Editor’s note{1}

Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, which analyses the draft programme of the future united Social-Democratic party, is a major contribution to the key theoretical issues of scientific communism and an example of uncompromising struggle against opportunism. It was written in April-early May 1875 and intended for the leadership of the Eisenachers. The manuscript Marginal Notes on the Programme of the German Workers’ Party (Randglossen zum Programm der deutschen Arbeiterpartei) is prefaced by Marx’s letter to Wilhelm Bracke of May 5, 1875 and forms a single whole with it. The work was sent to the leadership of the Eisenach party (specifically, to Wilhelm Bracke) on May 5.

For the first time, Critique of the Gotha Programme was published by Engels in 1891, together with Marx’s letter to Bracke, despite opposition on the part of the opportunist German Social-Democratic leaders. It appeared in the theoretical organ of the German Social-Democrats, Die Neue Zeit, Vol. 1, No. 18, with Engels’ foreword. As is known from Engels’ letter to Karl Kautsky of February 23, 1891, he had to agree to certain changes and omissions.

The Critique was published in English for the first time, according to the text in Die Neue Zeit, in The Socialist Series, number one, under the title: “The Socialist Programme. By Karl Marx”, The Socialist Labour Press, Glasgow [1918].

Foreword by Friedrich Engels

The manuscript published here — the covering letter to Bracke as well as the critique of the draft programme — was sent in 1875, shortly before the Gotha Unity Congress, to Bracke for communication to Geib, Auer, Bebel, and Liebknecht and subsequent return to Marx. Since the Halle Party Congress has put the discussion of the Gotha Programme on the agenda of the Party, I think I would be guilty of suppression if I any longer withheld from publicity this important — perhaps the most important — document relevant to this discussion.

But the manuscript has yet another and more far-reaching significance. Here for the first time Marx’s attitude to the line adopted by Lassalle in his agitation from the very beginning is clearly and firmly set forth, both as regards Lassalle’s economic principles and his tactics.

The ruthless severity with which the draft programme is dissected here, the mercilessness with which the results obtained are enunciated and the shortcomings of the draft laid bare — all this today, after fifteen years, can no longer give offence. Specific Lassalleans now exist only abroad as isolated ruins, and in Halle the Gotha Programme was given up even by its creators as altogether inadequate.

Nevertheless, I have omitted a few sharp personal expressions and judgments where these were immaterial, and replaced them by dots{2}. Marx himself would have done so if he had published the manuscript today. The violence of the language in some passages was provoked by two circumstances. In the first place, Marx and I had been more intimately connected with the German movement than with any other; we were, therefore, bound to be particularly perturbed by the decidedly retrograde step manifested by this draft programme. And secondly, we were at that time, hardly two years after the Hague Congress of the International, engaged in the most violent struggle against Bakunin and his anarchists, who made us responsible for everything that happened in the labour movement in Germany; hence we had to expect that we would also be addled with the secret paternity of this programme. These considerations do not now exist and so there is no necessity for the passages in question.

For reasons arising form the Press Law, also, a few sentences have been indicated only by dots{3}. Where I have had to choose a milder expression this has been enclosed in square brackets. Otherwise the text has been reproduced word for word.

London, January 6, 1891

Letter to Wilhelm Bracke

London, May 5, 1875

Dear Bracke,

Will you be so kind, after you have read the following marginal notes on the unity programme, to pass them on for Geib and Auer, Bebel and Liebknecht to see. Notabene. The manuscript should be returned to you so as to be at my disposal if needs be. I have more than enough to do, and, as it is, must take on far more work than laid down for me by my doctor. Hence it was by no means a “pleasure” to write such a lengthy screed. Yet it was necessary if the steps I shall have to take later on are not to be misinterpreted by the party friends for whom this communication is intended.

After the Unity Congress is over, Engels and I will publish a short statement to the effect that we entirely disassociate ourselves from the said programme of principles and have nothing to do with it.

This is indispensable because of the view taken abroad — a totally erroneous view, carefully nurtured by party enemies — that we are secretly directing the activities of the so-called Eisenach Party from here. Only recently, in a newly published Russian work{4}, Bakunin suggests that I, for instance, am responsible, not only for that party’s every programme, etc., but actually for every step taken by Liebknecht from the day he began cooperating with the People’s Party.

Aside from this, it is my duty to refuse recognition, even by maintaining a diplomatic silence, to a programme which, I am convinced, is altogether deplorable as well as demoralising for the party.

Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes. Hence, if it was impossible to advance beyond the Eisenach Programme — and circumstances at the time precluded this — they should simply have come to an agreement about action against the common foe. But to draw up programmes of principles (instead of waiting till a longish spell of common activity has prepared the ground for that sort of thing) is to set up bench marks for all the world to see, whereby it may gauge how far the party has progressed.

The leaders of the Lassalleans came because circumstances forced them to. Had they been told from the start that there was to be no haggling over principles, they would have been compelled to content themselves with a programme of action or a plan of organisation for common action. Instead, our people allow them to present themselves armed with mandates, and recognise those mandates as binding, thus surrendering unconditionally to men who are themselves in need of help. To crown it all, they are holding another congress prior to the congress of compromise, whereas our own party is holding its congress post festum{5}. Obviously their idea was to elude all criticism and not allow their own party time for reflection. One knows that the mere fact of unification is enough to satisfy the workers, but it is wrong to suppose that this momentary success has not been bought too dear.

Besides, the programme’s no good, even apart from its canonisation of the Lassallean articles of faith.

I shall shortly be sending you the final instalments of the French edition of Capital. Printing was held up for a considerable time by the French government ban. The thing will be finished this week or at the beginning of next. Have you received the six previous instalments? Would you also very kindly send me the address of Bernhard Becker, to whom I must likewise send the final instalments.

The bookshop of the Volksstaat has peculiar manners. For instance, they haven’t as yet sent me so much as a single copy of their reprint of the Cologne Communist Trial!

With kind regards.


Karl Marx

Marginal Notes on The Programme of The German Workers’ Party


  1. “Labour is the source of all wealth and all culture, and since useful labour is possible only in society and through society, the proceeds of labour belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society.”

First part of the paragraph: “Labour is the source of all wealth and all culture.”

Labour is not the source of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use values (and it is surely of such that material wealth consists!) as labour, which itself is only the manifestation of a force of nature, human labour power. The above phrase is to be found in all children’s primers and is correct insofar as it is implied that labour is performed with the pertinent objects and instruments. But a socialist programme cannot allow such bourgeois phrases to pass over in silence the conditions that alone give them meaning. And insofar as man from the outset behaves towards nature, the primary source of all instruments and objects of labour, as an owner, treats her as belonging to him, his labour becomes the source of use values, therefore also of wealth. The bourgeois have very good grounds for ascribing supernatural creative power to labour; since precisely from the fact that labour is determined by nature, it follows that the man who possesses no other property than his labour power must, in all conditions of society and culture, be the slave of other men who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labour. He can work only with their permission, hence live only with their permission.

Let us now leave the sentence as it stands, or rather limps. What would one have expected in conclusion? Obviously this:

“Since labour is the source of all wealth, no one in society can appropriate wealth except as the product of labour. Therefore, if he himself does not work, he lives by the labour of others and also acquires his culture at the expense of the labour of others.”

Instead of this, by means of the verbal rivet “and since” a second proposition is added in order to draw a conclusion from this and not from the first one.

Second part of the paragraph: “Useful labour is possible only in society and through society.”

According to the first proposition, labour was the source of all wealth and all culture; therefore no society is possible without labour. Now we learn, conversely, that no “useful” labour is possible without society.

One could just as well have said that only in society can useless and even socially harmful labour become a gainful occupation, that only in society can one live by being idle, etc., etc. — in short, one could just as well have copied the whole of Rousseau.

And what is “useful” labour? Surely only labour which produces the intended useful result. A savage — and man was a savage after he had ceased to be an ape — who kills an animal with a stone, who collects fruits, etc., performs “useful” labour.

Thirdly. The conclusion: “And since useful labour is possible only in society and through society, the proceeds of labour belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society.”

A fine conclusion! If useful labour is possible only in society and through society, the proceeds of labour belong to society — and only so much therefrom accrues to the individual worker as is not required to maintain the “condition” of labour, society.

