Marx-Engels Correspondence 1882

Engels To Eduard Bernstein
In Zurich

London, 22 February 1882

Source: MECW pp 203-211 Volume 46.
First published: in Russian, in Marx-Engels Archives, Book I, Moscow, 1924;

Dear Mr Bernstein,

I am answering your letter straight away, 1. because of the increasing urgency of the pan-Slav business, and 2. because, now that Marx has left, I shall have to set seriously to work again and shall no longer have time for such lengthy dissertations.

The ‘short-hand reports’ will be returned today. Many thanks. Mostly rather dull, but I’m happy enough if it all passed off without any denial of principles or anything really discreditable happening. I should always be grateful if you could send me further consignments from time to time. I was much gratified to see that the shocking blunders perpetrated earlier in the Saxon Landtag had been retrieved. I imagine the Sozialdemokrat is quite satisfied with the result of its intervention. Signing the statement must have been a bitter pill for Blos. I am delighted that subscriptions should have passed the 4,000 mark and that the paper should find regular distribution in Germany, despite the police, etc. It is an incredible feat for a German paper that is banned. Before ‘48 such papers got in much more easily through having the support of the bourgeois and the booksellers, but no subscriptions were ever received. But in this case the workers actually pay – proof of their discipline and of the extent to which they live and have their being in the movement. I have no misgivings whatever about our German lads when things come to a head. They have stood the test splendidly on every occasion. And it’s not they who are behaving like philistines but only their leaders who, from the start, have been prompted by the masses, not the masses by them.

That my letter should have failed to convert you is quite understandable, since you were already in sympathy with the ‘oppressed’ southern Slavs. For after all, everyone of us, in so far as he has first gone through a liberal or radical phase, has emerged from it with these feelings of sympathy for all ‘oppressed’ nationalities, and I for one know how much time and study it took me to shake them off – but then it was for good and all.

Now, however, I must ask you not to ascribe to me opinions I have never expressed. I am in no way concerned with the official Austrian viewpoint represented for years by the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung. Where it was right, it’s out of date, and where it isn’t out of date, it’s wrong. I have absolutely no cause for complaint about the centrifugal movement in Austria. A ‘bulwark against Russia’ becomes superfluous the moment revolution breaks out in Russia, i.e. when some sort of representative assembly meets. As from that day, Russia will be busy with its own affairs, pan-Slavism will collapse like the nonentity it is and the Empire will begin to crumble. Pan-Slavism is simply an artificial product of the ‘educated classes’, of the towns and universities, the army and the civil service; it is unknown in the country and even the landed aristocracy is in such a fix that it would execrate any kind of war. From 1815-59, cowardly and foolish though its policy may have been, Austria was indeed a bulwark against Russia. To afford it yet another opportunity – now, on the eve of revolution in Russia – of setting itself up as a ‘bulwark’ would be tantamount to giving Austria a new lease of life, a new historical justification for its existence, and postponing the disintegration which inevitably awaits it. And in allowing the Slavs to come to power, Austria has, with true historical irony, itself declared that what has hitherto been its sole raison d’ętre has ceased to exist. Come to that, a war with Russia would, within 24 hours, put paid to Slav domination in Austria.

You say that, as soon as the Slav peoples (always excepting the Poles!) have no further grounds for looking to Russia as their only liberator, pan-Slavism will be checkmated. That’s easily said and it sounds plausible. But in the first place the danger of pan-Slavism, in so far as it exists, does not lie at the periphery but at the centre, not in the Balkans but in the 80 million slaves upon whom Tsarism draws for its army and its finances. Hence it is there that the greatest effort must be made and, indeed, has been made. And is it to be blighted by a war?

Again, I do not propose to go into the question of how the smaller Slav nations have come to look to the Tsar as their only liberator. Let it suffice that they do so; we cannot alter the fact and it will rest at that until Tsarism has been smashed; if there’s a war, all these interesting little nations will be on the side of Tsarism, the enemy of all bourgeois progress in the West. So long as this remains the case, I can take no interest in their immediate liberation here and now; they are as much our declared enemies as their ally and patron, the Tsar.

