Below are some selected extracts of letters that Engels wrote from Eastbourne to various comrades of his:
1. A balance sheet of the socialist movement in England in 1883
The Manifesto of the [Social] Democratic Federation in London has been issued by about twenty to thirty little societies which under different names (always the same people) have for the last twenty years at least been repeatedly trying, and always with the same lack of success, to make themselves important. All that is important is that now at last they are obliged openly to proclaim our theory, which during the period of the International seemed to them to be dictated from outside, as their own, and that a crowd of young bourgeois intelligentsia are emerging who, to the disgrace of the English workers it must be said, understand things better and take them up more passionately than the workers. For even in the Democratic Federation the workers for the most part only accept the new programme unwillingly and as a matter of form. The chief of the Democratic Federation, Hyndman, is an arch-conservative and an extremely chauvinistic but not stupid careerist, who behaved pretty shabbily to Marx (to whom he was introduced by Rudolf Meyer) and for this reason was dropped by us personally.
Do not on any account whatever let yourself be deluded into thinking there is a real proletarian movement going on here. I know Liebknecht tries to delude himself and all the world about this, but it is not the case. The elements at present active may become important since they have accepted our theoretical programme and so acquired a basis, but only if a spontaneous movement breaks out here among the workers and they succeed in getting control of it. Till then they will remain individual minds, with a hotch-potch of confused sects, remnants of the great movement of the ‘forties, standing behind them and nothing more. And–apart from the unexpected–a really general workers’ movement will only come into existence here when the workers are made to feel the fact that England’s world monopoly is broken.
Participation in the domination of the world market was and is the basis of the political nullity of the English workers. The tail of the bourgeoisie in the economic exploitation of this monopoly but nevertheless sharing in its advantages, politically they are naturally the tail of the “great Liberal Party,” which for its part pays them small attentions, recognises trade unions and strikes as legitimate factors, has relinquished the fight for an unlimited working day and has given the mass of better placed workers the vote. But once America and the united competition of the other industrial countries have made a decent breach in this monopoly (and in iron this is coming rapidly, in cotton unfortunately not as yet) you will see something here.
Friedrich Engels to August Bebel, Eastbourne, 30 August 1883
2. On American Politics
… Affairs are on the move over there at last, and I must know my Americans badly if they do not astonish us all by the vastness of their movement, but also by the gigantic nature of the mistakes they make, through which they will finally work out their way to clarity. Ahead of everyone else in practice and still in swaddling-clothes in theory — that’s how they are, nor can it be otherwise. But it is a land without tradition (except for the religious), which has begun with the democratic republic, and a people full of energy as no other. The course of the movement will by no means follow the classic straight line, but travel in tremendous zigzags and seem to be moving backward at times, but that is of much less importance there than with us. Henry George was an unavoidable evil, but he will soon be obliterated, like Powderly or even McGlynn, whose popularity at the moment is quite understandable in that God-fearing country. In Autumn much will be — I won’t say cleared up, but more and more complicated, and the crisis will come closer. The annual elections, which force the masses to unite over and over again, are really most fortunate….
Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, 4 Cavendish Place, Eastbourne, 8 August 1887
3. On the Great Dock Strike of 1889 and the New Unionism
In your next issue you ought to take up the dock labourers’ strike. It is a matter of paramount importance to us here. Hitherto the East End was bogged down in passive poverty. Lack of resistance on the part of those broken by starvation, of those who had given up all hope was its salient feature. Anyone who got into it was physically and morally lost. Then last year came the successful strike of the match girls. And now this gigantic strike of the lowest of the outcasts, the dock labourers — not of the steady, strong, experienced, comparatively well-paid and regularly employed ones, but of those whom chance has dumped on the docks, those who are always down on their luck, who have not managed to get along in any other trade, people who have become professional starvelings, a mass of broken-down humanity who are drifting toward total ruination, for whom one might inscribe on the gates of the docks the words of Dante: Lasciate ogni speranza voi che entrate! [“Leave, ye that enter in, all hope behind!”] And this host of utterly despondent men, who every morning when the dock gates open fight a regular battle among themselves to get the closest to the fellow who does the hiring, literally a battle waged in the competitive struggle among the much too numerous workers — this motley crowd thrown together by chance and changing daily in composition has managed to unite 40,000 strong, to maintain discipline and to strike fear into the hearts of the mighty dock companies. How glad I am to have lived to see this day! If this stratum can be organised, that is a fact of great import. However the strike may end — I am never sanguine beforehand in this regard — with the dock labourers the lowest stratum of East End workers enters the movement and then the upper strata must follow their example. The East End contains the greatest number of common labourers in England, of people whose work requires no skill or almost none. If these sections of the proletariat, which until now have been treated with contempt by the Trade Unions of the skilled workers, organise in London, this will serve as an example for the provinces.