In fact, this proposition has at all times been made use of by the champions of the state of society prevailing at any given time. First come the claims of the government and everything that sticks to it, since it is the social organ for the maintenance of the social order; then come the claims of the various kinds of private owners for the various kinds of private property are the foundations of society, etc. One sees that such hollow phrases can be twisted and turned as desired.

The first and second parts of the paragraph have some intelligible connection only in the following wording:

“Labour becomes the source of wealth and culture only as social labour”, or, what is the same thing, “in and through society”.

This proposition is incontestably correct, for although isolated labour (its material conditions presupposed) can create use values, it can create neither wealth nor culture.

But equally incontestable is the other proposition:

“In proportion as labour develops socially, and becomes thereby a source of wealth and culture, poverty and destitution develop among the workers, and wealth and culture among the non-workers.”

This is the law of all history hitherto. What, therefore, had to be done here, instead of setting down general phrases about “labour” and “society”, was to prove concretely how in present capitalist society the material, etc., conditions have at last been created which enable and compel the workers to lift this historical curse.

In fact, however, the whole paragraph, bungled in style and content, is only there in order to inscribe the Lassallean catchword of the “undiminished proceeds of labour” as a slogan at the top of the party banner. I shall return later to the “proceeds of labour”, “equal right”, etc., since the same thing recurs in a somewhat different form further on.

  1. “In present-day society, the means of labour are the monopoly of the capitalist class; the resulting dependence of the working class is the cause of misery and servitude in all their forms.”

This sentence, borrowed from the Rules of the International, is incorrect in this “improved” edition[1].

In present-day society the means of labour are the monopoly of the landowners (the monopoly of land ownership is even the basis of the monopoly of capital) and the capitalists. In the passage in question, the Rules of the International mention neither the one nor the other class of monopolists. They speak of the “monopoly of the means of labour, that is, the sources of life”. The addition, “sources of life”, makes it sufficiently clear that land is included in the means of labour.

The correction was introduced because Lassalle, for reasons now generally known[2], attacked only the capitalist class and not the landowners. In England, the capitalist is mostly not even the owner of the land on which his factory stands.

  1. “The emancipation of labour demands the raising of the means of labour to the common property of society and the collective regulation of the total labour with a fair distribution of the proceeds of labour.”

“The raising of the means of labour to common property”! Ought obviously to read their “conversion into common property”. But this only in passing.

What are “proceeds of labour”? The product of labour or its value? And in the latter case, is it the total value of the product or only that part of the value which labour has newly added to the value of the means of production consumed?

“Proceeds of labour” is a loose notion which Lassalle has put in the place of definite economic concepts.

What is “fair” distribution?

Do not the bourgeois assert that present-day distribution is “fair”? And is it not, in fact, the only “fair” distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production? Are economic relations regulated by legal concepts or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise from economic ones? Have not also the socialist sectarians the most varied notions about “fair” distribution?

To understand what is implied in this connection by the phrase “fair distribution”, we must take the first paragraph and this one together. The latter presupposes a society wherein “the means of labour are common property and the total labour is collectively regulated”, and from the first paragraph we learn that “the proceeds of labour belong undiminished with equal right to all members of society”.

“To all members of society”? To those who do not work as well? What remains then of “the undiminished proceeds of labour”? Only to those members of society who work? What remains then of “the equal right” of all members of society?

But “all members of society” and “equal right” are obviously mere phrases. The crucial point is this, that in this communist society every worker must receive his “undiminished” Lassallean “proceeds of labour”.

Let us take first of all the words “proceeds of labour” in the sense of the product of labour; then the collective proceeds of labour are the total social product.

From this must now be deducted:

First, cover for replacement of the means of production used up.

Secondly, additional portion for expansion of production.

Thirdly, reserve or insurance funds to provide against accidents, disturbances caused by natural factors, etc.

These deductions from the “undiminished proceeds of labour” are an economic necessity and their magnitude is to be determined according to available means and forces, and partly by computation of probabilities, but they are in no way calculable by equity.

There remains the other part of the total product, intended to serve as means of consumption.

Before this is divided among the individuals, there has to be deducted again, from it:

First, the general costs of administration not belonging to production.

This part will, from the outset, be very considerably restricted in comparison with present-day society, and it diminishes in proportion as the new society develops.

Secondly, that which is intended for the common satisfaction of needs, such as schools, health services, etc.

From the outset, this part grows considerably in comparison with present-day society, and it grows in proportion as the new society develops.

Third, funds for those unable to work, etc., in short, for what is included under so-called official poor relief today.

Only now do we come to the “distribution” which the programme, under Lassallean influence, has alone in view in its narrow fashion, namely, to that part of the means of consumption which is divided among the individual producers of the collective.

The “undiminished proceeds of labour” have already unnoticeably become converted into the “diminished” proceeds, although what the producer is deprived of in his capacity as a private individual benefits him directly or indirectly in his capacity as a member of society.

Just as the phrase of the “undiminished proceeds of labour” has disappeared, so now does the phrase of the “proceeds of labour” disappear altogether.

Within the collective society based on common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does the labour employed on the products appear here as the value of these products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an indirect fashion but directly as a component part of the total labour. The phrase “proceeds of labour”, objectionable even today on account of its ambiguity, thus loses all meaning.

What we are dealing with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society, which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth-marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society — after the deductions have been made — exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labour. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labour time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such and such an amount of labour (after deducting his labour for the common funds), and with this certificate he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labour costs. The same amount of labour which he has given to society in one form he receives back in another.

Here obviously the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is the exchange of social values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labour, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to ownership of individuals except individual means of consumption. But, as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity-equivalents: a given amount of labour in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labour in another form.

Hence, equal right here is still in priciple — bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange only exists on the average and not in the individual case.

In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly encumbered by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labour. But one man is superior to another physically or mentally and so supplies more labour in the same time, or can work for a longer time; and labour, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labour. It recognises no class distinctions, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes the unequal individual endowment and thus productive capacity of the workers as natural privileges. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in tis content, like every right. Right by its nature can exist only as the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable by an equal standard only insofar as they are made subject to an equal criterion, are taken from a certain side only, for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Besides, on worker is married, another not; one has more children than another, etc., etc. Thus given an equal amount of work done, and hence an equal share in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, etc. To avoid all these defects, right would have to be unequal rather than equal.

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth- pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development which this determines.

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and thereby also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of common wealth flow more abundantly — only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!

I have dealt at greater length with the “undiminished proceeds of labour”, on the one hand, and with “equal right” and “fair distribution”, on the other, in order to show what a crime it is to attempt, on the one hand, to force on our Party again, as dogmas, ideas which in a certain period had some meaning but have now become obsolete verbal rubbish, while again perverting, on the other, the realistic outlook, which it cost so much effort to instil into the Party but which has now taken root in it, by means of ideological, legal and other trash so common among the Democrats and French Socialists.

Quite apart from the analysis so far given, it was in general a mistake to make a fuss about so-called distribution and put the principal stress on it.

Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself. The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of non-workers in the form of capital and land ownership, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, of labour power. If the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. If the material conditions of production are the collective property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one. The vulgar socialists (and from them in turn a section of the Democrats) have taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?

  1. “The emancipation of labour must be the work of the working class, in relation to which all other classes are only one reactionary mass.”

The main clause is taken from the introductory words of the Rules of the International, but “improved”. There it is said: “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”; here, on the contrary, the “working class” has to emancipate — what? “Labour”. Let him understand who can.

In compensation, the subordinate clause, on the other hand, is a Lassallean quotation of the first water: “in relation to which (the working class) all other classes are only one reactionary mass”.

In the Communist Manifesto it is said: “Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.”

The bourgeoisie is here conceived as a revolutionary class — as the bearer of large-scale industry — in relation to the feudal lords and the middle estates, who desire to maintain all social positions that are the creation of obsolete modes of production. Thus they do not form together with the bourgeoisie only one reactionary mass.

On the other hand, the proletariat is revolutionary in relation to the bourgeoisie because, having itself grown up on the basis of large-scale industry, it strives to strip off from production the capitalist character that the bourgeoisie seeks to perpetuate. But the Manifesto adds that the “middle estates” are becoming revolutionary “in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat.”

From this point of view, therefore, it is again nonsense to say that they, “together with the bourgeoisie”, and with the feudal lords into the bargain, “form only one reactionary mass” in relation to the working class.

