Marx-Engels Correspondence 1853

Engels to Joseph Weydemeyer
In New York

Source: MECW Volume 39, p. 303;
First published: in full in Marx and Engels, Works, 1934.

Manchester, 12 April 1853

Dear Weydemeyer,

Herewith Marx’s statement on Hirsch’s Confessions which you should immediately get into as many papers as you can. If you send Cluss a copy at once, he will undoubtedly be able to take over a large part of the task. It would, I think, do no harm if you were to append the words, ‘The undersigned express their full agreement with the above, E. Dronke, F. Engels’. As far as the business of the manuscript [The Great Men of the Exile] is concerned, and relations with Bangya generally, we are just as responsible as Marx and it would not be right if we were to let him bear the responsibility alone. The copy that was handed over is partly in Dronke’s hand, the original almost entirely in mine. There is now a prospect of the thing being published in Switzerland.

This statement was composed solely on the strength of the excerpts made by you and sent to us by Cluss. Whether the remainder contains anything that will necessitate a further statement, we cannot, of course, yet say, but doubtless you'll have extracted everything relating to ourselves. In a few days’ time you will, I trust, send us the whole thing in print.

As for Bangya, we have him completely in our power. The fellow’s so deeply implicated that he is utterly done for. Fresh grounds for suspicion kept cropping up and, in order to cover himself he was compelled to show Marx little by little his entire hoard of documents from Kossuth, Szemere, etc. This is how I come to possess the original manuscript of Szemere’s pamphlet on Kossuth and Görgey. Mr Kossuth, then, has been badly compromised through Mr Bangya. This magyarised Slav’s petty cunning was foiled by Marx’s tenacity and the skill with which he implicated him. We, and no one else (save perhaps Szemere, up to a point), now possess complete documentary evidence as to Bangya’s character, but what purpose would be served by raising the alarm just now? The fellow is said to be returning to London in May, and then we can press him hard and possibly extract a great deal more useful information. All manner of things have been going on between Willich and Hirsch which are still very far from clear and if, as you maintain, it was through Kinkel’s agency that Hirsch’s manuscript found its way over there, this again conjures up the most bizarre speculations. Il faut tâcher d'y voir clair [we must try to clarify this], and Bangya can be useful there. So don’t say anything about it for the moment; that apart, let the Hungarian gentlemen themselves come forward for once and speak their minds, Kossuth in particular. Why should we give them a helping hand? If they make fools of themselves in a public statement, tant mieux, then it will be our turn.

The émigrés are carrying on as disreputably as ever, though with less public offence than hitherto. When I was in London at Christmas-time we used to mingle sans façon with the crowd in the Kinkel-Willich-Ruge pubs, something we could scarcely have done 6 months earlier without risking a brawl. Often the small fry would come up to us quite amiably and patiently allow us to twit them, particularly the gallant Meyen-Julius Vindex. Amongst our own people, everything is still much the same. Lupus is said to be keeping himself very much to himself. Dronke has been angling for a clerk’s post these past six months and now there’s a scheme afoot to get him one in Bradford, 2½ hours by railway from here. Weerth, when I last heard from him, was in St Thomas in the West Indies, where he had survived the yellow fever season. Red Wolf who, as you know, is a husband and father, takes his wife and child out on jaunts and seldom puts in an appearance. Freiligrath is still living in Hackney and engages in commerce under the auspices of Mr Oxenford. As for myself, I have made substantial progress this past winter in Slavonic languages and military affairs and, by the end of the year, shall have a passable knowledge of Russian and South Slav. In Cologne I accoutred myself at little expense with the library of a retired Prussian artillery officer and for a time felt myself quite the bombardier again, what with the old Plümicke, the Brigade Training Manual and other well-thumbed volumes which you will remember. However, Prussian military literature is positively the worst there is, the only tolerable stuff being what was written with the campaigns of 1813/15 still fresh in mind. But after 1822 this gives way to a repulsively pretentious pedantry, to a bogus omniscience, which is the very devil. Quite recently a number of passable things have again appeared in Prussia, but not many. Unfortunately the French stuff is completely inaccessible to me owing to my unfamiliarity with specialised literature.

