Marx-Engels Correspondence 1891

Engels to Paul Lafargue


Source: Marx and Engels on the Trade Unions, Edited by Kenneth Lapides;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

January 31, 1891

My dear Lafargue

Like nine-tenths of the news published in Paris about Germany, that which alarmed you is nothing but a false report.

The leading Committee of the German Party has not budged where May 1st is concerned. The parliamentary group (the socialist members of the Reichstag) passed a resolution, unanimous save for one vote, that in Germany (and nowhere else) it would be desirable to celebrate May Day on Sunday, May 3rd, and not on May 1st. That is all. As the Party constitution does not give the “group” any official standing, there is nothing more to it than the simple expression of a desire, which, however, will probably receive general sanction.

As for the idea of suggesting to other nationalities that they should similarly change the date of the demonstration, our papers do not say a word. Nevertheless, it may be that individually this or that deputy thought of it; as Bebel is in Zurich for his daughter’s wedding I shall write to Fischer to stop any such foolishness should anyone still have it in mind.

You and Bonnier, from whom I have a long letter on the matter in my pocket, can say whatever you please — the English will probably do like the Germans and celebrate on the Sunday. As for the Germans, it is pretty well an absolute necessity. Last year you found their behaviour “flabby.” Very well, but in Hamburg, the town where we are best organised and have the greatest strength relative to the rest of the population, and where we had very considerable funds (Party as well as trade union) — in Hamburg May 1st was celebrated in defiance of the employers. But business was rather poor, so the latter took advantage of the one-day stoppage to close their factories and to announce that they would reopen them only to workers who should have left their trade unions and who promised never to rejoin a union. The fight lasted throughout the summer and until the autumn; in the end, the employers gave up their demands; but our trade union organisation in Hamburg was badly shaken, funds were exhausted there and elsewhere, owing to contributions to the lock-outs, and there is not the smallest desire to go through all this again in the spring, the industrial situation having grown worse.

It’s all very well for you to talk about hesitations and flabbiness. You have a republic, and the bourgeois republicans, to defeat the royalists, have been forced to grant you political rights which we are far from having in Germany. Moreover, for the time being, split as you are with the Broussists in tow to the government, you are not too dangerous; on the contrary, Constans would like to see you “demonstrate” and frighten the Radicals a bit. In Germany, our people are a genuine force, one and a half to two million voters, the only disciplined and growing party. If the government wishes the Socialists to hold demonstrations, it is because it wants to draw them into a riot so that they could crush them and be done with them for a decade. The German Socialists’ best demonstration is their existence and their slow, steady, irresistible progress. We are still far from being able to withstand an open fight, and we have the duty, in relation to the whole of Europe and America, of not suffering a defeat, but of winning, when the time comes, the first great battle. To that consideration I subordinate every other.

Naturally it would be very fine to see all the socialist workmen in the Old and New World down tools on the same day, May 1st. But it would not be a simultaneous and uniform stoppage. You in Paris would strike, let us say from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.. When the New Yorkers start at 8 a.m. it will be 1 p.m. in Paris, and the Californians will start three hours later still. The demonstration lost nothing last year by being spread over two days, and that will be still less the case this year. The Austrians are in a totally different situation: regular agitation and organisation are made so difficult for them that a one-day stoppage is their only means of making a demonstration, as Adler has shown very clearly.

So console yourself. The movement will not suffer from this lack of “unity,” and such purely formal unity would not be worth the price we should have to pay for it in Germany and possibly in England too.


I find your behaviour in relation to the anti-Broussists [1] capital. To conclude a treaty of practical cooperation, to put aside any attempt at merging for the moment, to leave everything until the proper time comes and, in the last resort, until the International Congress [2] — there is no better way of benefiting from the situation. than you have done. It is what Marx proposed to Liebknecht at the time of the fusion with the Lassalleans, but our friend was in too much of a hurry.

Guesde [3] has played a fine trick on him in his reports for the Vorwärts. Liebknecht has always defended the bourgeois republic to annoy the Prussians; people like Constans, Rouvier, etc, were almost perfect according to him. And now Guesde comes and destroys this illusion. It’s delightful, and also very good for Germany.

Kiss Laura for me. My compliments to Doctor Z on his article on the Toulon affair. [4] Louise is particularly grateful for it. She wishes to be remembered kindly to you and to Laura.

Ever yours


Notes provided by the Moscow Editor.

1. Those in the French Workers Party opposed to Paul Brousse (1854-1912), a French petit-bourgeois socialist in the Workers Party who vehemently opposed the Marxist trend as an ideologist and leader of Possibilists, an opportunist trend in French socialism.

2. Engels refers to the Second International Congress, which was to be held in Brussels in August 1891.

3. 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.

4. This refers to an abortion scandal in which the radical Mayor of Toulon, Fouroux, and his mistress, Mme de Jonquières, were involved and as a result of which he was removed from office and sentenced. We have not had access to the Socialiste containing the article.