Did anyone proclaim to the artisans, small manufacturers, etc., and peasants during the last elections: In relation to us you, together with the bourgeoisie and feudal lords, form only one reactionary mass?

Lassalle knew the Communist Manifesto by heart, as his faithful followers know the gospels written by him. If, therefore, he has falsified it so grossly, this has occurred only to put a good colour on his alliance with absolutist and feudal opponents against the bourgeoisie.

In the above paragraph, moreover, his oracular saying is dragged in by the hair, without any connection with the botched quotation from the Rules of the International. Thus it is here simply an impertinence, and indeed not at all displeasing to Mr. Bismarck, one of those cheap pieces of insolence in which the Marat of Berlin deals.

  1. “The working class strives for its emancipation first of all within the framework of the present-day national state, conscious that the necessary result of its efforts, which are common to the workers of all civilised countries, will be the international brotherhood of peoples.”

Lassalle, in opposition to the Communist Manifesto and to all earlier socialism, conceived the workers’ movement from the narrowest national standpoint. He is being followed in this — and that after the work of the International!

It is altogether self-evident that, to be able to fight at all, the working class must organise itself at home as a class and that its own country is the immediate arena of its struggle. To this extent its class struggle is national, not in substance, but, as the Communist Manifesto says, “in form”. But the “framework of the present-day national state”, for instance, the German Empire, is itself in its turn economically “within the framework of the world market”, politically “within the framework of the system of states”. Every businessman knows that German trade is at the same time foreign trade, and the greatness of Mr. Bismarck consists, to be sure, precisely in his pursuing his kind of international policy.

And to what does the German workers’ party reduce its internationalism? To the consciousness that the result of its efforts “will be the international brotherhood of peoples” — a phrase borrowed from the bourgeois League of Peace and Freedom, which is intended to pass as equivalent to the international brotherhood of the working classes in the joint struggle against the ruling classes and their governments. So not a word about the international functions of the German working class! And it is thus that it is to defy its own bourgeoisie — which is already linked up in brotherhood against it with the bourgeois of all other countries — and Mr. Bismarck’s international policy of conspiracy!

In fact, the internationalism of the programme stands even infinitely below that of the Free Trade Party. The latter also asserts that the result of its efforts will be “the international brotherhood of peoples”. But it also does something to make trade international and by no means contents itself with the consciousness — that all peoples are carrying on trade at home.

The international activity of the working classes does not in any way depend on the existence of the “International Working Men’s Association”. This was only the first attempt to create a central organ for that activity; an attempt which was a lasting success on account of the impulse which it gave, but which was no longer realisable in its first historical form after the fall of the Paris Commune.

Bismarck’s Norddeutsche was absolutely right when it announced, to the satisfaction of its master, that the German workers’ party had forsworn internationalism in the new programme.


“Starting from these basic principles, the German workers’ party strives by all legal means for the free stateand — socialist society; the abolition of the wage system to together with the iron law of wages — and — exploitation in every form; the elimination of all social and political inequality.”

I shall return to the “free” state later.

So, in future, the German workers’ party has got to believe in Lassalle’s “iron law of wages”! That this may not be lost, the nonsense is perpetrated of speaking of the “abolition of the wage system” (it should read: system of wage labour) “together with the iron law of wages”. If I abolish wage labour, then naturally I abolish its laws too, whether they are of “iron” or sponge. But Lassalle’s attack on wage labour turns almost solely on this so-called law. In order, therefore, to prove that the Lassallean sect has won, the “wage system” must be abolished “together with the iron law of wages” and not without it.

It is well known that nothing of the “iron law of wages” is Lassalle’s except the word “iron” borrowed from Goethe’s “eternal, iron, great laws”. The word iron is a label by which the true believers recognise one another. But if I take the law with Lassalle’s stamp on it and, consequently, in his sense, then I must also take it with his substantiation. And what is that? As Lange already showed, shortly after Lassalle’s death, it is the Malthusian theory of population (preached by Lange himself). But if this theory is correct, then again I cannot abolish the law even if I abolish wage labour a hundred times over, because the law then governs not only the system of wage labour but every social system. Basing themselves directly on this, the economists have been proving for fifty years and more that socialism cannot abolish destitution, which has its basis in nature, but can only make it general, distribute it simultaneously over the whole surface of society!

But all this is not the main thing. Quite apart from the false Lassallean formulation of the law, the truly outrageous retrogression consists in the following:

Since Lassalle’s death there has asserted itself in our Party the scientific understanding that wages are not what they appear to be, namely the value, or price, of labour, but only a masked form for the value, or price, of labour power. Thereby the whole bourgeois conception of wages hitherto, as well as all the criticism hitherto directed against this conception, was thrown overboard once for all and it was made clear that the wage-worker has permission to work for his own subsistence, that is, to live only insofar as he works for a certain time gratis for the capitalist (and hence also for the latter’s co-consumers of surplus value); that the whole capitalist system of production turns on increasing this gratis labour by extending the working day or by developing productivity, that is, increasing the intensity of labour power, etc.; that, consequently, the system of wage labour is a system of slavery, and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labour develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment. And after this understanding has gained more and more ground in our Party, one returns to Lassalle’s dogmas although one must have known that Lassalle did not know what wages were, but following in the wake of the bourgeois economists took the appearance for the essence of the matter.

It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the programme of the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!

Does not the mere fact that the representatives of our Party were capable of perpetrating such a monstrous attack on the understanding that has spread among the mass of our Party prove by itself with what criminal levity and with what lack of conscience they set to work in drawing up this compromise programme!

Instead of the indefinite concluding phrase of the paragraph, “the elimination of all social and political inequality”, it ought to have been said that with the abolition of class distinctions all social and political inequality arising from them would disappear of itself.


“The German workers’ party, in order to pave the way for the solution of the social question, demands the establishment of producers’ cooperative societies with state aid under the democratic control of the working people. The producers’ co-operative societies are to be called into being for industry and agriculture on such a scale that the socialist organisation of the total labour will arise from them.”

After the Lassallean “iron law of wages”, the panacea of the prophet. The way for it is “paved” in worthy fashion. In place of the existing class struggle appears a newspaper scribbler’s phrase: “the social question”, for the “solution” of which one “paves the way”. Instead of arising from the revolutionary process of the transformation of society, the “socialist organisation of the total labour” “arises” from the “state aid” that the state gives to the producers’ co-operative societies which the state, not the worker, “calls into being”. It is worthy of Lassalle’s imagination that with state loans one can build a new society just as well as a new railway!

From the remnants of a sense of shame, “state aid” has been put — “under the democratic control of the working people”. In the first place, the “working people” in Germany consist in their majority of peasants, and not of proletarians.

Secondly, “democratic” means in German “volksherrschaftlich” [“by the rule of the people”]. But what does “control of the working people by the rule of the people” mean? And particularly in the case of working people who, through these demands that they put to the state, express their full consciousness that they neither rule nor are ripe for rule!

It would be superfluous to deal here with the criticism of the recipe prescribed by Buchez in the reign of Louis Philippe in opposition to the French Socialists and accepted by the reactionary workers of the Atelier. The chief offence does not lie in having inscribed this specific nostrum in the programme, but in taking a retrograde step at all from the standpoint of a class movement to that of a sectarian movement.

That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to transform the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.


I come now to the democratic section.

  1. The free basis of the state.

First of all, according to II, the German workers’ party strives for “the free state”.

Free state — what is it?

It is by no means the purpose of the workers, who have got rid of the narrow mentality of humble subjects, to set the state “free”. In the German Empire the “state” is almost as “free” as in Russia. Freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it, and even today forms of state are more free or less free to the extent that they restrict the “freedom of the state”.

The German workers’ party — at least if it adopts the programme — shows that its socialist ideas are not even skin-deep, in that, instead of treating existing society (and this holds good for any future one) as the basis of the existing state (or of the future state in the case of future society), it treats the state rather as an independent entity that possesses its own “intellectual, ethical and libertarian bases”.

And what of the wild abuse which the programme makes of the words “present-day state”, “present-day society”, and of the still more riotous misconception it creates in regard to the state to which it addresses its demands?

“Present-day society” is capitalist society, which exists in all civilised countries, more or less free from medieval admixture, more or less modified by the particular historical development of each country, more or less developed. On the other hand, the “present-day state” changes with a country’s frontier. It is different in the Prusso-German Empire from that in Switzerland, and different in England from that in the United States. “The present-day state” is, therefore, a fiction.