I have swotted up pretty well on the old campaigns (i.e. after 1792); the Napoleonic ones are so simple that it would be difficult to go wrong on them. However, au bout du compte Jomini gives the best account of them; despite many fine things, I can’t really bring myself to like that natural genius, Clausewitz. For the immediate future, i.e. for us, the Russian campaign of 1812 is the most important, the only one where important strategic problems still remain to be solved; Germany and Italy do not admit of any lines of action other than those laid down by Napoleon, whereas in Russia everything is still very confused. The question whether, originally, Napoleon’s plan of operations in 1812 was to march directly on Moscow or, during the first campaign, simply advance as far as the Dnieper and Dvina, repeats itself for us with the question as to what a revolutionary army should do in the event of a successful offensive against Russia. This question — accidents apart, of course, and assuming no more than an approximately equal balance of forces — can be solved, or so it has seemed to me up till now, only by water — in the Sound and in the Dardanelles, at Petersburg, Riga and Odessa. Apart also, of course, from internal movements in Russia — and an aristocratic-bourgeois revolution in Petersburg with a resulting civil war in the interior is a possibility. Mr Herzen has made things much easier for himself (Du progrčs des idées révolutionnaires en Russie) by positing, Hegel-fashion, a democratic-social-communist-Proudhonist Republic of Russia under the triumvirate Bakunin-Herzen-Golovin, so that it cannot possibly fail. Meanwhile it is by no means certain that Bakunin is still alive and in any case Russia, with its huge expanses and sparse population, is a country that is very difficult to conquer. As to the former Polish provinces on this side of the Dvina and Dnieper, I want to hear nothing more of them, knowing as I do that the peasants there are all Ukrainians, only the aristocracy and some of the people in the towns being Polish, and that to the peasant there, as in Ukrainian Galicia in 1846, the restoration of Poland is synonymous with the restoration of the old ruling aristocracy, its powers unimpaired. In all these countries, outside the kingdom of Poland proper, there are barely 500,000 Poles!

It is a good thing, by the way, that this time the revolution should have found a respectable antagonist in Russia and not such spineless scarecrows of opponents as in the year 1848.

In the meantime all sorts of symptoms keep appearing. Prosperity in cotton has reached such heights as to become vertiginous, whereas certain branches of the cotton industry (coarse qualities, domestics) are completely stagnant. Speculators hope to escape this vertigo by promoting it en gros solely in America and France (railways with English money), but over here piecemeal in penny packets, thus by degrees spreading the condition to all articles. The quite abnormal weather we've had here during the winter and spring must have damaged the corn and if, as usually happens, the summer is also abnormal, it will spell ruin to the harvest. To my mind the present prosperity cannot last beyond the autumn. In the meantime the 3rd English ministry in 12 months — and, indeed, the last one that will be possible without the direct intervention of the radical bourgeoisie — is falling into disrepute. One after another Whigs, Tories and Coalitionists come to grief as a result, not of a tax deficit, but of a surplus. That typifies the whole policy of the old parties and also their extreme impotence. If the present ministers tumble, it will no longer be possible to govern England without considerably extending the pays légal [franchise]; hence, this is likely to come about at the beginning of the crisis.

The protracted tedium of prosperity has made it almost impossible for the unhappy Bonaparte to maintain his dignity; the world is bored and he bores the world. Unfortunately he cannot remarry every 4 weeks. This trickster, drunkard and cheat will come to grief through having to make a pretence of putting Engel’s Fürstenspiegel into practice. The vagabond as ‘father of the fatherland'! He is aux abois [at bay]. Yet he can’t even start a war: everywhere serried ranks bristling with bayonets as soon as he makes the slightest move. And then this period of tranquillity affords the peasants most desirable time in which to reflect upon how the man who promised to subdue Paris for the peasants’ benefit is now using the peasants’ money to embellish Paris and how, despite everything, mortgages and taxes are going up rather than down. In short, this time the thing is being methodically prepared, and that’s very promising.

