Marx Engels Correspondence 1882

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 January 1882

... We were greatly interested in the reports about the happenings among the ‘leaders’ in Germany. I never concealed the fact that in my opinion the masses in Germany are much better than the gentlemen in the leadership, especially since the party, thanks to the press and agitation, has become a milch cow for them, providing butter, and now Bismarck and the bourgeoisie have all of a sudden butchered that cow. The thousand people who thereby immediately lost their livelihoods had the personal misfortune of not being placed directly into the position of revolutionaries, that is, sent into exile. Otherwise very many of those who are now bemoaning their lot would have gone over to Most’s [1] camp or at any rate would find the Sozialdemokrat [2] much too tame. Most of those people remained in Germany and had to, went to rather reactionary places, remained socially ostracised, dependent for their living on philistines, and a great number of them were themselves contaminated by philistinism. Soon they pinned all their hopes on a repeal of the Anti-Socialist Law. No wonder that under pressure of philistinism the idea, which is really absurd, took hold of them that this could be attained by meekness. Germany is an execrable country for people with scant will-power. The narrowness and pettiness of civil as well as political relations, the small-town character of even the big cities, the small but constantly increasing vexations encountered in the struggle with police and bureaucracy – all this is exhausting and does not spur on to resistance, and thus in this great children’s nursery many become children themselves. Petty relations beget petty views, so that it takes great intelligence and energy for anyone living in Germany to be able to see beyond his immediate environment, to keep one’s eye upon the great interconnection of world events and not to lapse into that self-complacent ‘objectivity’ which sees no further than its nose and precisely for that reason amounts to the most narrow-minded subjectivity even when it is shared by thousands of such subjects.

But no matter how natural may be the rise of this trend, which covers up its lack of insight and power of resistance with ‘objective’ supersapience, it must be resolutely fought. And here the masses of workers furnish the best pillar of support. They alone live in Germany under more or less modern conditions; all their minor and major afflictions centre in the oppression emanating from capital, and whereas all other struggles in Germany, social as well as political, are petty and paltry and concern mere trifles which elsewhere have been settled long ago, their struggle is the only one being fought magnificently, the only one that is up to the mark of the times, the only one that does not exhaust the fighters but provides them with ever new energy...


1. Johann Most (1846-1906) – German anarchist, in 1860s joined working-class movement, emigrated to England after promulgation of Anti-Socialist Law (1878), in 1880 expelled from Social Democratic party for anarchist views, emigrated to America where he continued to advocate anarchism – Progress Publishers.

2. Der Sozialdemokrat – the central organ of the German Socialist Workers Party, founded in Zurich in September 1879. After the repeal of the Anti-Socialist Law in 1890 the paper ceased to appear and the Vorwärts again became the central organ of the party – Progress Publishers.