Nevertheless, the different states of the different civilised countries, in spite of their motley diversity of form, all have this in common that they are based on modern bourgeois society, more or less capitalistically developed. They have, therefore, also certain essential characteristics in common. In this sense it is possible to speak of the “present-day state”, in contrast with the future, in which its present root, bourgeois society, will have died off.

The question then arises: what transformation will the state undergo in communist society? In other words, what social functions will remain in existence there that are analogous to present state functions? This question can only be answered scientifically, and one does not get a flea-hop nearer to the problem by a thousandfold combination of the word people with the word state.

Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

Now the programme deals neither with this nor with the future state of communist society.

Its political demands contain nothing beyond the old democratic litany familiar to all: universal suffrage, direct legislation, popular rights, a people’s militia, etc. They are a mere echo of the bourgeois People’s Party, of the League of Peace and Freedom. They are all demands which, insofar as they are not exaggerated in fantastic presentation, have already been implemented. Only the state to which they belong does not lie within the borders of the German Empire, but in Switzerland, the United States, etc. This sort of “state of the future” is a present-day state, although existing outside the “framework” of the German Empire.

But one thing has been forgotten. Since the German workers’ party expressly declares that it acts within “the present-day national state”, hence within its own state, the Prusso-German Empire — its demands would indeed otherwise be largely meaningless, since one only demands what one has not yet got — it should not have forgotten the chief thing, namely that all those pretty little gewgaws rest on the recognition of what is called sovereignty of the people and hence are appropriate only in a democratic republic.

Since one has not the courage — and wisely so, for the circumstances demand caution — to demand the democratic republic, as the French workers’ programmes under Louis Philippe and under Louis Napoleon did, one should not have resorted to the subterfuge, neither “honest” nor decent, of demanding things which have meaning only in a democratic republic from a state which is nothing but a police-guarded military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms, alloyed with a feudal admixture and at the same time already influenced by the bourgeoisie, and bureaucratically carpentered, and then assuring this state into the bargain that one imagines one will be able to force such things upon it “by legal means”.

Even vulgar democracy, which sees the millennium in the democratic republic and has no suspicion that it is precisely in this last form of state of bourgeois society that the class struggle has to be fought out to a conclusion — even it towers mountains above this kind of democratism which keeps within the limits of what is permitted by the police and not permitted by logic.

That, in fact, by the word “state” is meant the government machine or the state insofar as it forms a special organism separated from society through division of labour, is shown alone by the words

“the German workers’ party demands as the economic basis of the state: a single progressive income tax,” etc.

Taxes are the economic basis of the government machinery and of nothing else. In the state of the future existing in Switzerland, this demand has been pretty well fulfilled. Income tax presupposes various sources of income of the various social classes, and hence capitalist society. It is, therefore, nothing remarkable that the Liverpool Financial Reformers, bourgeois headed by Gladstone’s brother, are putting forward the same demand as the programme.

  1. “The German workers’ party demands as the intellectual and ethical basis of the state:

  1. “Universal and equal education of the people by the state. Universal compulsory school attendance. Free instruction.”

Equal education of the people? What idea lies behind these words? Is it believed that in present-day society (and it is only with this that one is dealing) education can be equal for all classes? Or is it demanded that the upper classes also shall be compulsorily reduced to the modicum of education — the elementary school — that alone is compatible with the economic conditions not only of the wage labourers but of the peasants as well?

“Universal compulsory school attendance. Free instruction”. The former exists even in Germany, the latter in Switzerland and in the United States in the case of elementary schools. If in some states of the latter country “upper” educational institutions are also “free”, that only means in fact defraying the cost of the education of the upper classes from the general tax receipts. Incidentally, the same holds good for “free administration of justice” demanded under A, 5. The administration of criminal justice is to be had free everywhere; that of civil justice is concerned almost exclusively with conflicts over property and hence affects almost exclusively the propertied classes. Are they to carry on their litigation at the expense of the national coffers?

The paragraph on the schools should at least have demanded technical schools (theoretical and practical) in combination with the elementary school.

Education of the people by the state” is altogether objectionable. Defining by a general law the expenditures on the elementary schools, the qualifications of the teaching staff, the subjects of instruction, etc., and, as is done in the United States, supervising the fulfilment of these legal specifications by state inspectors, is a very different thing from appointing the state as the educator of the people! Government and Church should rather be equally excluded from any influence on the school. Particularly, indeed, in the Prusso-German Empire (and one should not take refuge in the rotten subterfuge that one is speaking of a “state of the future”; we have seen how matters stand in this respect) the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people.

But the whole programme, for all its democratic clang, is tainted through and through by the Lassallean sect’s servile belief in the state, or, what is no better, by a democratic belief in miracles, or rather it is a compromise between these two kinds of belief in miracles, both equally remote from socialism.

“Freedom of science” says a paragraph, of the Prussian Constitution. Why, then, here?

Freedom of conscience”! If one desired at this time of the Kulturkampf to remind liberalism of its old catchwords, it surely could have been done only in the following form: Everyone should be able to attend to his religious as well as his bodily needs without the police sticking their noses in. But the workers’ party ought at any rate in this connection to have expressed its awareness of the fact that bourgeois “freedom of conscience” is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds of religious unfreedom of conscience, and that for its part it endeavours rather to liberate the conscience from the witchery of religion. But one chooses not to transgress the “bourgeois” level.

I have now come to the end, for the appendix that now follows in the programme does not constitute a characteristic component part of it. Hence I can be very brief here.

  1. “Normal working day.”

In no other country has the workers’ party limited itself to such a vague demand, but has always fixed the length of the working day that it considers normal under the given circumstances.

  1. “Restriction of female labour and prohibition of child labour.”

The standardisation of the working day must include the restriction of female labour, insofar as it relates to the duration, breaks, etc., of the working day; otherwise it could only mean the exclusion of female labour from branches of industry that are especially unhealthy for the female body or are morally objectione to the female sex. If that is what was meant, it should have been said.

“Prohibition of child labour”! Here it is absolutely essential to state the age limit.

A general prohibition of child labour is incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish.

Its implementation — if it were possible — would be reactionary, since, with a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other precautionary stipulations for the protection of children, an early combination of productive labour with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society.

  1. “State supervision of factory, workshop and domestic industry.”

In consideration of the Prusso-German state it should definitely have been demanded that the inspectors are to be removable only by a court of law; that any worker can have them prosecuted for neglect of duty; that they must belong to the medical profession.

  1. “Regulation of prison labour.”

A petty demand in a general workers’ programme. In any case, it should have been clearly stated that there is no intention from fear of competition to allow ordinary criminals to be treated like beasts, and especially that there is no desire to deprive them of their sole means of betterment, productive labour. This was surely the least one might have expected from Socialists.

  1. “An effective liability law.”

It should have been stated what is meant by an “effective” liability law.

Let it be noted, incidentally, that in speaking of the normal working day the part of factory legislation that deals with health regulations and safety measures, etc., has been overlooked. The liability law only comes into operation when these regulations are infringed.

In short, this appendix too is distinguished by slovenly editing. Dixi et salvavi animam meam{6}.

Appendix: Engels on the Gotha Programme

Engels to August Bebel, March 1875{7}

London, March 18–28, 1875

Dear Bebel,

I have received your letter of February 23 and am glad to hear that you are in such good bodily health.

You ask me what we think of the unification affair. We are, unfortunately, in exactly the same boat as yourself. Neither Liebknecht nor anyone else has let us have any kind of information, and hence we too know only what is in the papers — not that there was anything in them until a week or so ago, when the draft programme appeared. That astonished us not a little, I must say.

Our party had so often held out a conciliatory hand to the Lassalleans, or at least proffered co-operation, only to be rebuffed so often and so contemptuously by the Hasenclevers, Hasselmanns and Tölckes as to lead any child to the conclusion that, should these gentlemen now come and themselves proffer conciliation, they must be in a hell of a dilemma. Knowing full well what these people are like, however, it behoves us to make the most of that dilemma and insist on every conceivable guarantee that might prevent these people from restoring, at our party’s expense, their shattered reputation in general working-class opinion. They should be given an exceedingly cool and cautious reception, and union be made dependent on the degree of their readiness to abandon their sectarian slogans and their state aid, and to accept in its essentials the Eisenach Programme of 1869 or an improved edition of it adapted to the present day. Our party has absolutely nothing to learn from the Lassalleans in the theoretical sphere, i.e. the crux of the matter where the programme is concerned, but the Lassalleans doubtless have something to learn from the party; the first prerequisite for union was that they cease to be sectarians, Lassalleans, i.e. that, first and foremost, they should, if not wholly relinquish the universal panacea of state aid, at least admit it to be a secondary provisional measure alongside and amongst many others recognised as possible. The draft programme shows that our people, while infinitely superior to the Lassallean leaders in matters of theory, are far from being a match for them where political guile is concerned; once again the “honest men” have been cruelly done in the eye by the dishonest.