In Prussia the government has raised a veritable hornet’s nest among the bourgeoisie with its income tax. The bureaucrats have increased the rates of tax in the most barefaced manner, and you can imagine the glee with which those egregious quillpushers are now poking their noses into the trade secrets and ledgers of all the merchants. Even my old man, a dyed-in-the-wool Prussian, is fuming with rage. These fellows must now endure to the bitter end the blessings of a constitutional, fatherly, Prussian gouvernement a bon marché [bargain government]. Prussia’s national debt, — some 67 mill. talers before 1848, — must since have swollen to four times that amount, and already they are wanting to borrow again! One can only assume that the portly monarch would cheerfully sweat now, as once he sweated during the March days, if only he were to be guaranteed this credit for the rest of his mortal life. Yet Louis Napoleon has helped him set the Customs Union on its feet again, Austria, fearing war, has drawn in her horns, and now, Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace into the grave!

The Austrians are doing everything in their power to set things in motion again in Italy, a country which, before the Milan uprising was completely given over to commerce and prosperity in so far as this was compatible with taxation; and if everything goes on like this for another few months, Europe will be in a splendid state of readiness, needing only the jog of a crisis. On top of this, one must consider that prosperity, unprecedented in its scope and duration — having begun early in 1849 — has restored the strength of the exhausted parties (in so far as these were not beyond repair, like the monarchist party in France) much more quickly than was the case after 1830, for example, when trading conditions long remained unsettled and, on the whole, indifferent. In 1848, too, only the Paris proletariat, and later Hungary and Italy, were exhausted by severe struggles; after June 1848, the insurrections that took place in France were hardly worth speaking of and, in the final count, ruined only the old monarchist parties. Add to this the curious result produced by the movement in all countries, a result in no way serious or significant save for the colossal historical irony and the concentration of Russian military resources; and in view of all this, it seems to me that, even taking the most sober view, the present state of affairs cannot possibly continue beyond the spring of 1854.

How splendid it is that on this occasion our party is taking the stage under wholly different auspices. All the socialist stupidities which one still had to advocate in 1848 vis-a-vis the pure democrats and the South German republicans, the vapourings of L. Blanc, etc., and, indeed, even the things we were compelled to propound if only to find points d'appui for our views in the confused state of affairs in Germany — all this is already being advocated by our respected opponents, by Ruge, Heinzen, Kinkel and so forth. The preliminaries to proletarian revolution, the measures by which the field of battle is being made ready and the way cleared for us — a single and indivisible republic, etc., things which originally we had to advocate in the teeth of those whose natural, normal calling it should have been to implement, or at least demand them, — all this is now convenu, has been learnt by the gentlemen. This time we shall start off straight away with the Manifesto thanks largely to the Cologne trial in which German communism (most notably through Röser) has passed its matriculation.

All this, of course, relates merely to theory; in practice we shall, as always, be reduced to insisting above all on resolute measures and absolute ruthlessness. And that’s the pity of it. I have a feeling that one fine day, thanks to the helplessness and spinelessness of all the others, our party will find itself forced into power, whereupon it will have to enact things that are not immediately in our own, but rather in the general, revolutionary and specifically petty-bourgeois interest; in which event, spurred on by the proletarian populus and bound by our own published statements and plans — more or less wrongly interpreted and more or less impulsively pushed through in the midst of party strife — we shall find ourselves compelled to make communist experiments and leaps which no-one knows better than ourselves to be untimely. One then proceeds to lose one’s head — only physique parlant I hope — , a reaction sets in and, until such time as the world is capable of passing historical judgment of this kind of thing, one will be regarded, not only as a brute beast, which wouldn’t matter a rap, but, also as bęte, and that’s far worse. I don’t very well see how it could happen otherwise. In a backward country such as Germany which possesses an advanced party and which, together with an advanced country such as France, becomes involved in an advanced revolution, at the first serious conflict, and as soon as there is real danger, the turn of the advanced party will inevitably come, and this in any case will be before its normal time. However, none of this matters a rap; the main thing is that, should this happen, our party’s rehabilitation in history will already have been substantiated in advance in its literature.

