Marx-Engels Correspondence 1851

Engels to Marx
In London

Source: MECW Volume 38, p. 361;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, 1913.

Manchester, 23 May 1851

Dear Marx,

I saw with pleasure in the papers that the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was represented by you in person also at Soyer’s universal press symposium. I hope you enjoyed the homards [lobster] à la Washington and the champagne frappé. But I am still in the dark about how M. Soyer found your address.

Do you know what has become of that drunkard Laroche of Great Windmill Street. He has, according to German newspaper reports, been caught and sentenced in Berlin to death by hanging. It transpires that this self-styled former Prussian lieutenant of hussars is none other than the shoemaker August Friedrich Gottlieb Lehmann of Triebel near Sorau in Upper Silesian Wasserpolackei, militiaman of the 1st levy, who, on 23 March 1842, had been sentenced to be stripped of military honours and to 16 months’ service in a penal detachment for desertion in peacetime, forgery and unauthorised contraction of debts. Yet another ray of light shed on our German revolutionary heroes.

That those great warriors, Willich, Schimmelpfennig and Sigel, should be increasingly consorting with each other is all to the good. This pack of soldiery has an unbelievably sordid esprit de corps. They hate each other à mort and, like schoolboys, begrudge each other the most paltry marks of distinction, but they are all united against the ‘civilians’. Punctilious, as in the first French armies of 1792/93, but scaled down to a dwarfish caricature. They all regard the Windmill Street Society as a battalion, ready, willing and eager to march over here; it’s the only one left, since the ones in Switzerland were broken up and deported. Small wonder that they all cleave to this noble corps. It’s a very good thing that word of this officers’ corps spirit should already have reached us from the old barracks and the officers’ mess and that we should already see how this cliquishness prevails as much among the émigré officer material as in the ‘glorious army’. In due course we shall show these gentry what ‘civilian’ really signifies. All of this goes to show that the very best thing for me to do is to go on with my military studies so that at least one of the ‘civilians’ is a match for them in theoretical matters. At any rate I want to reach a point where jackasses such as these can’t talk me down. I'm delighted, by the way, to hear that they were cheated of 2,000 talers. The news from Cologne is very pleasing, but the people there should be on their guard.

Where begging is concerned that precious Johanna [Kinkel] really surpasses anything that has ever been known before. Heinzen is quite eclipsed; he has never attained to the same degree of effrontery as this woman who, moreover, is said to be as ugly as sin.

It is clear even from the English press that Girardin doesn’t support Cavaignac. But the very fact that he remarked on the brightness of Cavaignac’s prospects is enough to characterise the situation. You mentioned the possibility that the majority [in the Legislative Assembly] might conclude an agreement with Bonaparte and endeavour to carry out an illegal revision; if they do so, I think it will go awry. They'll never succeed so long as it’s opposed by Thiers, Changarnier and the Débats and their respective adherents. It would be too fine an opportunity for Cavaignac; and in that case he could, I believe, count on the army.

If there’s a fracas next year, Germany will be in the devil of a position. France, Italy and Poland all have an interest in her dismemberment. As you'll have seen, Mazzini has even promised the Czechs rehabilitation. Apart from Hungary, Germany would have only one possible ally, Russia — provided that a peasants’ revolution had taken place there. Otherwise we shall have a guerre à mort with our noble friends from all points of the compass, and it’s very questionable how the business will end.

The more I think about it, the more obvious it becomes to me that the Poles are une nation foutue [a finished nation] who can only continue to serve a purpose until such time as Russia herself becomes caught up into the agrarian revolution. From that moment Poland will have absolutely no raison d'étre any more. The Poles’ sole contribution to history has been to indulge in foolish pranks at once valiant and provocative. Nor can a single moment be cited when Poland, even if only by comparison with Russia, has successfully represented progress or done anything of historical significance. Russia, on the other hand, is truly progressive by comparison with the East. Russian rule, for all its infamy, all its Slavic dirtiness, is civilising for the Black and Caspian Seas and Central Asia, for the Bashkirs and Tatars; and Russia has absorbed far more cultural elements, and especially industrial elements than Poland, which by nature is chivalrously indolent. The very fact that the Russian aristocracy, from the Tsar and Prince Demidov down to the most louse-ridden Boyar, 14th class, who’s merely blagorodno, well-born, manufactures, haggles, cheats, lays itself open to corruption, engages in all manner of business, Christian and Jewish, — that is in itself an advantage. Poland has never been able to naturalise foreign elements — the Germans in the cities are and will remain Germans. In Russia, every second-generation Russo-German is a living example of that country’s ability to Russify Germans and Jews. There, even the Jews acquire Slav cheekbones.

Napoleon’s wars of 1807 and 1812 provide striking examples of Poland’s ‘immortality’. The only immortal thing about the Poles was their aimless quarrelling. Moreover, the greater part of Poland, what is known as West Russia, i.e. Byelostok, Grodno, Vilna, Smolensk, Minsk, Mogilev, Volhynia and Podolia, has, with minor exceptions, quietly allowed itself to be ruled by Russia since 1772; save for a few scattered members of the bourgeoisie and the nobility, ils n'ont pas bougé [they didn’t stir]. A quarter of all Poles speak Lithuanian, one quarter Ruthenian, a small portion semi-Russian, while a good third of the Polish element proper is Germanised.

Fortunately, in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, we assumed no positive obligations towards the Poles, save the unavoidable one of restoration combined with a suitable frontier — and even that only on the condition of there being an agrarian revolution. I'm convinced that such a revolution will sooner be fully effected in Russia than in Poland, because of the national character and because of Russia’s more developed bourgeois elements. What are Warsaw and Cracow as compared with Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, etc., etc.!

Conclusion: To take as much as possible away from the Poles in the West, to man their fortresses, especially Posen, with Germans on the pretext of defence, to let them stew in their own juice, send them into battle, gobble bare their land, fob them off with promises of Riga and Odessa and, should it be possible to get the Russians moving, to ally oneself with the latter and compel the Poles to give way. Every inch of the frontier between Memel and Cracow we cede to the Poles will, militarily speaking, be utterly ruinous to this already wretchedly weak frontier, and will leave exposed the whole of the Baltic coast as far as Stettin.

Besides, I am convinced that, come the next fracas, the entire Polish insurrection will be confined to Poseners and Galician nobility together with a few who have come over from the Kingdom, this having been bled so white that it’s capable of nothing more, and that the pretensions of these knights, unless supported by French, Italians and Scandinavians, etc., and bolstered up by rumpuses on the part of the Czechs, will founder on the wretchedness of their performance. A nation which can muster 20,000 to 30,000 men at most, is not entitled to a voice. And Poland certainly could not muster very much more.

Give my regards to Freiligrath when you see him, and also to your family, not forgetting Citizen Musch. [Edgar Marx], I shall be coming to London about a week later than I thought, the thing being dependent on a host of trifling matters.

Apropos, not a word yet from Cologne. Have you written? Unless I get the letter soon, it will be no good to me. I don’t know why Daniels shouldn’t oblige me. Couldn’t you write again? Daniels could dash off a line or two and let me have it by return. Otherwise I might find myself in the deuce of a predicament.

F. E.