To begin with, they adopt the high-sounding but historically false Lassallean dictum: in relation to the working class all other classes are only one reactionary mass. This proposition is true only in certain exceptional instances, for example in the case of a revolution by the proletariat, e.g. the Commune, or in a country in which not only has the bourgeoisie constructed state and society after its own image but the democratic petty bourgeoisie, in its wake, has already carried that reconstruction to its logical conclusion. If, for instance, in Germany, the democratic petty bourgeoisie were part of this reactionary mass, then how could the Social-Democratic Workers’ Party have gone hand in hand with it, with the People’s Party,” for years on end? How could the Volksstaat derive virtually all its political content from the petty-bourgeois democratic Frankfurter Zeitung? And how can one explain the adoption in this same programme of no less than seven demands that coincide exactly and word for word with the programme of the People’s Party and of petty-bourgeois democracy? I mean the seven political demands, 1 to 5 and 1 to 2, of which there is not one that is not bourgeois-democratic.

Secondly, the principle that the workers’ movement is an international one is, to all intents and purposes, utterly denied in respect of the present, and this by men who, for the space of five years and under the most difficult conditions, upheld that principle in the most laudable manner. The German workers’ position in the van of the European movement rests essentially on their genuinely international attitude during the war 101 ; no other proletariat would have behaved so well. And now this principle is to be denied by them at a moment when, everywhere abroad, workers are stressing it all the more by reason of the efforts made by governments to suppress every attempt at its practical application in an organisation! And what is left of the internationalism of the workers’ movement? The dim prospect — not even of subsequent co-operation among European workers with a view to their liberation — nay, but of a future “international brotherhood of peoples” — of your Peace League bourgeois “United States of Europe”!

There was, of course, no need whatever to mention the International as such. But at the very least there should have been no going back on the programme of 1869, and some sort of statement to the effect that, though first of all the German workers’ party is acting within the limits set by its political frontiers (it has no right to speak in the name of the European proletariat, especially when what it says is wrong), it is nevertheless conscious of its solidarity with the workers of all other countries and will, as before, always be ready to meet the obligations that solidarity entails. Such obligations, even if one does not definitely proclaim or regard oneself as part of the “International”, consist for example in aid, abstention from blacklegging during strikes, making sure that the party organs keep German workers informed of the movement abroad, agitation against impending or incipient dynastic wars and, during such wars, an attitude such as was exemplarily maintained in 1870 and 1871, etc.

Thirdly, our people have allowed themselves to be saddled with the Lassallean “iron law of wages” which is based on a completely outmoded economic view, namely that on average the workers receive only the minimum wage because, according to the Malthusian theory of population, there are always too many workers (such was Lassalle’s reasoning). Now in Capital Marx has amply demonstrated that the laws governing wages are very complex, that, according to circumstances, now this law, now that, holds sway, that they are therefore by no means iron but are, on the contrary, exceedingly elastic, and that the subject really cannot be dismissed in a few words, as Lassalle imagined. Malthus’ argument, upon which the law Lassalle derived from him and Ricardo (whom he misinterpreted) is based, as that argument appears, for instance, on p. 5 of the Arbeiterlesebuch, where it is quoted from another pamphlet of Lassalle’s, is exhaustively refuted by Marx in the section on “Accumulation of Capital”. Thus, by adopting the Lassallean “iron law” one commits oneself to a false proposition and false reasoning in support of the same.

Fourthly, as its one and only social demand, the programme puts forward — Lassallean state aid in its starkest form, as stolen by Lassalle from Bûchez. And this, after Bracke has so ably demonstrated the sheer futility of that demand; after almost all, if not all, of our party speakers have, in their struggle against the Lassalleans, been compelled to make a stand against this “state aid”! Our party could hardly demean itself further. Internationalism sunk to the level of Amand Goegg, socialism to that of the bourgeois republican Bûchez, who confronted the socialists with this demand in order to supplant them!

But “state aid” in the Lassallean sense of the word is, after all, at most only one measure among many others for the attainment of an end here lamely described as “paving the way for the solution of the social question”, as though in our case there were still a social question that remained unsolved in theory! Thus, if you were to say: The German workers’ party strives to abolish wage labour and hence class distinctions by introducing co-operative production into industry and agriculture, and on a national scale; it is in favour of any measure calculated to attain that end! — then no Lassallean could possibly object.

Fifthly, there is absolutely no mention of the organisation of the working class as a class through the medium of trade unions. And that is a point of the utmost importance, this being the proletariat’s true class organisation in which it fights its daily battles with capital, in which it trains itself and which nowadays can no longer simply be smashed, even with reaction at its worst (as presently in Paris). Considering the importance this organisa- tion is likewise assuming in Germany, it would in our view be indispensable to accord it some mention in the programme and, possibly, to leave some room for it in the organisation of the party.

All these things have been done by our people to oblige the Lassalleans. And what have the others conceded? That a host of somewhat muddled and purely democratic demands should figure in the programme, some of them being of a purely fashionable nature — for instance “legislation by the people” such as exists in Switzerland and does more harm than good, if it can be said to do anything at all. Administration by the people — that would at least be something. Similarly omitted is the first prerequisite of all liberty — that all officials be responsible for all their official actions to every citizen before the ordinary courts and in accordance with common law. That demands such as freedom of science and freedom of conscience figure in every liberal bourgeois programme and seem a trifle out of place here is something I shall not enlarge upon.

The free people’s state is transformed into the free state. Grammatically speaking, a free state is one in which the state is free vis-à-vis its citizens, a state, that is, with a despotic government. All the palaver about the state ought to be dropped, especially after the Commune, which had ceased to be a state in the true sense of the term. The people’s state has been flung in our teeth ad nauseam by the anarchists, although Marx’s anti-Proudhon piece 3 and after it the Communist Manifesto declare outright that, with the introduction of the socialist order of society, the state will dissolve of itself and disappear. Now, since the state is merely a transitional institution of which use is made in the struggle, in the revolution, to keep down one’s enemies by force, it is utter nonsense to speak of a free people’s state; so long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist. We would therefore suggest that Gemeinwesen be universally substituted for state; it is a good old German word that can very well do service for the French “Commune”.

“The elimination of all social and political inequality”, rather than “the abolition of all class distinctions”, is similarly a most dubious expression. As between one country, one province and even one place and another, living conditions will always evince a certain inequality which may be reduced to a minimum but never wholly eliminated. The living conditions of Alpine dwellers will always be different from those of the plainsmen. The concept of a socialist society as a realm of equality is a one-sided French concept deriving from the old “liberty, equality, fraternity”, a concept which was justified in that, in its own time and place, it signified a phase of development, but which, like all the one-sided ideas of earlier socialist schools, ought now to be superseded, since they produce nothing but mental confusion, and more accurate ways of presenting the matter have been discovered.

I shall desist, although almost every word in this programme, a programme which is, moreover, insipidly written, lays itself open to criticism. It is such that, should it be adopted, Marx and I could never recognise a new party set up on that basis and shall have to consider most seriously what attitude — public as well as private — we should adopt towards it. Remember that abroad we are held responsible for any and every statement and action of the German Social-Democratic Workers’ Party. E.g. by Bakunin in his work Statehood and Anarchy, in which we are made to answer for every injudicious word spoken or written by Liebknecht since the inception of the Demokratisches Wochenblatt. People imagine that we run the whole show from here, whereas you know as well as I do that we have hardly ever interfered in the least with internal party affairs, and then only in an attempt to make good, as far as possible, what we considered to have been blunders — and only theoretical blunders at that. But, as you yourself will realise, this programme marks a turning-point which may very well force us to renounce any kind of responsibility in regard to the party that adopts it.

