Marx-Engels Correspondence 1886

Engels to August Bebel
In Berlin


Published: Gesamtausgabe, International Publishers, 1942;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

London, 20-23 January, 1886

The disintegration of the German free thinkers in the economic sphere quite corresponds to what is going on among the English Radicals. The people of the old Manchester school a la John Bright are dying out and the younger generation, just like the Berliners, goes in for social patching-up reforms. Only that here the bourgeois does not want to help the industrial worker so much as the agricultural worker, who has just done him excellent service at the elections, and that in English fashion it is not so much the state as the municipality which is to intervene. For the agricultural workers, little gardens and potato plots, for the town workers sanitary improvements and the like--this is their programme. An excellent sign is that the bourgeoisie are already obliged to sacrifice their own classical economic theory, partly from political considerations but partly because they themselves, owing to the practical consequences of this theory, have begun to doubt it.

The same thing is proved by the growth of Kathedersozialismus [professorial socialism] which in one form or another is more and more supplanting classical economy in the professorial chairs both here and in France. The actual contradictions engendered by the method of production have become so crass that no theory can indeed conceal them any longer, unless it were this professorial socialist mish-mash, which however is no longer a theory but drivel.

Six weeks ago symptoms of an improvement in trade were said to be showing themselves. Now this has all faded away again, the distress is greater than ever and the lack of prospect too, added to an unusually severe winter. This is now already the eighth year of the pressure of overproduction upon the markets and instead of getting better it is always getting worse. There is no longer any doubt that the situation has essentially changed from what it was formerly; since England has got important rivals on the world market the period of crises, in the sense known hitherto, is closed. If the crises change from acute into chronic ones but at the same time lose nothing in intensity, what will be the end? A period of prosperity, even if a short one, must after all return sometime, when the accumulation of commodities has been exhausted; but how all this will occur I am eager to see. But two things are certain: we have entered upon a period incomparably more dangerous to the existence of the old society than the period of ten-yearly crises; and secondly, when prosperity returns, England will be much less affected by it than formerly, when she alone skimmed the cream off the world market. The day this becomes clear here, and not before, the socialist movement here will seriously begin.