Marx Engels Correspondence 1881

Friedrich Engels to Eduard Bernstein
In Zurich

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

25 October 1881

... But it is true that Guesde [1] came over when it was a question of framing the draft programme of the French Workers Party. Its preamble was dictated to him word for word by Marx in the presence of Lafargue and myself right here in my room: the worker is free only when he is the owner of his instruments of labour – this can be the case either in individual or in collective form; the individual form of ownership is made obsolete by the economic development, and more so with every day; hence there remains only that of collective ownership, etc – a masterpiece of cogent argumentation rarely encountered, clearly and succinctly written for the masses; I myself was astonished by this concise formulation. The rest of the programme’s contents was then discussed; here and there we put something in or took something out. But how little Guesde was the mouthpiece of Marx appears from Guesde’s insistence on putting in his foolish minimum wage demand, and since not we but the French must take the responsibility for this we finally let him have his way although he admitted that theoretically it was nonsense.

Brousse [2] was in London at that time and would gladly have participated. But Guesde was pressed for time and he thought, not without justification, that Brousse would start long-winded discussions about misunderstood anarchist phrases. Guesde therefore insisted that Brousse should not be present at this meeting. That was his business. But Brousse never forgave him that and his intrigues against Guesde date from that time.

The French afterwards discussed this programme and adopted it with a few amendments, of which those introduced by Malon [3] were by no means improvements.

Besides I wrote two articles for ╔galitÚ, no 2 on ‘Le socialisme de M Bismarck’ and there you have the sum total, as far as I know, of our active participation in the French movement.

But what is most vexing to the petty grumblers who are nobodies but would like to be somebodies is this: By theoretical and practical achievements Marx has gained for himself such a position that the best people in all the working-class movements in many countries have full confidence in him. At critical junctures they turn to him for advice and then usually find that his counsel is the best. This position he holds in Germany, in France, in Russia, not to mention the smaller countries. It is therefore not a case of Marx forcing his opinion, and still less his will, on people but of the people themselves coming to him. And it is upon this that Marx’s specific influence, so extremely important for the movement, reposes.

Malon also wanted to come here, but he sought to obtain a special invitation from Marx through Lafargue, which of course he did not get. One would gladly have negotiated with him as with anyone else, but invite him – why? Who had ever been thus invited?

Marx and in the second place I have adopted the same attitude towards the French as towards the other national movements. We maintain constant contact with them in so far as it is worth our while and there is the opportunity to do so. But any attempt to influence these people against their will would only do harm; it would destroy the old confidence dating back to the time of the International. We really have had too much experience of revolutionary matters for that...


Notes provided by the Moscow Editor.

1. Jules Guesde (1845-1922) – well-known leader of French and international working-class and socialist movement, a founder of French Workers Party (1879) and populariser of Marxism in France, for many years was leader of the revolutionary wing of French socialist movement; fought opportunism, during First World War – social-chauvinist.

2. Paul Brousse (1854-1912) – French petit-bourgeois socialist, participated in Paris Commune, after its suppression lived in emigration, joined anarchists. On his return to France at the beginning of 1880s joined Workers Party where he vehemently opposed the Marxist trend, an ideologist and leader of Possibilists, an opportunist trend in French socialism.

3. Ben˘it Malon (1841-1893) – French socialist, member of First International and of Paris Commune, after its defeat took refuge in Italy and then in Switzerland where he drew close to anarchists, an ideologist and leader of Possibilists.