Generally speaking, less importance attaches to the official programme of a party than to what it does. But a new programme is after all a banner planted in public, and the outside world judges the party by it. Hence, whatever happens there should be no going-back, as there is here, on the Eisenach programme. It should further be considered what the workers of other countries will think of this programme; what impression will be created by this genuflection on the part of the entire German socialist proletariat before Lassalleanism.

I am, moreover, convinced that a union on this basis would not last a year. Are the best minds of our party to descend to repeating, parrot-fashion, Lassallean maxims concerning the iron law of wages and state aid? I’d like to see you, for one, thus employed! And were they to do so, their audiences would hiss them off the stage. And I feel sure that it is precisely on these bits of the programme that the Lassalleans are insisting, like Shylock the Jew on his pound of flesh. The split will come; but we shall have “made honest men” again of Hasselmann, Hasenclever and Tölcke and Co.; we shall emerge from the split weaker and the Lassalleans stronger; our party will have lost its political virginity and will never again be able to come out whole-heartedly against the Lassallean maxims which for a time it inscribed on its own banner; and then, should the Lassalleans again declare themselves to be the sole and most genuine workers’ party and our people to be bourgeois, the programme would be there to prove it. All the socialist measures in it are theirs, and our party has introduced nothing save the demands of that petty-bourgeois democracy which it has itself described in that same programme as part of the “reactionary mass”!

I had held this letter back in view of the fact that you would only be released on April 1, in honour of Bismarck’s birthday, not wanting to expose it to the risk of interception in the course of an attempt to smuggle it in. Well, I have just had a letter from Bracke, who has also felt grave doubts about the programme and asks for our opinion. I shall therefore send this letter to him for forwarding, so that he can read it without my having to write the whole thing over again. I have, by the way, also spoken my mind to Ramm; to Liebknecht I wrote but briefly. I cannot forgive his not having told us a single word about the whole business (whereas Ramm and others believed he had given us exact information) until it was, in a manner of speaking, too late. True, this has always been his wont — hence the large amount of disagreeable correspondence which we, both Marx and myself, have had with him, but this time it really is too bad, and we definitely shan’t act in concert with him.

Do see that you manage to come here in the summer; you would, of course, stay with me and, if the weather is fine, we might spend a day or two taking sea baths, which would really do you good after your long spell in jail.

Ever your friend,

F. E.

Marx has just moved house. He is living at 41 Maitland Park Crescent, NW London.

Engels to Wilhelm Bracke, October 1875{8}

London, 11 October 1875

122 Regent’s Park Road, N.W.

Dear Bracke,

I have put off answering your last letters, the most recent dated 28 June, firstly because Marx and I have been apart for six weeks — he at Karlsbad and I at the seaside, where I didn’t see the Volksstaat — and next, because I wanted to wait and see how the new coalition and the combined committee got on in practice.

We entirely share your view that Liebknecht, in his anxiety to achieve unity and pay any price for it, has made a complete mess of everything. Even if they deemed this necessary, there was no need to say or indicate as much to the other contracting party. Thereafter the vindication of one mistake has inevitably entailed another. The Unity Congress, once established on an unsound basis and blazoned abroad, could on no account be allowed to fail, and thus they again had to give way on essential issues. You are perfectly right: this unification bears within it the seeds of dissension, and I shall be happy if, when the split does come, the only ones to go are the incurable fanatics, and not, with them, the whole of the otherwise sound rank and file who could, if given a good training, be licked into shape. That will depend on the time when, and the circumstances under which, the inevitable happens.

The programme in its final version consists of 3 parts:

  1. Lassallean dicta and slogans which ought in no circumstances to be adopted. When two factions are agreed, they should include in the programme what is agreed, not what is contested. By permitting this regardless, our people voluntarily passed under the Caudine yoke;

  2. a series of vulgar democratic demands, drawn u p in the spirit and style of the People’s Party;

  3. a number of would-be communist propositions, for the most part borrowed from the Manifesto, but so reworded that, looked at in the light of day, every one without exception contains hair-raising balderdash. If they don’t understand these things, they should either leave them alone or else copy them word for word from those who are generally admitted to know what they are talking about.

Luckily the programme fared better than it deserved. Working men, bourgeois and petty bourgeois alike read into it what it ought, in fact, to contain but doesn’t contain, and it occurred to no one, of whatever complexion, to submit one of these wondrous propositions to public scrutiny in order to discover its real import. That’s what has made it possible for us to say nothing about this programme. A further consideration is that one cannot translate these propositions into any foreign language without being forced either to write down stuff that is palpably idiotic or else place a communist construction on them, the latter having already been done by friend and foe alike. I myself have had to do so when making a translation for our Spanish friends.

What I have seen of the committee’s activities has not so far been gratifying. Firstly, their proceedings against your book and that of B. Becker; it wasn’t the committee’s fault if they didn’t succeed. Secondly, Sonnemann, whom Marx saw when in transit, said that he had offered Vahlteich the post of correspondent to the Frankfurter Zeitung but that the committee had forbidden Vahlteich to accept! That’s worse than censorship, and how Vahlteich could possibly submit to anything of the kind is beyond my comprehension. And then, what ineptitude! Rather they should have ensured that, everywhere in Germany, it was our people who worked for the Frankfurter! Finally, the methods adopted by the Lassallean members at the founding of the Berlin co-operative printing office would seem to me not altogether above-board; after our people had confidingly appointed the committee as supervisory board of the Leipzig printing office, those in Berlin had first to be coerced into doing so. But I am not very well acquainted with the details in this instance.

However, it’s a good thing that the committee is comparatively inactive and, as C. Hirsch says, who was over here recently, confines itself to the humdrum existence of a news and information agency. Any vigorous intervention on its part would only precipitate the crisis, something its members would appear to sense.

And what weakness, assenting to a committee of three Lassalleans and two of our chaps!

All in all, it looks as though they’ll get away with a black eye, if a mighty one. Let us hope that that will be all and that meanwhile propaganda will have its effect upon the Lassalleans. If things hold out until the next Reichstag elections, all may be well. But then Stieber and Tessendorf will do their damnedest and then, too, the time will come when our folk will see for the first time what exactly they have taken on in the persons of Hasselmann and Hasenclever.

Marx has returned from Karlsbad a completely different man, strong, invigorated, cheerful and healthy, and will soon be able to get down seriously to work again. He and I send our cordial regards. Write again every now and then and let us know how things are going. The Leipzigers have all of them too deep interests of their own to be frank and open with us, and at this particular juncture the party would not dream of washing its dirty linen in public.

Most sincerely yours,

F. E.

Engels to August Bebel, October 1875{9}

London, 12 October 1875

Dear Bebel,

Your letter wholly corroborates our view that for us unification is premature and bears within it the seeds of future dissension. Should it prove possible to stave off such dissension until after the next Reichstag elections — well and good...

The programme, as it now stands, consists of three parts:

  1. of Lassallean propositions and slogans whose adoption is a lasting stigma on our party. When two factions agree upon a common programme, they should include in it what is agreed, and not touch on anything where they disagree. True, Lassallean state aid figures in the Eisenach programme, but as one of many transitional measures and, from all I have heard, it would almost certainly have been thrown out on Bracke’s motion at this year’s Congress had there been no unification. Now it figures as a unique and infallible panacea for all social ills. To have let the ‘iron law of wages’ and other Lassallean dicta be imposed upon it was for our party a tremendous moral defeat. It became converted to the Lassallean creed. That is something which brooks no denial. This part of the programme is the Caudine yoke beneath which our party has crawled for the greater glory of Saint Lassalle;

  2. of democratic demands, drawn up in the very spirit and style of the People’s Party;

  3. of demands on the ‘present-day state’ (there is no knowing to whom, if anyone, the other ‘demands’ are addressed), which are very muddled and illogical;

  4. of general propositions, for the most part borrowed from the Communist Manifesto and the Rules of the International, but so reworded that what they convey is either totally wrong or pure balderdash, as Marx has made abundantly clear in the essay known to you.