Furthermore, for lack of organisation and because of the passive vegetative existence of the real workers in the East End, the gutter proletariat has had the main say there so far. It has behaved like and has been considered the typical representative of the million of starving East Enders. That will now cease. The huckster and those like him will be forced into the background, the East End worker will be able to develop his own type and make it count by means of organisation. This is of enormous value for the movement. Scenes like those which occurred during Hyndman’s procession through Pall Mall and Piccadilly will then become impossible and the rowdy who will want to provoke a riot will simply be knocked dead.
In brief, it is an event. You can tell the stunning effect this thing has had by the way even the dastardly Daily News handles it. It’s the same as the miners’ strike was for us: a new section enters the movement, a new corps of workers. And the bourgeois who only five years ago would have cursed and sworn must now applaud, albeit dejectedly, while and because his heart is palpitating with fear and trepidation. Hurrah!
Engels to Eduard Bernstein, Eastbourne, 22 August 1889
4. On the disintegration of official bourgeois politics in Britain
Complete disintegration prevails among the official politicians here, both Liberal and Conservative. The Liberals can keep going only by means of new political and social concessions to the workers; but for that they lack the courage. So they try an election cry against the House of Lords, instead of proposing payment of members, payment of election expenses by the Government, and a second ballot. That is, instead of offering the workers more power against the bourgeois and the Lords, they only want to give the bourgeois more power against the Lords; but the workers no longer fall for such bait. At any rate there will be a general election here this summer and if the Liberals do not summon all their courage and make real concessions to the workers they will be beaten and go to pieces. At present they are held together only by Gladstone, who may die any day now. Then there will be a bourgeois-democratic party favourably disposed to the workers and the rest of the Liberals will go over to Chamberlain. And all this by mere pressure of a working-class that is still internally split and only half politically conscious. Should it gradually gain consciousness things will take a quite different turn.
Engels to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, Eastbourne, 23 February 1894
Dear citizen Turati,
To write a summary of the three volumes of Capital is one of the most difficult tasks a writer could set himself. In the whole of Europe there are, in my opinion, no more than half a dozen men capable of undertaking it. Among other prerequisites one must have a profound knowledge of bourgeois political economy, and also complete mastery of the German language. Now you say that your Labriolinoa is not very strong in the second, while his articles in Critica Sociale prove to me that he would do better to begin by understanding the 1st volume before wishing to produce his own work on all three volumes.
I do not have the legal right to prevent him from doing this, but I must wash my hands of the affair completely. As for the other Labriola, the malicious tongue which you attribute to him may have a certain justification in a country such as Italy, where the socialist party, like all the other parties, has been invaded, like a plague of locusts, by that ‘declassed bourgeois youth’, of which Bakunin was so proud. Result: rampant literary dilettantism which only too often lapses into sensationalism and is inevitably followed by a spirit of camaraderie dominating the press. It is not our fault that this is the state of affairs, but you are subjected to this environment, as is everyone else.
I would speak at greater length about Labriola but when I find that bits and pieces from my private letters have been reproduced in the Critica Sociale without my knowledge, you must agree that it is better if I remain silent. For the rest, after all the quarrels and controversies, the party would seem to have behaved in general at the last elections as the situation required: independent confirmation at the 1st round when that did not help the Crispinis, support for the radicals and republicans at elections where our candidates had no chance of winning.
Warmest greetings from Dr and Mme Aveling, who are here with me, and also from myself, to you and citizen Anna Kulishov.
Engels writing to the Italian socialist Filippo Turati in Milan, from 4 Royal Parade Eastbourne, 28 June 1895
6. A Letter to a Polish comrade
In reply to your inquiry of the 25th of this month, which has been forwarded to me here, I beg to inform you that I should have no objection at all to your translating my article in the Commonwealth and publishing it in the way you suggest.
Engels to Polish socialist Boleslaw Antoni Jedrzejowki, 4 Royal Parade, Eastbourne, 28 June 1895.
