Marx-Engels Correspondence 1892

Engels to Karl Kautsky


Source: Marx Engels On Britain, Progress Publishers 1953;
Additional text from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Correspondence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

Ryde, September 4, 1892

If you had been here during the last elections you would talk differently about the Fabians. In our tactics one thing is thoroughly established for all modern countries and times: to bring the workers to the point of forming their own party, independent and opposed to all bourgeois parties. During the last elections the English workers, for the first time and perhaps still only instinctively, pressed by the course of events, took a decided step in this direction; and this step has been surprisingly successful and has contributed more to the development of the minds of the workers than any other event of the last twenty years. And what did the Fabians do, not just this or that Fabian but the society as a whole? It preached and practised: affiliation of the workers to the Liberals, and what was to be expected happened: the Liberals assigned them four seats that it was impossible to win and the Fabian candidates conspicuously failed. The paradoxical belletrist Shaw — very talented and witty as a belletrist but absolutely useless as an economist and politician, although honest and not a careerist — wrote to Bebel that if they did not follow this policy of forcing their candidates on the Liberals they would reap nothing but defeat and disgrace (as if defeat were not often more honourable than victory) and now they have pursued their policy and have reaped both.

That is the crux of the whole matter. At a time when the workers for the first time come out independently the Fabian Society advises them to remain the tail of the Liberals. And the Socialists on the Continent must be told openly that to gloss this over would be to share the blame. That’s why I was sorry that the final portion of Aveling’s article did not appear. It was not post festum, not an afterthought. It had simply been overlooked in the rush to get the article off. The article is not complete without a description of the attitude of both socialist organisations towards the elections, and the readers of the Neue Zeit have a right to know about this.

I believe I told you myself in my last [letter] that both in the, S[ocial]-D[emocratic] F[ederation] and in the F[abian] S[ociety] the provincial members were better than the central body. But that is of no avail as long as the attitude of the central body determines that of the Society. I don’t know any of the other fine chaps except Banner. Curiously enough Banner has never come to see me since he joined the F[abian] S[ociety]. I suppose his action was determined by his disgust with the S.D.F. and the need for some kind of organisation, perhaps also some illusions. But this one swallow makes no summer.

You see something unfinished in the F[abian] S[ociety]. On the contrary, this crowd is only too finished: a clique of bourgeois-Socialists of diverse calibres, from careerists to sentimental Socialists and philanthropists, united only by their fear of the threatening rule of the workers and doing all in their power to spike this danger by making their own leadership secure, the leadership exercised by the “eddicated.” If afterwards they admit a few workers into their central board in order that they may play there the role of the worker Albert of 1848, the role of a constantly outvoted minority, this should not deceive anyone.

The means employed by the F[abian] S[ociety] are just the same as those of the corrupt parliamentary politicians: money, intrigues, careerism. That is, English careerism, according to which it is self-understood that every political party (only among the workers it is supposed to be different!) pays its agents in some way or other or rewards them with posts. These people are immersed up to their necks in the intrigues of the Liberal Party, hold Liberal Party jobs, as for instance Sidney Webb. who in general is a genuine British politician. These gentry do everything that the workers have to be warned against.


In spite of all this I do not ask you to treat these people as enemies. But in my opinion you should not shield them from criticism either, just as you don’t shield anybody else. And that is precisely what the omission of the passages concerning them in the article by the Avelings looked like. [1] But if you would like the Avelings to give you an article on the history and attitude of the different English socialist organisations, you only have to say so and I'll propose it to them...

One must now give the rotten elements time to become so rotten that they defect virtually of their own accord. The discipline of a party numb4red in millions is quite different from that of a sect numbered in hundreds. ...


Notes provided by the Moscow Editor.

1. The reference is to the article ‘Die Wahlen in Grossbritanien’ (‘Elections in Great Britain’) by Eleanor and Edward Aveling published in the Neue Zeit.