Frederick Engels 1892

Reply to the Honourable Giovanni Bovio

Written: February 6, 1892;
First published: in Critica Sociale, No. 4, February 16, 1892;
Translated: from the French and Italian.

In an article in La Tribuna of February 2 this year, the honourable Giovanni Bovio reproaches the Italian Republican parliamentary deputies, who have latterly gone over to the royalist camp, for treating too scornfully, the question of the form of government. This does not affect me directly. What does affect me is that he deals with my article on German socialism (Critica Sociale, January 16, 1892 ) making the same reproach against the German socialists in general and against me in particular. This is what he says on the matter:

“Thus we can see the error of those socialists who, with Frederick Engels, speak of the imminent coming to power of socialism and do not specify what kind of power. Engels even established with mathematical arguments (and numbers have for some time seemed to me a good argument in history) the not too distant year in which the socialist party will become the majority, in the German parliament. So far so good. And then?

“ – It will take power,

“ – Even better. But what power? Will it be monarchic, or republican, or will it go back to Weitling’s utopia, superseded by the Communist Manifesto of January 1848?

“ – The forms make no difference to us.

“ – Really?... But you cannot speak of power except where the form is made concrete. You can say, that the new substance, the new idea, will of itself create the form, produce it from deep within itself, but you cannot, you must not, dispense with the problem.”

To this I reply that I do not accept in the slightest the honourable Mt.. Bovio’s interpretation.

For a start, I have never said the socialist party, will become the majority and then proceed to take power. On the contrary, I have expressly said that the odds are ten to one that our rulers, well before that point arrives, will use violence against us, and this would shift us from the terrain of majority to the terrain of revolution, But let us pass over this.

“It will take power. But what power? Will it be monarchic, or republican, or will it go back to Weitling’s utopia, superseded by the Communist Manifesto of January, 1848?”

Here I must permit myself the use of one of the honourable Mr. Bovio’s own expressions. He must really be a “man of the cloister” if lie has the slightest doubt about the nature of this power.

All of governmental, aristocratic and bourgeois Germany, reproaches our friends in the Reichstag for being republicans and revolutionaries.

Marx and I, for forty years, repeated ad nauseam that for us the democratic republic is the only, political form in which the struggle between the working class and the capitalist class can first be universalised and then culminate in the decisive victory of the proletariat.

The honourable Mr. Bovio is surely not so naive as to believe that an emperor of Germany would draw his ministers from the socialist party -and that, if he so desired, he would accept the conditions- implying abdication -without which those ministers could not count on the support of their party? But it is true that his fear of seeing us “go back to Weitling’s utopia” gives me a fairly exalted estimate of my interlocutor’s naivety.

Or does the honourable Mr. Bovio, in referring to Weitling, mean to imply that the German socialists attribute no more importance to the social form than to the political form? Again he would be mistaken. He should be well enough acquainted with German socialism to know that it demands the socialisation of all the means of production. How can this economic revolution be accomplished? That will depend on the circumstances in which our party seizes power, on the moment at which and the manner in which that occurs. As Bovio says:

“the new substance, the new idea. will of itself create the form, produce it from deep within itself.”

Meanwhile, if tomorrow, by some accident, our party were called to power, I know perfectly well what I would propose as a programme of action.

“The forms make no difference to us."-,

I should like to point out that it was neither I nor any other German socialist who said that, or anything of the kind, but the honourable Mr. Bovio and he alone. I should certainly like to know by what right he attributes such “sciocchezza” to us.

For the rest, if the honourable Mr. Bovio had waited for and read the second half of my article (Critica Sociale, February 1), perhaps he would not have taken the trouble of confusing the German revolutionary socialists with the Italian royalist Republicans.