We must co-operate in the work of setting the West European proletariat free and subordinate everything else to that goal. No matter how interesting the Balkan Slavs, etc., might be, the moment their desire for liberation clashes with the interests of the proletariat they can go hang for all I care. The Alsatians, too, are oppressed, and I shall be glad when we are once more quit of them. But if, on what is patently the very eve of a revolution, they were to try and provoke a war between France and Germany, once more goading on those two countries and thereby postponing the revolution, I should tell them: Hold hard! Surely you can have as much patience as the European proletariat. When they have liberated themselves, ,Ion will automatically be free; but till then, we shan’t allow you to put a spoke in the wheel of the militant proletariat. The same applies to the Slavs. The victory of the proletariat will liberate them in reality and of necessity and not, like the Tsar, apparently and temporarily. And that’s why they, who have hitherto not only failed to contribute anything to Europe and European progress, but have actually retarded it, should have at least as much patience as our proletarians. To stir up a general war for the sake of a few Herzegovinians, which would cost a thousand times more lives than there are inhabitants in Herzegovina, isn’t my idea of proletarian politics.

And how does the Tsar ‘liberate’? Ask the peasants of Little Russia whom Catherine liberated from ‘Polish oppression’ (pretext – religion) only to annex them later on. And what does all this Russian pan-Slav imposture amount to? The capture of Constantinople, that’s all. Nothing else would act so powerfully on the religious traditions of the Russian peasant, inspire him to defend the holy city of Tsarigrad and give a new lease of life to Tsarism. And once the Russians are in Constantinople, farewell to Bulgarian and Serbian independence and liberty – the little brothers (bratanki) would soon realise how much better off they had been even under the Turks. It calls for the most colossal naďvété on the part of the said bratanki for them to believe that the Tsar is out for their good rather than his own.

You say that a Greater Serbia would be as good a bulwark against Russia as Austria. As I have already said, the ‘bulwark’ theory generally has ceased to hold any water for me since a revolutionary movement gained strength in Russia. I have also said that I look forward with pleasure to Austria’s disintegration. But this brings us to the quality of these exiguous nations which is, after all, a consideration when it comes to sympathising with them.

In 2-4 generations’ time and after general European upheavals, Greater Serbia will certainly be feasible; today, having regard to the cultural level of its elements, it as certainly is not.

1. The Serbs are divided into 3 denominations (the figures are taken from Šafařik, Slovanský Nádrodopis and are applicable to 1849): Greek Orthodox 2,880,000. Catholic, including the so-called Croats who, however, speak Serbian, 2,664,000, minus the Croats, 1,884,000; Mohammedans 550,000. Where these people are concerned, religion actually counts for more than nationality, and it is the aim of each denomination to predominate. So long as there’s no cultural advance such as would at any rate make toleration possible, a Greater Serbia would only spell civil war. See enclosed Standard.

2. The country has 3 political centres – Belgrade, Montenegro, Agram. Neither the Croats nor the Montenegrins wish to submit to the supremacy of Belgrade. On the contrary. The Montenegrins and your friends, the aborigines in Krivosíje and Herzegovina, would uphold their ‘independence’ vis-ŕ-vis Belgrade or any other central government – Serbian or otherwise – just as much as they would vis-ŕ-vis the Turks or the Austrians. That independence consists in demonstrating their hatred of the oppressor by stealing cattle and other valuable chattels from their own ‘oppressed’ Serb compatriots as they have done for the past 1,000 years, and any attack on their right of rapine is regarded as an attack on their independence. I am enough of an authoritarian to regard the existence of such aborigines in the heart of Europe as an anachronism. And even if these little folk had had a standing as high as Sir Walter Scott’s vaunted Highlanders, who were also really shocking cattle thieves, the most we could do is condemn the manner in which they are treated by present-day society. If we were at the helm, we too should have to put an end to the Rinaldo Rinaldini-Schinderhannes business which, by long tradition, these laddies indulge in. And so would the government of Greater Serbia. Here too, then, Greater Serbia would mean a revival of the struggle now being conducted by the Herzegovinians, and hence civil war involving all the highlanders of Montenegro, Cattaro and Herzegovina.

