Marx-Engels Correspondence 1891

Engels to Conrad Schmidt
In Zurich


Written: July 1, 1891
Source: Marx and Engels Correspondence;
Publisher: International Publishers (1968);
First Published: Gestamtausgabe;
Translated: Donna Torr;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan in 2000;
HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

Ryde, Isle of Wight, July 1, 1891

I am very much disappointed with Barth's book. I had expected something rather less shallow and slap-dash. A man who judges every philosopher not by the enduring and progressive part of his activity but by what is necessarily transitory and reactionary – by the system – would have done better to remain silent. According to him, in fact, the whole history of philosophy is nothing but a pile of the "ruins" of broken-down systems. How high old Hegel stands above this alleged critic of his! And then to imagine he is criticising Hegel because here and there he gets on the track of one of the false connections by means of which Hegel, like every other systematiser, has to get his system neatly constructed! The colossal discovery that Hegel sometimes lumps contrary and contradictory oppositions together! I could show him some more tricks very different from that if it was worth the trouble. The man is what we call on the Rhine a Korinthenscheisser – he turns everything into petty trash – and until he has got rid of this habit, he will, to use Hegel's language, “come from nothing through nothing to nothing.”

His criticism of Marx is really funny. First he makes up a materialist theory of history for himself, which Marx is supposed, in his opinion, to have held, and then he finds something quite different in Marx's works. But from this he does not conclude that he, Barth, has foisted something distorted on to Marx: no, on the contrary, Marx contradicts himself and cannot apply his own theory! “Yes, if people could only read!” as Marx used to exclaim at criticisms of this kind.

I have not got the book here; if I had time I would show you hundreds more absurdities one by one. It is a pity: one sees that the man could accomplish something if he were not so hasty in passing his judgments. It is to be hoped that he will soon write something which will be attacked more; a regular dose of knocking about would do him a lot of good.