Marx-Engels Correspondence 1892

Engels To Hermann Schlüter


Source: Marx & Engels on the Irish Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971, p. 354;
Additional text from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975;
Transcribed: by Einde O'Callaghan.

March 30, 1892

Your great obstacle in America, it seems to me, lies in the exceptional position of the native workers. Up to 1848 one could only speak of the permanent native working class as an exception: the small beginnings of it in the cities in the East always had still the hope of becoming farmers or bourgeois. Now a working class has developed and has also to a great extent organised itself on trade union lines. But it still takes up an aristocratic attitude and wherever possible leaves the ordinary badly paid occupations to the immigrants, of whom only a small section enter the aristocratic trades. But these immigrants are divided into different nationalities and understand neither one another nor, for the most part, the language of the country. And your bourgeoisie knows much better even than the Austrian Government how to play off one nationality against the other:

Jews, Italians, Bohemians, etc., against Germans and Irish, and each one against the other, so that differences in the standard of life of different workers exist, I believe, in New York to an extent unheard-of elsewhere. And added to this is the total indifference of a society which has grown up on a purely capitalist basis, without any comfortable feudal background, towards the human beings who succumb in the competitive struggle: “there will be plenty more, and more than we want, of these damned Dutchmen[A], Irishmen, Italians, Jews and Hungarians”; and, to cap it all, John Chinaman[B] stands in the background who far surpasses them all in his ability to live on next to nothing.


In such a country, continually renewed waves of advance, followed by equally certain setbacks, are inevitable. But the advancing waves are always becoming more powerful, the setbacks less paralysing, and on the whole things are nevertheless moving forward. But this I consider certain: the purely bourgeois basis, with no pre-bourgeois humbug behind it, the corresponding colossal energy of the development, which manifests itself even in the mad excesses of the present protective tariff system, will one day bring about a change that will astound the whole world. Once the Americans get started it will be with an energy and vehemence compared with which we in Europe shall be mere children.


A. In the U.S.A. this was applied to the Germans. — Ed.

B. A nickname for the Chinese used in the U.S.A. — Ed.