Frederick Engels Correspondence 1889

Engels To Paul Lafargue
At Le Perreux

London, 11 May 1889

First published: in English, in: F. Engels, P. et L. Lafargue, Correspondance, t II, Paris, 1956;
Transcribed: by Andy Blunden.

My dear Lafargue,

We have never called you anything but ‘the so-called Marxists’ and I would not know how else to describe you. Should you have some other, equally succinct name, let us know and we shall duly and gladly apply it to you. But we cannot say ‘aggregate’, which no one here would understand, or anti-Possibilists, which you would find just as objectionable and which would not be accurate, being too all-embracing.

Tussy must have returned you your letter to the Star yesterday. Since Tussy’s translation of the Convocation had already been in the hands of the Star the day before that, your paraphrase of the said document stood no earthly chance of being inserted.

What we need are letters from Paris, sent direct to the Star, bearing the Paris postmark and refuting the Possibilist calumnies which appeared in Saturday’s and Tuesday’s editions, namely, that Boulé’s election campaign was run on Boulangist money, that Vaillant had acted as an ally of the Boulangists, etc. I should say that you could do this perfectly well without ruffling your newly-found dignity as the one and only Catholic Church in matters connected with French Socialism.

No other daily is so widely read by working men as the Star — the only one to which we have a measure of free access. In Paris, Massingham had Adolphe Smith for his guide and interpreter and was steered by him into the arms of Brousse and Co., who took possession of him, refused to let him go, made him tipsy with absinthe and vermouth, and thus succeeded in winning over the Star to the cause of their congress and making it swallow their lies. If you wish us to be of use to you over here, you must help us regain some influence over the Star by demonstrating that the course which it has been led to embark upon is a dangerous one and that, in fact, Brousse and Co. have been feeding it with lies. And here nothing will serve but letters of complaint about such articles, sent direct from Paris. Otherwise we shall be told as before that no one in Paris has complained, hence these things must be true.

Aside from the Star we have only the Labour Elector, a very obscure and distinctly shady paper which depends on money from unavowed sources and is therefore highly suspect. You could most assuredly do with a bit of publicity here in England, so bombard the Star with complaints — you, Vaillant, Longuet, Deville, Guesde and tutti quanti. But if you leave us in the lurch, you can’t complain if your congress is passed over in silence by the press and if the Possibilists are regarded over here as the only French Socialists and yourselves as a worthless clique of intriguers and nincompoops.

For the past three months Tussy and I have done virtually nothing but labour on your behalf; we had won the first battle with Bernstein’s pamphlet, when Liebknecht’s inertia and irresolution lost us in rapid succession all the positions we had previously gained. Now that we are back on the defensive and threatened with the loss of even those positions we originally held, it is very hard to find ourselves similarly abandoned by the French when a few letters, however short, arriving at the right moment, could prove so very effective. But if you are bent on losing all means of publicity in England at the very time when it could be of greatest moment to you, there’s nothing we can do about it; I, for one will certainly have learnt my lesson; I shall go back to Volume 3, abandoned for the past three months, and shall not be unduly upset if the congress comes to nothing.

To organise lodgings and eating-places for the delegates is an excellent idea — Bebel wrote and told me about it and, since Paris in July will be positively swarming with people, this is of the utmost importance.

We shall have Laura’s English translation printed. As for the German translation, one has appeared in the Sozialdemokrat of which one sentence towards the end was amended by Bernstein (No. 3 in your invitation) as being too dangerous for the Germans. Send the French text of the Convocation which is to be signed by everyone to Bebel and Liebknecht so that they can let you know what passages they cannot sign without compromising themselves in the eyes of the law, for otherwise you will run the risk of not getting any German signatures. I shall wait until I have heard from Bebel before printing the German translation here, and shall first submit to you the changes he suggests.

It is some time since Labusquière’s name has appeared in the Possibilist press — can he, too, have joined the ranks of the malcontents? The incipient disorganisation of the Possibilists is undoubtedly agreeable to ourselves, but our onslaughts upon them, combined with the congress, may well bring about a return to unity. In any case, the disintegration is not yet so far advanced as to make any impact on the Possibilists’ allies abroad.

Herewith cheque for £20. — As for Ferry’s coup d'état, it might well fall, for in 1889 the foot-slogger is much more of a Boulangist than he was a Republican when he disrupted MacMahon’s coup. The worthy Boulanger would not be so stupid as to evoke a call to arms over the High Court affair, but the same might not apply if there were to be a direct violation of the Constitution. That Ferry will not surrender power, direct or indirect, without a struggle, I can readily believe. But there is a risk.

Yours ever,
F. E.