Marx Engels Correspondence 1884

Friedrich Engels to Vera Ivanovna Zasulich
In Geneva

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

6 March 1884

Dear Citizen

It will be a great day for Marx’s daughters and me when the Russian version of Misère de la philosophie [1] comes out. It goes without saying that it will be a pleasure to me to place at your disposal all the material that may be useful to you for that purpose. [2] I propose to do the following:

Besides the German translation a new French edition is at present being printed in Paris. I am preparing some explanatory notes for these two editions and shall send you the text.

For the preface an article by Marx on Proudhon can be used which appeared in the Berlin Social-Demokrat (1865) [3] and contains almost all that is needed. It will head the two new editions, French and German. There is only one copy extant and that belongs to the archives of our party in Zurich. If no other copy is found among Marx’s papers or mine (I shall know this in a few weeks) you could easily get a transcript through Bernstein.

I shall have to write a special preface for the German edition in order to refute the absurd assertion of the reactionary Socialists that Marx plagiarised Rodbertus [4] in Capital and to prove that on the contrary Marx had criticised Rodbertus in The Poverty before Rodbertus wrote his Sociale Briefe. This seems to me to be of no interest to the Russian public as our pseudo-Socialists have not yet penetrated there. But judge of that for yourself. The preface is at your disposal if you want to use it.

What you tell me about the increasing study in Russia of books on socialist theory has given me great pleasure. Theoretical and critical thought, which has almost vanished from our German schools, seems to have taken refuge in Russia. You ask me to suggest books to you for translation. But you have already translated or promised to translate almost all the works of Marx. You have taken the cream of mine. The rest of our German books are either poor in theory or deal with questions confined more or less to Germany. Lately the French have produced a number of rather good things, but they are still only beginnings. Deville’s [5] summary of Capital is good so far as the theoretical part is concerned but the descriptive part was done too cursorily and is almost unintelligible for anyone who does not know the original. The book as a whole moreover is too bulky for a summary. Still I believe that if worked over a good thing could be made of it; and a summary of Capital is always useful in a country where it is difficult even to obtain the book.

When I spoke of the situation in Russia it was of course her financial position which, among other things, I had especially – but not exclusively – in mind. For a government that does not know which way to turn as that of Petersburg and for a tsar who is a prisoner as the hermit of Gatchina [6] is, the situation can only become more and more tense. Both the nobles and peasants are ruined, the chauvinist sentiments of the army offended and it itself scandalised by the daily spectacle of a sovereign in hiding; a war abroad has become a necessity in order to provide an outlet for ‘evil passions’ and the general discontent, and at the same time lack of money and of favourable political prospects make it impossible to start one; a powerful national intelligentsia burning with desire to break the fetters that hold it enchained – and added to all this the direst need of money and the knife of revolutionaries at the throat of the government – it seems to me that with each month the position must become worse and that if a constitutionally-minded and courageous grand duke could be found, Russian ‘society’ ought to see the best way out of this impasse in a palace revolution. Will Bismarck and Bleichröder [7] save their new friends now? I doubt it. I feel more like asking myself which of the two contracting parties will be robbed by the other.

Enclosed herewith is a manuscript (copy) by Marx of which please make such use as you deem best. I do not recall whether it was the Slovo or the Otechestvenniye Zapiski where he found the article ‘Karl Marx Before the Tribunal of Mr Zhukovsky’. He drew up this reply which bears the imprint of something written for publication in Russia, but he never sent it off to Petersburg for fear that his name alone would be sufficient to jeopardise the existence of the journal that would publish his reply. [8]

Yours very sincerely
F Engels

I find your translation of my pamphlet excellent. [9] How beautiful the Russian language is! It has all the good points of the German without its horrible coarseness.


1. Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy – Progress Publishers.

2. On behalf of the Russian revolutionary émigrés in Switzerland Vera Zasulich wrote to Engels on 2 March 1884, asking for permission to translate into Russian and publish Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy: Answer to the Philosophy of Poverty by M Proudhon. She also enquired whether Engels would agree to send her the text of his preface to the first German edition of The Poverty of Philosophy, which was then in preparation, and whether he would be good enough to look through the proofs of the Russian edition and comment on them. The Russian edition of The Poverty of Philosophy was published in Geneva in 1886 – Progress Publishers.

3. See Engels’ Preface to the first German edition of The Poverty of Philosophy – Progress Publishers.

4. Johann Karl Rodbertus (1805-1875) – German vulgar economist and politician, ideologist of bourgeoisified Prussian Junkers, advocated reactionary ideas of Prussian ‘state socialism’ – Progress Publishers.

5. Gabriel Deville (1854-1940) – French socialist, active leader of French Workers Party, publicist, author of a popular exposition of Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, and also of several books on philosophy, economy and history – Progress Publishers.

6. Following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by members of the secret society Narodnaya Volya on 1 March 1881, Alexander III became emperor. Frightened by the revolutionary movement and possible new terrorist acts of Narodnaya Volya, Alexander III retired to Gatchina – Progress Publishers.

7. Gerson von Bleichröder (1822-1893) – German financier, head of a big banking firm in Berlin; Bismarck’s personal banker, his unofficial counsellor and mediator in various speculative machinations – Progress Publishers.

8. The letter to the editorial board of the Otechestvenniye Zapiski written by Marx in 1877 was first published in Vestnik Narodnoi Voli (Herald of People’s Will), Geneva, no 5, 1886 – Progress Publishers.

9. Engels’ work Socialism: Utopian and Scientific was translated by Vera Zasulich into Russian and published in Geneva in 1884 – Progress Publishers