7. Letter to Paul Lafargue
If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, Mohammed must go to the mountain. If Paul will not come to Eastbourne, Eastbourne must go to him. Thus what Mohammed could not accomplish, Paul accomplishes in the twinkling of an eye.
Regards to your wife and children.
Will you also please bring me a small bottleful of the carbolic acid solution in my bedroom? My nose is again suffering from hallucinations.
You would also be well-advised to rig yourself and the baby out for rather chilly weather. Yesterday it was certainly not above 12 or 13 degrees Centigrade here.
With regard to E. Aveling’s article on the Independent Labour Party, which I left in your keeping on my departure, would you please forward it to him at Green Street, Green NEAR Chislehurst, Kent. Edward and Tussy left this morning. Laura, too, intends to take the day boat from Newhaven on Wednesday morning so as to be home that same evening. So you won’t be seeing her again. She sends her love. This morning it was fine, then wet, and now it’s sunny again.
I slept very well last night, but on Saturday evening the powders didn’t have much effect, whereas yesterday they acted all the more effectively—in consequence am somewhat muzzy today. Regards to Ludwig. Love and a kiss to the little one and to yourself from
Letter received. Thanks. So far the same as always, i.e. my mood changes constantly, according to my physical condition. No question of being able to work or even deal with the most urgent correspondence. Laura left yesterday and Louise is back. Like me, she sends her love to you, the children and Gine. Bernstein’s wife and her child in general at the last elections as the situation required: independent confirmation at the 1st round when that did not help the Crispinis, support for the radicals and republicans at elections where our candidates had no chance of winning.
Warmest greetings from Dr and Mme Aveling, who are here with me, and also from myself, to you and citizen Anna Kulishov.
My dear Tussy,
The Glasgow affair might be a trap – maybe something else, as the people hardly will be in a position to follow the offerings seriously. As for your translation, there indeed I do pity you. Where is the poor girl to have picked up the necessary knowledge for such work! Here everything ‘as you were’, as the military command says. Louise and baby and nurse came yesterday. I am much as usual, that is to say subject to all sorts of variations of temper and spirits. That will last for some time yet to come. Either Louise or myself will keep you informed of how I go on.
Love to you both.
All the best.
It’s all of it very good, just a few small factual errors and, at the beginning, a somewhat too erudite style. I look forward keenly to seeing the rest of it.
Engels to Antonio Labriola in Rome from Eastbourne, 8 July 1895.
14. Letter to Eleanor Marx on Keir Hardie
Thanks for Johnnie’s letter returned herewith. Of course the boy is right in sticking to the house. Edgarb seems a downright Normand, looking after momentary advantage. More’s the pity. Edward’s reply to Glasgow is all right.
The solution is to be found Labor Leader, 6 July page 2, Keir Hardie against Edward Aveling in the Jeunesse Socialiste. Now the noble nature of Keir Hardie shines out brilliant.
While E. Aveling attacks him, Keir Hardie generously finds him a candidature, which if E. Aveling accepted, Keir Hardie could on general grounds get cancelled by the Executive Council. I was pretty fairly going on till Sunday night, since then had two bad nights and days, maybe partly from the acceleration, by the sea air, of the processes of elimination going on in my neck, but chiefly from the decreasing effects of the anaesthetics which I now have been using daily and in increasing quantities for about eight weeks. On the other hand I have found out several weak sides of my capricious appetite and take lait de poulec with brandy, custards with stewed fruits, oysters up to nine a day etc.
Love to you both
My dear Löhr,
To-morrow we return to London. There seems to be at last a crisis approaching in my potato field on my neck, so that the swellings may be opened and relief secured. At last! so there is hope of this long lane coming to a turning. And high time it is for with my deficient appetite, etc. I have been pulled down considerably.
The elections here have come off as I said: a large Tory majority, the Liberals hopelessly beaten and I hope in full dissolution. The brag of Independent Labour Party and Social Democratic Federation face to face with a reality of some 82,000 votes for Labour Candidates up to now (hardly any yet to come) and the loss of K. Hardie’s seat. Still that was more than they had a right to expect. Victor Adler is here. Have you or Paul any questions to ask him about Paul’s arrangement with the Arbeiter-Zeitung or can I be of any use in any way to you with him? I am not in strength to write long letters, so good bye. Here’s your good health in a bumper of lait de pouleb fortified by a dose of cognac vieux.c Amitiés à Pauld
[With many thanks to Terry McCarthy for his help with this page]