Marx-Engels Correspondence 1891

Engels To Kautsky
In Stuttgart

London, 23 February 1891

Source: MECW, Volume 49, p. 133;
First published: in Russian, in Bolshevik, Moscow, 1931.
Transcribed: Andy Blunden.

Dear Kautsky,

You will have got my hasty congratulations of the day before yesterday. So let us now return to the matter in hand, namely Marx’s letter.

The fear that it would place a weapon in the hands of our opponents was unfounded. Malicious insinuations are, of course, made about anything and everything, but by and large the impression gained by our opponents was nevertheless one of utter stupefaction at this ruthless self-criticism, stupefaction combined with the feeling that a party must be possessed of great inner strength if it could treat itself to that sort of thing. This much is apparent from the opposition newspapers I have been getting from you (very many thanks) and elsewhere. And I frankly admit that this was what I had in mind when I published the document. That it was bound at first to give grave offence in certain quarters I was aware, but it couldn’t be helped and in my view this consideration was more than outweighed by its factual content. And I knew that the party was amply strong enough to stand it and I reckoned that today it would even tolerate the forthright language used 15 years ago, that it would point with justifiable pride to this test of its strength and say: Show us another party that would dare do the same. In the meantime this has been left to the Saxon and the Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung and the Züricher Post.

To have assumed, in No. 21 of the Neue Zeit, responsibility for its publication is most courageous of you, but don’t forget that it was I, after all, who first instigated the thing and, in addition, presented you, as it were, with Hobson’s choice. Accordingly I consider the main responsibility to be mine. As to details, one can of course always hold differing views about such things. I deleted or altered everything that you and Dietz took exception to and, even if Dietz had made more deletions, I should still have been coulant wherever possible; at no time have I failed to give the two of you proof of this. As to the main issue, however, it was my duty to publish the thing the moment the programme came up for discussion. And especially after Liebknecht’s speech at Halle, in which he coolly quotes parts of it as though they were his own, while contesting others without naming their source, Marx would unquestionably have confronted this version with the original and in place of him I was duty bound to do the same. Unfortunately the document was not immediately to hand and I only found it much later after a long search.

You mention that Bebel has written to you saying that Marx’s treatment of Lassalle has caused bad blood amongst the old Lassalleans. That may be. Those people don’t, of course, know the true story and nobody seems to have done anything to enlighten them on the subject. If they don’t know that Lassalle’s reputation as a great man is solely attributable to the fact that for years Marx allowed him to flaunt as his own the fruits of Marx’s research and, what’s more, to distort them because of his inadequate grounding in political economy, that is no fault of mine. But I am Marx’s literary executor and as such I also have my obligations.

For the past 26 years Lassalle has been part of history. If, while the Exceptional Law was in force, he has been exempt from historical criticism, it is now high time that such criticism came into its own and that light be thrown on Lassalle’s position in regard to Marx. The legend which veils the true image of Lassalle and deifies him cannot, after all, become an article of faith for the party. However highly one may rate Lassalle’s services on behalf of the movement, his historical role inside it remains an equivocal one. Everywhere Lassalle the socialist goes hand in hand with Lassalle the demagogue. In Lassalle the agitator and organiser, the Lassalle who conducted the Hatzfeldt lawsuit is everywhere apparent: the same cynicism in the choice of methods, the same predilection for consorting with corrupt and shady people who may be used simply as tools and then be discarded. Up till 1862 a specifically Prussian vulgar democrat in practice with marked Bonapartist tendencies (I have just been looking through his letters to Marx), he made a sudden volte-face for purely personal reasons and began to engage in agitation. And before 2 years had gone by he was demanding that the workers side with the monarchy against the bourgeoisie and had begun intriguing with his kindred spirit Bismarck in a manner that could only have led to the actual betrayal of the movement had he not, luckily for him, been shot in the nick of time. In his propagandist writings the correct arguments he borrowed from Marx are so interwoven with his own invariably false ones that it is virtually impossible to separate the two. Such workers as have been offended by Marx’s judgment know nothing of Lassalle save for his 2 years of agitation and, furthermore, see the latter only through rose-tinted spectacles. But historical criticism cannot forever remain standing hat in hand before such prejudices. It was my duty to settle accounts once and for all between Marx and Lassalle. That has been done. With this I can content myself for the time being. Besides, I have other things to do. And the publication of Marx’s ruthless judgment of Lassalle will undoubtedly prove effective on its own and put heart into others. But if I were forced to do so, there'd be no alternative: I should have to dispose of the Lassallean legend once and for all.

That voices should have been raised in the parliamentary group demanding that the Neue Zeit be subject to censorship is truly delectable. Is the spectre of the parliamentary group’s dictatorship at the time of the Anti-Socialist Law (a dictatorship that was, of course, essential and excellently managed) still at large or is it a harking back to the sometime close-knit organisation of von Schweitzer? After the liberation of German socialist science from Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist Law, what more brilliant idea than to subject it to a new Anti-Socialist Law to be thought up and implemented by the officials of the Social-Democratic Party. However, we've taken care that they don’t get too big for their boots.

I have lost no sleep over the Vorwärts article. I shall await Liebknecht’s account of the affair and then reply to both in as amicable tones as possible. There are only a few inaccuracies to put right in the Vorwärts article (e.g. that we hadn’t wanted unification, that events had given Marx the lie, etc.) and some obvious points to confirm. I intend that this reply should conclude the debate so far as I am concerned, provided I am not compelled to resume it as a result of fresh attacks or inaccurate statements.

Tell Dietz that I am revising the Origin. However I have today also heard from Fischer who writes to say that he wants three new prefaces!

F. E.