The whole thing is excessively disjointed, muddled, inconsequential, illogical and discreditable. Had the bourgeois press possessed a single critical mind, he would have gone through this programme proposition by proposition, examined each proposi- tion for its true content, shown it quite clearly to be nonsensical and enlarged on the contradictions and economic howlers (when it says, for instance, that the means of labour are today ‘a monopoly of the capitalist class’, as though there were no landowners, or talks of ‘freeing labour’ instead of the working class, the trouble nowadays being that labour as such is far too free!), thus exposing our whole party to the most dreadful ridicule. Instead of that the jackasses on the bourgeois papers have taken this programme perfectly seriously, reading into it what isn’t there and interpreting it comrnunistically. The workers are apparently doing the same. It is this circumstance alone which has made it possible for Marx and myself not to disassociate ourselves publicly from a programme such as this. So long as our opponents as well as the workers continue to read our views into that programme, we are justified in saying nothing about it.

If you are satisfied with the outcome in the matter of personnel, then our side must have lowered its sights considerably. Two of our men and three Lassalleans! So here again our people are not equal allies but losers, and outvoted from the start. Nor, from what we know of it, is the committee’s activity edifying: (1) Resolution not to place the two books about Lassalleanism by Bracke and B. Becker on the party’s list; if this was withdrawn, the fault did not lie with the committee or Liebknecht ; (2) Ban on Vahlteich’s acceptance of the post of correspondent to the Frankfurter Zeitung offered by Sonnemann, who himself told Marx this when he was in transit there. What surprises me even more than the arrogance of the committee and the readiness with which Vahlteich knuckled under instead of giving the committee a piece of his mind, is the colossal stupidity of the said resolution. Rather, the committee should have ensured that a paper like the Frankfurter be served exclusively by our people in all districts.

...You are perfectly right when you say that the whole thing is an educational experiment which promises the most favourable results even with circumstances as they are. The unification as such may be considered a great success if it holds out for two years. But it was undoubtedly to be had at a far cheaper price.

Engels to Karl Kautsky, February 1891{10}

London, 23 February 1891

Dear Kautsky,

You will have got my hasty congratulations of the day before yesterday. So let us now return to the matter in hand, namely Marx’s letter.

The fear that it would place a weapon in the hands of our opponents was unfounded. Malicious insinuations are, of course, made about anything and everything, but by and large the impression gained by our opponents was nevertheless one of utter stupefaction at this ruthless self-criticism, stupefaction combined with the feeling that a party must be possessed of great inner strength if it could treat itself to that sort ofthing. This much is apparent from the opposition newspapers I have been getting from you (very many thanks) and elsewhere. And I frankly admit that this was what I had in mind when I published the document. That it was bound at first to give grave offence in certain quarters I was aware, but it couldn’t be helped and in my view this consideration was more than outweighed by its factual content. And I knew that the party was amply strong enough to stand it and I reckoned that today it would even tolerate the forthright language used 15 years ago, that it would point with justifiable pride to this test of its strength and say: Show us another party that would dare do the same. In the meantime this has been left to the Saxon and the Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung and the Züricher Post.

To have assumed, in No. 21 of the Neue £eit, responsibility for its publication is most courageous of you, but don’t forget that it was I, after all, who first instigated the thing and, in addition, presented you, as it were, with Hobson’s choice. Accordingly I consider the main responsibility to be mine. As to details, one can of course always hold differing views about such things. I deleted or altered everything that you and Dietz took exception to and, even if Dietz had made more deletions, I should still have been coulant wherever possible; at no time have I failed to give the two of you proof of this. As to the main issue, however, it was my duty to publish the thing the moment the programme came up for discussion. And especially after Liebknecht’s speech at Halle, in which he coolly quotes parts of it as though they were his own, while contesting others without naming their source, Marx would unquestionably have confronted this version with the original and in place of him I was duty bound to do the same. Unfortunately the document was not immediately to hand and I only found it much later after a long search.

You mention that Bebel has written to you saying that Marx’s treatment of Lassalle has caused bad blood amongst the old Lassalleans. That may be. Those people don’t, of course, know the true story and nobody seems to have done anything to enlighten them on the subject. If they don’t know that Lassalle’s reputation as a great man is solely attributable to the fact that for years Marx allowed him to flaunt as his own the fruits of Marx’s research and, what’s more, to distort them because of his inadequate grounding in political economy, that is no fault of mine. But I am Marx’s literary executor and as such I also have my obligations.

For the past 26 years Lassalle has been part of history. If, while the Exceptional Law was in force, he has been exempt from historical criticism, it is now high time that such criticism came into its own and that light be thrown on Lassalle’s position in regard to Marx. The legend which veils the true image of Lassalle and deifies him cannot, after all, become an article of faith for the party. However highly one may rate Lassalle’s services on behalf of the movement, his historical role inside it remains an equivocal one. Everywhere Lassalle the socialist goes hand in hand with Lassalle the demagogue. In Lassalle the agitator and organiser, the Lassalle who conducted the Hatzfeldt lawsuit is everywhere apparent: the same cynicism in the choice of methods, the same predilection for consorting with corrupt and shady people who may be used simply as tools and then be discarded. Up till 1862 a specifically Prussian vulgar democrat in practice with marked Bonapartist tendencies (I have just been looking through his letters to Marx), he made a sudden volte-face for purely personal reasons and began to engage in agitation. And before 2 years had gone by he was demanding that the workers side with the monarchy against the bourgeoisie and had begun intriguing with his kindred spirit Bismarck in a manner that could only have led to the actual betrayal of the movement had he not, luckily for him, been shot in the nick of time. In his propagandist writings the correct arguments he borrowed from Marx are so interwoven with his own invariably false ones that it is virtually impossible to separate the two. Such workers as have been offended by Marx’s judgment know nothing of Lassalle save for his 2 years of agitation and, furthermore, see the latter only through rose-tinted spectacles. But historical criticism cannot forever remain standing hat in hand before such prejudices. It was my duty to settle accounts once and for all between Marx and Lassalle. That has been done. With this I can content myself for the time being. Besides, I have other things to do. And the publication of Marx’s ruthless judgment of Lassalle will undoubtedly prove effective on its own and put heart into others. But if I were forced to do so, there’d be no alternative: I should have to dispose of the Lassallean legend once and for all.

That voices should have been raised in the parliamentary group demanding that the Neue Zeit be subject to censorship is truly delectable. Is the spectre of the parliamentary group’s dictatorship at the time of the Anti-Socialist Law (a dictatorship that was, of course, essential and excellently managed) still at large or is it a harking back to the sometime close-knit organisation of von Schweitzer? After the liberation of German socialist science from Bismarck’s Anti-Socialist Law, what more brilliant idea than to subject it to a new Anti-Socialist Law to be thought up and implemented by the officials of the Social-Democratic Party. However, we’ve taken care that they don’t get too big for their boots.

I have lost no sleep over the Vorwärts article. I shall await Liebknecht’s account of the affair and then reply to both in as amicable tones as possible. There are only a few inaccuracies to put right in the Vorwärts article (e. g. that we hadn’t wanted unification, that events had given Marx the lie, etc.) and some obvious points to con- firm. I intend that this reply should conclude the debate so far as I am concerned, provided I am not compelled to resume it as a result of fresh attacks or inaccurate statements.

Tell Dietz that I am revising the Origin{11}. However I have today also heard from Fischer who writes to say that he wants three new prefaces!

Engels to August Bebel, May 1891{12}

London, 1 May 1891

Dear Bebel,

Today I shall reply to your two letters of 30 March and 25 April. I was delighted to hear that your silver wedding went off so well and has whetted your appetite for the next, your golden one. I sincerely hope that you will both live to see it. We shall need you long after the devil has come for me — as the old man of Dessau a used to say.

I must — I hope for the last time — revert to Marx’s critique of the programme. That ‘no one would have raised any objection to its publication’ I feel bound to contest. Liebknecht would never have willingly consented and would have done everything in his power to prevent it. So greatly has the critique rankled since 1875 that he recalls it the moment the word ‘programme’ is mentioned. The whole of his Halle speech turns upon it. His pompous Vorwärts article is, throughout, nothing but an expression of his bad conscience in regard to this self-same critique. And it was, in fact, primarily aimed at him. We regarded, and I still regard him, as the progenitor of the unification programme or the shoddier aspects thereof. And it was this point that led me to act off my own bat. Had I been able to discuss the thing with you alone and then send it straight on to K. Kautsky for publication, a couple of hours would have sufficed for us to agree. But as it was, I considered you were under an obligation — both from the personal and the party viewpoint — to consult Liebknecht as well. And I knew what the result would be if I went ahead regardless. Either suppression or an open row — a temporary one at any rate — even with yourself. That I wasn’t wrong is evident from what follows: Now, since you came out of quod on 1 April [1875], and the document is dated 5 May, it is obvious — until some other explanation is forthcoming — that the thing was deliberately withheld from you and that this could, in fact, only have been done by Liebknecht. But just for the sake of peace and quiet you have allowed him to disseminate the lie that, because you were under lock and key, you had not been able to see the thing. 2 3 3 Hence I take it that, even before publication, you could have spared his feelings in order to avoid a rumpus in the Executive. Indeed I find this explicable, as I trust you will likewise find my having allowed for the fact that this, in all probability, was how you acted.

