Frederick Engels 1875

Russia and the Social Revolution

Originally published in Volksstaat, 21 April 1875, and republished in Internationales aus dem ‘Volksstaat’ (1871-1875) (Berlin, 1894). From Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Russian Menace to Europe, edited by Paul Blackstock and Bert Hoselitz, and published by George Allen and Unwin, London, 1953, pp 203-05. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers. These five paragraphs do not appear in the MIA document ‘Refugee Literature V: On Social Relations in Russia’. In this book they precede the first paragraph of the above document.

Engels wrote a short introduction in Internationales aus dem ‘Volksstaat’ (1871-1875): ‘The following lines were written on the occasion of a polemic into which I was drawn with a certain Mr Peter Nikitich Tkachoff. In an article in the Russian journal Wperod appearing in London I had occasion to mention the name of this gentleman in passing, but in such a manner that I incurred his esteemed enmity Mr Tkachoff promptly published an ‘Open Letter to Mr Friedrich Engels in Zurich, 1874’ in which he charged me with a number of misstatements, and then, in contrast to my own crass ignorance, presented the world with his opinion of the state of affairs and the chances of a social revolution in Russia. The form and content of this concoction bear the customary Bakunin stamp. Since it appeared in German, I took the trouble to reply in the Volksstaat. I reprint here that part of the article which is concerned mainly with the social conditions in Russia as they have developed since 1861, the time of the so-called emancipation of the serfs.’

The future path of Russia is of the greatest importance to the German working class because the present Russian empire is the last great centre of support for all reactionary forces in Western Europe. This was proved conclusively in 1848 and 1849. Because Germany failed to create an insurrection in Poland in 1848 and to declare war against the Russian tsar (as had been demanded by the Neue Rheinische Zeitung from the beginning), this very same tsar could in 1849 crush the Hungarian revolution which had penetrated to the gates of Vienna, could in 1850 sit in judgement at Warsaw over Austria, Prussia and the smaller German states, and could finally re-establish the old German Bundestag. And only a few days ago – in the beginning of May 1875 – the Russian tsar received the homage of his vassals in Berlin and thus proved that he is today, as he was twenty-five years ago, still the arbiter of Europe. Therefore, no revolution in Western Europe can be definitely and finally victorious as long as the present Russian state exists at its side. Germany is its nearest neighbour. Germany must sustain the first shock from the armies of Russian reaction. The overthrow of the Russian tsarist state and the dissolution of the Russian empire is therefore one of the first conditions for the final victory of the German proletariat.

This revolution need not be brought about from the outside, although a foreign war could hasten it greatly. Within the Russian empire itself are forces which contribute powerfully to its decline.

The Poles constitute the first such force. Because they have been suppressed for centuries they must either become revolutionary or support every revolutionary uprising in the west as a first step towards their own liberation or perish. Especially today can they find their allies only among the proletariat. They have always been betrayed by all bourgeois parties of the west. In Germany the bourgeoisie has been a political factor only since 1848, and since that date it has been hostile to the Poles. France’s Napoleon betrayed Poland in 1812, and as a consequence of this betrayal lost the war, his crown and his empire. The bourgeois monarchy followed his example in 1830 and in 1846, as did the bourgeois republic in 1848 and Napoleon III in the Crimean war and in 1863. One betrayed Poland as shamefully as the other. Even today the radical bourgeois republicans of France court the favour of the tsar to barter a renewed betrayal of Poland in return for a revanche-alliance against Prussia; while at the same time the bourgeoisie of the German empire hails this very same tsar as the protector of the European peace, that is, of the German-Prussian annexations. Only among the revolutionary workers can the Poles find honest and unreserved support, for both have an interest in the overthrow of the common enemy and the liberation of Poland depends on his fall.

But the activity of the Poles is limited. It is confined to Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine [Kleinrussland]. The heart of the Russian empire, however, Russia proper [Grossrussland], is for all practical purposes outside the scope of its impact. Besides, forty million Russians with a separate historical development form too large a nation to have a movement originating outside their midst imposed upon them. But this is not necessary. It is true that the mass of the Russian people, the peasants, have lived mutely for centuries from generation to generation in a kind of timeless stupor, and that the only interruptions in this monotonous existence have been a few sporadic, fruitless revolts resulting in new suppressions by the nobility and the government. The Russian government itself set ‘history in motion’ in 1861 by the abolition of serfdom and the absolution from personal services, reforms which could no longer be postponed. These measures were introduced in such a manner that they are sure to defeat their purpose and result in the ruin of the majority of the peasants. The very position in which the Russian peasant has been placed is driving him into an opposition movement which, while now in its very first stages, inexorably must grow because of the increasingly unfavourable economic conditions of the peasant masses. The rumbling discontent of the peasants is already being heard today and is a fact which the government as well as all discontented and opposition parties have to consider.

Thus, when we talk below about Russia, we do not mean to include the whole Russian empire but only Russia proper, that is, that region which has at its westernmost boundary the provinces of Pskow and Smolensk, and as its southernmost limit the provinces of Kursk and Voronesh.