Marx-Engels Correspondence 1894

Engels to Filippo Turati
In Milan


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

London, January 26, 1894

In my opinion the position in Italy is the following.

The bourgeoisie, which came to power during and after the national independence movement, would not and could not complete its victory. It neither destroyed the remains of feudalism nor transformed national production according to the modern capitalist pattern. Incapable of ensuring the relative and temporary advantages of the capitalist system to the country, they burdened it on the other hand with all the damage and the disadvantages of the system. And as if that were not enough, they forfeited the last remnant of respect and confidence by involving themselves in the dirtiest bank scandals.

The labouring population – peasants, handicraft workers, agricultural and industrial workers – finds itself in consequence in an oppressive position, on the one hand owing to old abuses inherited not only from feudal times but from an even earlier period (take, for instance, the mezzadria [share farming], or the latifundia of the south, where cattle are supplanting men); on the other hand owing to the most rapacious fiscal system ever invented by bourgeois policy. Here too one can say with Marx: "Like all the rest of continental Western Europe we are tortured not only by the development of capitalist production, but by the lack of its development. Side by side with modern distress we are oppressed by a whole sequence of inherited distress arising from the fact that ancient and antiquated methods of production, resulting in social and political conditions unsuited to the time, continue to vegetate among us. We suffer not only from the living but from the dead. Le mort saisit le vif. [The living are in the grip of the dead.]

This situation is pressing towards a crisis. Everywhere the producing masses are in a ferment: here and there they are rising. Where will this crisis lead?

The Socialist Party of Italy is obviously too young and, considering the whole economic position, too weak, to be able to hope for an immediate victory of Socialism. In this country the rural population far outweighs the urban; in the towns industry is only slightly developed and hence the real typical proletariat is small in number: here the majority is composed of handicraft workers, small masters and small merchants, a mass which fluctuates to and fro between the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat. These are the petty and middle bourgeoisie of medieval times in their decay and dissolution – certain to be for the most part proletarians in the future, but at present not yet proletarianised. And this class, which sees ruin daily staring it in the face and is now driven to desperation, is the only class which can supply the fighters and leaders for a revolutionary movement in Italy. Along this path they will be followed by the peasantry, who are shut out from an effective initiative of their own by the fact that they live spatially scattered and cannot read and write, but who will in any case be strong and indispensable allies.

In the case of a more or less peaceful success, a change of Ministry will take place and the "converted" Republicans will come to the top; in the case of a revolution the bourgeois republic will triumph.

What should and must be the attitude of the Socialist Party in face of this situation?

The tactics which, since 1848, have brought Socialists the greatest success are those recommended by The Communist Manifesto: "In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, the Socialists always represent the interests of the movement as a whole ... They fight for the attainment of the immediate aims, for the enforcement of the momentary interests of the working class, but in the movement of the present they also represent and take care of the future of that movement."

Consequently they take an active part in all the phases of the development of the struggle between the two classes without in so doing losing sight of the fact that these phases are only just so many preliminary steps to the first great aim: the conquest of political power by the proletariat as the means towards a new organisation of society. Their place is by the side of those who are fighting for the immediate achievement of an advance, which is at the same time in the interests of the working class. They accept all these political or social progressive steps, but only as instalments. Hence they regard every revolutionary or progressive movement as a step further in the attainment of their own end; and it is their special task to drive other revolutionary parties ever further, and, in case one of them should be victorious, to guard the interests of the proletariat. These tactics, which never lose sight of the last great final aim, preserve us Socialists from the disappointments to which the other less clear-sighted parties, be they republicans or sentimental socialists, who confuse what is only a mere stage with the final aim of the advance, must inevitably succumb.

Let us apply what has been said to Italy.

The victory of the petty bourgeoisie, who are in process of disintegration, and of the peasantry, may perhaps bring a ministry of "converted" Republicans into power. This will give us universal suffrage and greater freedom of movement (freedom of the press, of organisation, and of assembly) – new weapons not to be despised.

Or it will bring us the bourgeois republic, with the same people and some Mazzinist or other among them. This would extend liberty and our field of action still further, at any rate for the moment. And Marx has said that the bourgeois republic is the only political form in which the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie can be resolved. To say nothing of the reaction which would make itself felt in Europe.

Thus the victory of the revolutionary movement which is being prepared cannot but strengthen us and place us under more favourable conditions. We should commit the greatest mistake if we refrained from sympathy with it or if in our attitude to the "related" parties we confined ourselves merely to negative criticism. There may come a moment when it would be our duty to co-operate in a positive way. What moment could that be?

Undoubtedly it is no business of ours directly to prepare a movement ourselves which is not strictly a movement of the class we represent. If the Republicans and Radicals believe the hour has come let them give free play to their desire to attack. As for ourselves we have been far too often disappointed by the large promises of these gentlemen to allow ourselves to be misused yet another time. Neither their proclamations nor their conspiracies will mislead us. If it is our duty to support every real movement of the people, it is not less our duty to protect the scarcely formed core of our proletarian Party, not to sacrifice it uselessly and not to allow the proletariat to be decimated in fruitless local risings.

But if, on the contrary, the movement is a really national one, our people will not keep themselves hidden and will need no password. ...

But if it comes to this, we must be conscious of the fact, and openly proclaim it, that we are only taking part as an "independent Party," which is allied for the moment with Radicals and Republicans but is inwardly essentially different from them: that we indulge in absolutely no illusions as to the result of the struggle in case of victory; that this result not only cannot satisfy us but will only be a newly attained stage to us, a new basis of operations for further conquests; that from the very moment of victory our paths will separate; that from that same day onwards we shall form a new opposition to the new government, not a reactionary but a progressive opposition, an opposition of the most extreme Left, which will press on to new conquests beyond the ground already won.

After the common victory we might perhaps be offered some seats in the new Government – but always in a minority. Here lies the greatest danger. After the February Revolution in 1848 the French socialistic Democrats (the Réforme people, Ledru-Rollin, Louis Blanc, Flocon, etc.) were incautious enough to accept such positions. As a minority in the Government they involuntarily bore the responsibility for all the infamy and treachery which the majority, composed of pure Republicans, committed against the working class, while at the same time their participation in the government completely paralysed the revolutionary action of the working class they were supposed to represent.

Here I am only expressing my personal opinion, which you asked me for, and I am doing this only with a certain amount of caution. As for the general tactics here communicated, I have convinced myself of their correctness throughout the whole of my life. They have never let me down. But with regard to their application in Italy under present conditions, the decision must be made on the spot and by those who are in the midst of the movement.