On closer consideration, then, Greater Serbia does not appear anything like as simple and straightforward a matter as pan-Slavs and liberals ŕ la Rasch would have us believe.

Well, go on sympathising with these aborigines as much as you like; there’s certainly no denying them a sort of poetic radiance and, in fact, they do still produce folk songs that closely resemble the old Serbian ones (which are very fine); I shall even send you an article from The Standard by way of proof. But the fact remains that they are the tools of Tsardom, and there’s no room in politics for poetical feelings of sympathy. And if the rebellion of these laddies threatens to unleash a general war that would make a complete hash of our revolutionary situation, they and their right of cattle stealing will have to be mercilessly sacrificed to the interests of the European proletariat.

Come to that, if Greater Serbia were to materialise it would only be an enlarged version of the principality of Serbia. And what has the latter achieved? Set up an educated bureaucracy on the Austrian model, consisting of chaps from Belgrade and other towns who have been to university in the West, particularly Vienna, and, knowing nothing of the conditions governing communal ownership among the peasants, make laws after the Austrian pattern that fly in the face of those conditions so that masses of peasants are impoverished and expropriated, whereas in the days of the Turks they enjoyed full autonomy, grew rich and paid fewer taxes.

The Bulgarians have depicted themselves in their folk songs, a collection of which, made by a Frenchman, has recently appeared in Paris. Fire plays a major role here. A house burns down, the young woman is burnt to death because, instead of his wife, her husband chooses to save his black mare. Another time a young woman saves her jewellery and leaves her child to burn. If, by way of exception, there is a noble and courageous act, it is invariably performed by a Turk. In what other part of the world would you find such a beastly lot?

Incidentally, if you take a look at a passable philological map of the district (e.g. Šafařik’s, in the above-mentioned book, or Kiepert’s of Austria and the countries of the Lower Danube 1867) you will find that the liberation of these Balkan Slavs is not an altogether simple affair and that, with the exception of Serbian territory, there are pockets of Turks all over the place, and a Greek fringe along the coast, not to mention Salonika which is a Spanish Jewish town. True, the worthy Bulgarians are now rapidly dealing with the Turks in Bulgaria and East Rumelia by slaughtering them, driving them out and burning down their houses over their heads. Had the Turks adopted the same course, instead of allowing them more autonomy and fewer taxes than they have at present, the world would no longer be troubled with a Bulgarian question.

As regards war, you would seem to me to have le coeur un peu trop léger. If war breaks out, it will be easy for Bismarck to make it look as though Russia were the aggressor: he can wait, but the Russian pan-Slavs can’t. But Germany and Austria once committed in the East, one would have to be a poor judge of Frenchmen, and particularly Parisians, not to anticipate that there would instantly arise a chauvinistic clamour for retribution which would reduce to silence the peaceful majority of the people and cause France to appear yet again as the aggressor; or that the chauvinism then prevailing would very soon demand the left bank of the Rhine. That this would soon involve Germany in a struggle for survival so that there, too, patriotic chauvinism would completely regain the upper hand, seems to me self-evident. So far, all the prospects are against us. But once a war is under way, there is no knowing what will be the outcome of this, the first such European conflict since 1813-15, and I would be the last man to wish for it. If it does come, however, then it can’t be helped.