I have just taken another look at the thing. It’s possible that some of it could have been left out without impairing the whole. But certainly not very much. What was the position? We knew as well as you did and, for instance, the Frankfurter Zeitung of 9 March 1875, which I found, that the matter was decided when your accredited representatives accepted the draft. Hence Marx wrote the thing merely to salve his conscience, as is testified by the words he appended — dixi et salvavi animam meam — and not with any hope of success. Hence Liebknecht’s big talk about the ‘categorical no’ is mere braggadocio and he knows it. Well, if you blundered in choosing your representatives and were then forced to swallow the programme lest the whole business of unification came to naught, you surely cannot object to the publication, fifteen years later, of the warning that was sent you before you finally made up your minds. It does not brand you either fools or traitors unless, of course, you lay claim to infallibility so far as your official actions are concerned.

You, however, did not see that warning. Indeed this fact has been made public and you are thus in an exceptionally favourable position as compared with the others who, though they had seen it, nevertheless fell in with the draft.

I consider the accompanying letter to be most important. For it propounds what would have been the only correct policy. Parallel action for a trial period — that was the one thing that could have saved you from trafficking in principles. But, come what may, Liebknecht was determined not to forego the glory of having effected unification and, in the circumstances, it is a miracle that he didn’t make even more concessions than he did. From bourgeois democracy he brought with him and has retained ever since a positive mania for unification.

The fact that the Lassalleans came over because they had to, because their entire party was disintegrating and because their leaders were scoundrels or jackasses whom the masses would no longer follow, is something that can be said today in tastefully moderate form. Their ‘tightly knit organisation’ naturally ended in total dissolution. Hence it is absurd when Liebknecht excuses the wholesale acceptance of the Lassallean articles of faith on the grounds that the Lassalleans had sacrificed their tightly knit organisation — there was nothing left of it to sacrifice!

You wonder about the provenance of the muddle-headed and convoluted clichés in the programme. But all these are surely quintessential Liebknecht; they have been a bone of contention between us for years and the chap’s besotted with them. Theoretically he has always been muddle-headed and our clear-cut style is still an abomination to him today. As a sometime member of the People’s Party he, on the other hand, still loves resounding phrases which leave one free to think what one will or, for that matter, not think at all. The mere fact that, long ago and out of ignorance, some muddle-headed Frenchman, Englishman or American spoke of the ‘emancipation of labour’ rather than of the working class, and that, even in the documents of the International one sometimes had to use the language of the people one was addressing, was, to Liebknecht, reason enough for forcibly making the phraseology of the German party conform to this same outmoded point of view. Nor can he possibly be said to have done this ‘despite his knowing better’ for he really didn’t know better and I am not sure whether this is not still the case today. At all events, he is still as susceptible as he ever was to the old, woolly phraseology which, rhetorically, is certainly easier to use. And since he undoubtedly attached at least as much importance to basic democratic demands, which he thought he understood, as to economic principles, of which he had no clear understanding, he was undoubtedly sincere in believing he had pulled off a splendid deal in bartering democratic staples for Lassallean dogmas.

So far as the attacks on Lassalle are concerned, these seemed to me, as I have already said, more important than anything else. By accepting all the essential Lassallean economic catchwords and demands, the Eisenachers had in fact turned into Lassalleans — at least if the programme is anything to go by. The Lassalleans had sacrificed nothing, nothing whatever that was capable of preservation. And so as to make the latter’s victory more complete you people adopted for your party anthem the rhymed, moralising prose in which Mr Audorf celebrates Lassalle. During the 13 years in which the Anti-Socialist Law was in force there was, of course, no possibility of combatting the Lassalle cult within the party. This had got to be quashed and I set about doing so. I shall no longer permit Lassalle’s bogus reputation to be maintained and revived at Marx’s expense. Those who knew and revered Lassalle personally are thin on the ground; in the case of all the rest, the Lassallean cult is purely factitious, the result of our having tacitly tolerated it against our better judgment; hence it has not even the justification of personal attachment. We showed ample consideration for the feelings of inexperienced and new recruits by publishing the thing in the Neue Zeit. But I am in no way prepared to concede that in such circumstances historical truth — after 15 years of meek forbearance — should give way to expediency and the fear of causing offence within the party. That deserving people should have their feelings hurt on such occasions is unavoidable and their grumbling after the event no less so. And if they then proceed to say that Marx was envious of Lassalle, and the German press, including even (!!) the Chicago Vorbote (which writes for more self-confessed Lassalleans — in Chicago — than exist in the whole of Germany) chimes in, it affects me no more than a flea-bite. We have had far worse things cast in our teeth and none the less carried on with the business in hand. The example has been set; Marx has laid rough hands on the sacrosanct Ferdinand Lassalle and that for the time being is enough.

And now just one more thing. In view of the attempt made by you people forcibly to prevent publication of the article, and your warnings to the Neue Zeit that, in the event of a recurrence, it, too, might be taken over and subjected to censorship by the party, the latter’s appropriation of your entire press cannot but appear to me in a singular light. In what respect do you differ from Puttkamer if you introduce an Anti-Socialist Law into your own ranks? So far as I myself am concerned, it doesn’t signify; no party in any country can impose silence upon me once I have made up my mind to speak. But all the same I would suggest you consider whether you would not do well to show yourselves slightly less touchy and, in your actions, slightly less — Prussian. You — the party — need socialist science and this cannot exist without freedom to develop. Hence one has to put up with the unpleasantnesses and to do so for preference with good grace and without flinching. Tension, however slight, let alone a rift, between the German party and German socialist science would be an unprecedented misfortune and disgrace. That the Executive and/or you yourself still have and must retain considerable moral sway over the Neue Zjsit and everything else that is published, goes without saying. But with that you must and can rest content. Inalienable freedom of discussion is constantly being vaunted in the Vorwärts but is not greatly in evidence. You have absolutely no idea how odd an impression this proclivity for forcible measures makes upon one who lives abroad and is accustomed to see the most venerable party leaders being well and truly taken to task within their own party (e. g. the Tory government by Lord Randolph Churchill). And again, you should not forget that discipline in a big party cannot be anything like as strict as it is in a small sect, and that the Anti-Socialist Law, which forged the Eisenachers and Lassalleans into a single whole (though Liebknecht avers this was the work of his magnificent programme) and necessitated such close cohesion, no longer exists.

Ouf! So much for that old affair, and now for something else.


Well, kindest regards to your wife, Paul, Fischer, Liebknecht and tutti quanti from



[1] Marx is referring to the following passage in the Rules and Administrative Regulations of the International Working Men’s Association: “That the economical subjection of the man of labour to the monopoliser of the means of labour, that is the sources of life, lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all social misery, mental degradation, and political dependence”. (Note by MECW. For the referenced text, see MECW Vol. 20, p. 441)

[2] An allusion to Lassalle’s secret contacts with the Bismarck government (mid-May 1863-February 1864). He promised support to the Prussian government in its struggle against the liberal bourgeoisie in exchange for the introduction of universal suffrage in the country. (Note by MECW)

{1} MECW, Volume 24, pp. 604 n. 107.

{2} The version of the text contained in this present edition is a direct translation from the German manuscripts by Marx, and as such, the omitted passages have been restored. The preface by Engels has been kept for context and historical relevance.

{3} See previous note.

{4} Reference to Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy.

{5} After the event.

{6} I have spoken and saved my soul (Ezekiel 3:18 and 19).

{7} MECW, Volume 24, pp. 67–73.

{8} MECW, Volume 45, pp. 94–96.

{9} MECW, Volume 45, pp. 97–98.

{10} MECW, Volume 49, pp. 133–136.

{11} Reference to the the fourth German edition of Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.

{12} MECW, Volume 49, pp. 175–184.

{13} Passage supressed, as Engels goes on to discuss unrelated matters. See previous note for the full letter source.