufficient to give him back his buoyancy. The newspaper must carry this free air to Germany, an end which will be served, primarily, by treating the enemy with contempt and derision. When people again learn simply to laugh at Bismarck and Co., much will have been gained. One must not forget, however, that this is the first time something like this has happened, at least to the great majority of people, and that, in particular, a great many agitators and editors have been rudely shaken from their rather comfortable positions. That is why encouragement is needed just as much as the constant reminder that Bismarck and Co. are still the same asses, the same canailles, the same pathetic manikins, powerless against the march of history, that they were before the attempted assassinations. Therefore every joke at the expense of this rabble is valuable.

On Ireland I shall only say the following: the people are much too clever not to know that a revolt would spell their ruin; it could have a chance only in the event of a war between England and America. In the meantime, the Irish have forced Gladstone to introduce continental regulations[329] in Parliament and thereby to undermine the whole British parliamentary system. They have also forced Gladstone to disavow all his phrases and to become more Tory than even the worst Tories. The coercion bills have been passed, the Land Bill will be either rejected or castrated by the House of Lords[330], and then the fun will start, that is, the concealed disintegration of the parties will become public. Since Gladstone’s appointment, the Whigs and moderate Tories, that is, the big landowners as a whole, are uniting on the quiet into a big landowners’ party. As soon as this matures and family and personal interests are settled, or as soon as, perhaps as a result of the Land Bill, the new party is forced to appear in public, the Ministry and the present majority will immediately fall to pieces. The new conservative party will then be faced by the new bourgeois radical party, but without any backing other than the workers and Irish peasants. And so as to avoid any humbug and trickery from taking place here again, a proletarian radical party is now forming under the leadership of Joseph Cowen (M.P. for Newcastle), who is an old Chartist, half, if not entirely, Communist and a very worthy chap. Ireland is bringing all this about, Ireland is the driving force of the Empire. This is for your private information. More about this soon.


... It is simply a falsification perpetrated by the Manchester bourgeoisie in their own interests that they call ‘socialism’ every interference by the state in free competition – protective tariffs, guilds, tobacco monopoly, nationalisation of certain branches of industry, the Overseas Trade Society, and the royal porcelain factory. We should criticise this but not believe it. If we do the latter and develop a theory on the basis of this belief our theory will collapse together with its premises upon simple proof that this alleged socialism is nothing but, on the one hand, feudal reaction and, on the other, a pretext for squeezing out money, with the secondary object of turning as many proletarians as possible into civil servants and pensioners dependent upon the state, thus organising alongside of the disciplined army of soldiers and civil servants an army of workers as well. Compulsory voting brought about by superiors in the state apparatus instead of by factory overseers – a fine sort of socialism! But that’s where people get if they believe the bourgeoisie what it does not believe itself but only pretends to believe: that the state means socialism...


329. Apparently a reference to the resolution adopted by the Commons at Gladstone s proposal on February 3, 1881, to introduce a new procedure in the British Parliament. Since the obstruction tactics resorted to by the Irish opposition in the House of Commons prevented the passing by Parliament of a Bill introducing coercion laws in Ireland, Gladstone proposed according the Speaker the right to interrupt speeches of orators and in case of insubordination to evict them from the premises.

330. The spread of peasant action against English landlords moved Parliament to adopt, early in 1881, two bills on the introduction of coercion laws in Ireland. These laws suspended constitutional guarantees and introduced a state of siege in the country; troops were sent to help the landlords evict tenants refusing to leave.

The Land Bill for Ireland, proposed by Gladstone’s Liberal government at the end of 1880, was an attempt to divert the Irish peasants from the revolutionary struggle by somewhat restricting the arbitrary rule of the English landlords over the peasant tenants. It was finally passed on August 22, 1881. According to the Land Act of 1881 a landlord was not allowed to evict a tenant from the land if he paid rent in time, the size of the rent being stipulated for 15 years in advance. Although the Land Act gave the landlords the opportunity to sell their land profitably to the state and the size of the rent fixed by it continued to be extremely high, the English landlords obstructed its implementation because they wanted to preserve their unlimited power in Ireland.