But now for the other side of the coin. In Germany we have a situation that is drifting ever more rapidly towards revolution and must before long push our party to the fore. We ourselves needn’t lift a finger, just let our opponents do the work for us. On top of which a new era is impending with a new, liberalising, highly irresolute and wavering Emperor , who is exactly cut out to be a Louis XVI. All that is wanting is a timely impulse from without. This will be afforded by the situation in Russia where the onset of the revolution is only a question of months. Our people in Russia have virtually taken the Tsar prisoner, have disorganised the government and shattered popular tradition. Even without any other major coup, a collapse must ensue in the very near future, and the process will go on for years, as it did between 1789 and ‘94. Hence it will allow ample time for repercussions in the West, more notably Germany, so that the movement will gradually gather momentum, unlike 1848, when reaction was already in full swing throughout Europe by 20 March. Never, in short, has there been so magnificent a revolutionary situation. Only one thing can spoil it: as Skobelev himself said in Paris, only war with another country could get Russia out of the morass into which it is sinking. That war would repair all the damage our people, at the cost of their lives, have done to Tsarism. It would be enough at any rate to rescue the Tsar from his captivity, to expose the social revolutionaries to the general fury of the mob, to deprive them of the support they now get from the Liberals and undo all they have achieved by their sacrifices; everything would have to be begun all over again under less favourable circumstances. But a play of this kind scarcely admits of a second performance and even in Germany – upon that you may depend – our people will either have to join in the patriotic ululations, or draw down upon their heads a furore by comparison with which the one that followed the assassination attempts was mere child’s play; and Bismarck’s riposte to the recent elections would be of quite a different order from the one he made then with his Anti-Socialist Law.

If peace is maintained, the Russian pan-Slavs will be bilked and will soon have to retreat. Whereupon the Emperor can at most try one last throw with the old bankrupt bureaucrats and generals who have already once been on the rocks. That could last for a month or two at the outside, after which there would be no recourse save to call on the Liberals – i.e., a National Assembly of some kind and that, if I know my Russia, would mean revolution ŕ la 1789. And then you go and suggest I want war! Not on your life, even if it means the demise of 200 noble robber nations.

But enough of that. And now for Bürkli. I haven’t read his pamphlet and have mislaid it, but shall look and see if I can find it in Marx’s house or mine. So I can’t say exactly what he is after.

(25 February)

I have just been hunting high and low at Marx’s and couldn’t find it. With our division of labour, specialised questions of this kind fall to Marx’s share and, because of his illness, we haven’t even been able to discuss the matter.

I assume that Bürkli permits every Zurich real property owner to take out a mortgage of this kind on his property, and that the relevant certificate is supposed to circulate as money. In this way the amount of money in circulation is dictated by the amount which the real property in question is worth, and not by the far smaller amount that would suffice for circulation. So even at this stage:

1. Either they are non-redeemable certificates, in which case they depreciate in accordance with the law expounded by Marx;

2. Or they are redeemable, in which case the portion over and above what is needed for circulation returns to the bank for redemption and ceases to be money, which, of course, means that the bank must tie up capital.

Now a substitute for money which is interest-bearing and of which, therefore, the value fluctuates day by day is, if only for that reason, an unsuitable means of circulation; not only does one first have to agree the price of the commodity in real money, but also the price of the paper. The people of Zurich would have to be worse businessmen than I suppose if, the certificates being redeemable, they didn’t all promptly surrender them to the bank for redemption, and go back to using only the old, convenient, non-interest-bearing money. Which means that the cantonal bank would have tied up in mortgages its own capital as well as everything it could borrow and would have to cast round for new sources of working capital.

But, if non-redeemable, they simply cease to be money. Metallic or good paper money is drawn from the outside world which, luckily, is a little bit larger than the Canton of Zurich, and that’s what people use, for no one will accept these dreary certificates as money and in that case they are, as you rightly say, no better than Brandenburg mortgage bonds. And if the government insists on forcing the public to accept them as money, it is in for a surprise.

This between ourselves; if you make use of it, please don’t mention my name since, as I have said, I have not read the little pamphlet or had time to read up the subject in the classic economic texts; but if one tries to criticise such things out of one’s head, just like that, there’s no guaranteeing that one won’t make blunders. At all events, the thing is nonsensical.

Marx arrived in Algiers on Monday morning, a place I and the doctors had always wanted him to go to, though he himself wasn’t very keen. He has met a judge in the tribunal civil there, a former deportee of Bonaparte’s, who has made a close study of communal ownership among the Arabs and has offered to enlighten him on the subject.

Kindest regards both to yourself and Kautsky.

F. E.