We shall, by the way, cut a far more respectable figure on the stage than last time. In the first place we are happily rid of all the old idlers in the persons of Schapper, Willich and Co., secondly, we have grown somewhat stronger, thirdly, we can count on the rising generation in Germany (if nothing else, the Cologne trial is enough to guarantee us this), and finally we have all of us benefited substantially in exile. There are, of course, some amongst us who proceed on the principle: ‘What need is there for us to swot? That’s what pčre Marx is there for, it’s his business to know everything.’ But in general the Marx party does do a good deal of swotting, and one only has to look at the way the other émigré jackasses snap up this or that new catchword, thereby becoming more bemused than ever, to realise that our party’s superiority has increased both absolutely and relatively. As indeed it must, for la besogne sera rude [it will be a tough business].

I should like to have time before the next revolution to study and describe thoroughly at least the campaigns of 1848 and 1849 in Italy and Hungary. Generally speaking, I have a pretty clear notion of the business, despite imperfect maps, etc. But the very accuracy of detail required to depict it calls for a great deal of trouble and expense. On both occasions the Italians behaved like nincompoops. Willisen’s account and analysis, while accurate on the whole, is often silly, and the total superiority of Austrian strategy, which he stresses as early as 1848, only becomes apparent in the Novara campaign, without doubt the most brilliantly fought affair in Europe since Napoleon’s day (outside Europe, however, the feats performed by old General Napier in India in 1842 are of quite another order and, indeed, reminiscent of Alexander the Great; on the whole I regard Charles Napier as the foremost living general). Strange in Italy, just as in Baden in 1849, is the traditional superstitious belief in positions occupied during the campaigns of the 1790s. Nothing would have induced Mr Sigel to fight anywhere save in the position made classical by Moreau, and Charles Albert’s belief in the Virgin Mary’s virginity was no more steadfast than his belief in the miraculous powers of the plateau of Rivoli. So immutable was this conviction in Italy that the Austrians commenced every important manoeuvre with a feint attack on Rivoli and every time the Piedmontese fell into the trap. The joke is, of course, that the relative positions and lines of communication were quite different.

Despite everything, Monsieur Görgey remains the only fellow in Hungary who was superior to everyone else and to whom everyone else was hostile out of sheer envy; I think it probable that had not Görgey, despite his great military talents, been a very vain, petty chap, this for the most part stupid hostility would have finally turned him into a traitor. Ever since the Világos affair — entirely justified in military (but not revolutionary) terms — the fellows have subjected Görgey to such a plethora of insane accusations that the chap almost compels one’s interest. The actual ‘betrayal’ took place after the relief of Komarom, before the Russians got there, and for this Kossuth is just as much to blame as Görgey. A cloud of uncertainty still envelops Bayer, Görgey’s Chief of the General Staff, who is now in London. From the memoirs of Görgey and other sources, it would seem that it was he who inspired Görgey’s strategic plans. From what Pleyel told me, Bayer is the principal author of the official Austrian book on the campaign. (Bayer was captured in Pest and escaped); it is said to be excellent, but I haven’t yet been able to get hold of it. Görgey speaks of Klapka with great respect, but everyone admits that he was very weak. Perczel is regarded as a jackass, the ‘democratic’ Hungarian general. Old Bem always thought of himself only as a good partisan and commander of a detached corps intended for a definite purpose; so far as I can judge, this is all he was, but to a superlative degree. He did two stupid things, once with his fruitless expedition into the blue after Banat; next, during the great Russian invasion when he repeated, literally, the highly professional manoeuvre he had successfully executed before Hermannstadt and was trounced in consequence. Pčre Dembinski however, was an incorrigible visionary and braggart, a partisan who believed himself born to conduct great campaigns and embarked on the maddest enterprises. Smitt’s Polish Campaign of 1831 contains some good stories about him.

Apropos. Could you give me a short description of Cologne’s fortifications with a few drawings — rough sketches — done from memory? If I remember rightly, the main wall is bastioned and the forts are said to be of the Montalembert type; is that so, and how many of them are there? You can use any military engineering terms, since I have some quite passable manuals and drawings here. Do you know details of any other Prussian fortresses? I am fairly familiar with Coblenz (Ehrenbreitstein, at least), and have seen a plan of Mainz. What interests me particularly is the manner in which the new Montalembert structures are built in Germany; it’s impossible to find out anything about this owing to Prussian secretiveness.

Write soon. Warmest regards to your wife and to Cluss from

F. Engels.