Mailing list - 19th century style

Hinrich Kuhls kls at
Sat Jan 6 12:13:49 MST 2001

At 10:45 06.01.01 -0500, Dennis Pilon wrote:

>[T]he left has always been built up by 'difficult personalities'.
>I'm talking about people we all know: people who are alternatively or
>simultaneously intelligent and dogmatic, generous and petty, committed and
>a bit of a loner.  These people talk out of turn, they don't respect social
>niceities, and can be very hard to get along with.

Circulation Letter
from Marx and Engels to Bebel, Liebknecht, Bracke, and others,
September 17-18, 1879


It is an inevitable phenomenon, rooted in the course of development, that
people from what have hitherto been the ruling classes should also join the
militant proletariat and contribute cultural elements to it. We clearly
stated this in the Manifesto. But here there are two points to be noted:

First, in order to be of use to the proletarian movement these people must
also bring real cultural elements to it. But with the great majority of the
German bourgeois converts that is not the case. Neither the Zukunft
[Future] nor the Neue Gesellschaft [New Society] have contributed anything
which could advance the movement one step further. Here there is an
absolute lack of real cultural material, whether concrete or theoretical.
In its place we get attempts to bring superficially adopted socialist ideas
into harmony with the most varied theoretical standpoints which these
gentlemen have brought with them from the university or elsewhere, and of
which, owing to the process of decomposition in which the remnants of
German philosophy are at present involved, each is more confused than the

Instead of thoroughly studying the new science themselves to begin with,
each of them preferred to trim it to fit the point of view he had already,
made a private science of his own without more ado and at once came forward
with the claim that he was ready to teach it. Hence there are about as many
points of view among these gentry as there are heads; instead of producing
clarity in a single case they have only produced desperate
confusion--fortunately almost exclusively among themselves. Cultural
elements whose first principle is to teach what they have not learnt can be
very well dispensed with by the Party.

Secondly. If people of this kind from other classes join the proletarian
movement, the first condition is that they should not bring any remnants of
bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, etc., prejudices with them but should
whole-heartedly adopt the proletarian point of view. But these gentlemen,
as has been proved, are stuffed and crammed with bourgeois and
petty-bourgeois ideas. In such a petty-bourgeois country as Germany these
ideas certainly have their own justification. But only outside the
Social-Democratic Workers' Party.  If these gentlemen form themselves into
a Social-Democratic Petty-Bourgeois Party they have a perfect right to do
so; one could then negotiate with them, form a bloc according to
circumstances, etc. But in a workers' party they are an adulterating element.

If reasons exist for tolerating them there for the moment, it is also a
duty only to tolerate them, to allow them no influence in the Party
leadership and to remain aware that a break with them is only a matter of
time. The time, moreover, seems to have come. How the Party can tolerate
the authors of this article in its midst any longer is to us
incomprehensible. But if the leadership of the Party should fall more or
less into the hands of such people then the Party will simply be castrated
and proletarian energy will be at an end.

As for ourselves, in view of our whole past there is only one path open to
us. For almost forty years we have stressed the class struggle as the
immediate driving force of history, and in particular the class struggle
between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as the great lever of the
modern social revolution; it is therefore impossible for us to co-operate
with people who wish to expunge this class struggle from the movement. When
the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle-cry: the
emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class
itself. We cannot therefore co-operate with people who say that the workers
are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must first be freed from
above by philanthropic bourgeois and petty bourgeois. If the new Party
organ adopts a line corresponding to the views of these gentlemen, and is
bourgeois and not proletarian, then nothing remains for us, much though we
should regret it, but publicly to declare our opposition to it and to
dissolve the solidarity with which we have hitherto represented the German
Party abroad. But it is to be hoped that things will not come to that.

September 17-18, 1879
A Private Circulation Letter from Marx and Engels
(First drafted by Engels) to Germany's Social-Democratic leadership --
Bebel, Liebknecht, Fritzsche, Geiser, Hasenclever, Bracke.
This was in response to an August 1879 article written by Karl Hochberg,
Eduard Bernstein, and Carl August Schramm, entitled "Retrospects on the
Socialist Movement in Germany".

More information about the Marxism mailing list